Petersburg in Andrej Bitov's Novel Pushkin House

Galina Griffiths, University of Kansas

The topic of my paper is the prose fiction of the contemporary Russian writer Andrej Bitov with a focus of his novel Pushkin House. Bitov's prose is characterized by a high degree of intertexuality, such as quotations from the works of other Russian writers (most notably Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol', Dostoevskij, Belyj, and Nabokov). The intertextual references in Pushkin House have a specific nature and design. The aggregate of these quotations, associations, allusions, and associated meanings constitute a Petersburg text. The quotations of the Petersburg text are from figures and works dealing with the myth of the city of Petersburg and its well-known properties. Bitov also builds his own text around the familiar themes of the Russian classics, such as "small man" versus "state," "West versus East," "Superfluous Man," "Moscow versus St. Petersburg," but employing a different angle.

It is precisely this concept of the Petersburg text based upon the work done by the Tartu school of semiotics that provides the most fruitful framework within which to analyze Pushkin House. It has been argued that one of the most basic and objective criteria distinguishing the Petersburg text is the manner of the linguistic encoding of its essential components. Therefore, an important aspect of this analysis will include an examination of the lexical elements that function as a diagnostically significant indicator of belonging to the Petersburg text. Toporov (1984) outlines several basic categories of lexical elements: i.e., internal states, modal operators, nature, culture, predicate extremes, higher values, names, etc. The appearance of such lexical elements in the Petersburg text is a matter of both their paradigmatic and syntagmatic arrangement. An objective of this analysis is to determine precisely in what his contribution to the Petersburg text lies.

In addition, Bitov's work is metafictional in nature. He uses texts and fragments from works of different writers including Pushkin, Dostoevskij, Belyj, and Nabokov, as well as chapters of "baring" the device of construction of metafictional narrative, where the narrator discusses the process of creating his hero and deconstructs the common methods of writing novels, thus entering into dialogue with other writers. The use of metafiction creates a multi-layered mirror of reflection and refraction in Bitov's text. Not only the use these many allusions, associations, situations, characters, themes, literary forms from the works of these writers and self-quotations in accordance with established literary tradition, but he also ties them to Petersburg history and culture. He identifies historical characters, events, and situations with various literary and historical prototypes from the works of Russian classics. In doing this, Bitov spiritually connects himself with the Petersburg tradition.