Monday, May 19, 2008

Reading the signs

Reading Ivan Goncharov's Oblomov (1859) and Ed Park's Personal Days (2008) at the same time continues to offer unexpected (and unexpectedly rewarding) affinities. Take, for example, this bit of contemporary folklore offered up by one of Ed's charactes:
Jack II says that when you feel a tingling in your fingers, it means someone's Googling you. We take to this bit of instant folklore immediately.
I wonder whether a Yahoo search triggers the same response? Or an Alta Vista search?

If Goncharov were alive today, he'd surely know the answer, if the following conversation between Oblomov's parents is any indication:
Suddenly Ilya Ivanovich stopped in the middle of the room, and, with a look of alarm, touched the tip of his nose. "Oh, no, this is terrible," he said, "look, the tip of my nose is itching, there's going to be a death."

"There you go again!" his wife exclaimed, clasping her hands, "it's not the tip of your nose itching that means there's going to be a death, it's the bridge of your nose! Really, what a scatterbrain you are! What if you were to say something like that when we were visiting people or when we had guests--it would be so embarrassing!"

"Well, what does it mean then when the tip of your nose itches?" said Ilya Ivanovich, discountenanced.

"A death! Really, what can you be thinking of?"

"I'm always mixing things up," said Ilya Ivanovich. "How can a personal be expected to know what it means when you itch in all these different places, the side of your nose, the tip, the eyebrows. . . ?"

Pelegaya Ivanovna was quick to supply the information. "The side means news, between the eyebrows means tears, the forehead means meeting someone, on the right a man, on the left a woman, the ears means rain, the lips, kissing, the whiskers, eating sweets, the elbow, sleeping in a new place, the soles of the feet, a journey."

"Well done, Pelageya Ivanovna!" said Ilya Ivanovich.
For maximum enjoyment, I recommend reading Pelegaya Ivanovna's litany out loud at top speed.


  1. These days, an AltaVista search is a Yahoo! search. AltaVista was at some point acquired by Overture, and Overture was acquired by Yahoo! in 2004.

    I notice that the old address redirects you to a Yahoo! version for your automated translation needs.

  2. I love this joint reading of Oblomov/PD!