Reading and Writing as Repatriation in Vasilii Aksenov's Recent Work

Lisa Ryoko Wakamiya, Florida State University

In Vasilii Aksenov's novels written during his period in exile, we encounter a “rhetoric of displacement” (Israel, 2000) based on tropes grounded in metaphors that rely on highly structured oppositions, such as inside/outside, center/periphery, and East/West. The novels reflect diverse approaches to the condition of exile: whether universalizing it to reflect broader humanistic concerns or focusing on individual experiences of anxiety born of dislocated identity, Aksenov's exilic texts challenge and play with the binary oppositions that structure their reception.

My presentation will identify the rhetoric of displacement with the acts of transaction, crossing, and substitution encoded in exilic narrative texts, drawing on what J. Hillis Miller calls the "ethical moment in the act of reading" to demonstrate that reading, as portrayed within particular exilic texts, entails a performative response. I will demonstrate that Vassily Aksyonov's exilic novels present exile as a universal condition shared with readers who culturally identify with a pre-Soviet past. The quests of his quasi-autobiographical protagonists reflect his own “search for a genre.” Thus, reading not only creates a rhetorical bridge between reader and writer, it engages readers in parallel creative quests. In Aksenov's later works, the writer seeks new strategies to bond the reader and writer in rhetorical strategies of homecoming. Aksenov's own statements about the “death of the novel” also reflect his concerns about developing new strategies to revitalize the bond between reader and writer. I will demonstrate how these strategies are incorporated into the recent novels Novyi sladostnyi stil' (1997) and Kesarevo svechenie (2001) and help to rhetorically enact the repatriation of Aksenov's writing to his Russian audience .