Moscow Under a Microscope: Boris Pil'njak's Dialogue With Andrej Belyj in Ivan Moscow

Clint Walker, College of William and Mary

Much ink has been spilled on analysis of the Petersburg myth in Russian literature. Moscow as cultural topos has received considerably less scholarly attention. The recent publication of Moskva i Moskva Andreja Belogo (M., 1999) shows signs that interest in the Moscow text is gradually gaining momentum, but much work remains before even Belyj's Moscow myth comes close to receiving the attention it merits. Belyj's trilogy launched a series of novels and novellas in which Moscow plays a dominant role in the poetics of the work, and the authors of many of these "Moscow texts" engage Belyj directly in their own works.

This paper will examine Boris Pil'njak's intertextual dialogue with the first two novels of Belyj's Moscow trilogy, The Moscow Eccentric and Moscow Under Siege (1926). Pil'njak openly referred to Belyj as one of his main mentors, and nowhere does he so blatantly demonstrate his debt than in the novella Ivan Moscow (1927). Pil'njak's dialogue with Belyj provides a fascinating lens for viewing Belyj's Moscow trilogy. It also sheds light on Pil'njak's own relation to Soviet social experimentation in the 1920s as reflected in the metaphors of Ivan Moscow.

Structural and thematic parallels between Belyj's trilogy and Ivan Moscow abound. Besides the shared Moscow theme highlighted in the titles, both Belyj and Pil'njak choose as their main characters scientists obsessed with the tremendous potential of atomic energy for transforming human existence. In an introduction to The Moscow Eccentric written in 1925 Belyj claims to depict "the decay of the pre-Revolutionary way of life" and the "helplessness of science under a Bourgeois system [of government]." In the Moscow trilogy he uses image and sound as tools for embodying his cosmic theory of history and playing it out in the space of the text. In Ivan Moscow Pil'njak transposes the central themes driving Belyj's trilogy, the decay of contemporary European culture and an almost religious faith in science and reason to transform reality, to the Soviet 1920s, where he localizes Belyj's decay motif inside the body of his hero, Ivan Petrovich Moscow, who is dying of syphilis. Ivan serves a dual role as both character and extended metaphor for the Soviet capital. This allows his "biological" defects to act as metaphoric and allegorical commentary on the flaws in Soviet utopian planning.