Xodasevich and Modernism: A Primer on Romantic Repurification

Kristen Welsh, Colby College

In a panel based on the modernism/romanticism polemic, this paper argues that Vladislav Xodasevich did not wage a polemic against Romanticism, but rather used his own notion of Romanticism to present a literary program that was, above all, meant as a corrective to the shortcomings of his modernist contemporaries. Relying on Xodasevich's critical writings from the 1910s through the late 1930s, the paper shows that Xodasevich addressed questions of form and language, of the creative process and the artist's role, and of the future of Russian literature in exile, all with a continuing reliance on a number of tenets that can be traced directly to Romanticism, especially as practiced by Aleksandr Pushkin.

Russian Symbolism, identified as the earliest modernist movement in Russian art, nurtured Xodasevich early in his career, and its traces remain even in poems from his last collection, Evropejskaja noch'. Likewise, it is possible to see resonances with Acmeism in much of his work, especially in the almost palpable everyday objects, saturated with meaning, that give weight to Xodasevich's often grim world-view (for example, the bag of ice on the already-dead speaker's chest in these lines from "O, esli by v Ėtot chas zhelannogo pokoja...": "...Zato skvoz' smert' uslyshu, drug zhivoj, / Kak na grudy moej ty robko peremenish' / Meshok so l'dom zabotlivoj rukoj."). The most marked break between Xodasevich and Russian modernists occurs in his almost entirely antagonistic relationship with the various groups of Russian Futurists ("almost" because, as he admits in the 1914 essay "Igor' Severjanin i Futurizm," he at one point had high hopes for Severjanin himself). Xodasevich castigated the Russian Futurists both for their freewheeling, artificial experimentation with the Russian language and for their fascination with the more exotic realia of modern life. In the aforementioned essay on Severjanin, for example, Xodasevich writes that "airplanes and automobiles, as signs of our century, are just as superficial and immaterial as farthingales and wigs are of the eighteenth [century]. Only to foolish dandies or in the eyes of those who draw pictures for bon-bon boxes is the eighteenth century a century of wigs and farthingales. To poets, it is a century of revolution."

By the time he left Russia for European exile in 1922, Xodasevich's polemical activities had shifted focus. It was no longer the abuse of the Russian language as practiced by the Futurists that drew his wrath, but the fundamentally misguided approach to poetry of the so-called "Parisian note" poets. Xodasevich's polemics with Georgij Adamovich, Georgij Ivanov, and other members of this school have been well documented (see, for example, David Bethea, Khodasevich: His Life and Art; Roger Hagglund, "The Russian ŠmigrČ Debate of 1928 on Criticism"). Less often discussed are the details of the criticism Xodasevich wrote during this period (roughly 1924 to his death in 1939). This paper considers Xodasevich's writings on the process of artistic creation and society's view of the poet, with close reference to his essays "O chtenii Pushkina" (1924) and "Krizis poezii" (1934). Through these essays, I show that much of Xodasevich's artistic mission during the interwar era can be traced back to purely Romantic roots. Far from rejecting Russian Romanticism, Xodasevich espoused a hyper-correct Pushkinian approach to art, with his own polemic with Adamovich coming to resemble that of Pushkin with N. Kjuxel'beker in goal if not in tone.