Shock Therapy for the Russian Literary Language: The Artistic Use of Profanity by Juz Aleshkovskij, Venedikt Erofeev, and Eduard Limonov

Ann Komaromi, Swarthmore College

Beginning with the period of cultural Thaws, language in literature constituted one of the most important fields for contesting the hegemony of Soviet ideology in Russian culture. In uncensored literary works of the late 1960s-1980s, writers parodied deadened official language and subverted conventional forms of the literary language. The use of the lowest registers of Russian in literature was perceived by many as a phenomenon both realistic and vital, a reflection of degraded Soviet reality as well as a sign of the fierce spark of life left in native expression. Andrej Bitov, for example, asserted that Russian profanity (mat) constituted the single "natural and essential" part of Russian left in Soviet language, while Iosif Brodskij praised Aleshkovskij's exuberantly profane narration as the voice of Russian language and consciousness itself.

Similar to L.-F. CÈline's incorporation of crude language into his authorial idiom in French letters in the 1930s, the crude oral "skaz" style cultivated by authors such as Aleshkovskij, Ven. Erofeev, and Limonov exploited an impression of "authentic," "natural" spoken language, in contrast to the ossified norms of rhetorical language. However, the use of crude language in letters also represented a literary device. This paper will use studies of CÈline's language as a base for remarks toward a typology of the literary use of profanity in Russian works of this period. In addition, attention will be paid to the particular significance of this controversial mixture of registers in the Russian literary context. Why was profanity "necessary to Russian literature," as Vadim Lineckij said? The heritage of diglossia, and the "cynical" use language as described by V. S. Elistratov will be considered in terms of the power of profanity to express national identity, the sense of crisis, and the search for new vitality in Russian letters of this period.