On Some Tendencies of Development of Russian Prose in the End of the Twentieth Century

Ludmila Szewczenko, University of Kielce, Poland

The socio-economic changes that took place in post-perestrojka Russia, as well as its integration into the world cultural and civilizational process significantly influenced common stereotypes and the very mentality of the people. Many traditional “Russian traits,” formerly regarded with a “plus” sign, now, in the context of world culture, are clearly viewed negatively. The quest for new guidelines mandates critical analysis and re-evaluation of the “Russian passion,” the traditional dual model of national culture and much more, which inevitably reflects upon the development of literature. The prose of the 90s sees the vanishing of its heroes acting on the edge of human possibilities, “on the verge of breakdown,” and heroes whose moral searches, reaching their limits, put them on the edge of an existential abyss. The exceptions are works of so-called “transmetarealism,”—The Underground, or the Hero of Our Times by V. Makanin, The Sign of the Beast by O. Yermakov, and a few others.

In the 90s, as previously, Russian culture continues to be the culture of “turning oneself inside out and pushing it to the limits,” as defined by M. Epstein. As before, the hyper-moral, reaching its limits, joins the hyper-immoral. Yet, unlike in previous decades, the limits, or the poles, are localized not inside the hero, not inside one text, but spread among the author’s intentions depicted in different pieces of art work and, more widely, among entire literary trends. On the margins of these trends and inside of them appears something that is adverse and that negates them, but that at the same time has a middle posture in relation to both. These are the art works that open new horizons of viewing values not only ideal and brought to their outer limits (the highest or the lowest), but, rather, values inherent to everyday actuality, depicted on the scale of the material and spiritual life of ordinary heroes. This is evidenced by the prose of “neo-sentimentalism” and the emergence of the “literature of existence,” such as the latest works of V. Vojnovič, L. Ulickaja, M. Kuraeva, M. Sanaev and other contemporary authors. Analysis of these works, and especially a detailed analysis of the text of The Lines of Destiny, or Malaševič’s Treasure Box, recipient of the Booker Prize (along with the works of V. Makanin, A. Bitov, O. Ermakov and other prose writers) form the ground for this report.