Title Deed: How the Book got its Name
Gary Dexter explains the origins of Alexander Zinoviev’s The Yawning Heights
By Gary Dexter
Alexander Zinoviev was one of the most extraordinary characters of the 20th century: a decorated Second World War fighter pilot and tankist, as well as an internationally famous logician who wrote dozens of works of philosophy, politics and fiction.
He was forced into exile in 1978 after the publication of his Swiftian (or perhaps Carrollian) satire on Soviet ideology, The Yawning Heights.
The title presents a problem for the English reader, since it includes a pun. ‘Yawning’ (as in ‘yawning gulf’) in Russian differs by only one letter from ‘shining’: ‘yawning’ is ziyayushchiye and ‘shining’ is siyayushchiye.
‘Shining heights of communism’ or ‘gleaming peaks of socialism’ were common propaganda phrases in the Soviet era to describe the glorious future towards which all right-thinking peoples were striving, and ‘yawning’ presented its derisive opposite. The title is thus both pun and oxymoron.