Critical Approaches to Pushhkin and the Future of Russian Culture, Paris, 1937

Angela Brintlinger, Ohio State University

In 1937, the centennial of the death of Aleksandr Pushkin, Pushkin acted as a touchstone, a talisman, and the center of debate in journals issued in Soviet Russia and in Russia Abroad. For Merezhkovsky, shmelev, and Kartashev, whose speeches at the Pushkin Committee meeting of February 11, 1937 were published in the popular magazine Illustrated Russia, the celebration of Pu&hachek;kin was a political act, which identified the poet as a banner for the exiled (see Brintlinger 1999).

Contemporary Annals, a more serious literary-historical journal, presented its own "Pushkin issue" in 1937 as well. Volume 63 opened with the first installment of Nabokov's tribute to Pushkin and Russian literature, his novel The Gift,, and continued with Cvetaeva's "Poems to Pushkin", and Georgij Adamovich, Petr Bicilli, and Vladimir Veidle's essays on the poet.

In the paper, I propose to look at the treatments of Pushkin by these three different Russian critics. Adamovich focuses his essay on Pushkin's illusiveness and paradoxality, while Bicilli sees "Pushkinism," the Soviet science about Pushkin, to be an extreme variant of historicism, but finds in Pushkin himself a resurrection of the eternal, a vital part of the Russian consciousness. In the most scholarly of the three essays, Veidle traces Pushkin's connections to Europe and finds in Pushkin a lost Europe, a "Europe which cannot recognize itself." In his essay, Veidle strives to find a way in which the Russian emigration can make a contribution to the cultural life of its new home, Europe, through its favored son and poet, Pushkin.

These three very different treatments of the poet in the centennial year of his death, like the speeches at the Parisian Pushkin celebration, identify a number of anxieties within the emigre community, namely anxiety over the future of Russia and of its exiles in Europe, anxiety over the unity of the Russian-speaking community and its culture, and fear of disappearing without a trace into a melting pot of European life. Even more so than in 1999 during the bicentennial celebrations of Pushkin's birth, in 1937 Pushkin stood as a crucible of Russian culture, a sign of its suffering, and a challenge to its future.