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University of Toronto · Academic Electronic Journal in Slavic Studies

Toronto Slavic Quarterly

Taras Koznarsky

A Prisoner of the Caucasus and a Captive of Vernacular.

Peripheral texts sometimes offer unexpected benefits and illuminations. The processes that shaped the contours of Ukrainian literary discourse of the 1840s are illuminated through one such text - Mykhailo Makarovsky's narrative poem "aao ao aa i eoi" [Haras'ko or Good Luck Even in Captivity]. Written between 1843 and 1845 (and published posthumously in 1848), "Haras'ko" is a Ukrainian vernacular variation on Pushkin's famous "A Prisoner of the Caucasus" (1822). Pushkin's captivating tale served as a model for a remarkable number of variations. The trend, while most fecund from the mid-1820s to the early 1830s, lasted well into the 1840s and percolated from the higher brow works of Baratynsky and Kozlov to middle brow, popular provincial and parodic versions of the tale.

To this Pushkinian "poetic industry," Makarovsky's piece is a peculiar contribution from Ukrainian soil, rich both for produce and poetry, to rephrase a conventional characterization found in Russian literary discourse from Izmailov to Belinsky (i.e., from ambrosia to vinegar). Makarovsky's work, devised within the institutional and stylistic framework of Ukrainian vernacular literature of the time, transposes a fashionable romantic tale into the peasant world with its own narrative logic, horizon of expectations, and ethos. By examining the vernacular transformation of Pushkin's tale in Makarovsky's hands, I will address the peculiar dynamics of Ukrainian literary discourse and national identity in statu nascendi in the 1840s, the decade of programmatic activities of a young generation of Ukrainian intelligentsia.

Makarovsky is a problematic figure in nineteenth century Ukrainian literature. Born in 1783, he took up writing in his late fifties, and was closer in age to Kotliarevsky than to the Ukrainian romantics of the 1830s or 1840s. The son of a navy priest, Makarovsky was educated at a seminary and taught at the Hadiach county high school. He reportedly knew Latin, French and German well. Makarovsky was stimulated by increasing activity in Ukrainian literature in the 1840s and encouraged by his younger colleagues, in particular, his former student, a prominent Ukrainian romantic poet and professor at Kharkiv University, Amvrosii Metlynsky (who was 30 years younger). Makarovsky's literary debut occurred after his death in 1846: his two best-known poems, "Natalia" and "Haras'ko," were published in o- o (produced by Metlynsky, Kharkiv 1848).

Both poems are based on famous literary prototypes ("Natalia" is loosely based on Goethe's "Hermann und Dorothea"). Both works emulate the genre of pastoral (in Haras'ko, combined with the adventure tale), produced within the peasant world in a manner that virtually implies the possibility of a low-middle class or even peasant audience. While "Natalia" was praised by Ukrainian literati and critics, "Haras'ko" fared much worse in critical opinion. Was it the adventurous (and improbable) plot, the dubiously presented characters, or the ethos of the work that put off critics like Kulish? Or perhaps it was the "inconvertibility" of Pushkin's tale into the Ukrainian vernacular?

In Ukrainian literature of the first decades of the nineteenth century, translations from Pushkin, Mickiewicz, Goethe, and later, Byron played an important role in testing the suitability of vernacular for works in a serious key. In their literary endeavors, Ukrainian authors often capitalized on imperial appropriations of Ukraine, while striving toward a greater degree of historic, ethnographic, and linguistic authenticity in their uses and constructions of Ukraine. Therefore it is not surprising to find Pushkin's "Poltava" among early Ukrainian romantic enterprises. With varying degrees of success, two translators of "Poltava," Hrebinka and Shpyhotsky, attempted in their versions (published in the early 1830s) to re-appropriate Ukrainian themes "back" into the Ukrainian vernacular. In contrast, Makarovsky's choice of "A Prisoner of the Caucusus" might seem puzzling as material for "re-approapriation."

The protagonist's name evokes another well-known Haras'ko in Ukrainian vernacular literature - the playful and subversive travestied treatment of Horace by Hulak-Artemovsky in a number of poems, one of them published with a stylized preface that begins: "You see, in our tongue, it's Haras'ko while in the Muscovite tongue, it seems, Horace" While Makarovsky was not writing a travesty of Pushkin, his protagonist's quintessentially vernacular name with its literary connection reveals a strong connection to the vernacular comical tradition.

Makarovsky's primary aim was to transpose via the vernacular the reusable plot of the captive into a tale of adventure and good fortune. Captured in a different linguistic, stylistic, and cultural environment, this plot not only changes its generic configuration, narrative destiny and moral penchant, but also acquires a different dimension in the distribution of information necessary for its unfolding. On the one hand, Makarovsky exhibits a connection to the vernacular comical style, yet on the other, his work has a different aim - of de-travestization of vernacular language and the peasant theme through the genre of pastoral, saturated with ethnographic description and epic tone. These same aspects made "Natalia" so compelling for Kulish, himself occupied at the time with similar tasks. Ahapii Shamrai pointed out that while most imitators emphasized the cliche-like aspects of Pushkin's poem, such as the the protagonist's romantic appearance and dramatic scenes with the exotic woman, Makarovsky stresses ethnography and everyday realia in the fabric of his tale. I would suggest that this emphasis is not a matter of conscious choice, but an inevitable effect of vernacular - i.e., by writing in a language perceived as a peasant one, the writer has adopted a particular tone and register, which generates a particular kind of discourse. When an educated member of the intelligentsia like Makarovsky frames his diction to create a vernacular narrator with little distancing between the narrator and the implied author, the story comes out of the "vernacular mind," like Pallas Athena armoured with a rolling pin and dressed in an embroidered shirt. The vernacular stylization causes a side-effect of orality, and the storytelling acquires patterns characteristic of oral culture. Thus, elements of oral culture, described by Walter Ong as "psychodynamics of orality," such as reliance on formulaic characterizations, additive and aggregative flow of narration, its emphatic engagement between the characters, the narrator and the audience - all of these features are prominent in Makarovsky. The exotic (alien) experience of the protagonist Haras'ko, when absorbed into vernacular, becomes structured and rendered in close reference to the peasant lifeworld. Of course, Makarovsky is not a blind bard and his text is a product of written culture, but its stylistic register and implied audience set the degree of narrative accessibility at the level of oral performance, reading aloud.

I would like now to address the frame of reference established by Makarovsky's narrative, as well as aspects of characterization and plot development as compared to the Pushkinian model. Pushkin's tale opens in media res, without much explanation, and focuses on the psychological state of the captive. Makarovsky, on the other hand, begins his poem with an introduction of the peasant boy Haras'ko, launching into a detailed account of his family and pre-history of his captivity. The author informs his audience that Haras'ko has ended up in trouble through no moral wrong doing, that he is innocent before divine justice, as if the world is operated by religious-moral determinism (and for an Orthodox villager, it is so): " i oa eoa/ e a oi, e a oa, e a oe oa, A e e " [The poor fellow got into trouble not because he was a robber or a thief, or a crook but through no fault of his own.] Makarovsky explains the whole story: Haras'ko was sent by his family to earn some money at sea and works as a bookkeeper for a Greek-merchant. He is the sole survivor of a storm (described with a triple appeal to pray for the Lord's mercy, as in the famous Ukrainian duma about Olexiy, the priest's son). Haras'ko is then picked up on the coast by a Circassian and brought to the mountain village as labor, a shepherd.

Unlike Pushkin's captive, Haras'ko begins to function in the Circassian language in the third year of his captivity, and uses this skill to advocate for the peaceful, moral, orthodox way of life in his fatherland, including the respectful treatment of women. In turn, his master pressures Haras'ko to convert to the Muslim faith. Haras'ko politely refuses, to the Circassian's deep dissatisfaction. Perturbed and homesick, Haras'ko carves himself a wooden recorder and becomes an Orpheus of local significance. Makarovsky invents not only this scene but presents us with the repertoire of Ukrainian folk tunes Haras'ko played. While entertaining himself, he captures the hearts of the whole village, in particular, of the local beauties, even those "in harems". And why wouldn't he: " ee, oo,/ e, i, aa,/ O o a a,/ I oo, a" [A jolly, handy fellow - literate, brave, and talkative, with a full pretty face, and as intelligent as a wise old man] - a description that bears the stamp of "kotliarevshchyna." As it becomes clear, in Makarovsky, the Caucasus as Orient is constructed in accordance with a Ukrainian popular frame of reference, where Ukraine figures as a border zone with the Crimean Tatars and Ottoman Turks and issues of slavery and faith are most relevant. Moreover, the name of Haras'ko's master is Bayezid, as though of the Ottoman dynasty.

Haras'ko is noticed by his master's younger sister, who, after the death of her father, suffers at the hands of her brutal brother and his nasty wife (a distribution of forces familiar from Ukrainian folk ballads). The secret admirer, Merime, is described "i/ aa, aa, o,/ I e o o ;/ I o xaa, o a/ a, oxoa i a;/ oo ooa a/ ooax a a o aa,/ aa, a, aa, a/ Oaoaa i e" [A young lass, polite, pretty like a morning star, amazing how smart she was. She was agile, curious, and quick to catch on in household matters and letters, and a true worshipper of the Prophet In conversation, it was as if she were playing an organ; she read, sewed, wove, spun She could have charmed even a monk]

Although Haras'ko lacks the spleen and disillusion of Pushkin's captive, he nonetheless resists Merime's charms: "Ko oaa, i xe i e oe io" [When she winked, he crossed himself and looked the other way]. Yet the struggle takes its toll, and Haras'ko falls ill. Merime is able to pour her affections onto the immobilized fellow after poisoning Haras'ko's dog, who had guarded him (this action is treated as more evidence of Merime's enterprising ways and a fortunate replacement of one caretaker for a better one). Grateful to Merime, Haras'ko finally yields to the temptation of love, and finds that the lass already has a plan. She wants to leave the Caucasus, where she has no future and is oppressed by her brother and his wife, who have taken over the household after her father's death. And Merime has even figured out how to flee - with the help of a Greek merchant. Moreover, she takes stock of all valuables in the house, and before they run away at the auspicious moment, they take an impressive quantity of treasure (again, this action is evaluated as justified and smart). The couple ends up in the city of Taganrog in Holy Rus', where Marime is christened, renamed Marusia and married to Haras'ko. He, with the help of the Greek merchant and the treasures they brought, becomes a successful merchant and brings his parents to the big city.

As we see, when the byronic captive is replaced with a peasant lad, the plot structure, its development, governing forces and teleology radically change. The romantic poem is transformed into an adventure tale, governed by providence, and propelled by the character's pragmatic zeal. The generic switch also introduces picaresque and pastoral undercurrents. In the world of the poem, the hero's triumphant destiny is to transcend the bounds of the peasant class in an amazing jump up the ladder of social mobility. Along with Makarovsky's transformation of the byronic plot comes also a shift in the moral evaluation of characters and actions, and at the cognitive level of the text, a change in the supply and distribution of information. Pushkin's narrative focuses on the inner world of the protagonist and on the magnificence of nature as a foil to the protagonist's inner state. Pushkin plays with what is said directly or suggested, requiring the implied reader's cognitive effort and active participation. This is impossible in the world of Makarovsky, where things have to be said and explained, where nothing is left unclarified, where text thrives in an obsessive flow of details, adding a peculiar epic touch to the whole story. For example, why are we offered information about where Haras'ko is from, who his parents are, and what folk songs he sang before the amused Circassian village? Who might desire such detail? It is clear that such information meets the needs of the peasant world of Haras'ko, where it is indeed relevant or even crucial in evaluating Haras'ko and in stimulating the audience's interest in the plot. Lack of information about his parents, for example, would in terms of the expectations of this world deprive Haras'ko of the status of a full-fledged positive character. In Pushkin, on the other hand, the lack of specific information on the captive (we don't even learn his name) serves to elevate the hero, making him more mysterious and attractive. Contrasting the indices of the names, attributes, and qualifications applied to the characters provides further insight into the workings of the "vernacular mind." In Pushkin's text, the repertory on the protagonist is limited to a few descriptive nouns, in particular, "e," and "eo." The author focuses on the physical and psychological state of his character as expressed by adjectives (ao, xa eo, , eae). When the captive engages in the observation of the Circassian way of life, he is referred to as a member of the westernized world: "o eoea e ae/ ao e ea"

In contrast, Makarovsky employs an extensive repertory of familial and generic nouns, indicating the hero's name (aao, oe eoa), faith (x), familial status (only child, o), and refers to him with a list of familiarized emphatic labels: poor thing, lad, guy, fellow: eoa, ae, ae, a, xoe, etc. Moreover, Makarovsky's tale is very much attuned to social labels: through them we periodically assess Haras'ko's status in the scheme of things. Indeed, Haras'ko's biography is imbedded in this unfolding progression: a, aa, e, oa o, a [clerk, shepherd, merchant, a married head of a household, a big shot]. The culmination of Haras'ko's social success is summed up in the succinct formula: "e eoi i, a e" [he is not a field worker, but a merchant].

Even more striking is the difference in describing the Circassian beauty. In Pushkin, the description is scanty and stereotypical: "eeea" and "ea." These two nouns are sufficient to evoke the image of the oriental beauty and engage Pushkin's reader. He also uses a few adjectives, calling her young and passionate. In the world of Makarovsky, the Circassian lass is described with a range of generic labels: ia, a, ia [girl, babe, virgin]. Like Haras'ko's, her biography unfolds through a progression, in her case through repertories of labels referring to her improving familial state: oa, oa a, oa oa, eia [orphan, daughter of Iusup, good wife, daughter-in-law]. There is also a progression in references to her faith and ethnicity: eea, ooa ooa a, xa, ooa [Circassian woman, true follower of the prophet, a Christian, a Russian]. Her very name mutates accordingly: Meia, Me, Mai (already christened), Maa, Ma, Maea. The culmination in Merima's biography is expressed in the lines: "Ma o oa,/ a xaa xo ,/ aa a oe i,/ Ko ooo aaa" [Marusia had a son, was an excellent homemaker, forgot her fatherland, and everywhere seemed to be a true Russian].

So far we have seen how the romantic plot of Pushkin is inflated with massive descriptions, labels and details in Makarovsky's adaptation. Yet there are two categories where Pushkin presents more descriptive information than Makarovsky: the Caucasus and Russia as worlds in the state of warfare. It is the sensation of the imminent shifting, liquid border between the two worlds, societies and cultures, that fascinates Pushkin. Pushkin explores the Caucasus in several frameworks. The initial immediate contact between the captive and the Circassian (ee, oe, oeoea oa) is described with the distance and alienation of a victim. As the character gets beyond his first stage of shock, the implied author uses his character's eye to engage in ethnographic observation. The European-orientalist observes Circassians with a degree of admiration, providing details on their everyday lives, habits and mores - thus authenticating the story for Pushkin's readers. The magnificent natural scenery in Pushkin's narrative provided a further bonus, as a foil to the Captive's psychological state and a source of the romantic sublime. Finally, in his epilogue, the author engages in digressions where the Caucasus is generalized and described from the height of the geo-political bird's flight (the bird being the two-headed eagle): "eo Kaa," "oo oee o." It is here that the enlightened rhetoric of a westernized nobleman and freedom-loving elegiac mode of the prologue are infringed on by political triumphalism, and the emphathic orientalist tale of love and fate is corrupted by the Imperial agency. In the description of an encroaching Russian presence, Pushkin also uses several planes: First, the imminent Cossack arrival: "Kaa - e ao aoe, ao oa ae" Second, the political level, expressed by heraldic objects and names of military leaders ( e, oe a). The descriptions of the military leaders (ao, Koe, Eoo), blown to epic proportion, become commensurable with the task of subduing the personified immense and wild Caucasus.

Of course, these contrastive elements belong to the world of the educated gentry. When they percolate down to the peasant world, the political abstraction is replaced in Makarovsky with the most generic Orthodox labels: "ea a, ex, oe" [insatiable infidel, unchristened one, villain] along with the equally generic "oa, oe" [Muscovite, Don Cossack]. Makarovsky's ethnographic description is produced within the social matrix of the peasant world, practically duplicating the Ukrainian provincial environment: a, , i, i, i, "ooai i a" [beggars and rich folks], with several exotic touches. Pushkin employs fashionable cliches of metropolitan orientalism (with Circassians reflected as both children of nature and cruel barbarians); in Makarovsky these are sifted down and merged with popular stereotypes. Thus the only specific oriental attributes of the Circassian social environment in "Haras'ko" are the rather non-Circassian, and non-descript "ae," "ei," and "ai." It is not that Pushkin's Caucasian ethnography is authentic, but at least it is authentically stylized according to existing orientalist conventions.

What is it that "really" happened to Pushkin's "A Prisoner of the Caucasus" when its vernacular transposition was carried out to its logical and epistemological conclusions? Makarovsky's work is far from the concerns of the major players in the Ukrainian cultural scene of the 1840s, who contemplated which institutions, genres, dictions, and narrative strategies would best shape a sustainable Ukrainian cultural community (I have in mind particularly the activities associated with the Brotherhood of St. Cyril and Methodius). In terms of Andesonian vocabulary of imagining and inventing, in Makarovsky, we are presented with a peculiar imaginative discrepancy or rather aporia.

As we think of the ethos and plot of "A Prisoner of the Caucasus," we are confronted with military and political triumphalism. What happens to it in Makarovsky? Within the discourse of vernacular culture, it is transformed into the personal triumphalism of Haras'ko, the enterprising character. His personal triumph is a Ukrainian peasant version of the "American dream," overcoming social immobility, becoming an agent, becoming something else, a merchant, a city dweller, and ultimately and "naturally," a Russian, "Moscovite." The former Circassian woman, after a while in a fantasyland Taganrog, forgets her fatherland and seems to become a true Moscovite. Haras'ko's parents, after the virtuous son took them to Taganrog, "a o a/ a a ei,/ ee a ai,/ I o ei oa" [In a year or two, they forgot their peasant ways, adopted the customs of the rich and even some words of their language]. What is going on here? Makarovsky has imagined, invented an implied reader as close to his fictional world as possible. Moreover, Makarovsky has imagined a "people" imagining their own social dream, and has set up the horizon of this imagination - being able to climb up the ladder, to become rich, move to a city and assimilate. Yet by doing so in Ukrainian, Makarovsky "retains" this people within the bounds of vernacular. Or does he? The answer remains somewhere in the realm of aporia: Who's faster? Whose imagination? Peasants a la Makarovsky with dreams of social mobility? Ukrainian intelligentsia imagining the nation? In 1845, Shevchenko, seven years out of serfdom, penned his famous diatribe "Kavkaz," probably the most pungent anti-imperial text written in the Russian Empire. Its powerful vision of the Caucasus, its shaping of the elevated implied audience, and its nuanced handling of the Ukrainian language are the antithesis of "Haras'ko." "Kavkaz" circulated among a closed circle in manuscript form and was published for the first time in Leipzig in 1859. Thus for at least the first half of the nineteenth century, it is in the realm of aporia that the history of Ukrainian national identity is lurking.



  1. A most valuable survey of these works is provided in Viktor Zhirmunskii, Bairon i Pushkin, Leningrad: Nauka, 1978, p. 239-56, 292-331, 397-407. See also Iurii Mann, Russkaia literatura XIX v. Epokha romantizma, Moscow: Aspekt Press, 2001, p. 57-60. While Pushkin's "original" presented a tale of alienation and unrequited love, ending with the captive's return to the Russian zone and the female protagonist's suicide, the authors who imitated this poem presented a wide range of settings and solutions to the story. Many of them tried to remedy the incompleteness in Pushkin's plot and the emotional or even ideological void in characterization that contemporary readers felt. See Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike 1820-1827, Sankt-Peterburg, 1996, p. 113-44; Boris Tomashevskii, Pushkin, Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1990, vol. 2, p. 40-53.
  2. On reception of Ukrainian vernacular literature, see George Grabowicz, Toward a History of Ukrainian Literature, Kyiv: Osnovy, 1997, p. 80-115.
  3. Information about Makarovsky is scattered through several short articles, chapters or introductions from the nineteenth century, and little has been added to these sources. See, for example Nikolai Petrov, Ocherki ukrainskoi literatury XIX stoletia, Kyiv, 1884, p. 116-28.
  4. Of course, this implied audience doesn't mean that real peasants read Makarovsky. The scope of readers of Ukrainian literature in the first half of the nineteenth century remains very difficult to document (see Mykola Fylypovych's series of articles "Sotsial'ne oblychchia ukrains'koho chytacha 30-40 rr. XIX v." in Zhyttia i revoliutsia, 1930, issues 1, 4, and 6). However, the shaping of some texts by writers such as Kvitka-Osnovianenko, Shevchenko, Kulish, and Makarovsky indicates authorial intent to imagine or imply a wider audience, including the lower classes. Mykola Kostomarov's argument for further development of a language inherited by twelve million people was to be put to work in the cultural agenda of the Ukrainian intelligentsia (see Kostomarov's "Obzor sochinenii pisannykh na malorossiskom iazyke," Molodyk, 3, Kharkiv, 1843, p.166-7).
  5. Panteleimon Kulish, in his essay "Vzgliad na malorossiiskuiu slovesnost' po sluchaiu vykhoda v svet knigi "Narodni opovidannia Marka Vovchka" (Russkii vestnik, 1857, vol 12, p. 227-34), highly valued Makarovsky's "Natalia," fitting it between Kvitka-Osnovianenko, Shevchenko and the most promising new voice at the time, Marko Vovchok. "Natalia," was also used by Kulish in his critique of Gogol's early works on Ukrainian themes - as a model of observant and truthful description of Ukrainian village life contrasted with Gogol's inaccuracy and incompetence. See his "Obzor ukrainskoi slovesnosti," chapter 5: "Gogol kak avtor povestej iz ukrainskoi zhizni i istorii;" Osnova, 5, p. 5-15.
  6. See Ahapii Shamrai, Kharkivs'ki poety 30-40 rokiv XIX stolittia, Kharkiv 1930, p. 54-100.
  7. For more detailed analysis of these translations, see my dissertation: Kharkiv Literary Almanacs of the 1830s: The Shaping of Ukrainian Cultural Identity, Harvard University, 2001, p. 127-43.
  8. Petro Hulak-Artemovsky, Tvory, Kyiv: Dnipro1964, p. 60.
  9. So-called "kotliarevshchyna," see Aizenshtok, Ieremiia (ed.), Kotliarevshchyna. Ukrains'ki propilei, vol. 1, Kyiv: Derzhavne vydavnytstvo Ukrainy, 1928; and G. Grabowicz, op.cit., p. 316-33.
  10. Shamrai, op.cit., p. 188.
  11. This is, of course, the essence of skaz. However, there is a significant difference between the stylized orality as a narrative strategy (skaz) of Gogol and that of Makarovsky. In Gogol, we are never in doubt of the distinction between the narrator and the implied author, who teases the metropolitan reader with the discursive difference. In Makarovsky, the narrator, the implied author, and the implied reader are located virtually on the same plane.
  12. See Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy, London and New York: Routledge, 1982, p. 36-57. These features are also present in the discourse of "kotliarevshchyna" and deserve further examination.
  13. Burlesk i travestia v ukrains'kii poezii pershoi polovyny XIX st. Kyiv: Derzhavne vydavnytstvo khudozhnioi literatury, 1959, p. 418.
  14. Ibidem, p. 421.
  15. At the same time, Pushkin's Caucasus, despite his having taken a real southern trip, was also shaped by literary models, primarily Derzhavin and Zhukovskii, and perhaps even directly by Byron. See Susan Layton, "The Creation of an Imaginative Caucasian Geography," Slavic Review, Fall 1996, p. 470-85, and Katya Hokanson, "Literary Imperialism, Narodnost' and Pushkin's Invention of the Caucasus," Russian Review, July 1994, p. 336-52.
  16. Burlesk, p. 427-8.
  17. Ibidem, p. 429.
  18. Aleksandr Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii. Moscow: Izdatel'stvo akademii nauk SSSR, reprinted Moscow: Voskresenie, 1994, vol. 4, p. 99.
  19. Burlesk, p. 456.
  20. Ibidem, p. 462.
  21. Monica Greenleaf, Pushkin and Romantic Fashion, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994, p. 108-55.
  22. See, for example, reviews by Pletnev and Pogodin in Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike, p. 116-24, 131-42.
  23. Despite Proskurin's explanation/reconciliation of these elements through examination of Pushkin's generic medley of elegy and ode employed in "The Captive of the Caucasus." (See Oleg Proskurin, Poezia Pushkina ili podvizhnyi palimpsest, Moscow: Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 1999, p. 108-22).
  24. Burlesk, p. 461.
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