Fest und Feier

Fest und Feier.
Having finished the (superb) second volume of Kotkin’s Stalin biography (he leaves the reader hanging as the Germans are crossing the Soviet frontier in June 1941), I’ve started Soviet Mass Festivals, 1917–1991 , by Malte Rolf. I’m still on the introduction, where he lays out his “concepts and research approaches,” and I thought I’d quote this passage from the “Celebrations” section (it’s probably worth mentioning that the book is translated from German):
The present work does not strictly distinguish “festivity” from “ceremony,” as Winfried Gebhardt suggests we should. Inspired by ideal types a la Weber, Gebhardt characterizes a festivity (German: Fest ) as an emotional-affective means of socialization and a ceremony (German: Feier ), as a value-rational means of collectivization. This view separates and conceptually fixates an ecstatic, escapist kind of celebrating from a solemn, value-stabilizing kind of celebrating. […]
In contrast, Ruth Koch has convincingly shown that while in the German language the terms Fest and Feier do not cover exactly the same ground, their meanings are not distinct enough for each to govern a semantic field of its own such that we might precisely determine an independent meaning for one or the other. If we return to the context of Soviet terminology at the time in question, we also do not find there any clear conceptual distinction between what is considered “festive” and what is considered “ceremonial.” The words prazdnik and prazdnestvo were commonly used, as was torzhestvo , a word being used predominantly to describe larger festive occasions. Nonetheless, the terms are for the most part interchangeable. There was also in use the word massovoe or narodnoe torzhestvo , which means the tumultuous crowd of the folk festival section of a Soviet celebration. Thus, for the most part, the Russian language, too, allows using words for “festivity” and “celebration” synonymously.
Since my German is only serviceable, I’m curious as to what my Germanophone readers think about the Fest/Feier distinction, and of course what Russian speakers think about the Russian words.
Addendum. Remember how I mentioned that the book is translated from German? I don’t like to dump on a hardworking translator, but Chapter 1 starts with the following quote:
“To save time, I had decided … to stay just five days in the Russian Capital; but unfortunately we arrived at the beginning of a long chain of … holidays and had only four of ten days to take care of our matters.”1 In 1885, George Kennan wrote these lines in his diary while traveling from St. Petersburg to Siberia.
The footnote says “Kennan, Und der Zar ist weit , 17-18.” What the what? Why on earth are you retranslating a citation from a German edition of Kennan? Here’s the English, from Kennan’s (very well known) Siberia and the Exile System (Vol. 1):
As the season was already advanced, and as it was important that we should reach Siberia in time to make the most of the summer weather and the good roads, I decided to remain in the Russian capital only five days; but we were unfortunate enough to arrive there just at the beginning of a long series of church holidays, and were able to utilize in the transaction of business only four days out of ten.
There’s just no excuse for that. (And a later footnote cites “Figes, Die Tragödie eines Volkes ” — the German version of A People’s Tragedy — so it’s a general problem, not a one-off slip.)
To satisfy my curiosity, I checked the (contemporaneous) Russian translation, which renders the passage as follows:
По случаю поздняго времени года намъ было чрезвычайно важно достигнуть какъ можно скорѣе Сибири, чтобы воспользоваться еще лѣтней погодой и удобными дорогами. Поэтому я рѣшилъ остаться въ С.-Петербургѣ только на пять дней, но на наше горе въ это время начался цѣлый рядъ церковныхъ праздниковъ, и изъ десяти дней нашего пребыванія въ столицѣ царя мы воспользовались лишь четырьмя чтобы покончить наши дѣла.
Further addendum. OK, I’m going to dump on the hardworking translator after all. On page 20 the phrase “tsarist censure” occurs where “tsarist censorship” is clearly intended (the German word is Zensur ). Come on, that’s a first-year student’s error.
Yet another addendum. I hate to keep banging this essentially irrelevant drum, but dammit, this stuff pisses me off. On page 34 we hear of a Nikolai Jewreinow. On page 37 a Nikolai Yevreinov shows up. These are, of course, the same person, in the first case still wearing his German frock-coat. “Jewreinow” is not only an example of the faulty transliteration transmission I complained about here (and in the earlier posts linked therein), it’s very distracting to the English-speaking reader, since the initial Jew- is hard to ignore. And of course the index has one entry (on p. 318) for Jewreinow, Nikolai, and another (on p. 324) for Yevreinov, Nikolai. Shame, shame on you, University of Pittsburgh Press!
Koch is right from the descriptive side. The statistical distinction is large enough that the words can be reused as defined terms, however, and evidently that’s what the “ideal types à la Weber” did. That’s a very common occurrence, and this is part of what makes German philosophy (in a very wide sense of philosophy) so hard to read.
Sometimes it happens in English, too, even with complete synonyms: probability and likelihood are distinct terms with distinct meanings in some branch of statistics and phylogenetics.
Yeah, the translator should be censured for that. Like the many who translate from English to German and don’t know what freshwater is.
Well, I’d never call a, say, birthday party with a dozen people present a prazdnestvo (only jokingly, possibly), let alone a torzhestvo. Torzhestvo really has to be a mass event, most probably an official one. Prazdnestvo is a mass event too, but less official.
Of course, the meanings are overlapping, but they are quite distinct.
My feeling for the German agrees with David Marjanović’s, but I figured I should leave it to him to answer first, as a native speaker. There is a lot of overlap in the meanings, but they are sufficiently different that it seems unremarkable to distinguish them as terms of art.
And in German, if course, fresh water is male, and salt water is female.
And when they meet, nature’s miracle happens…

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