Intertext as Invitation to the Game (Valerij Zalotuxa, The Great Campaign for the Liberation of India)

Marina Kanevskaya, University of Montana

In my paper I analyze the intertextuality of a postmodern novel The Great Campaign for the Liberation of India by Valerij Zalotuxa (first published in Znamja, 1995). In this novel the intertextuality, that is, allusions in the broad sense to other texts exceed the function of a mere artistic device. In The Great Campaign … intertextuality operates as an expression of the postmodern philosophy of history where a historical fact is perceived exclusively as textual. Linda Hutcheon wrote: “The provisional, indeterminent nature of historical knowledge is certainly not a discovery of postmodernism. Nor is the questioning of the ontological and epistemological status of historical ‘fact’ or the distrust of seeing naturality and objectivity of recounting. But the concentration of these problematizations in postmodern art is not something we can ignore” (A Poetic of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Function [New York and London, 1988] 88). Thus, reference to the text(s), whether fictional or documentary, becomes the only mode of the postmodern engagement with history. Furthermore, the decision of a postmodern author to treat fictional and documentary materials in the same way does not so much upgrade fiction to the level of “objective truth” as it effectively undermine documentaries by revealing their human construction. In this respect, the intertextuality of such recent Russian novels as Viktor Pelevin’s Čapaev and Pustota (1996), Vladimir Šarov’s Before and During (1993), and others acquires the dimensions of a total metatextual expression of the contemporary view of the past. “What the postmodern writing of both history and literature has taught us is that both history and fiction are discourses, that both constitute systems of significations by which we make sense of the past” (Hutcheon, 88–9).

I argue that the intertext probes “the ontological and epistemological status of historical fact” in a postmodern Russian novel. As Mark Lipovetsky observed, “[In the novels of this kind] the history is relative and pathological, it springs out of the cultural myths and the popular travesties of these myths … [In these novels], the historical world is already ‘ready to use’—a fictional character enters this world to take part in a game of history which consists in generating of the new historical and cultural mythologies” (Russkii postmodernizm [Ekaterinburg, 1997] 252). In The Great Campaign …, intertextuality constitutes the entire artistic world of the novel. The intertext exceeds the boundaries of the text and establishes what Mixail Baxtin called “the zone of excessive information,” that is, the information unavailable to the character and to the narrator but a sphere of knowledge that, however, binds the author and the reader. A postmodern author creates his idiosyncratic version of contemporary epistemology, or as Jurij Lotman called it, semiosphere, using the available texts that are familiar to him and to his readers.

As was mentioned earlier, fictional and documentary texts, as well as verbal and visual ones, are treated equally with respect to “objective truth.” In this orchestrated debate the criteria of truth shift from traditional verisimilitude to qualitatively different oppositions such as popular vs. hermetic; intriguing vs. boring; or even talented vs. insipid. Besides the criteria of the objective vs. interpretive, the texts clash or complement each other on such levels as genre, authority, and cultural status. For example, in the novel, Mixail Šolokhov’s tragic and at the same time compromised Quiet Flows the Don interacts with the adventure movie The White Sun of the Desert, the highly esteemed Isaak Babel′’s Red Cavalry seamlessly merges with the slapstick The Maiden Prisoner of Caucasus, and well known portraits of Lenin are juxtaposed with photographs taken at the end of his life that were published only recently, and so on.

In The Great Campaign …, the heterogeneous intertextuality constantly threatens to destroy the novel as an artistic unity. However, there is one total intertextual discourse with the Indian epic of Mahabharata that not only holds the novel together but also elevates it to a higher philosophical level. Epic as an intertext is not an accidental choice for a postmodern author of a historical novel. Epic constitutes a grandnarrative based on canonical models and popular patterns. These models and patterns have a fixed axiological value—they are “good” and, as Baxtin said, only they are good. In a postmodern novel, epic is placed on the same discursive level as trivial jokes, slapstick comedy, or texts with “bad reputation.” Such blatant and demonstrative insensitivity to ethical and aesthetic values of the texts serves as an invitation to the game of a remythologizing of history. The author leads the way in this game, orchestrating his novel as a carnival of heterogeneous texts.