Proteus Bound and Unbound: Hybrid Chronotopes and the 1937 Pushkin Jubilee

Jonathan Brooks Platt, Columbia University

In this paper I examine the extent to which the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of Aleksandr Pushkin's death in 1937 reflected and contributed to a radical reorganization of the conception of time in Stalinist Russia. On the one hand, I discuss the deep-rooted, philosophical questions Stalinist culture sought to resolve as it denied the commonsense logic of time's irrevocable dissipation and resurrected the dead Pushkin, declaring him their absolute contemporary, alive in all aspects. Through a comparison with Mixail Baxtin's discussion of what he considers the most fundamental aesthetic task—representing "the fullness of time"—in his article "Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel" (whose writing also coincided with the peak of the Stalinist terror in 1937), I argue that the Pushkin jubilee answers the internally exiled critic's call for the compression of time into a single vertical chronotope whose contents are organized according to ideological evaluation rather than chronology. By tracing its impact on the teaching of literature in the Soviet schools, I also demonstrate how the jubilee's image of Pushkin itself made possible a unique hybrid chronotope in the Soviet understanding of literary history, in which linear and messianic historicities coexist. Finally, in an ironic twist, I suggest that a motific current running through Pushkin's later work, that of the statue come to life, in fact represents a model of time strikingly similar to the Stalinist-Baxtinian one that marked the centennial of his death.