The Poetics of Confrontation: V. Vojnovič’s Menippean Ways

V. Vojnovič writes from a perspective intensely situated within the contemporary political climate, and critical commentary on his fiction tends to underscore the radically satiric nature of his texts, a nature that invests his writings with subversive force. In particular, he is famous for exposing the ideologies and stereotypes of the dominant cultural forces in the totalitarian world, in the process deconstructing the existing cultural myths. Literary critics see this strategy as formidable in Vojnovič’s futuristic novel Moscow 2042, noting the way in which the author’s central emphasis on challenging existing ideologies and his involvement with the real-world context of the Soviet reality render the novel transgressive in a genuine political sense.

Following this line of argument, I intend to show that the text gets its tremendous verbal energy largely because of the powerful way in which it parodies and thus transforms the conventions of literary modes pertaining to this culture. By playing with a variety of genre configurations, Vojnovič’s book makes an effective political statement precisely because it ironically reverses the ideological constructs inherent in genre making. It is in terms of these writing strategies that I would like to analyze the rich and multi-voiced texture of Moscow 2042.

Baxtin provides an extremely relevant framework within which to approach Vojnovič’s dialogue with other discourses and explore the dynamics of his literary subversions. Moscow 2042 demonstrates many of the characteristics of Menippean satire. In its utilizing a broad array of carnivalesque narrative techniques, Vojnovič’s novel, clearly paradigmatic of the genre as Baxtin defines it, is an indisputable heir to the Menippean tradition.

My study will show the relevance of Baxtin’s emphasis on the importance of parody to Moscow 2042. The critic observes that, to be truly transgressive, parody must not simply undercut the premises supporting the texts being parodied but also our perception of those texts. This prompts me to explore a range of subversive elements in Vojnovič’s work that resonate with Baxtin’s description of Menippean satire’s troubling effect in productive ways. Through my emphasis on the author’s satiric devices and his use of parody, I suggest that he employs standard literary techniques associated with the Menippean tradition and in so doing injects political charge in the novel.

As my paper will demonstrate, the process of subversion associated with the Baxtinian notion of the carnivalesque occurs through Vojnovič’s parodic dialogues with various literary, cultural, and political targets. The novel, at the linguistic level, plays with the Soviet officialese and political jargon, parodies the formal and thematic contentions of the utopian/dystopian tradition, the emigre novel, science fiction, reactionary Russian nationalism and the like. All these activities contribute to the complex Menippean logic of the carnival, the logic that calls into question the existing structures and traditional cultural myths, causing a shift in the perspective from which they can be interpreted. This essentially ambivalent carnivalesque logic forms the fabric of Vojnovič’s text.