At the Beginning There Was a Word: Aleksej Remizov's Rossija v pis'menax in the Light of Linguistic Mysticism

Marina Aptekman, Brown University

Aleksej Remizov tends to be regarded in literary criticism as a symbolist. Although critics sometimes compare Remizov's works to futurist writings, especially to Xlebnikov's, at the first glimpse there is not quite much in common between the art of Remizov and that of Futurists. However, on precisely analyzing the texts of Remizov and other futurists, one can see a very strong similarity: the attitude towards the role of language and reality in literature. Critics have already noticed that both Remizov and Xlebnikov are interested in the study of myth, as well about their literary attempts to create new myths on the base of the old ones. It has been also mentioned that Remizov, just as Krjuchenyx or Xlebnikov, actually tries to play with new words, creating neologisms from old roots, this is to say to play in slovotvorchestvo. H. Baran tries to unite these two attempts; the attempt to create a mew myth and the attempt to create a new word under a term mifotvorchestvo ("Towards the Typology of Russian Modernism: Ivanov, Remizov, Xlebnikov", in Alexei Remizov: Approaches to a Protean Writer (Columbus: Slavica, 1986), 182 86). However, in my paper I would argue that it is not quite mifotvorchestvo but mirotvorchestvo that unites Remizov and the Futurists, that is to say, the attitude of both the Futurists and Remizov towards language as a tool for the creation of a new personal world by their own language.

This paper tries to analyze Remizov's attitude towards the active power of language using examples from three chapters of Rossija v pis'menax "Azbuka," "Sunduk "and "Cifry ". I will argue that both Remizov and the Futurists viewed language as Logos: the mystical word of God about which the apostle John speaks in his Gospel. According to St. John, when God was creating the world, he pronounced the names of the objects, and these abstract names have turned to be a force for the appearance of the object in physical reality. This linguistic theory of creation became extremely popular among the Medieval mystics, especially the followers of the conception of Cabbala, who claimed that if one succeeds to find the long forgotten original divine language, one would possess the ability to create objects anew (see G. Sholem Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism [Jerusalem: Alia Press, 1989]). The major aims of both Remizov and the Russian Futurists are close to those of Medieval followers of Cabbala, for both try in their works to reveal the mystical power of language in order to create reality.

The chapter "Sunduk" illustrates how language can create reality anew. The old trunk is open, but none of the belongings of the trunk has survived the decay, only a list of them. When read, the list re-creates the lost objects. The second chapter, "Azbuka" reflects Remizov's view that a "letter is but an entrance into a living magical life of the language and human being," and closely resembles Shklovskij's definition of zaum: lines of words and letters that seem meaningless on the first glimpse are intended to get to the original power of language. I likewise discuss Remizov's strong passion for the Glagolitic alphabet, regarded by critics as a symbolic alphabet in which every letter still has a meaning, as in Hebrew. The paper argues that Remizov tries to give the alphabet in his "Azbuka" the same symbolic sense. He also unites in this chapter letters and numbers, following once more Medieval Cabbalists, who believed that the revelation of God's language came more through numbers than letters. The chapter "Cifry" demonstrates Remizov's strong interest in numerology.

I likewise support my arguments using excepts from Remizov's letters and diaries, and his "Obez'janovopal", a pseudo mystical union probably based on his knowledge of free masonry.