Literary Mystifications of Russian Symbolism

Yuliya Ilchuk, University of Southern California

Until the beginning of the twentieth century literary mystifications resided on the periphery of Russian literary and cultural life. Although fictitious authors, narrators and translators abounded during the period of Russian Realism, only the Symbolists’ mystifying projects (such as Valerij Brjusov’s “symbolist poets,” Maksimilian Vološin’s and Elizaveta Vasil’eva’s Čerubina de Gabriak, Dmitrij Mazurin’s Nurizam and so on) became widely popular and, to some extent, helped to shape the aesthetic background of Russian modernism. Indeed, Symbolist literary mystifications undermined the Romantic ideology of authorship and its cult of a genius, prophetic poet. Traditionally, in the production and reception of lyrical poetry the author was linked to the text pronominally—irrespective of whether or not he/she actually experienced what was being described in the poem. The Symbolists’ mystifications revealed both the author’s desire to speak in different voices and the belief that under the “self” an authentic other exits which must to be released from the burden of its mask. The Symbolist fascination with the “mask,” other self, or double can be treated as a consistent modernist tendency that sought to dissolve the literary subject into the objective world.

Not created merely for parody, the symbolist literary mystifications had a compensatory function. Thus, Valerij Brjusov strove to fill up a certain gap in Russian symbolist poetry by creating the whole gallery of fictitious poets (Zinaida Fuks, K. Sozontov, Genrix Šul’c, and Vladimir Darov). Similarly, Maksimilian Vološin and Elizaveta Vasil’eva created a mysterious poetess Čerubina de Gabriak in order to compensate a lack of women poetry in Russia. Whereas in the nineteenth century mystifications (e.i. Koz’ma Prutov, Jakov Xam, Burbonov) the mystificateur was easily recognizable under the mask of the fictitious author, in Symbolism the fictitious author not only substituted the mystificateur, but actually referred to a third person. For example, Brjusov’s Vladimir Darov was created with the intention of living out the life of Rimbaud. In general, literary mystifications serve to re-interpret the artistic logic of the previous cultural. Thus, Čerubina de Gabriak’s poetry debunked a timeworn cult of the Beautiful Lady. The recurrent theme of her poetry is how a mysterious heroine is being replaced by her earthly double.

In Western critical studies on literary mystifications the main focus is placed on the personality of a mystificateur. It is believed that the mystificateur, pretending to be someone else, ceases to be a son of his father and thereby gets rid of his Oedipal complex. My intention is to elucidate the various factors that caused the popularity of literary mystifications in early twentieth century literature, and to this end I will provide a careful analysis of their production and reception within the modernist context. I would like to apply the Baxtinian idea of the “carnivalesque” in order to examine the potentials of literary mystifications in which social, religious, cultural and gender status are essentially turned “upside down.”