Slot:          29A–5           Dec. 29, 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.                                                 

Panel:       Literature of Exile

Chair:       Agnieszka Gutthy, Southeastern Louisiana University


Title:         Creation From the Void: Dostoevsky’s Ontological Exile

Author:    Natalia Mikhailova, State University of New York at Buffalo

In the following paper I want to explore Dostoevsky’s texts and style as mirrored in the works of Lev Shestov, one of the foremost Russian thinkers of the 20th century, who, born in Ukraine, spent most of his life abroad, including his last twenty exile years in France.

First, we should identify Dostoevsky’s status of double exile – physically, spending four years in Siberia and spiritually, being part of the nonconforming community (along with Nietzsche and Kierkegaard) that opposes thought ruled by rationalistic speculation, being more concerned with the existential actuality of life and death than with the abstractions that operate within the safe confines of reflection.

I want to examine the problem of exile as it enters life and writing from the inside, so to speak, between Dostoevsky’s worldview and common discourse. Dostoevsky is first and foremost an inner émigré: realizing the failure of the common worldview and seeing cracks in the ceiling of representational thought, he seeks solitude from the world justified by reason. The inner depths of exile that open in the collision with the outer world created the twisted form of his prose as linguistic inevitability; hence, one should view his style as a form of resistance to reality regarded as the only possible world, that is to say, the world of “every one” where reason assumes false monological authority.

Thus, I situate my analysis within the larger philosophical discourse by examining Lev Shestov, an exile himself, and his undoing of the categories of speculative philosophy. Writing about Dostoevsky’s philosophy of “the outskirts of life,” Shestov sees the rupture of discourse becoming a discourse of rupture that would overcome the condition of exile not by turning back but by pursuing it to its end, in a movement of return that is a going forth.  Such exile indeed finds return to life not couched in the comfort of theoretical truths but in the void of existential revelations.  Analyzing these multiple estrangements in the works of the two authors allows us to observe the clash between the ontology of fixated postulated principles and the ontology of human existence. Such a view from the void allows for the transformative exile from the comfortable cozy theory back to the dramatic reality of human life.


Title:         Catcher in the Rye: Georgy Efron's Tashkent Diaries

Author:    Olga Zaslavsky, Independent Scholar

This paper will examine the themes and the language of Georgy Efron's Tashkent Diaries.  The diaries, written in the course of a year – between 1942 and 1943 – are a testament to G. Efron's survival in solitude.  Tashkent was the place where G. Efron fled after the suicide of his mother, the poet Marina Tsvetaeva, and the arrest of his father, Sergey Efron (shot in 1941) and his sister, Ariadna Efron.  In the Tashkent Diaries, recently edited by Elena Korkina and Veronique Lossky, the predominant themes are those of hope, despair, survival, and the avoidance of inevitable responsibility (i.e., the draft).   Efron's language often verges on the border of cynicism and naiveté, and the people he encounters are either saviors or villains.  To the western reader, this type of discourse may contain elements of the personality exemplified by the naive Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, or Céline's cynical Bardamu from Journey to the End of the Night.

      The author's bilingualism (before repatriation to Russia with Tsvetaeva in 1939, the author spent most of his young life in France) is an inescapable part of G. Efron's personality.  Often, he resorts to French to express his discontent with the situation at large or with his private affairs.  All too often, he is openly rude in a teenager's lingo.

      My conclusion will aim at pointing out the various aspects of Efron's discourse.  At times a rogue, a hopeless vagabond, a victim of the brutal Soviet system at the time of the war, he is also a young historian, and a literary and social critic.  All in all, the Tashkent diaries are a fascinating literary contribution from a member of the Tsvetaeva-Efron family.


Georgy Efron.  Dnevniki v dvukh tomax. E.B. Korkina i V.K. Losskaia, eds.  Vagrius.  Moskva, 2004.


Title:         Living on the Margins and Loving it: Gombrowicz and Exile

Authors:                    Klara Lutsky, Centenary College

Born in Poland in 1904, Witold Gombrowicz left for Argentina in 1939 where he lived unknown for twenty-four years before moving to France where he died in 1969.  The positive impact of his thirty years of exile on his work was that it provided him with an outsidedness to his culture which he enjoyed as a privilege of a new cultural perspective.

For Gombrowicz, exile became a liberating experience in the sense that it allowed him a freedom of expression he was denied in his homeland.  Argentina offered him a fresh perspective from where he could reevaluate his problematic relationship with Poland.  Gombrowicz’s exile was inclusive; on the one hand, he vehemently opposed the idea of collectivity of the Polish tradition, claiming to make literature completely autonomous by the assertion of the individuality of the writer.  On the other hand, he was quite attached to Poland: he wrote only in Polish, his novels are situated in Poland or among the Poles, and he interacted with Polish individuals.

The freedom from all social and cultural pressures contributed to his formulation of a new view on the world and man’s position in it.  His exilic space presented him with the necessary lightness of non-commitment.  His peripheral position between Poland and Argentina can be likened to that of the clown or fool described by Mikhail Bakhtin.  Bakhtin’s chronotope of the clown and the fool provides the model for the “other,” which is also the oldest name for the stranger.  In the manner of the fool, who is also “not of this world,” Gombrowicz’s exilic perception renders the reality around him strange.  But, at the same time, his exilic space also provides him with a unique stance from where he can also make his native culture strange.  Removed from the center of nation and family, Gombrowicz located his new center in the “I” of his Diary who is engaged in double polemics with his native land.  His engagement with his audience thus has a crucial ambiguity, that of the sage and the jester who exists on the margins of society: “I am where I am not.” (Diary III, p. 57.)  This marginal self needs space and territory to locate the frontier between the “I” and the other in order to establish its identity outside.  The position of the outsidedness lies at the core of Gombrowicz’s spatial poetics with its import of the artist’s “I” creating an artistic space of his own.  The space delineated by this dynamic self is an ever-changing sphere without a firm identification with a person or a place.  Gombrowicz’s work focuses on problematizing the human place in the culturally, psychologically, and ideologically charged inter-human space.  In order to interpret the world around us and relate it to the world within, one has to achieve a distance by removing oneself from it in exile.