Sunday, November 21, 2004

A Close Reading of "Zoo" by Velimir Khlebnikov as Done by Students of Comp Lit R1A 006

  • "O Garden of Animals!" -- nice place to be, positive happy place
  • "Where steel bars seem like a father who stops a bloody fight to remind his sons they are brothers" -- engages different species together in an environment free of clashing, serves as an element of control
  • "Where Germans come to drink beer" -- suggestive of manliness, brotherhood
  • "And easy women sell their bodies" -- prostitutes, perhaps the animals of the zoo are being prostituted or serve as a metaphor for humans
  • "Where eagles perch like an eternity figured by the present day, as yet unfinished by evening" -- perhaps a gargoyle, symbol of unchanging
  • "Where the camel, its great hump riderless, knows the secret of Buddhism and supppresses a smile of China" -- the riderless hump is a symbol of the untameable, freedom, yet there are steel bars present. The camel is possibly representative of a Monk meditating in solitude. Much like the eagle, the riderless camel is alone.
  • "Where a deer is fear itself beneath its branching stone" -- uncertain
  • "Where people's outfits astonish" -- people dress up to go to the zoo to show off for the animals, but then the question of who is on exhibit is raised. Shouldnt the animals be showing off?
  • "Where people stroll with mindless frowns, while the Germans glow with health"-- everything is so bad that they must frown about everything
  • "Where the dark glance of a swan-- wintery all over, its beak orange-black as a thicket in autumn-- is somewhat too hesitant, even for him" -- the swan is a symbol of purity, but the pure symbol gives an evil look, signifying that something is wrong. This serves as a foreshadow.
  • "Where a blue gorgeousness fans out its tail, and a blue net of clouds is cast across the golden fire of leaf-fall and the forest green, and it is all shadowed differently by the roughness of the ground" -- a metonymy for a peacock (e.g. four-eyes for someone with glasses). The animals on exhibit in the zoo are personified and behave like humans, while the people act like animals
  • "Where we want to seize the lyre bird's tail, strike its strings, and sing of Russian heroism" -- the bird serves as an instrument by the humans, how humans are on display by playing the zoo specimens
  • "Where we clench our fist as if it held a sword, and whisper an oath: to defend the race of Russians at the cost of life, of death, of everything" -- the fact that they have to "whisper an oath" suggests that the Germans are oppressed.
  • "Where the monkeys are variously angry and display their variegated bottoms and seem, except for the sad ones and shy ones, eternally irritated by the presence of man" -- the monkeys are perhaps emblematic of people, and the bold enough monkeys are showing their "variegated bottoms" in an attempt to try and show off to their human spectators, who are "dressed to astonish."
  • "Where elephants shivering like mountains during an earthquake ask a child for something to eat, making old meanings ring true: 'Im hungree! Gimme something to eat!' and who kneel as if asking for charity"-- the shivering elephants are large in size, much like the nation of Russia. Clearly the elephants are not being cared for.
  • "Where the agile bears scramble up and look down, waiting for their keepers' orders" -- the bears are almost like soldiers with their keepers serving as generals/sargeants
  • Where bats hang upside down, like the heart of a present-day Russian" -- the Russians are having a hard time, they are upside down and so they must "pump" their hearts even harder just to get blood circulating properly- a metaphor for their difficult times.
  • "Where the falcon's breast recalls ragged clouds before a storm" -- both passages refer to the chest area where the heart/breast are located. While the bat is weak while upside down, the falcon commands power-- a contrast. Also, both are winged animals whose hearts are not free.
  • "Where a little ground bird drags behind it a golden sunset full of embers on fire" -- uncertain
  • "Where we see in the tiger's face the white beard and the eyes of an elderly Muslim, and we honor the first follower of the prophet and read the essence of Islam" -- the tiger with the white beard and "eyes of an elderly Muslim" seems like a fierce image commanding respect
  • "Where we begin to think that religions are the subsiding surge of waves whose dispersion formed the species" -- religion created humanity, presents a positive view of religion
  • "And that therefore the earth contains as many animals as they find different ways of witnessing God" -- discusses evolution as offensive, presents the conflict of evolution versus religion. All of the animals are a different method of witnessing g-d
  • "Where the animals, tired of roaring, stand and look up at the sky" -- they are done roaring- a symbol of anger- and are now trying find another outlet for their feelings that is not anger. Perhaps their upward glances are emblematic of the search for g-d?
  • "Where a caged seal is a vivid reminder of the sufferings of sinners, hurtling back and forth and wailing" -- humans caged the seal and are thus the cause of its suffering, however it is unclear whether humans or animals are sinners.
  • "Where funny fishwingers groom one another with the touching care of Gogol's Old-World Landowners" -- uncertain
  • "O Garden of animals, where the stare of a beast has more meaning than stacks of reread books" -- "o Garden" takes us back to the first line, but now the garden serves as a symbol of difference. This stanza also suggests that natural things have more meaning than manmade constructs.
  • "O Gaden" -- uncertain
  • "Where an eagle broods over something, like a child grown tired of complaining" -- uncertain
  • "Where an Eskimo husky vents its Siberian aggression in a hostile ritual born in the blood, at the sight of a kitten washing its face" -- this is an animalistic portrayal of an animal, the animals are finally depersonified and acting like the animals that they should be.


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