"Quoting" Moral Literary Economy: Dmitrij Minaev's Evgenij Onegin nashego vremeni

Alina Orlov, University of Southern California

Dmitry Minaev 1863 poem "Evgenii Onegin nashego vremeni" (Eugene Onegin of Our Time) is usually examined for its literary polemics with the nihilism of the sixities in Russia. The poem parodies what the literary world heralded as the new social type--a positivist cynic who rejets all idealist values. But the complexity of the poem's attack has often been overlooked. The poem undermines nihilism not only by parodying it as a social phenomenon but also by pointing out the flaws in it as a philosophy. The poem accomplishes this attack through the semantics of both its phrases and its formal aspects.

Minaev's poem launches a criticism of nihilism in a manner more thorough and theoretically justified than is usually acknowledged. In this paper I will discuss this deeper level of the poem's polemics and focus on the connection it makes between nihilism and unethical 'borrowing.' The poem uses a dual strategy to make this connection clear. First, it presents proto-communist economic models, such as J.P. Proudhon's, which abandon the notion of ownership, as an exension of a nihilist philosophy, which in his view sweeps away all moral values thereby inculcating a dirsrespect for private property. Secondly and more effectively, the poem illustrates the dangers of free borrowing by doing exatly that--citing lines from Pushkin's "Evgenii Onegin" and distoring it in the process. By quoting, misquoting, and so destroying the original, Minaev parodies contemporary critics like Belinsky, Pisarev, and Grigoriev, who do the same. It implies that these critics act unethically when they perceive Onegin as the 'first nihilist' while trying to prolong his cultural significance.

Minaev's primary aim is to extract from literary practice what he considered to be the consequences of nihilist world view, i.e. the attitude that literature is 'free for the taking.' Minaev's misuse of citations, demonstrates the danger of anachronisticly imposing ideologies on texts. Paradoxically enough, while creating a new Onegin, Minaev invests more value in Pushkin's original, asserting that its significance needs to be restored to its historical conext and the orignal poem itself--to Pushkin, its rightful owner.