Russian postmodernist writers are known as ardent readers. Consequently, their works are routinely intertextual, and they allude freely and masterfully to the other texts written at all times both in Russia and elsewhere in the world. Viktor Pelevin’s short story “Crystal World” (1991) is a perfect example of postmodernist intertextual discourse. It is saturated with allusions to numerous oral and written texts of various genres: folklore, poetry, prose fiction, the essay, literary scholarship, and historical document. In this twenty-something-page story one finds references to Aleksandr Blok (1880–1921), Dmitrij Merežkovskij (1865–1941), Alexander Puškin (1799–1837), Petr Uspenskij (1878–1947), Oswald Spengler (1880–1936), Karl Marx (1818–1883), Vladimir Lenin (1870–1921), Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925), August Strindberg (1849–1912), and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), to recognize only direct citations. Along with the textual quotations, Pelevin freely uses famous pictures, statues, pieces of music, and other forms of art, as well as everyday items to create a complex dynamic intermingling of various theories of culture and systems of thought. The limits of a conference paper would not allow me the pleasure of revealing all the secrets of Pelevin’s text layer by layer; therefore, I will focus on his allusions to Blok and some other references that contribute to creating what I regard as the central message of the text.
The purpose of my paper is to suggest that Pelevin uses “Crystal World” as a vehicle of philosophical discourse and participates in the traditional dialogue on the messianic role of Russia. More precisely, I claim that in this story Pelevin argues against Vladimir Solov′ev’s (1853–1900) ideas of panmongolism, accepted by the “younger” Russian symbolists Blok, Andrej Belyj (Boris Bugaev, 1880–1934), and Vjačeslav Ivanov (1866–1949). According to Solov′ev and the younger symbolists, “yellow hordes” from Far East were to destroy Russia, the “third Rome,” which would have put an end to the Christian period of human culture. Instead, Pelevin contends in the story that demonic forces that actually destroyed Holy Russia in 1917 came from the opposite direction: from the West. At the same time, he does agree with the symbolists (and representatives of esoteric thought) that the “demon” could have been stopped in the 1900s by no one but the Russian symbolist writers themselves. As part of his discussion, Pelevin offers an answer to the question about the role in the history of Russian symbolism of Anna Minclova (possibly Steiner’s or the Rosicrucians’ emissary to Russia). It is my contention that by creating a cleverly elaborated system of allusions to the ancient and modern cultural myths, artistic texts, documents, and esoteric symbols and signs, Pelevin comes up in his story with the suggestion that Minclova’s spiritual assignment was to mislead the Russian symbolists as to their “mission” in history and prevent them from fulfilling their duty of defending Russia against the demon of revolution. In this she indeed succeeded. If we accept my suggestion that Pelevin is serious in discussing such notions as the messianic role of Russia and spiritual duty of Russian writers, his story emerges as an example of intricate relationship between modernism and postmodernism. Like a typical postmodernist text, “Crystal World” is a story of exceptionally well elaborated dynamic interplay with a large variety of textual structures. At the same time, the story is not a pure experiment in creating self-enclosed sign systems, but is a traditional modernist attempt to affirm the hidden absoluteness of being in search for ultimate truth.