Rozanov and the ‘Deconstruction’ of Literature

Natalia Kazakova, New York

My paper will be dedicated to the research of the nature of game in Vasilij Rozanov’s writings and to the semiotics of his literary and everyday behavior. I will consider this problem both from the viewpoint of his contemporaries and in the context of the latest literary theories. 

            One of the most non-traditional and paradoxical thinkers and writers in the history of the Russian literature, Rozanov anticipated many literary discoveries of the twentieth century. It was not by random that Šklovskij considered Rozanov’s work as “a heroic attempt to depart from literature.” Peculiarties of Rozanov’s literary behavior are caused by this esthetic motive. As Rozanov himself characterized his state of mind, “Disintegration of literature is occurring in me.” His contemporaries often saw him as inconsistent and even immoral person who became a prisoner of the literary image and the myth that he created himself. However, in search of the “impossible literature,” in Barthes’s dictum, Rozanov was perfectly consistent. In my view, Rozanov was one of the first to anticipate the problems that literary theory and literature in general confronted much later.

            The beginning of the twentieth century demanded new rules. A different historic reality, the atmosphere of a moral chaos, and the decline of idols were the reasons of confronting art against reality. There was a palpable need for a new system of rules.  It was the game that became a basic and integral part of life. Russian Symbolists declared that esthetics was the basic principle of life and began to build their semiotics of behavior on it. They realized, so to speak, literariness into a behavioral pattern, and aestheticism became the only meaning of their lives. On the contrary, Rozanov declared other principles: he escaped from life into literature. He brought habitual themes in literature and made the phenomenal his artistic device. Thus, in a behavioral aspect, Rozanov was an opposite figure as compared both to the Russian symbolists and to the futurists.  Using various artistic devices, Rozanov purposefully “lowered” literary standards and thus brought literature to a new stage and blurred conventions. He declared esthetic and ethic permissiveness that destructed literature.  Rozanov was among the first who showed the dead-end, to which that manner of writing led and which, in the first hand, was caused by the state of the society.

            Šklovskij defined Rozanov’s trilogy (Uedinennoe [In Seclusion], Opavšie list’ja [Fallen Leaves], Smertnoe [The Mortal]) as a novel without motivation. I suggest that Rozanov was one of the few writers, who “revealed the syntax of human actions in a narrative text” (K. Bremond.) Considering Rozanov’s behavioral pattern based on his texts, we have the right to speak about a certain notion of a justified game, which he played with literature, with his reader and with himself. 

            While Hegel considered syllogism as the main form of the real being, Rozanov’s being, in my opinion, can be defined as alogical; it is an attempt to prove a new artistic reality, thus violating classical consistency in cognition. I am convinced that journalism influenced Rozanov greatly in the creation of the unique type of his literary image and behavior.

            Being a staff writer of Suvorin’s Novoe vremja, Rozanov declared certain views characteristic for that periodical. At the same time, Rozanov allowed himself to contribute to A.D. Sytin’s Russkoe slovo, the rival of Suvorin’s edition. It was in the Russkoe slovo, where Rozanov published his most famous articles dedicated to religion, philosophy, literature, and society. The tone of these articles differs greatly from those published in the Novoye vremja. Such a split of personality, a bifurcation between Rozanov and Varvarin, his pen name in the Russkoe slovo, inevitably caused a scandal in the Russian society.

In conclusion, I suggest that the cause of such a “multifaceted and multi-faced” public life of Rozanov that constantly provoked scandal both in Literature and in life was rooted in his ontological disillusionment in the moral doctrine that emerged in the 19th century. Offering a new model of behavior to the society, Rozanov tried to bridge the gap between the ideal and life. For that end, he intentionally lowered the meaning of his personality, of his ego. As Rozanov wrote in his essay “To the Centenary Commemoration of Xomjakov,” “Many antinomies are hidden in a strange human soul.”