Eternal Return on Russian Soil

Elizabeth Sheynzon, Northwestern University

I will explore connections between Moskva-Petuški by Venedikt Erofeev and the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche. Memoirs testify that Erofeev knew Nietzsche’s works, once he even wrote in imitation of Nietzsche. This is not to imply that Erofeev consciously constructed Moskva-Petuški after a Nietzschean model, but to show that the philosopher’s thought was already integrated to a certain degree in Erofeev’s worldview. The genre (poema) and style (reversal of commonly accepted valuations) of Moskva-Petuški reflect affinities between Erofeev and Nietzsche, the “philosopher-poet,” who made the method of reversal of values his characteristic device.

Nietzschean notion of eternal return fosters new understanding of the overall structure and dynamics of Moskva-Petuški. The letter “IO” (Russian “ju”), whose burning image appears to the protagonist in the very end, becomes an allegory of the teleology that Venička follows and the circle of eternal return in which he is caught. The whole trip, a straight road from Moskva to Petuški, wraps into a loop and reveals its circular nature: thoughts, images, personages from the beginning catch up with the protagonist in the end. The narration ends where it started, in an unknown lobby, with the unconscious hero. “Everything straight lieth. All truth is crooked.” The verdict of Zarathustra’s dwarf becomes a death sentence in Moskva-Petuški—in the teleological sense. But the ending acquires a different meaning in the light of eternal return: Venička ends exactly in the same place and condition in which he started, the circle is complete and unbroken.