Recycling Literary Legacy: Major Trends in Postmodern Textual Appropriation

Olga Prokopenko, Ohio State University

My paper will focus on the strategies of appropriation used by several popular Russian postmodern writers (Sorokin, Prigov, Pelevin, Tolstaja, Kibirov). While comparing the ways they incorporate quotes and other chunks of borrowed text in their writing, I intend to show major intertextual trends and techniques employed in postmodern Russian literature.

Intertextuality (a term invented by critics to describe the links between earlier and later texts) constitutes a modus vivendi for postmodern literature. Postmodernism, as Frederic Jameson points out, is a reaction against specific forms of high modernism. Theorists of postmodernism, Mikhail Epstein among them, emphasize “literariness” and “quotation mode” (citatnost’) as essential features of new writing. Postmodernist authors feel that since the author is dead and the language belongs to everybody, the appropriation, in one form or another, of earlier texts becomes a must. Pierre Menard’s [Borges] copying act makes him a postmodernist author, in a sense that his “minimal transformation” [Genette] of Don Quixote results in a new work which involves both the canonical text and the copying performance. Similarly, Evgenij Onegin Puškina belongs to Prigov, although, strictly speaking, Dmitrij Aleksandrovič may be accused of plagiarizing the great poem of Aleksandr Sergeevič.

Postmodernist aesthetics of eclecticism and second-handedness have replaced modernism’s primacy of taste and originality, and pastiche is one of the most significant features of the postmodernist expression. The authors manifest their skills through the arrangement of fragments of earlier discourses and by “gluing” them together in bricolage. Borrowing from a deep well of Russian literary heritage, and anything else that comes by, they nevertheless create texts that bear their authors’ unmistakably own trademarks of style. In my paper I will investigate how several prominent Russian authors handle this task. I will also offer an inventory of appropriation trends in Russian postmodernism – which, to best of my knowledge, nobody has done before.