The Poetics of the Interval: Modes of Mediation, Disjuncture, and Connection in the Work of Vladimir Makanin

John Kachur, University of Pittsburgh

This paper analyzes the means by which Vladimir Makanin represents the myriad connections and disjunctures that at once compel people toward one another and, except for the briefest moments, keep them inescapably apart. My analysis traces a complex and extremely elastic network of connections and displacements within Makanin’s work as well as in his own literary biography.

Much of the problem in dealing with Makanin’s prose stems from the fact that extreme positions and pointed oppositions are not determining moments in his work. To illustrate this point, I trace two organizing motifs of Makanin’s work. The first of these motifs is defined by Russian critic Lev Anninskij as a “law of equilibrium,” a sort of inevitable cosmic balance between good luck and ill fortune, personal happiness and societal status, individual and collective memory, the past and the present, or any other pair of spiritual or material values. The second central motif might be thought of as what I call “interspace.” Interspace appears as any intermediary space, not necessarily between two opposites, but simply one point between any other two points, a moment of constant transition. Often depicted literally in terms of a physical place, interspace can also metaphorize intervals of or points in time. Interspace may provide a link between two points, but it can also mark a lack of direct continuity, symbolizing either the absence or obscurity of connections. The two motifs coincide when Makanin’s characters, while occupying interspace, teeter between universal balancing points, like a child who stands in the middle of a see-saw trying to keep its opposite ends parallel to the ground. Like the child, Makanin’s characters can strike only an imperfect balance.

My paper proceeds to examine the concrete manifestations of these motifs in Makanin’s work (horizons, photographs, tunnels, mountains), and also how they function as formal or organizing elements of Makanin’s prose, seen in his tendency to rewrite works, repeat passages within works, and republish stories in new combinations. Ultimately, my analysis emphasizes not simply the dominance of the “middle” in Makanin, as Anninskij would have it, but the dynamic movement from the middle to the periphery and back. The “law of equilibrium” and “interspace,” thus, represent for Makanin not simply the “immateriality” of absolute harmony (as critic Anatolij Bočarov has put it), but also the necessity and endlessness of the search for such harmony. Makanin’s “poetics of the interval” provide a framework in which he examines questions of historical continuity, personal responsibility, and the nature of physical and spiritual connections among human beings.