Heideggerian Themes in Boris Pil'njak's The Naked Year

Eric Swanson, Yale University

Although Boris Pil'njak and Martin Heidegger were contemporaries, there is no possibility that either thinker influenced the other: much of Pil'njak's best work was written well before the 1927 publication of Heidegger's seminal Being and Time, and Pil'njak's reputation was not sufficiently international to have garnered Heidegger's attention. Nevertheless, their works exhibit a wide range of intriguing similarities, from tropes and images to certain foundational concerns of their philosophical systems.

I begin this paper by arguing that Pil'njak, like Heidegger, is more interested in being than in beings, in ontology, 'situatedness', and phenomenological 'revealing' than in individuals and situations themselves. Pil'njak's fragmented narratives and frequent shifts of perspective and voice dramatically convey a Heideggerian objurgation of the cogito and subsequent reunderstanding of human subjectivity.

I then discuss two more specific examples of similarities between Heidegger and Pil'njak, beginning with the "accretive refrain" of the woodpath [proselki or Wege]. My reading of this theme in The Naked Year and other works is strongly informed by Heidegger's usage of the image as a rich, suggestive metaphor for the task of thinking. Next, I examine the relationship between death and authenticity, so important in Being and Time, using the death of Arxip Ivanovich's father as my primary example from The Naked Year.

Despite all of their similarities, Pil'njak and Heidegger clearly should not be considered coeval thinkers. Indeed, the development of Arxip Ivanovich, insofar as his character is finally a positive portrayal of a "leather jacket Bolshevik", is just one example of their numerous divergences. Arxip's evolving authenticity and marriage to the anarchist Natalya Ordynin provide a successful mediation of the dichotomy between anarchism and 'Bolshevism'. I thus conclude with a discussion of Pil'njak's ambivalent relationship with anarchism, emphasizing the differences between Heidegger's arguably anarchic censure of techne and Pil'njak's more realistic acceptance of certain forms of 'technological' thinking.