Remembering Belyj Remembering

Charlene Castellano, Carnegie Mellon University

This presentation examines the workings of memory by screening Belyj's 1916 novel, Petersburg, through the lens of his 1930 essay, "How We Write." In this essay, Belyj presents the act of remembering as an act of creating, and finds in the equivalence of memory and creativity an otherwise elusive connection between consciousness and the unconscious mind. His autobiographical description of the fragile network uniting memory, creativity, self-awareness, and paradoxically, self-forgetting, reads like a palimpsest of what happens to the characters in Petersburg who dream; more specifically, the description appears to be an explication of the rather cryptic comments made by one of Petersburg's dreamers, Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin, about the connections between dream, trauma, memory and its loss—comments which, by the way, survived the severe cutting Belyj gave the novel in 1922.

The pairing of the novel and essay thus serve to contextualize Belyj's work within psychiatry's contemporary interest in the relationship of trauma to modern art, an interest which is outlined in this presentation. At the same time, the pairing of novel and essay also serves as platform for rereading the novel as the dreamers' unconscious enactment of the same creative role played by a memoirist as he brings his past to light. My presentation sketches out this reading of the novel (time constraints do not permit a detailed elaboration) in the interest of suggesting new ways of approaching the subjects raised by the novel—e.g., time, history, apocalypse, death—by framing them as events recovered by post-traumatic memory.