Sergej Dovlatov's Nevidimaja kniga and Zona

Benjamin M. Sutcliffe, University of Pittsburgh

Sergei Dovlatov's Nevidimaja kniga and Zona use inconsistency, humor, irony, and descriptions of writing to protect the text from the threatening environment of Brezhnev's USSR. What results is textual autonomy, directed by the narrator's ability to represent the world beyond the text without the text being overly compromised. Zona deals with the experiences of a prison camp guard, while Nevidimaja kniga describes Dovlatov's frustrations as an author. Both rely on their narrators maintaining control over material represented within the text.

Authorial control operates through inconsistent reproduction of "factual" letters Dovlatov allegedly received during efforts to publish his early writing. The only logic uniting these inconsistencies is the narrator's attempt to maintain control over material appearing in the povest'. Humor also asserts authorial control: lamentable events become less formidable when seen through Dovlatov's comic lens. Mixail Baxtin's Epic and Novel and Rabelais and His World outline connections between humor and genre that apply to Zona and Nevidimaja kniga.

Stagnation-era irony is also significant: both texts use irony as an organizing principle asserting narrative control over byt's otherwise unbearable trials. What is frightening in the world beyond the text becomes humorous when represented by Dovlatov. Anatolij Vishevskij's Politics of Irony is useful in analyzing Dovlatov's writing: irony implies a liberating distance between the narrative and the events narrative describes.

Dovlatov's representation of writing also highlights the author as organizer of the text, as well as containing elements of inconsistency, humor, and irony. All of these representational strategies fulfill a structural function, giving Zona and Nevidimaja kniga a fluid yet concrete presence distinct from that of the surrounding world.