Mixail Veller's "Nevsky Prospect Legends" and (Post-)Soviet Urban Lore

Alexandra N. Leontieva, University of Bergen

Nevsky Prospekt Legends (Legendy Nevskogo Prospekta, 1994) as an innovative post-Soviet literary work and a collection of Russian urban folklore, makes a strong argument in favor of an interdisciplinary approach to the book. I will outline the significance of Veller's project for literary scholarship and for folklore--two spheres that can be seen actively interacting and even partly converging in post-Soviet culture.

Nevsky Prospect Legends, that a student of literature may define as a novel, consists of twenty-eight short stories, united by the implicit framing of a private storytelling session. The practice of bringing the discourses that were formerly restricted to the private sphere, into the public domain, is typical of the first post-Soviet years. Private narratives suppose a certain degree of mutual trust between the narrator and the addressee, both located in the "zone of familiar contact" (Baxtin), and Veller depicts, if not re-creates, this trust with his conversational idiom and the choice of subject matter. The storytelling session thus becomes more than a narrative device, but also an object of depiction (albeit indirect).

This reference to a particular situation in which folk narratives are communicated, is usually associated with jokes, the most extensively studied genre in contemporary Russian folklore. Informal gatherings focused on joketelling have been defined as a typically Soviet pastime belonging strictly in the private sphere (Sinjavskij, Soviet Civilization, Vajl' and Genis, The Sixties). Veller's collection documented another type of narrative told in a similar context--the urban legend. Many of Veller's "legends"combine an international motif (e.g. as indexed by Jan Harold Brunvand) and a certain amount of local color that ensures credibility and characterizes the epoch.

This peculiar convergence of the folklore and the literary discourse into a general (and more international than ever) "mass culture" text becomes apparent when Veller's folklore-based novellas enter folklore collections (Naum Sindalovskij) or start traveling around the Internet as bona fide folklore (cf. www.anekdot.ru). The condition where it is no longer possible to distinguish between the source and its derivatives, calls for a study of Nevsky Prospect Legends in at least three relevant contexts: the folkloric, the literary, and the more general context of culture studies. The latter would be indispensable both for comparative studies and for an examination of the new existence of Legendy on the Internet.