The Literary Critical Dialogue Between Pavel Basinskij and Vjacheslav Kuricyn in the 1990s

Dmitry Olshansky, Russian State University for the Humanities

This paper analyzes the Russian literary-critical process of the 1990s, in the context of the end of the Soviet literary system, the financial and the ideological break down of the "thick journals" ("tolstye zhurnaly") and the general anarchy in publishing and the media. Criticism was faced with the wholesale transformation of Russian literary life, and with the challenge of rethinking the nature of the literary process in Russia.

Vjacheslav Kuricyn, who may be considered a "postmodern Belinskij," insofar as he deconstructs the literary process based on a sixties-era strategy, was the first Russian critic to investigate "western-oriented" models of reading and reviewing contemporary texts in Russia. In his criticism for the newspapers Segodnja and Nezavisimaja gazeta, Kuricyn drew upon some of the first Russian postmodern theoretical works written by Boris Groys and Mikhail Epstein.

In contrast, Pavel Basinskij formulated a neo-conservative literary movement, basing his critical ideas on the works of Astaf'ev, Solzhenicyn, Rasputin, Pavlov, and Ekimov, writers who were central for him due to their Russian spirituality and non-Western traditionalism. Basinskij became a main anti-postmodern critical figure of the mid-1990s, writing radically negative essays on postmodern literature--newly born (Pelevin) and oriented on the 1980s literary conceptualism (Sorokin). The paper considers both which works Basinskij chose to include in his canon of "new Russian classics" of the 1990s and which he chose to ignore.

The paper goes on to analyze the dialogue between Basinskij and Kuricyn, which involved an evaluation of works by critics Andrej Nemzer and Boris Kuzminskij, and which called into question other critical authorities on contemporary prose. It analyzes and illustrates the paradoxes of local discursive transformation as it takes place in the dialogue between conservative and postmodern critics. On the one hand, traditionally Russian "litero-centrist" philosophy seems to stay alive among both postmodern critics (Kuricyn) as well as authors (Sorokin); on the other, a typically postmodern irony makes its way into Basinskij's "classical" criticism. The paper shows how traditional and postmodern criticism in Russia were exchanging their methods in contending quite opposite ideas and literary tendencies.

Further, the paper will trace how this dialogue developed in the context of the changing literary situation of the late 1990s. The problem of "zhanrovaja proza" in critical discourse undermined the issue of "moral speech" in criticism, whether or not this moralizing discourse followed the traditional truth-telling model or attempted a total reinterpretation of the literary process. This rejection of "moral speech" made both Basinskij and Kuricyn adopt new forms and models for their works in analyzing the text that may be called the post-postmodern period in Russian literature.