Alexander Burry, Northwestern University
In this paper, I will examine Platonov's povest' Kotlovan by focusing on the plot trajectory involving Prushevskij, the engineer of the all-proletarian home. In the description of the main events of the plot, the digging of the foundation pit and the forced collectivization of the peasants, Platonov satirizes Soviet utopian projects largely by revealing their barbaric and absurdly grandiose, impractical aspects (the pit winds up serving as a burial ground rather than as a foundation for a great communal structure). In this secondary plotline concentrating on the engineer's personal, individual struggle, however, he seems to critique the utopia from another angle, highlighting memory, psychological trauma and the difficulty of overcoming class roots.
Prushevskij's melancholy and preoccupation with his memory of a bourgeois girl interfere with his enthusiasm for his work and weaken his convictions regarding the future. His obsession with a "forbidden" past continually compromises the dedication to the building of a utopian society required by the Soviet State. As I will show, Prushevskij's obsession in turn permeates much of the work, as his memory impels the quintessential proletarian Chiklin to explore his own youthful recollection, ostensibly of the same girl, and recreate his personal past. Thus Prushevskij, as both the engineer of a utopian construction and a former bourgeois, symbolizes a conflict between past and future which is central to the work, and to Platonov's criticism of Soviet utopian projects. The utopia will fail, Platonov argues implicitly, if it does not take into account the forces of memory and the past, personal conflict, and the simple need for meaningful, concrete human interaction.
An important issue I will discuss in this connection is the transformation Prushevskij undergoes towards the end of the work, becoming a teacher of the cultural revolution as a result of his encounter with a young Pioneer girl. This incident offers a somewhat surprising contrast to the gloom and despair of the rest of the povest'. I will explore the question of how this ending relates to Prushevskij's struggle, the main portion of the plot, and Platonov's ideas on utopia in general. I will also discuss the transformation in the context of construction novels of the period such as Gladkov's Cement.
Matthew Rosenstein, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
In her article on Viktor Pelevin and Russian postmodernism, Sally Dalton-Brown refers several times in passing to Ljudmila Petrushevskaja as a postmodernist author. Another critic, Edith Clowes, discusses the possibility of reading Petrushevskaja's "Novye Robinzony (Xronika konca XX veka)" as a postmodernist work, inquiring whether "postcommunism" and "postmodernism" can refer to the same phenomenon. These suggestions of ways to approach Petrushevskaja's oeuvre raises the question: Is she really a postmodernist author, and how do her works display this postmodernism? In order to answer this question, however, others must be confronted first: Does the fact that she writes today alone make her postmodernist, or are other factors besides chronological ones involved? How does one define postmodernism? What is the nature of postmodernism in Russian society and culture?
In considering these problems, I select two definitions of "postmodernism" and apply them to Russian literature in general and, subsequently, to Petrushevskaja's works. In his interpretation of the term postmodernism, Brian McHale focuses on its differences with modernism, identifying technical practices and themes commonly encountered within both categories. He concludes that the primacy in postmodernism of ontological concerns--those having to do with modes of existence-- distinguishes it from modernism, which emphasizes epistemological concerns--those involving the sources, nature, and limits of knowledge. This framework serves as a useful tool in recognizing postmodernist tendencies across national boundaries and from one author to the next. Jean-Francois Lyotard, however, understands postmodernism as a process in which the author treats art as a language game without preestablished rules, which must in turn be formulated during the course of writing. Such a definition can be applied literally to the situation Russian writers faced with the relaxation of Socialist Realism's restrictions signalled by glasnost' and the fall of the Soviet Union.
Petrushevskaja's writing has evolved over the course of three decades: works penned between about the late 1960s to the mid-1980s tend towards modernist epistemological concerns (e.g. "Svoi krug" ); her later prose, from the mid-1980s to the present, seems to be moving towards postmodernist ontological concerns (e.g. the prose cycle V sadax drugix vozmozhnostej ). Furthermore, Petrushevskaja appears increasingly to treat literature as a game, with works such as the series Dikie zhivotnye skazki (begun in 1993) displaying a postmodernist irreverent humor.
Michael Gorham, University of Florida
Among the more troubling conclusions of Jakov Shafir's 1924 study of the reception of Bolshevik newspapers in the countryside was that, for the most part, peasants were not reading the papers at all. A combination of factors--low literacy levels and problems in production and distribution, in particular--led rural populations to depend on other, oral sources for information about the "outside world." These sources, Shafir wrote, assumed the form of "talk, rumor and gossip" and were almost completely dominated by "counter-revolutionary" forces--"popes, sorceresses, [...] nepmen, former landowners and various other white-guard fellows." In the tales about Lenin as the antichrist, anti-Soviet miracles, wonder-working icons and apocalyptic rumors of war, taxes, UFOs, meteorites and the end of the world itself, Shafir detected a degree of consistency and overlap that suggested organized campaigns against the Bolsheviks and urged in his report that, particularly in those regions where the paper was little read, more attention be directed to these spheres of what he called ustnaja slovesnost'.
Shafir's observations address two points relevant to my discussion in this paper: first, that the Bolsheviks faced a formidable communication gap between center and periphery--particular the rural peasantry--and, secondly, that cultural leaders recognized both the problem and the importance of oral narratives in the representation of their ideas. Predicated as it was on slogans that called for "all power to the people" and the formation of a "worker-peasant state," the emerging Soviet state had an enormous stake in the nurturing of a new "voice" among the peasantry, a verbal indication that the new ideas and language of state were becoming "naturalized" among the rural population. In this paper I discuss several examples how the oral production of the masses was filtered through the lens of contemporary fiction writers, folklorists and ethnographers. I do so in order to show how verbal portraits of the narod, in all their various permutations, came to function as didactic tools for the legitimation of the new Soviet state and the discursive shaping of its citizens. In the course of my analysis of pseudo-ethnographic civil war reminiscences, I pay particular attention both to the ambiguous distinctions between ethnography and fiction and to the power of language and narrative in battles over collective memory and identity formation.
I focus on two case studies of pseudo-ethnographic collections: Sof'ja Fedorchenko's Narod na vojne, published in various forms between 1917 and 1927, and the 1931 collection of oral narratives entitled Revoljucija: Ustnye rasskazy ural'skix rabochix o grazhdanskoj vojne, edited by the ethnographers Semen Mirer and Vasilij Borovik. My reasons for selecting these over the scores of like publications that appeared in the first fifteen years of Bolshevik rule are threefold: both address the politically and culturally potent theme of the civil war--one of the most important sources of state legitimation and myth-making of the time; both received considerable public attention when they first appeared; and both make some conscious effort to blur the boundaries between fiction and fact (hence, my use of the hyphenated prefix "pseudo-"ethnography). At the same time, their starkly different representations of the glas naroda highlight the shift in the relative currency of competing discourses during the 1920s.
Natalie Repin, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
This is an experimental paper that sets out to explore the possibility of perceiving V. Erofeev's Moscow-Petushki in a new way. The paper takes its departure from the double gesture discernible in the original subtitle of the work--"poema,"--eventually removed by the author, and suggests that "nouveau roman" is a more viable way of assimilating the work.
In the first section, the paper discusses the main theme of the work. The second section offers a reconstruction of the poema aspect, providing the necessary background and analysis of the concept of poema in the process. The third section is dedicated to the retrieval of Erofeev's work as a nouveau roman, beginning with a clarification of term itself. Contrary to poema, the nouveau roman has a short history, but is counterbalanced by being the literary appropration of a particularly sophisticated and radical shift in contemporary philosophy leading to esoteric aspects of Nietzsche and Heidegger in their French reception. The fourth section offers a juxtaposition of the two genres in the context of Erofeev's work. While nouveau roman provides a better captures its deep structures and semantics, poema is more consistent with its surface characteristics. In the final section, the paper evaluates the work in the new light of recent changes in post-communist Russia, showing how these later changes further illuminate our reading of the generic features discussed above.
Paula Powell Sapienza, Fairfield University
While lacking a fully-formed theoretic conceptualization of acmeist poetics, Viktor Shklovskij nevertheless possessed an intuitive, practical understanding of the acmeist use of what was later to be termed subtext and intertext. Quotation-introduced subtext (Kiril Taranovsky) figures as an important structural element in all of Shklovskij's writing, and he uses it to create new meaning through the assimilation, transposition, and transformation of signs, and to enter into literary polemics (metatextuality). A central point of debate that developed between Shklovskij and Osip Mandel'shtam in the 1910s and 1920s, for example, centered on the question of the role of cultural memory in literary production, the value of which the futurist Shklovskij denied. In the 1930s, however, a significant shift in Shklovskij's position took place, and he began to embrace Mandel'shtam's notions of repetition and remembrance, memory and recognition in verbal art.
In the final decades of his life, Shklovskij's reflections about how verbal art is created and, most especially, how it renews itself over time (through the enactment of cultural memory), are characterized by an attempt to contain and overcome the contradictions of futurist and acmeist thought on these issues within his own writing. Shklovskij accomplishes his task by creating intertextually organized texts that both recall and recast the futurist-acmeist debates of the past.
The purpose of this paper is to describe Shklovskij's methods of assimilation and transformation of others' texts, and to consider the extent to which Shklovskij was able theoretically to conceive of the intertextual processes that he produced critically and artistically. Relying upon Taranovskij's concept of subtext, the analysis will focus most specifically upon Shklovskij's appropriation of Osip Mandel'shtam's poem "Bessonnica" in his later books, Tetiva (1970), Energija zabluzhdenija (1981), and O teorii prozy (1983). Shklovskij takes Mandel'shtam's images of sleeplessness, the wedge of cranes, the sea, Homer, and the "love that moves all things," recasting them so as to raise the ever important issue for him of artistic invention while at the same time preserving Mandel'shtam's theme of cultural memory. Through lexical repetition and the introduction of other subtexts (e.g., Gogol''s "bird-trojka," Mandel'shtam's "blind swallow," and Majakovskij's "love"), Shklovskij creates an example of the type of multi-layered text that "preserves the traces of time," that is, that re-members its cultural antecedents, while at the same time creating new meaning that attempts to surpass the precursor's text.
Radha Balasubramanian, University of Nebraska
Bulgakov's Master and Margarita is studied for the most part from the point of view of Christianity, specifically orthodox Christianity, to explain the natural and supernatural realms and their interrelationship in the novel. I propose to extend this study and look at the novel from some ancient beliefs of Hinduism to further illuminate the criss-crossing of different worlds, the role of God and devil, and the way to find the ultimate truth through divine intervention. I feel among non-western religions, Hinduism offers a very wide scope of explanations including within it seemingly contradictory elements to form a harmonious whole. Hindus firmly believe that, if God is looked upon as the savior of man, he must manifest himself, whenever the forces of evil threaten to destroy human values. In Indian mythology God is incarnated in this world different forms at different times for different purposes (the more well known of such incarnations of Rama and Krishna are recorded in the epics Ramayana and The Mahabharata). Similar to the role of God in Hindu mythology, divinity intervenes (as a devil) to expose moral degradation in Moscow in Bulgakov's novel. In order to reaffirm the divinity of the devil, Bulgakov parallels his stay in Moscow with the Holy Week in Jerusalem, crunches the time elapsed between Christ's life and present-day Moscow, and has the devil recounting the facts from the historical past when Christ was crucified. It is not God, but the devil, who comes to Moscow, as the emissary to assert the existence of God.
The epigraph to the novel points to the importance of Bulgakov's devil's unexpected characteristic: as one who "forever works good," but seldom "wills evil." Seen through Hindu beliefs, this dichotomy in the devil is a part of the divine (which is God or "Brahman"). That is, the supreme one combines all opposites within itself. Some of these broad concepts of Hinduism explains the unconventional premise on which the novel is based. Regardless of whether or not Bulgakov was directly influenced by Hinduism, there are many more smaller details which lead me to believe that he was presenting a pantheistic understanding of the world akin to Hinduism. This becomes evident in Bulgakov's inclusion of animals, birds, precious metals, colors, and symbols (triangles, diamonds, etc.), all of which have a particular function to play the bizarre plot. For example, Voland, who adorns himself with gold which is linked to the gods and goddesses of the sun (Cunningham 1992), claims he was present inconspicuously at the crucifixion. It appears that he might have taken the form of a sparrow which is also connected to the sun god (Andrew 1995).
The hero and heroine are mystified and unrealistic. The Master, besides being compared to Pilate, Woland and Bulgakov, has also been identified with Christ in the novel. Obviously, his personality which appears fantastic and unfinished, has been given a purpose: reestablishing faith through his writing. It will not be far-fetched to see his being as an incarnation of God Vishnu who is personified in ten forms ("dasa avatars") when he is concerned with social and political realities of the world and moral balance on earth. Like, Christ and Vishnu, the Master's sole purpose is to restore human values in the morally corrupt, atheistic Russia through his writing. The heroine, Margarita, is presented as neither human nor a witch and is often difficult to characterize. But when seen as Hindu deities, Radha and Kali, who embody feminine love and power through their sublime and fierce images, her role as a lover and a restorer of goodness and truth becomes easily comprehensible.
Thus I propose to delve beyond Old Testament and Hebraic tradition to explain some of the features from a new angle. My interpretation does not repudiate the antecedents established until now, but rather enhances them and gives a richer understanding of the novel.
Rebecca Stanton, Columbia University
The notion of autobiographical fiction -- of embedding lived experience in a fictional narrative -- is by no means a revolutionary one; indeed, it enjoys a strong tradition in Russian literature, encompassing works as varied -- and as celebrated -- as Tolstoj's Childhood--Boyhood--Youth to Solzhenicyn's Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Typically, such narratives do not present the reader with severe epistemological or generic difficulties; they simply invite him or her to participate in the ordinary readerly activity of "pretending" that the story is true, with the additional gratification of knowing that parts of it actually are so. The "autobiographical" stories of Isaac Babel' (by which term I intend to designate the sequence of childhood stories including "The Story of My Dovecote", "First Love," and others), however, pose a unique problem: though fictional, they "pretend" otherwise, identifying themselves, by means of various cues, as autobiography. By giving his first-person narrator/protagonist his own name -- Isaac Babel' -- as well as certain of his own particulars (age, appearance, location, etc.) Babel' invites the reader to place genuine confidence in the narrator, rather than the provisional credence mentioned above: he invokes, in fact, what Lejeune has called the "autobiographical pact," which both calls for and justifies complete faith in the veracity of the narrative.
Under the influence of the autobiographical pact, the events of the story undergo an interesting transformation; no longer a "harmless" fiction, they aquire the status of a lie -- a deliberate attempt by the author to mislead his readers. The success of this strategy may be observed at work in Lionel Trilling's famous Introduction to the 1955 edition of Babel''s collected stories in English translation, in which Trilling assumes that certain facts from the story "First Love" (in particular, the episode in which Babel''s father kneels in supplication before a mounted Cossack) to be true. Extra-textual information (extraneous, that is, to the stories themselves) about Babel''s life proves this to have been an embarrassing mistake (the episode was invented), but reference to extra-textual biographical data, especially in the case of a figure as enduringly enigmatic as Babel', is hardly a satisfying way to investigate such a problem! The natural readerly inclination is, rather, to seek out clues within the stories themselves that may shed light on their relationship to veracity on the one hand and to invention on the other; to find the ways in which they reveal themselves intratextually.
The search for such clues in "The Story of my Dovecote" immediately yields an abundance of instances in which the truth is distorted, distended, inverted or otherwise interfered with; it seems, on examination, that Babel' is intent upon establishing his own pedigree as a liar, for the Babel' men, it soon becomes clear, are both over-credulous and, in an assortment of ways, mendacious. Almost all the speech acts referred to in the story represent some kind of falsification. The series of fictions, falsehoods, fantasies and other untruthful utterances reaches a climax, of course, in the "lying stories" of narrator "Babel''s" great-uncle Shoyl, whose death later takes over from the dovecote as the main event of the story, belying its title (another "lie"!).
A closer inspection of the stories in the "autobiographical" or childhood sequence, however, reveals an interesting fact: Shoyl's stories are in fact cooroborated by "Babel''s" grandmother, in "Childhood. At Grandmother's" -- a story written (though not published) 15 years earlier -- and the Babel' women, in contradistinction to their men, are inclined neither to lie, nor to be excessively credulous. In fact, their peculiar clarity of vision is repeatedly emphasised in the childhood stories. Whereas previously the veracity of Shoyl's stories was in doubt, then, it is now their mendacity (and, by association, that of the narrator) that is under suspicion -- surely an odd state of affairs in a work of fiction!
By calling reliable witnesses to undermine the "liar's" pedigree he has taken such pains to establish, "Babel'" undermines his own unreliability, adding a new and subtle layer of confusion to the Cretan paradox with which he seems intent on presenting the reader. This paper proposes to examine in detail the successive tranformations (from "true" to "false" and vice versa) which autobiographical and story events, in Babel''s hands, undergo; and to consider some of the generic and epistemological implications of these transformations.
Stephen Blackwell, University of Tennessee
The endings of Nabokov's novels bear striking similarities throughout his career. In varying degrees and combinations, they all include several of the following thematic and structural elements: departure, escape, death; return to the beginning (circle), return to and revise the beginning (spiral), new beginning, termination. The endings further subdivide into those which imply an open-ended narrative and those which imply a closed narrative. Certain endings, such as those of The Gift and Pale Fire, serve as ironic variations or structural hyperextensions of these basic forms. Without doubt, this narrative consistency reflects Nabokov's fascination with the paradox of infinite experience within finite existence. Starting from the perhaps surprising homogeneity in the general structure of Nabokovian conclusions, this study explores the linkages between narrative detail and closure in several novels with the goal of creating a more nuanced typology of novelistic ends. This approach bears directly upon the ways such vital topics as ethics, free will, and metaphysics can be discussed Nabokov's oeuvre. Particular attention is paid to The Defense, Glory, The Gift, and Pale Fire, with references to several other novels and stories.