Mythologization as De-canonization: The Image of Velimir Khlebnikov in Boris Viktorov’s Chelokon’

Yevgeny Slivkin, Defense Language Institute

The acceptance of Khlebnikov’s place in the Russian literary canon is characterized by the numerous scholarly works which investigate him as a solid member of the literary establishment (“как нормального поэта”, according to A. Zholkovskii) and by the fact that his poetry became a “reference book” for Russian poets of several generations. This place in the canon also resulted in a number of depictions of Khlebnikov in poetic texts. In this presentation I review the most vivid portraits of Khlebnikov, drawn by means of ideological and aesthetic statements (D. Kharms, N. Aseev, N. Glazkov, B. Slutskii, N. Kul’chitskii). Then I focus on the unusual depiction of Khlebnikov via mythology in the poetry of Boris Viktorov (1948-2004).

Viktorov’s collection of poetry Chelokon’ (1999) passed almost unnoticed in the Russian literary world. However, shortly before his death, Viktorov was called “a remarkable poet underappreciated by his contemporaries, to their own shame” (T. Bek, Nezavisimaia gazeta 06.16.04) and several months after his death, he was praised as “an outstanding phenomenon of contemporary Russian poetry” (S. Uirskii, Literaturnaia gazeta 03.16.05). Viktorov, like Khlebnikov, is not averse to neologisms, as the title Chelokon’ indicates. However, the connections between the two poets go much deeper than a use of similar poetic devices.

In a discussion of folkloric genres in Khlebnikov’s poetics, H. Baran writes that the everyday rituals of peasant culture hold more significance for Khlebnikov than the genres that typically attract the attention of writers (fairy tales, byliny, plachi, etc.). As I attempt to demonstrate, folkloric images from the ritualized life of hunters and fishermen appear in a similar way in Chelokon’. I suggest that the affinity between the two poets’ use of folklore inspired Viktorov to place Khlebnikov in the folkloric space of Chelokon’ as a mythological creature.

Through an analysis of the motifs in Chelokon’, I suggest that a strong link exists between the image of Khlebnikov and that of the mythological, prophetic, horse-like beast Kitovras from the apocryphal tale of the Old Testament. These images move along parallel lines throughout the book, reflecting each other and eventually coalescing in the poema Kitovras which concludes the collection. To support my interpretation of the figure of Kitovras as a mythological representation of Khlebnikov, I refer to artistic depictions of Khlebnikov which expose his horse/deer-like features (P. Filonov, P. Miturich) and to poems by Khlebnikov which include the fantastic image of a horse (Kon’ Przheval’skogo, Semero).

I argue that the juxtaposition of the figures of Khlebnikov and Kitovras in Chelokon’ is Viktorov’s attempt to simultaneously mythologize and de-canonize Khlebnikov. In the apocryphal tale, the imprisoned Kitovras breaks free of his shackles and disappears, after proving his credentials as a prophet and clairvoyant. Similarly, in Viktorov’s work, Khlebnikov, as a literary phenomenon, escapes from the literary canon where he has been placed by scholars and his fellow poets.


Baran, H. “Fol’klornye i etnograficheskie istochniki poetiki Khlebnikova.” Poetika russkoi literatury nachala XX veka. Moscow: Progress, 1993.

Grigor’ev, V. P. “Dva ideostilia: Khlebnikov i Mandel’shtam.” Budetlianin. Moscow: Iazyki russkoi kul’tury, 2000.

Kolchinsky, I. The Revivial of the Russian Literary Avant-garde: the Thaw Generation and Beyond. Munich: Verlag Otto Sagner, 2001.

Zholkovskii, A. “Grafomanstvo kak priem (Lebiadkin, Khlebnikov, Limonov i drugie).” Bluzhdaiushchie sny i drugie raboty. Moscow: Nauka, 1994.