The Chronotope of the Alcoholic in Venedikt Erofeev’s Moskva-Petushki

Ben Sutcliffe, Miami University

Venedikt Erofeev’s Moskva-Petushki (1973) depicts the chronotope of the alcoholic through the intersection of time, space, and defined stages of heavy drinking and the ensuing consequences. At its most pronounced moments, this chronotope brings escape into an alternate reality (apparently) free of consequences, a zone spiritually superior to the mind-numbing sobriety of life during Stagnation.

Beginning with Venichka’s morning journey to the commuter train, the narrative introduces the initial stage of the chronotope: hangover as kenosis. The work’s religious overtones examined by Monika Majewska parallel Konstantin Kustanovich’s discussion of existentialism, with both expressed through ritualistic temporality and locale. Time and space stretch as the protagonist struggles to attain the second stage—the collapse of temporal and spatial horizons that comes with drinking. The third stage, accompanying the last sections of the poema, is both the apotheosis and nadir of existence. The protagonist’s life shrinks to an unending present tense brought on by the extreme intoxication Venichka has sought and now fears. The travail ends with his ambiguous death, a scene reiterating the “time on the cross” Venichka experiences in the morning.

Drawing on Mikhail Bakhtin’s discussion of the chronotope, I suggest that images of drinking constitute a special relationship of space and time, with these stemming from the unbridgeable gap between byt (the everyday) and bytie (spiritual life). The horrifying culmination of Moskva-Petushki combines temporal and spatial manipulations with a doomed attempt to reconcile the earthly and spiritual demands of existence.