Slot:       28B-3         Dec. 28, 10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.                                              

Panel:     Russian Symbolism: Ideas and Texts

Chair:     Michael Pesenson, Swarthmore College


Title:       Skorpion and the Instantaneous Canonization of Russian Symbolism

Author:   Jonathan Stone, University of California, Berkeley

In 1904, Russian Symbolism found a haven in the journal Vesy (1904-1909).  Russia’s first truly Symbolist journal was founded at a mid-point in the development of Russian Symbolism and can be seen as a manifestation of one of the movement’s ongoing projects.  An accessible expression of Symbolism in unified terms was paramount at this moment in its maturation.  I will discuss the pre-history of Vesy through its publisher’s creation and propagation of the homogeneity necessary for Russian Symbolism to present itself as a coherent literary group.

The most ambitious attempts to represent Symbolism as a single entity in Russia were made under the auspices of the Skorpion publishing house (1899-1916).  By appropriating an entire group of writers, Skorpion fashioned its almanacs, Severnye tsvety, its journal, Vesy, and the individual books it published into readily identifiable models of Symbolism.  Taken as a whole, the activities of Skorpion from 1899-1903, the period leading up to the publication of Vesy, are consistent with the journal’s self-proclaimed role as the hothouse of Russian Symbolism.  The twenty-four books Skorpion published in that period, freely mixing the poetry of established and emerging Russian Symbolists with exemplars of the new art in Europe, represent an attempt to form a coherent picture of Symbolism by producing, nearly instantaneously, its canon.  Yet the sizable shelf conjured up by Skorpion’s 1904 catalogue (prominently appended to the first issue of Vesy) did more than just taxonomically describe the state of Russian Symbolism.  It also gave Symbolism a prescriptive face that allowed its poets to read that which was sanctioned as “Symbolism” and to contribute to that evolving collective. 

This talk will concentrate on Skorpion’s vision of Symbolism’s macrocosm, as represented by its catalogue of publications from 1899-1903, and of Symbolism’s microcosm as found in Skorpion’s most intentionally programmatic publication, Severnye tsvety for 1903.  By addressing, in the context of the foundation of Vesy, the issues of instantaneous canonization and the dynamics of a poetic almanac I will provide a picture of the simultaneously descriptive and prescriptive nature of early Russian Symbolism immediately before Vesy, its paradigmatic journal, appeared.


Title:       The Eternal Feminine in Russian Poetry

Author:   Lada Panova, University of Southern California

This presentation is based on the Eternal Feminine anthology, which I am compiling. It includes poems by Vl. Solov′ev, A. Blok and A. Belyi, usually mentioned in the Eternal Feminine context, as well as ten “new” modernist poets, both male and female, from F. Sologub and B. Livshchits to P. Solov’eva and Z. Gippius. I suggest my own insights into the European poetics of the Eternal Feminine and its Russian modification revising the existing scholarship, from S. Cioran’s  monograph Vladimir Solovev and the Knighthood of the Divine Sophia (1977) to D. Borgmeyer’s PhD dissertation Sophia, the Wisdom of God (2004).

Applying structural methods, I reveal the invariant structures of such texts. For example, the Eternal Feminine, or Sophia, cannot be viewed as one indivisible and simple entity (as my predecessors usually oversimplify her). I distinguish four aspects of her (from an impersonal Soul of the World to the Beautiful Woman, Sophia’s earthly incarnation). I also demonstrate the invariant Sophian plot (a first-person narrator relates his mystical contact with Sophia) and the main discourse strategy (not to let the secret out, i.e. to tell and not to tell at the same time).

Russian modernists joined Europeans writing on the Eternal Feminine late, when most of the themes, images, and models had been fully developed by Goethe, Novalis, Shelley as well as Flaubert, Villiers de L’Isle-Adam and France. Instead of engaging in mere imitation, they managed to find their original ways of treating the theme by converting the Sophian Myth into a religious cult and forming a brotherhood in Sophia’s name. So, Sophian poetics underwent serious changes, standardization in particular.

In this talk I will also trace the birth of Russian Sophia poetry, its prime, end (Viacheslav Ivanov’s Rimskii dnevnik) and short revival in Daniil Andreev.