Becoming-Novel: Arkadij Dragomoshchenko's Kitajskoe solnce

Evgeny Pavlov, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

In this paper I would like to offer a few reflections on the work of a leading contemporary Russian poet Arkadij Dragomoshchenko. The primary focus of my discussion will be on the interrelation of memory and poesis in his remarkable recent novel Kitajskoe solnce (1997). Although at least since Mandel'shtam the questioning of this relationship has been central to a certain line of the Russian poetic tradition, Dragomoshchenko's work has few, if any, apparent links to the latter. As Michael Molnar notes in one of the most perceptive analyses of Dragomoshchenko's poetry to date, "at present he is working virtually alone, there is no school or movement within the diffuse Russian avant-garde that is operating in [his] particular area. It is as if the cultural conditions encouraged firmly grounded epistemologies, whether in the reigning orthodoxies or their antagonists, and left no room for uncertainties."

Meanwhile, it is uncertainties that reign supreme in Dragomoshchenko's work. In his poetics, poetry's essential function is the incessant testing of its own horizons--according to Molnar, "the act of including questioning into the horizons that are poetry itself." This act is a process by which language constantly approaches its finitude but is never able to coincide with its own limits. Postulating non-coincidence as the essential condition of poetic language and the world it generates, Dragomoshchenko's poetry and prose of necessity break with some of the most basic conventions of the Russian literary tradition. Thus, Kitajskoe solnce--at once a work of fiction, a work of memory, and a theoretically informed poetic meditation--introduces a new set of rules for writing and reading governed by the logic of relentless transition. As the author explains in the text, "Individual facts held by memory in a particular sequence or chain, remain isolated facts extracted from a certain moment of time (this may be the origin of the mysterious, vertiginous charm and elusiveness they occasionally produce). Subsequently, something else is becoming: not facts themselves, not events, but the way in which they correlate today's desire, intent."

Dragomoshchenko calls his text a novel, but it is at every point a becoming-novel, for its inner logic can be most profitably approached in terms of Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus. It is the experience of becoming that unfolds into the ever-expanding labyrinth at whose heart lies the gap of oblivion/incomprehension: "It is preferable to write about something that never happened-childhood- or something that will never happen-death."

My paper will examine the dazzling optics of Kitajskoe solnce in an attempt to tease out some important theoretical implications of this text as well as examine its author's unique place in the Russia's 20th century literary tradition. I will argue that even in the context of contemporary postmodern experimentation, Dragomoshchenko's writing represents perhaps the most extreme--and for that reason, extremely important--case of what Gilles Deleuze calls "minor literature"--literature of deterritorialization.