Walter F. Kolonosky
It is easy to understand why Strolls with Pushkin and In the Shadow of Gogol' outraged critics in Russia as well as in emigre circles in the West (Nepomnyashchy, 29). It was not the first time that Sinjavskij spoke out against the canon or the canonized; moreover, it was not the first time that he was playful with literary assessment, displaying, like a Mennipean satirist, learned wit and what has been called "the free play of intellectual fancy" (Fry, 87). A close examination of Sinjavskij's study of Pushkin reveals not only a rejection of the terms of a more than 100-year-old legacy, but also a measure of provocation and teasing in the form of irreverent images, elliptical syntax, cryptic allusions, abrupt transitions and personal asides the stock in trade of a satirist. I would like to explore this kind of provocation, for it is the basis of turning literary analysis into "play and display" (Griffin, 71), into spectacle, vexing one reader and delighting another.
As in his fiction, Sinjavskij plays positions against a well established canon or an enduring myth. Imagine what drama he achieves by suggesting that Pushkin wrote about nothing in particular (66), or that Gogol' was suffering from hypochondria as well as delusions of grandeur (19). Without such positions there would be no basis for interplay and therefore no platform for launching a scholarly tour-de-force. Consider this kind of interplay when Sinjavskij suggests that Stalin (32) and Peter the Great (199) were poets. Sinjavskij's way of staging literary criticism is vital to his discourse, for the panoply of alarm and relief alone can alter the subject. In fact, staging criticism, that is, playing to one or another audience, is very Sinjavskian and very satirical.
Through this exploration I would like to comment not only on obviously "wired" elements (e.g., premise vs. counter premise, irrevent images, syntactical detours, coded words), but also on the construction of delicate or charged issues in several of Sinjavskij's post prison studies, including those about Zoshchenko and Remizov. Above all, I want to make a case for the relationship between Sinjavskij's literary criticism and his fiction, for they share the same erudition, the same irreverence and the same penchant for theatricalization.