Schizophrenia and St. Petersburg's Refractive, Polyphonic Narratives (on Urban Form in the Modern Novel: Concentric Memory, Eccentric Madness)

Sharon Lubkemann Allen, Princeton University

This essay investigates the correspondence between urban framework and narrative form in the St. Petersburg novel--the city not as it is imagined in the novel but as it shapes narrative imagination. Part of a larger study of urban forms of modern narrative consciousness (examining reflexive novels from Paris, St. Petersburg, and Rio), this inquiry builds on Lotman's and Toporov's cultural semiotics of the city text. In Lotman and Toporov's binary opposition between concentric and eccentric cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg), the concentric city is deeply rooted in tradition, spiritual in essence, concrete in its monumental architectural forms, organically grown in variegated strata that bear traces of human will. The eccentric city is unrooted, perversely constructed and fated, abstract, immediate. The opposition is asymmetrical insofar as the eccentric city incorporates the concentric in its revisionary self-realization. As Toporov and Lotman note, Petersburg is self-conscious always from a threshold vantage point illumined by Moscow. The eccentric city thus implies a kind of schizophrenia or alienation, a spatial displacement of the self. In contrast, the concentric city knows itself through an organic displacement, from within. It knows itself through its memory of itself, more than through the presence or memory of another city. In this sense, it internalizes the eccentric threshold in a temporal dimension. I am examining how concentric and eccentric urban models, in their specific socio-historic and cultural forms (nineteenth-century Paris, St. Petersburg and Rio), inform the narrative consciousnesses that inhabit and inscribe them in the novel. As Toporov points out of Petersburg's literary texts, authors and characters are bound by the city to speak its particular truths. At the same time, the narratives reform the myths, or shape the city. The city (as it is imagined and in its forms of imagination) becomes the subtext for the formal dialogue into which the modern novel enters and which it reorients. The first-person novel is the most apt site for an investigation of the cityscape not only as setting, but as mindset for the novel. Compressing author, narrator, and hero, first-person novels flesh out the intensely self-conscious framework of the modern novel--shifting into a refractive interior landscape, foregrounding the fictional frame, conscious of connections between urban setting and aesthetic mindset. Reflexive narratives also give voice to the urban/e pathologies that structure the modern novel, realizing in an unfolding aesthetic consciousness the polyphonic and refractive capacities of schizophrenia and pathological recollection. In urbane narrative the linguistic transformations of metaphor and metonymy converge with human operations of memory and madness. Fragmentary utterances and images of the city are spatially and temporally reconfigured as they are transposed through the filters of memory and madness into the interior landscape of modern narrative. Memory, recuperating the temporal depths of the concentric city, and madness, the eccentric city's displacements and threshold spaces, allow consciousness the authorial capacity "for hearing and understanding all voices immediately and simultaneously," a capacity which, according to Baxtin, gave rise to Dostoevskij's polyphonic aesthetic, definitive of the novelistic genre of modernity, "a new artistic model of the world" (PDP 3, 21-22).

This paper surveys the foundations of St. Petersburg's eccentric narrative form, honing in on schizophrenic refraction and polyphony in first-person narratives by Gogol' and Dostoevskij. In light of foundational literary and critical models (including Pushkin's Evgenij Onegin and Mednyj Vsadnik, Odoevskij's Russkie nochi, Gogol''s and Dostoevskij's Petersburg narratives, Belyj's Peterburg; Fiziologiia Peterburga, Ancyferov's Dusha Peterburga, Kaganov's Images of Space: St. Petersburg and the Visual and Verbal Arts), it examines how reflexive narrative consciousness (particularly in "Zapiski sumasshedshego" and Zapiski iz podpol'a) incorporates urban narrative form. Across a Soviet modernity, the urbane mental landscapes of Gogol''s and Dostoevskij's schizophrenic narratives open onto eccentric revisions of the concentric city (creative madness in Bulgakov's Moscow) as well as onto creative St. Petersburg echoes (from Zamjatin and Bulgakov to recent reflexive narratives by authors such as Sokolov and Petrushevskaja).