Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow (and Back Again!): Petersburg Tropes in " Happy Moscow" by Andrej Platonov

Clint Byron Walker, Trinity College

In the novel Happy Moscow (1933–36) Andrej Platonov revisits a multitude of tropes associated with the so-called "Petersburg myth" Platonov draws extensively from Pushkin, Gogol', Dostoevskij, Belyj, and Blok, using their creation of "Petersburg cultural space" as an aesthetic lens through which he views Stalinist plans for the reconstruction of Moscow in the 1930s. By embedding his Moscow novel with a plethora of Petersburg tropes, Platonov was carrying to its logical end a trend dominant in much of the journalism, literature and film of the 1930s.

The name of Platonov's title character, Moskva Ivanovna chestnova, allows her to function as an extended metaphor for the Soviet capital. In her guise as embodied feminine ideal she invites obvious parallels with Vladimir Solov'ev's "Sophia" and Aleksandr Blok's "Beautiful Lady." Moskva's gradual degradation, deformation, and eventual crippling injury in the bowels of the Stalinist technological dystopia, the metro, powerfully underline Platonov's rejection of the Stalinist vision of the future.

Using an intertextual approach that draws methodological inspiration from the work of Jurij Lotman, V. N. Toporov, and others who have written on the Petersburg myth, this paper focuses on Platonov's use of Blokian motifs in Happy Moscow , exploring their probable relation to Stalinist culture as it was "solidifying" in the 1930s. In one of the novel's crucial scenes, Moskva chestnova visits a "night restaurant" (nochnoj restoran). When combined with other heavily marked "Blokian" motifs, such as the words "cavalier" (kavaler), "wails" (vopli ), "repeated," (povtornyj), and "wine" (vino), the restaurant locale clearly seems intended to recall several of Blok's most well-known lyrics, such as "In the Restaurant" (V restorane ), "The Unknown Woman" (Neznakomka) and "Night, street, lamp, drugstore," as well as the play Neznakomka. Moskva chestnova is approached by a drunken cavalier with whom she dances but refuses to make love. Here Platonov consciously echoes what is arguably the darkest and most despairing phase of Blok's poetic career, his transmogrification of the Beautiful Lady into the Unknown Woman (Neznakomkatoska colored with existential ennui. Yet just at the point when it seems no exit is in sight from the Stalinist ontological prison, Platonov comically shatters Blok's myth as swiftly as he evoked it. By consciously deflating the very myths he evokes, it is as if Platonov is clearing cultural space in order to return his readers to the true "way out" of the Stalinist "dead end," which for Platonov is literally embodied in the light-bearing art and musicality of Pushkin.