A Fully Glossed Russian Text of “The Death of Ivan Ilich” with Explanatory and Interpretive Annotations

Chapter 11

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  1. The tone of Liza's remarks here is the conventional one adopted by people who feel wounded by misdirected anger or blame:  "Well, how is it OUR fault?  He acts as though WE did this to him!"  As so often, however, under the conventional and obvious meaning of the text is hidden the possibility of  a more genuine, direct, and specific significance:  "How ARE we to blame? It's we OURSELVES who have done this!" This makes the passage resonate, if subtly and obliquely, with Ivan Ilich's own reflections about whether he may have lived his life wrongly and his attitude of offended disbelief that such an incredible possibility might even be suggested.
  2. Again a reprise of the question that has so troubled Ivan Ilich, and the suggestion that the answer may be the same:  that we have lived wrongly.
  3. The grammar of this sentence is that which would be used to say that a lawyer is defending an accused client before the court; Ivan Ilich is portrayed as being both lawyer and judge in the most important case he has ever heard: his own life is on trial.  He himself is now in the position that we as readers have been in ever since our judicial guide, Peter Ivanovich, abandoned us to go play bridge after the funeral service at the end of Chapter One.
  4. The Russian makes quite clear Ivan Ilich's personal responsibility for the fact that his life was "wrong" (Russ. "ne to"). Maude's translation: "I've lost all that was given to me" is more accurately rendered as "I ruined (Russ. "pogubil") everything that was given to me."
  5. Which is as much as to say that the "life" he has led is "not that at all" and so is indistinguishable from death.
  6. The usual words are "Pozdravljaju s prichastiem!" ("(I) congratulate (you) on communing (i.e., on having received the sacrament).
  7. One of the sensations of this new dimension of Ivan Ilich's pain is described as "screwing into him," expressed by the verb "vintit'" (from the word "vint" [Eng., "screw"]).  The reader cannot fail to notice the bitter irony in the fact that this same verb means "to play vint," the card game of which Ivan Ilich has been so fond.  His life as he has lived it is the ultimate source of his pain and is, in fact, not life at all, but a form of death.