Slot: 29D-1 Dec. 29, 3:45 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.
Panel: In The Shadow of Pushkin’s Statu(r)e
Chair: Julie Buckler, Harvard University
Title: Talking From Around Pushkin’s Statue: Dostoyevsky’s 1881 Speech
Author: Maksim Klymentiev, University of Southern California
Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s famous speech at the 1881 Pushkin anniversary has long been a subject of critical analyses, both because of its purported bombshell effect on its audience and because of its symbolic status as the novelist’s literary testament. Dostoyevsky’s final public appearance coincided with, and perhaps contributed to, the return of Pushkin to his position of the founder of modern Russian literature, as well as with the rise of poetry and symbolism.
The literary and ideological aspects of Dostoyevsky’s speech have been extensively studied by scholars, as was its relation to the overall organization of the anniversary. However, little attention has been paid to how deeply the novelist’s Pushkin address could be affected by more extra-literary factors, for example, by another “staple” of the event – the non-attendance of it by Dostoyevsky’s eternal “other”, Leo Tolstoy.
A close textual analysis to which I subject Dostoyevsky’s speech, especially its discussion of Eugene Onegin, reveals an uncanny tendency on the novelist’s part to talk not so much about Pushkin’s classic but rather about the recent literary sensation that was creating uproar among the Russian public of the time, that is, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. By presenting the love triangle in Eugene Onegin as including an old man (Tatiana’s husband is actually Onegin’s age in Pushkin) and by exploring at length the moral and psychological dilemmas of a much younger and passionate Tatiana, Dostoyevsky appears to be engaged in a complex communication with Tolstoy. In this way, he signals to the absent Tolstoy both his unmistakable awareness of Anna Karenina’s immediate literary sources, and, indirectly but effectively, involves its author to participate in the Pushkin anniversary event. Thus Dostoyevsky’s career closes in a strikingly similar manner to which it started in Poor Folk, that is, by drawing on characters and themes developed by others (Bocharov) in order to exploit his own literary and ideological agenda.
Title: Of Monuments and Men: Statues of Pushkin in the 1937 Jubilee
Author: Jonathan Brooks Platt, Columbia University
The mass celebrations of Pushkin’s death centenary in 1937 made great use of statuary. Demonstrations were held at the Pushkin monument in Moscow and at the site of a planned monument in Leningrad. Statues adorned the Pushkin exhibit in the State Historical Museum and the stage of the Pushkin concert in the Bolshoy Theater. Images of the poet in stone or bronze appeared again and again in the pages of the press, frequently as illustrations to poems or articles that featured Pushkin in monumental form. Many of these images, including reproductions of photomontage posters and paintings, depicted Pushkin’s monument among the Soviet people, as they celebrated their recently rehabilitated national poet.
This essay examines the jubilee’s various sculptural representations of Pushkin in terms of their temporality. Traditionally monuments, like funerary sculpture, serve to counteract the effects of time and transience by substituting an enduring, sculptural symbol for the dead man represented. Such monuments promise the individual an inorganic, metaphorical immortality, “living on” after physical death in the memory of the collective (ancestors, nation) that preserves the statue’s symbolic power through the generations.
However, depictions of Pushkin’s statue in the jubilee repeatedly test the limits of this metaphorical life after death, endowing the sculptural image with sentience, motility, and other attributes of a real, organic existence. Analysis of the different means of achieving this animation of Pushkin’s monument—ekphrastic descriptions, sculptural representations of motion, portrayals of the statue as a participant in the celebrations—serves to illustrate the jubilee’s fusion of the traditional temporality of commemoration with the more extraordinary vision of a world not subject to transience, yet still teeming with creative activity. The normal boundaries between past, present, and future become permeable in this world, and the endurance of monuments comes to be indistinguishable from the vitality of men.
Title: The Pushkin Sub-text in Timur Kibirov’s “Двадцать Сонетов к Саше Запоевой”: “Я помню чудное мгновенье” and Руслан и Людмила
Author: Christine Dunbar, Princeton University
Timur Kibirov’s cycle “Двадцать Сонетов к Саше Запоевой” defies expectation. The sonnet form itself leads the reader to expect either a philosophical work with high register vocabulary or a love poem. Kibirov is well aware of this tradition and explicitly mentions both Dante and Shakespeare within the cycle. However, the inspiration for the choice of precisely twenty sonnets likely stems from Joseph Brodsky’s 1974 cycle “Двадцать сонетов к Марии Стюарт.” Moreover, Kibirov also borrows the decision to rewrite a famous Pushkin lyric in sonnet form, as Brodsky does in the sixth sonnet of his cycle, “Я Вас любил. Любовь ещё возможно.” Alexander Zholkovsky has shown how this sonnet “follows in the footsteps of” Pushkin’s 1829 lyric “Я Вас любил. . .” but then “subverts it, and comes out as a distinctly Brodskian text” (Zholkovsky 117-146).
Kibirov’s use of the Pushkin lyric “Я помню чудное мгновенье,” follows a similar trajectory, but it encompasses the entire first half of his cycle. Likewise, the second half is dominated by references to the preface to Ruslan i Liudmila, “У лукоморья дуб зеленый.” With these two extended sets of references, Kibirov plays with the reader, both creating and undercutting the expectations of love poetry and fairy tales.
Zholkovsky, Alexander. Text Counter Text. Rereadings in Russian Literary History. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995.