The Exhaustion of Postmodernism

Jerry McCausland, University of Pittsburgh

In contemporary Russia, postmodernism is passé. Although there are significant writers who continue to write what can be called postmodernist prose (Vladimir Sorokin is the best-known example), this particular trend is no longer relevant to what critics continue to call the “literary process.” Critics and commentators of new literature have passed postmodernism on to university and academy scholars, who have now published over a half-dozen major monographs on the subject.

This paper will look at two major novels of the late 1990s in an attempt to identify the seeds of Russian postmodernism’s self-destruction. The novels Generation P by Viktor Pelevin and Undegraund: Geroj našego vremeni by Vladimir Makanin would seem to have very little in common. In my analysis I will argue that one of the common and most significant threads running through Russian postmodernist culture is the problem of Russian post-Soviet identity. When seen from this standpoint, the two novels allow us to see two very different scenarios in which the postmodernist impulse to “deconstruct” coherent stable identities is taken quite literally and to the limits of its logic. Pelevin’s programatically postmodernist Generation P presents us with an anti-utopia in which identity is utterly destroyed, only to be reconstucted on the fly with the help of “kreator” Tatarskij, in whom one can easily posit an alter-ego of the author himself. Vladimir Makanin’s Undegraund is a post-realist (in the conception of Mark Lipovetsky) novel in which the deconstruction of an intellectual is turned into the physical destruction and degradation of a creature who by the middle of the novel can scarcely be called human. Both novels are remarkable in that, while there is neither a return from nor an overcoming of the post-Soviet nightmare, there is an emergence to another side. The two writers visions of this “other side” are a fascinating glimpse into the end of postmodernism and a vision of the future that is at turns horrifying and hopeful.