"In Vino Veritas": A Kierkegaardian Reading of Blok's "Neznakomka"

Hilary Fink, Yale University

In his 1936 work, Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy, Russian religious thinker Lev Shestov states that "Kierkegaard bypassed Russia." While it is true that there is little direct evidence pointing to any Kierkegaardian influence on Russian literature, excerpts of Kierkegaard's Either/Or (Enten-eller) were published in Russian translation in Severnyi vestnik and Vestnik Evropy in the 1880s and 1890s, and scholars Marena Senderovich and Rudolf Neuhauser have taken note of the philosophical similarities between Kierkegaard and Chexov (the latter, they suggest, very possibly having been influenced by the former). In my paper I hope to broaden the study of Kierkegaard in Russia by examining a possible Kierkegaardian subtext to Aleksandr Blok's poem, "Neznakomka" (1906).

None of the scholarship done on "Neznakomka" gives an explanation for the phrase "in vino veritas" which falls at the exact mid-point of the poem. I would suggest that this phrase may be a reference to Kierkegaard's work of the same name which, in the tradition of Plato's Symposium, deals with a banquet of drunken revelers who expound on the meaning of erotic love. I will discuss the parallels between "Neznakomka" and In Vino Veritas (itself a section of Kierkegaard's Stages on Life's Way), which Blok could have read in German translation. I also will discuss similarities between Blok's poem and one of the excerpts from Kierkegaard's Either/Or published in Russian translation in 1885, namely "The Balance Between the Esthetic and the Ethical in the Development of the Personality."

The paper will be organized into roughly three parts: first, I will briefly summarize the little research that has been done on Kierkegaard and Russian literature; secondly, I will discuss the relevant aspects of Kierkegaard's philosophy as found in Either/Or and In Vino Veritas; and lastly I will propose a Kierkegaardian reading of Blok's poem that hopefully will supplement and enrich the already persuasive readings of the work provided by such scholars as Mochul'skij, Bowlt, and Reeve.

Lyudmila Parts, Columbia University

"The Sedulous Providence of Nature": Skovoroda's Theory of Nature in Valerij Shevchuk's "The Moon Cuckoo of the Swallow's Nest"

Lyudmila Parts, Columbia University

Valery Shevchuk is arguably one of the most significant Ukrainian writers of today. He started his literary career in the 60s, was not published during the stagnation period, and made a triumphal return in the 80s. Now he is among the leading figures of Ukrainian literature and is respected even by the rebellious younger generation.

In one of his interviews, he states that in his work, he prefers to write about historical past, rarely turns to contemporary topics, and even when he does, he "attempts to portray a contemporary person in historical clothing." The declaration is a predictable one: for many years, Shevchuk conducted research in Ukrainian literary history, mainly the Baroque period, and edited and published five anthologies of Ukrainian Baroque. I intend to show that Shevchuk's own creative works exhibit traces of baroque poetics, especially those prominent in one of the main figures of late Baroque period, Hryhory Skovoroda. I will concentrate on one of Shevchuk's stories: "The Moon Cuckoo of the Swallow Nest" (Misiatseva zozul'ka iz Lastiv'iachogo Gnizda).

In the above quoted interview, Shevchuk called Skovoroda his teacher in life and art. The eighteenth-century Ukrainian philosopher, the Ukrainian Socrates, as he was often called, addressed the questions essential to any inquiry into a human soul: the basis of human happiness and the place of man in nature. Nature for Skovoroda is the name for God or rather the omnipresent and omnipotent force that rules the life of men. This definition of Nature seems to be the basis of Shevchuk's vision of the world in "The Moon Cuckoo." The plot of the story takes its roots in one of Skovoroda's fables, and the characters' descriptions as well as the motivations for their actions correspond to Skovoroda's theory of the processes in Nature. Although the story is set on the background of a modern city and is full of details of contemporary life, Shevchuk's subject is not contemporaneity. The immediate circumstances of the characters' lives remain superfluous to the main idea of the story. Shevchuk applies Skovoroda's theory to the realistic description of a modern city and produces a striking stylistic and moral shift, making a story about primitive desire into a philosophical parable.

In Skovoroda's fable, a blind man carries a man without legs and arms and "one traveler is created from two kindred souls, without any fusion of the two, but also without division into servant and served." Together they reach their family home. In Shevchuk's story, the main character, Yul'ka, is also a traveler, who left her village in search for a new home in the city. To create a home, she uses her appealing female qualities as a payment for men's able hands. Her actions are described as uncalculated, almost unconscious. "Birds know nothing of shipbuilding, says Skovoroda, but they have no need of such knowledge. What they need to know they do know." Yul'ka, the cuckoo of the Swallow Nest, is a part of nature and, unconsciously, like a bird or a flower, she uses the knowledge and the qualities she does have to obtain what she needs. The ultimate purpose of her actions is, like for everything in Nature, the continuation of life, namely conceiving a child. Her transient goal is to create a house. The motif of a house is among central ones in Skovoroda's teachings: in his typical way of opposing inward and outward nature of every thing, he calls for creating a house built for body and soul.

The story is tightly structured in such a way that every character plays a part in upholding the natural balance. Shevchuk's story is a modern parable that speaks to the reader (to quote the writer himself) "not through some kind of moralizing syllogisms but through artistic images that do not require logistic comments."

Mark Konecny, Institute of Modern Russian Culture

Refashioning the Discourse of Everyday Life: The Futurists' Feast in a Time of Plague

Mark Konecny, Institute of Modern Russian Culture

This paper is a study of the specific role of cooking within the performative discourse of Futurist poetry. The rabelaisian excess of physical sensuality in their art was a deliberate attempt to transform the artistic culture of Russia in the 1910's. Relying on Richard Schechner's theory of the anthropology of performance, as well as Claude Levi-Strauss' studies of the role of food in culture, I analyze the radical innovations of Russian Modernists in their quest to give physical form to the metaphysical body. For the Futurists, poetry functioned as a cookbook for mixing mediums and ideas; although the experimentations of individual avant-garde writers, especially Velimir Xlebnikov and Vladimir Majakovskij, were widely praised, the Futurists, as a group, had not established themselves in accordance with their manifestos as arbiters of a new esthetic. Their dilemma was to transform the individual art of the few practitioners of Futurism into a movement with followers who could in turn produce art and perpetuate the form.

This process was to be much more expansive than "mere" art, it was the act of transfiguring the body. Virtually from the birth of Russian Futurism in 1910-1911, the concept of food was appropriated as a central organizing metaphor. The purpose of this paper is to provide insights into the broader goals of Russian Futurism, the transformation of everyday life into artistic endeavor delineating the integral idea of food in their artistic cosmology. I limit my focus to the symbolic function of food during the height of pre-Revolutionary Russian Futurism in 1911-1913, specifically Mixail Larionov's theoretical pronouncements on food in art and literature which he describes in terms of primitive ritual and scientific evolution. As a part of his overall vision of Futurism, Larionov expanded the concept of new art to include elements of everyday life in the creative process. However, this transformation is not merely an aesthetic readjustment or a new point of view; it is, for the Futurists, a physical change in the body of man. Drawing on the heritage of mystical-literary philosophy of Nikolaj Fedorov, Andrej Belyj, and Vladimir Solov'ev, the movement attempted to bring about a union of art and everyday life in the service of the creation of the "new human."

Natalie Foshko

The New Approach to Russian History in Staroj's Continuation of War and Peace

Natalie Foshko

The collapse of Communist ideology in the Soviet Union was accompanied by radical transformations in all spheres of social life, including literature. The new literature begins with the awareness of a radical discontinuity with the past. The historical and literary past is used as an instrument to analyze the present and to predict the future. I will show that the tradition of modernizing literary and cultural heritage is extremely popular in Russian contemporary society. The author adds new events to a masterpiece while trying to formulate his version of history and to connect it explicitly or implicitly with the present. In the two-volume novel Pierre and Natasha by Vasily Staroj, a continuation of Tolstoj's War and Peace. Vasily Staroj rejects Tolstoj's philosophical concepts as well as the Soviet ideological doctrine. He argues with Tolstoj on the issues of forces operating in history, and freedom versus necessity. In contrast to Tolstoj, Staroj sees history as a change of seasons: during the first twenty-five years of every century, new ideas appear and mature. During the second twenty-five years, these ideas degenerate, then regenerate, and, during the last twenty-five years, disappear (Robert Weimann). The role of people in history is of special interest in such a system. Staroj's conception of freedom is based on his own approach to nature and history and does not correspond to Tolstoj's concept either. In contrast to Tolstoj, Staroj thinks that Russian people cannot appreciate freedom because they understand it as a possibility to do nothing and to be free from any obligations towards their society.

Staroj in contrast to Tolstoj as well as the Soviet ideological doctrine significantly reduces the role of people in history. According to him, people have no will or power in times of crisis: You may play with words referring to people, to their maturity or immaturity. People are always mature and immature. You may analyze their preparedness or incapacity for decisive actions. You may repeat again and again that the Decembrists were separated from the people; as if those who a century later took the Winter Palace were close to people? All the facts in Russian history prove one, oft-repeated simple truth, but nobody wants to accept it: PEOPLE NEVER PLAYED OR PLAY A ROLE IN THE SEIZURE OF POWER (Staroj I, 477).

Although Vasily Staroj considers his novel a continuation of Tolstoj's War and Peace, he does not share Tolstoj's philosophical views. Nor does he support Soviet ideology. His view on history and man is much more pessimistic. As an alternative to the bloody revolution, he sees only suffering and people's limitless patience.


V.Staroj. P'er i Natasha, (Moskva: Vagrius, 1996).

Robert Weimann. Literaturgeschichte und Mythologie, (Berlin and Weimar: Aufbau-Verlag, 1971).

Nicole M. Monnier, Princeton University

Berlin on Belinskij

Nicole M. Monnier, Princeton University

Isaiah Berlin's 1955 article, "Belinsky: Moralist and Prophet," remains one of the most powerful and persuasive English-language essays written on the Nineteenth-Century critic Vissarion Belinskij. Together with the other articles Berlin wrote under the general title, "A Marvellous Decade," the essay became a solid classic when it was republished in the 1978 collection of Berlin's writings, Russian Thinkers. Yet the essay was neither Berlin's first nor last rumination on the role of Belinskij in the Russian tradition. In 1947 on a BBC radio show (and then in an article for the BBC weekly magazine, The Listener), Berlin spoke to a British audience about "The Man Who Became a Myth;" fifteen years later, he gave a lecture to an audience at Smith College on the unique commitment of Russian writers to the social and moral import of literature, a commitment he saw born of Belinskij's famous articles on Pushkin. It is in this later lecture, published (for the first time?) as "Artistic Commitment: A Russian Legacy" in the 1996 collection, The Sense of Reality, that Berlin made his most provocative contribution to Belinskij scholarship. Berlin placed the critic within a Russian liberal tradition, thus challenging Soviet and American (specifically, Rufus Mathewson Jr.'s) interpretations of the critic as a radical whose most direct line of descendants included Chernyshevskij, Dobroljubov, Pisarev, Plexanov et al. Against this "radical" reading of the critic, Berlin argued that Belinskij's influence most strongly manifested itsself among non-radical writers such as Turgenev, Goncharov, and Tolstoj, writers whose works not only perpetuated Belinskij's concerns for literature but also eventually carried them to the West in a way that the writings of the radical critics were incapable of doing. My paper traces the development of Berlin's reception of Belinskij from the 1947 radio show through the 1955 "Marvellous Decade" to his early 1960s "Artistic Commitment." I argue that "Artistic Commitment" is ultimately the most important of Berlin's essays on Belinskij, in part because of its function as a rebuttal of R. Mathewson Jr.'s assertion (in The Positive Hero in Russian Literature, 1958/1975) that "Belinskij was neither utilitarian nor totalitarian, Berlin insists, but he was the indispensable precursor of both"(42). "Artistic Commitment" examined Belinskij's valuation of art in terms drawn from Berlin's own philosophical understanding of the incommensurability and conflictual nature of values, a framework which produced a more subtle and generous reading of Belinskij than found in Berlin's earlier essays and lectures on the critic. Finally, I discuss to what extent Berlin's re-situation of Belinskij within a liberal tradition (in both Berlin's and the more traditional understanding of liberalism) is ultimately successful.

Olga Slivitskaya, St. Petersburg Alternative University

Tolstoj i Bunin: krizis antropocentrizma

Olga Slivitskaya, St. Petersburg Alternative University

V tvorchestve Bunina projavilas' vazhnaja osobennost' iskusstva XX veka--krizis antropocentrizma. Bunin--xudozhnik tolstovskoj orientacii, i v etom otnoshenii on idet po puti, prolozhennomu Tolstym, no dal'she nego. V tvorchestve Tolstogo est' tendencija k razrusheniju antropocentrizma, a u Bunina ee realizacija.

Oboim pisateljam svojstvenna izbytochnost', vyvodjashchaja za predely xarakterov i sjuzheta. Esli u Tolstogo universal'nym esteticheskim principom javljaetsja "radikal'naja avtonomija sobytija" (G. S. Morson), to u Bunina oni reducirovany do detali. Esli u Tolstogo svjaz' mezhdu sobytijami oslablena, to u Bunina detali raspolozheny paratakticheski. No v celom tekst togo i drugogo proizvodit vpechatlenie "fabriki oborvannyx nitej".

Raznica v tom, chto kogda Tolstoj razdvigal panoramu mira, nepremennoj instanciej bylo soznanie geroja, cherez kotoroe propuskalis' novye vpechatlenija. No velikolepie mira stol' grandiozno, chto ostaetsja izbytok, i on naxoditsja v zone avtorskogo povestvovanija. Bunin chasto obrashchaetsja k chitatelju, minuja dushu geroev. Rol' sjuzheta umaljaetsja, i vnimanie perenositsja na vnepolozhnyj mir. Menjaetsja masshtab izobrazhenija, i chelovek chasto okazyvaetsja ne v fokuse proizvedenija.

Eta tendencija proslezhivaetsja na raznyx esteticheskix urovnjax--detali, kompozicii, pejzazha, psixologii i t. d. V kachestve primera sopostavljajutsja proizvedenija s blizkoj sjuzhetnoj osnovoj: "Tanja" i "Voskresen'e", "Paraxod 'Saratov'" i "Anna Karenina" (t. 1, ch. 3, gl. XXII).

Patricia Carden, Cornell University

Anatole the Rake: Tolstoj and the 18th-Century Novel

Patricia Carden, Cornell University

A striking feature of the text of Tolstoj's Vojna i mir is its use of traditional patterns from the literature of the past. Although his frequent recurrence to traditional patterns has been called parodistic, this is not, strictly speaking, an accurate characterization.

While preparing to write Vojna i mir, Tolstoj made a point of acquainting himself with the novels read by people of the era. Thus, something of the sentimental heroine goes into the making of Natasha, Princess Marija, m-lle Bourienne, etc. Just as the sentimental novel was the primary vehicle for conceptions of women in the early decades of the nineteenth-century, so the "rake's novel" remained a powerful shaper of conceptions of men. In the library at Jasnaja Poljana there remained from the time of Prince Nikolaj Volkonskij works by Crebillon fils, Richardson and others who defined the rake as a literary type.

The rake is refracted into a number of male characters of Vojna i mir--Doloxov, Ippolit Kuragin, even Nikolaj Rostov. But above all, Anatole Kuragin is measured to the model. Tolstoj even includes a disquisition on the rake ("those male madeleines") as a type.

In keeping with his treatment of literary types throughout the novel, Tolstoj makes literary influence not a feature of his own authorial sphere, but of his character's consciousness. It is Anatole who conceives himself as a rake, adopts the rake's values, and acts in the way he thinks appropriate to his chosen role.

Paul A. Karpuk, Central Connecticut State University

Ukrainian Folklore in Nikolaj Gogol''s Taras Bul'ba

Paul A. Karpuk, Central Connecticut State University

In this paper I propose to thoroughly examine Gogol''s use of material from Ukrainian songs in collections he consulted while writing "Taras Bul'ba," with a view towards establishing to what extent the vision of Ukrainian history displayed in that tale was conditioned by them, as compared to the influence of purportedly factual sources, such as official histories and chronicles, which the author is known to have used.

A number of Soviet scholars have done excellent studies tracing Gogol''s use of material from Ukrainian songs in "Taras Bul'ba" (cf. the article by Proxorov in the "Literaturnye pamjatniki" edition of the work, or Mashinskij's book-length study of "Taras Bul'ba"), and to a certain extent I am building upon their research. However, these scholars were operating under ideological constraints, in particular a certain obligation to prove that Gogol' necessarily relied upon folklore because it represented the collective wisdom of "the people." Thus, while synthesizing the existing studies on the topic, I hope to undertake a more honest assessment of these folklore borrowings, and to add fresh insights based upon a rereading of the primary sources. I have done considerable research on the author's use of source material in Evenings on a Farm Near Dikan'ka, and believe that I can bring to this problem a more informed perspective concerning all the sources on Ukrainian history, ethnography, and folklore which the author consulted from the late 1820's to mid 1830's, as well as in the late 1830's and early 1840's when he rewrote "Taras Bul'ba." During the past fifteen years I have acquired a copy of almost every primary source on Ukrainian history, ethnography, and folklore Gogol' is known to have used in writing both the Dikan'ka and Mirgorod cycles, and therefore the emphasis will be on direct citation from these primary sources (for instance, in Ukrainian folklore, the collections of Maksimovich, Certelev, Lukashevich, and Sreznevskij among others; among historical narratives, those of Bantysh-Kamenskij, Rigel'man, Shafonskij, Myshetskij, Tumanskij, Ruban and others).

It is my hypothesis that, while many episodes and motifs in the tale can be traced to folklore sources, the case for Gogol''s vision of Ukrainian history during the era of Cossack uprisings being conditioned primarily by folklore has been greatly overstated. Statements by the author himself to that effect in his correspondence or in his article "On Little Russian Songs" have been taken out of context or exaggerated, and most importantly, not measured against textual evidence testifying to the importance of published and unpublished factual histories and chronicles which the author consulted. It is my belief that, by citing representative examples of the author's use of primary sources in both spheres, I will be able to generally characterize the nature of such borrowings in both instances, and to draw conclusions concerning the relative importance of folklore vis-a-vis factual narratives in determining Gogol''s broad view of Ukrainian history during the period of Cossack rebellions against Poland.