Roman Jakobson

I am impressed that one of my correspondents knew Roman Jakobson before his death in Boston in 1982.   

I have been trying to find out more about Jakobson’s involvement in Russian avant-garde culture after the Revolution.   The answer is that he was indeed in Moscow at the time of the Revolution, where he was a student in the Historico-Philological Faculty, received his Master’s degree in 1918, and was involved in the Moscow Linguistic Circle which developed the study of semiotics.   He didn’t last long because he migrated to Prague in 1920.   He remained till 1939, when he fled to Copenhagen then Norway and Sweden, where he studied aphasia, before crossing the Atlantic on a boat with Ernst Cassirer, to join the New School with Lévi-Strauss.

Quite a life.


2 thoughts on “Roman Jakobson

  1. In 1975, I was a young painter at the artist retreat on Ossabawa Island off the coast of Savanah, Georgia, when I met Roman. At the retreat, he preferred painters over the writers. He needed someone to walk (slowly) with him in the afternoons.
    I didn’t need to talk, just listen. One snippet was his description of Malevich entering a committee room where Roman was present in the hey-day of artistic freedom just after the revolution. Someone had written on the blackboard the local fishmongers slogan: “I caught the fish. I cleaned the fish. I sell the fish.” Malevich took this as a personal jibe and was furious.

    Roman was there with his wife but there was a woman writer who pestered him, wanting the great man’s attention. With an impish smile, he said on a walk, watch tonight, at cocktail hour. I will get rid of her. At 6 o’clock he went into the small pantry to make his drink. In followed the woman. He spoke loudly, so we all could hear, “Where were you? Where were you at 3 this afternoon for our assignation? I waited. Never bother me again.” She never did.

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