Slot:       28A-4          Dec. 28, 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.                                                

Panel:     Classical Connections in Russian Literature

Chair:     Catherine O’Neil, United States Naval Academy


Title:       On Ripping, Whipping and the Importance of Underpants in Vasilii Maikov’s Elisei Or Bacchus Infuriated

Author:   Viktoria Ivleva, Vassar College

Textile and sartorial images and allusions in Vasilii Maikov’s multi-patched poem Elisei or Bacchus Infuriated (1771) comprise a well-heeled list that includes references to travesty, stitching, unstitching and various garments among which underpants and pants are probably the author’s favorite.  Charged with contemporary socio-historical, moral as well as literary and meta-literary significance, these images function as metaphors which emphasize the essence and modus operandi of a burlesque poem, engage in literary and ideological polemics of the day, parody manners and fashions of the Russian Gallant Age, highlight the plot structure and elucidate the depiction of characters. 

The purpose of a burlesque poem is to have the fabric of previous tradition turned, to show the lining of its rehashings and the seamy side of reality.  In Maikov’s poem where the narrative oscillates between the notions of scandalous inappropriateness and proper decorum, the mention of underwear, ripping and whipping pantagruelizes heroic descriptions and comments on artistic devices used in creating this parodic and polemical work as well as authorial thematic choices and angle of view.  Both the main character and the writer, each in his own way, are engaged in ripping real or metaphorical garments and whipping their opponents.  Maikov’s opponents include both literary and historical figures.

In this paper I will demonstrate how Maikov engages in polemics with Catherine II through images of textile activities, how he employs Russian sartorial proverbs to explicate his characterization of the main character and of narration, and what roles undressing and dressing play in the plot of the poem.  I will show that sartorial images are important not only as a part of realistic or mythical entourage of characters, but also as an instrument that helps bare the artistic device of parody and travesty and as a means of engaging in literary and ideological polemics.


Title:       Navigating a Landscape of Dead Souls: Gogol and the Odyssean Road

Author:   Michael Kelly, Brigham Young University

In Gogol’s reflections on Zhukovskii’s translation of The Odyssey, he utilizes his discussion of Homer’s epic primarily to set forth his own key aesthetic and moral tenets. Gogol’s views on Homer connect him with a central endeavor of Romanticism that M. H. Abrams describes as “mankind’s journey back toward his spiritual home” (225). Schelling links this enterprise to Homer’s epics. The Iliad “represents the departure of humanity from its center” to a position of alienation, and The Odyssey “represents the return” (as quoted in Abrams 223–24).

In explaining the burning of a draft of Volume II of Dead Souls, Gogol insists that he must clearly show “the paths and the roads” to “the lofty and the beautiful” (8: 298). He was searching artistically for a way to illustrate a transitional road out of the banal landscape of dead souls and back to a moral home characterized by wholeness and harmoniousness. He was seeking to create a unique Gogolian version of an Odyssean road.

After outlining salient features of the Odyssean road based on various Gogolian texts, I propose to reexamine the image of the road in both Volumes I and II of Dead Souls. Lotman emphasizes the central importance of the road, but suggests that Volume II provides a “non-Gogolian scheme of spatial relations” (293). I will argue that the image of the road in Volume II, while undergoing metamorphosis to reflect Gogol’s evolving design, retains its fundamental shape, function, and vitality. It represents an attempt to embody Gogol’s conception of an Odyssean road, and Gogol’s striving to depict the road provides a framework for reassessing certain fundamental paradoxes of his art.



Abrams, M. H. Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature. New York: Norton, 1971.

Gogol′, N. V. Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 14 vols. Moscow: Akademiia nauk SSSR, 1937–52.

Lotman, Iu. M. V shkole poeticheskogo slova: Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol′. Moscow: Prosveshchenie, 1988.


Title:       Building Authority: Horace, Joseph Brodsky, and the Poetic Task

Author:   Rebecca Pyatkevich, Columbia University

Joseph Brodsky’s poem “Ia pamiatnik vozdvig sebe inoi….” (1962), by signaling the poet’s participation in the long-standing tradition of revisions and transpositions of Horace’s “Exegi Monumentum” into Russian (see Alekseev for a conservative list of such poems), was a poetic act that announced Brodsky’s understanding of his own goals as poet, and performed the function of establishing his poetic authority for his readers.  Poetic authority is both a poet’s relation to his poetic predecessors, and his position toward his readers; poets present an authoritative poetic voice by underscoring their self-inclusion in a poetic canon of varied depth and breadth, and by manipulating the ways in which this positioning, and the content of their verse, is perceived by their readers.

This paper will use Horace’s “Exegi Monumentum” and Brodsky’s  “Ia pamiatnik vozdvig sebe inoi” to illustrate how both poems construct the authority they claim by turning to their predecessors and their readers (in the case of the latter, in very different ways), and then read Brodsky’s poem in the context of his times and his oeuvre. Written at the beginning rather than the end of a career, Brodsky’s “Ia pamiatnik vozdvig sebe” announces a poetics of cultural relevance, intense individuality, and an understanding of the poetic text as a place of genuine discursive exchange.  Read in the context of the rise of a new cultural generation, and the inheritance of the Acmeist poetics of cultural preservation, Brodsky’s poem establishes an effective credo that is deeply concerned with continuing the Acmeist ideal of cultural memory and creating a new emphasis on poetry as place of communication.



Alekseev, M. P. “Stikhotvorenie Pushkina ‘Ia pamiatnik sebe vozdvig’,” Pushkin i mirovaia literatura.  Leningrad: 1987.  pp. 5-265.

Moranjak-Bamburać, Nirman.  “Iosif Brodskii i akmeizm,”  Russian Literature, Vol. 40.1 (Summer 1996): 57-75.

Oliensis, Ellen.  Horace and the Rhetoric of Authority.  Cambridge, 1998.

Razumovskaia, Aida.  “Statuia v khudozhestvennom mire I. Brodskogo,”  Iosif Brodskii i mir: metafizika, antichnost, sovremennost.  Sankt-Peterburg: 2000.  pp. 228-242.


Title:       The Wandering Portico: Classical Structures in Transnational Russian Fictions—Brodsky, Tarkovsky, Makine, Ulitskaia

Author:   Sharon Lubkemann Allen, State University of New York-Brockport

Brodsky claims, as does Nabokov, that the “writer’s biography is in his twists of language” (Brodsky 1986: 3). This is especially so for the translated or translingual Russian emigré or exile, extending abroad an already eccentric cultural sensibility. As Boym points out, Brodsky’s biography and aesthetics are doubly embedded in twists of language, insofar as even in Petersburg “civilization” involved “not merely a canon but a way of translation and transmission of memory” (Boym 1996: 523). Brodsky defines civilization in terms of the second of “two key architectural metaphors” drawn from Petersburg—the “room and a half” and the “Greek portico.”  In his essay on Mandelstam, in internal exile, Brodsky writes, “Civilization is the sum total of different cultures animated by a common spiritual numerator, and its main vehicle—speaking both literally and metaphorically, is translation. The wandering of a Greek portico into the latitude of the tundra is a translation” (1986: 139). For Mandelstam “this Greek portico is not merely a classical foundation, but a wandering structure,” (Boym 1996: 523), which also winds its way Westward with Brodsky’s poetry and essays, or his remembered “room and a half.” Geographically, historically, culturally, and linguistically displaced—from an antiquity translated through European modernity to Petersburg and subsequently from the Petersburg text into a Russian interior and along and beyond its margins—classical structures become, in a certain sense, reified and reduced; but they also become an infinite prism, or a liberating “prisonhouse of language” (526).

This essay examines the continued reconstruction of Russian cultural consciousness in classical terms within transnational film and fiction. Comparatively surveying the transformation of classical (and, by the twentieth century, already classic Russian) figures and formal structures in works by Brodsky, Tarkovsky, Makine and Ulitskaia, it argues against a reading in terms of a “nostalgic modernism” (Boym 1996: 526). Rather, in discrete genres, historical moments and cultural contexts, Brodsky, Tarkovsky, Makine and Ulitskaia each “deterritorialize” and “reterritorialize” (Deleuze and Guattari 1986) in order to redefine a Russian “nostos”—a longing for home realized, through a displacement paradoxically consistent with the Petersburg text, against an ever distended cultural horizon and opened aesthetic threshold. Cross-examining intertextual resonances in terms of Bakhtin’s “chronotope” and “dialogism,” Lotman’s “semiosphere,” and Shklovsky’s, Todorov’s, Deleuze and Guattari’s, Even-Zohar’s, Said’s and Bhabha’s theorizations of estrangement, this investigation seeks to elucidate the characterization of Russian cultural consciousness through the continual re-translation of classical elements in lyric, tragic or elegiac, epic, and comic descriptions of everyday Russian existence, from perspectives of “outsideness” (Bakhtin 1981: pp. 187-208; 1984: pp. 60-69; 1978: pp. xii-xiii, 136-143) that are not only internal and intertextual, but also transnational.



Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin, ed. M. Holquist. Trans. C. Emerson and M. Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981.

---. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. Trans. C. Emerson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

---. Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Ed. C. Emerson and M. Holquist. Trans. V. W. McGee. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1978.

Boym, Svetlana. “Estrangement as a Lifestyle: Shklovsky and Brodsky.” Poetics Today. 17.4 (Winter 1996): 511-530.

Brodsky, Joseph. Less Than One: Selected Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1986.

Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari. Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature. Trans. Dana Polan. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.

Even-Zohar, I. “Polysystem Theory.” Poetics Today. 1.1-2 (1979): 287-310; 11.1 (1990): 9-26.

Lotman, Iurii. The Universe of the Mind: A Semiotic Theory of Culture. Trans. A. Shukman. London: I.B. Tauris & Co., 1990.

---. Semiosfera. Saint Petersburg: Iskusstvo-SPB, 2004.

---. «Символика Петербурга и проблемы семиотики города». Semiotika goroda i gorodskoi kultury: Peterburg. Trudy po znakovym systemam. Vol. XVIII. Tartu: Tartu State University Press, 1984.

Makine, A. Le Testament français. Paris: Mercure de France, 1995.

---. Le Crime d’Olga Arbélina. Paris: Mercure de France, 1998.

---. Requiem pour l’Est. Paris: Mercure de France, 2000.

---. “Un poème pétrifié. Ed. Aliette Armel. Magazine littéraire: Ecrivains de Saint-Pétersbourg. May 2003. 21-63.

---. La Femme qui attendait. Paris: Seuil, 2004.

Shklovsky, V. O teorii prozy. Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel′, 1983.

Tarkovsky, Andrei. Nostalghia. 1983.

---. Offret. 1986.

---. Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema. Trans. K. Hunter-Blair, New York: Knopf, 1983.

Ulitskaia, Liudmila. Veselye pokhorony. Moscow: Vagrius, 1998.

---. Medeia i ee deti. Moscow: Vagrius, 1996.