Dusha naraspashku, in all sincerity

By | March 26, 2021

The way sometimes one thing leads to another and before you know it you’re down a deep dark rabbit hole of discovery is how I stumbled across the Russian phrase dusha naraspashku. Linguist Anna Wierzbicka, considered the world’s foremost expert on the links between language and culture, interprets it as “unbuttoned soul” in English, and frames its sense and meaning against the context of the importance placed on expressing oneself with sincerity in Russian culture. To quote a relevant and truncated extract from this lucid blog:

Sincerity (iskrennost), which has a much stronger meaning in Russian than in English, dictates that to be sincere one must openly convey one’s emotions. “What the Russian ‘iskrennost’ conveys is that one says what one thinks and feels, and that one says it because one wants to say what one thinks and feels.”
[Thus] Wierzbicka writes that “the implication is that it is good, indeed wonderful, if a person’s “soul”, which is the seat of emotions, is flung open in a spontaneous, generous, expansive, impetuous gesture, expressing full trust in other people and an innocent readiness for communion with them.”

While I’ve certainly been ‘unbuttoning my soul’ on the blog of late, it is Wierzbicka‘s framing and word choices when describing the Russian concept of being sincere that caught my attention – one says what one thinks and feels, and that one says it because one wants to say what one thinks and feels. Saying what one thinks and feels, putting it into words, and writing it down, all of this comes very close to the concept of word magic I’ve been striving to reach out towards and grasp.

One of my older Finnish friends says that the Kalevala’s magic lies in the craftsmanship of the articulation of thoughts and emotions expressed together. This feels inherently true to me. That is the essence of the words songs that comprise the epic, compiled by Elias Lönnrot through labouriously written transcriptions made in real time as various folk singers sung and spoke their own versions of the various narratives. Whilst tracing craftsmanship of his work will remain untouched for another day, here I do want to explore this aspect further as opposed to the more common concept of wordsmithing.

Craftsmanship implies something more than simply improvements in clarity or style of writing. There’s an element of thoughtful work involved in the crafting of the content itself, that shapes the narrative in indefinable ways. Is that not the magic of a word song? How it makes you feel to hear someone’s thoughts expressed in a particular way, as opposed to another? And, when expanded to encompass the full concept of “crafting the articulation of thoughts and emotions expressed together”; the key distinction is the expression of both mind and heart together – not separately or sequentially, but integrating emotion and thought in one tangible form.

A wholehearted sharing and exchange, made in all sincerity, between souls unbound and thus “flung open” in “innocent readiness for communion” as Wierzbicka describes. Such craftsmanship in articulation would evoke response and receipt within one – as the listener – of feelings in response to the thoughts and of thoughts in response to the emotions. An experience one would surely describe as magical.

No wonder Finnish magic ‘sings at’ a person in order to bewitch them. A daunting task indeed to aspire to such levels of craftsmanship in articulation. On the other hand, its a distant enough goal not dissimilar to the far horizons my mind’s eye used to gaze upon in liminal space, and the toska can find its place again to nestle into, always searching but never reaching close enough to say eureka! My heart knows what my soul needs before my words can find it.

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