Venedikt Erofeev’s Moskva-Petuški

Tench Coxe, Columbia University

As a product of the samizdat era, Venedikt Erofeev’s Moskva-Petuški stands as a notable example of a text which not only self-reflexively exposes the samizdat milieu in which it was produced and circulated, but also self-consciously exposes its own samizdat poetics. This self-consciousness is underscored in the dynamic interplay between the text’s author, Erofeev, and his narrator, Venička, as each struggles with the other to claim himself as author of the very text. As a result, since Erofeev’s death, the two have become fused in the public’s imagination as a composite figure under the common moniker “Venička.” Using Foucault’s essay “What is an Author?” to examine the role of the author in Moskva-Petuški, I will demonstrate how Erofeev implicates himself in the mode of production and circulation of samizdat texts from the very beginning of Moskva-Petuški. Likewise, Venička destabilizes the notion of authorship by performing an author’s role as he distributes his own graphic ruptures throughout the text, and explicitly draws the reader’s attention to their creation. The publication history of Moskva-Petuški also bears examination, first as a samizdat text, into which these graphs and diagrams had to be copied, and later, in a number of editions which differ in their content and representation, precisely at the moments in which Venička asserts his authorship. Finally, we will see how the first literary and cultural canonization in post-Soviet Russia of a samizdat-era author and text, Erofeev and Moskva-Petuški, further blurs the distinction between Venička and Erofeev, between narrator and author.