Art and Technology: The Inscription of Rupture in Russian Émigré Fiction

Ruth Rischin, San Francisco

In this paper, I investigate the artistic means by which Russian émigré writers have introduced a thematics of rupture and continuity into modernist prose genres. I begin by citing Roland Barthes, who in "La nouvelle Citroen" (1957) called the French automobile with its winged emblem, "la déesse descendue d'un autre univers." To the Russian modernist poet, Vladislav Xodasevich, the early European car, with its black lacquer finish, its raised body, and its huge blinding headlights, suggested a fusion of the diabolic with the angelic. In "At the Window" (1921) he treats the witnessing of a violent death incurred by an onrushing car, while in "The Automobile" of the same year, he likens the car's headlights to the wings of an angel. The specific allusion is to Aleksandr Ivanov's celebrated canvas of the 1850s, "Blagoveshchenie" ("Glad Tidings"). Often Russian émigré and expatriate writers introduced the auto as an agency of catastrophe that formerly was the preserve of the railroad. Jushkevich's "Avtomobil'" (1921), Nabokov's "Vozvrashchenie Chorba" (19235), and Èrenburg's, essay, "Zhizn' avtomobilija" (1925) treat the car as the intrusion of the supra-human into modern civilization. Using texts that include the Xodasevich, the Nabokov, and the Èrenburg, this paper will demonstrate the inscription of rupture in Jushkevich's remaking of the nineteenth-century society tale. The paper will conclude with a commentary on Mixail Epshtejn's musings on technology as art, in his essay, "Uchas, kak poslednyj uroven' civilizacii" (2001).