Shadows Cast Things: Kržižanovskij and the Epistemological Debate

Karen Rosenflanz, Independent Scholar

In 1932, Maksim Gor′kij refused to assist Sigizmund Kržižanovskij in his efforts to publish his work. Gor′kij wrote to Kržižanovskij’s friend: “The majority of humanity doesn’t care about philosophy, however it may be expressed … . In our time, it seems, a different epistemology is being created, one based on deeds, not contemplation, on facts, not on words. Therefore, I think that citizen Kržižanovskij’s compositions will hardly find a publisher. And if they do find one, then some young minds will be permanently dislocated—and is the latter really then necessary?” Despite all odds, Kržižanovskij’s works did ultimately find a publisher.

The entire corpus of Kržižanovskij’s work is permeated by philosophical contemplation of epistemological questions: they provide the foundation and inspiration for Kržižanovskij’s fiction and non-fiction. In works ranging from short stories such as “Spinoza and the Spider” and “The Thirteenth Category of Reason” to theoretical treatises such as “Filosofema o teatre,” Kržižanovskij drew on the writings of Pascal, Leibniz, Hume, Fichte, Jacobi, Berkeley and, above all, Kant. Indeed, in an analysis of Shakespeare’s drama, Kržižanovskij recalled his first encounter with Kant’s writings as a fifth-grader, and its irrevocable influence on his life.

This analysis will focus on three primary examples of Kržižanovskij’s incorporation of philosophy in his work. In “Jakobi i ‘jakoby’” (1919), Kržižanovskij’s first published work, Kržižanovskij presented a philosophical dialogue between Jacobi and the word that swung from the relation of sound and meaning to the essence of truth and being. In his “Kantian cycle” of short stories—“Žizneopisanie odnoj mysli” (1922), “Katastrofa” (1919–22), “Strana netov” (1922) and “Štempl′: Moskva” (1925)—Kržižanovskij examined the impact of Kantian epistemology on the world; one may likewise trace the transformation of Kržižanovskij’s own mirosozercanie. Finally, Kržižanovskij applied the structure provided by Kantian epistemology and Leibniz’s concept of globus intellectualis to create an elaborate comparison between metaphysics and theater in an unpublished work, the treatise “Filosofema o teatre” (1923).

The epistemological debate is thus shown to be a central, integral aspect of Sigizmund Kržižanovskij’s fiction and his theoretical writings.