Strolling With Pushkin in Postsoviet Russia: Transformations of the Pushkin Image in Postmodern Russian Literature

Olia Prokopenko, Ohio State University

Efforts at Pushkin’s canonization run contrary to the facts of Pushkin’s life and the frequently irreverent spirit of his writing. Postmodernists’ rejection of “grand narratives” (Jean-François Lyotard) and canons has led to their skeptical reinterpretation of Pushkin’s standing in Russian culture; and their exploration of marginal genres and experiments with textual appropriation has brought about fascinating results (cf. Vsevolod Emelin’s “skinhead” poetry, Prigov’s biographic pastiche, Vladimir Belobrov and Oleg Popov’s remake of “Peter the Great’s Blackamoor”, etc.).

Without trying to present an exhaustive list of the recent Pushkin scholarship, I am going to discuss how Pushkin and his legacy find way into the texts of popular Russian postmodern writers; how his life and death inspire a literary carnival where the roles are reversed, classics become “good sports,” and what was once considered sacred turns into an object of a “sacrilegious” prank. Following in the footsteps of Daniil Kharms who was the first to portray a cartoonish Pushkin, and Abram Tertz (Andrei Siniavskii) whose Strolls with Pushkin scandalized Russia’s reading public in 1989, Russian postmodernists attempt to reinterpret Pushkin and rid his image of officially approved moralistic patina. In a more traditional vein, a number of writers still use the image of Pushkin as a standard for appraising the significance of a phenomenon, event, or artistic output. As manifested by recent cultural developments, this traditionally Russian trend has gained popularity beyond Russian borders (cf. Alice Randall’s Pushkin and the Queen of Spades; David Murray’s jazz opera Pouchkine, etc.)

While the Pushkin scholars, for the most part, debate about Pushkin’s role in Russian culture, discuss the transformations and exploitation of the poet’s image by official propaganda, and offer their interpretations of Pushkin’s writing, I will analyze new topics and approaches in postmodern Pushkiniana. I will show that postmodern Russian writing, inspired by Pushkin’s self-deprecating humor, returns original playfulness and “unbearable lightness” to his image, while the popularization of Puhskin’s legacy abroad cements his authority that has somewhat lost its weight in Pushkin’s own country.

Belobrov, Vladimir, Popov, Oleg, Arap Petra Velikogo-2 (St. Petersburg, 1997)
Bitov, Andrei, Predpolozhenie zhit’: 1836 (Moscow, 1999)
Emelin, Vsevolod, Pesni autsaidera (St.Petersburg, 2002)
Sandler, Stephanie, Commemorating Pushkin: Russia’s Myth of a National Poet (Stanford, 2004)
Prigov, Dmitrii, “Zvezda plenitel’naia russkoi poezii” in Shinel’ Pushkina (Moscow, St.Peterburg, 2000)
Siniavskii, Andrei (Abram Tertz), Progulki s Pushkinym (London, 1975)