Slot:       29D-2          Dec. 29, 3:45 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.                                                

Panel:     Modernist Travel through Imperial Spaces

Chair:     Evgenii Bershtein, Reed College


Title:       "Gogol in Palestine": Toska and Obnazhenie in Viktor Shklovsky's
A Sentimental Journey

Author:   Anne Dwyer, University of California, Berkeley

As Viktor Shklovsky's A Sentimental Journey (1923) follows its hero's peregrinations from Petrograd to Galicia, Persia, the Caucasus, and Ukraine, the wartime dissolution of boundaries comes to the narrative's fore. Armies, political borders and landscapes are repeatedly bared (obnazheny), meaning that they are both literally abandoned and figuratively revealed to be arbitrary and conventional. On a metafictive level the memoir reads as an illustration of the formalist concept obnazhenie priema (baring of the device) as it draws attention to its own montage-like construction.

This presentation examines an intertextual moment in which the wandering narrator likens his own misery (toska) to Gogol's experience in Palestine. The reference is to a late letter from Gogol to Zhukovsky that stands out for its quasi-formalist language: Gogol describes the barren Palestinian landscape as strannyi (strange) and obnazhennyi (bare), repeating the latter term frequently.

Shklovsky's dialogue with Gogol not only reveals a Russian source of the term obnazhenie priema, but also sheds light on central questions of Shklovsky's literary and theoretical oeuvre. Gogol and Shklovsky both address the risks of traveling to exotic locales for cheap artistic effect; both seem to take a perverse pleasure in finding the bared ravages of history at the ends of their journeys; both also associate the process of obnazhenie with nomadism. Paradoxically, Gogol's repeated use of the word obnazhennyi in the ideologically charged context of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land adds cultural and historical depth to a term that ostensibly seeks to free art from the baggage of motivation and ideology. This paper suggests that by referring to Gogol's pilgrimage, A Sentimental Journey bares its own status as a modernist pilgrimage to the Holy Land of obnazhenie—the war-torn borderlands where war, history and art reveal themselves in all their nakedness. Moreover, Shklovsky's passing identification with Gogol questions the possibility of a naked, defamiliarized view of historical and literary objects while still affirming the search for a defamiliarizing perspective and innovative artistic practice.


Title:       The Archaeology of Russian Modernist Scythianism

Author:   Michael Kunichika, University of California, Berkeley

This paper examines how the classical and primitivistic impulses of Russian modernism found their primary locus in the Steppe and in the regions surrounding the Black Sea. The region appeared to Russian modernists as a quintessential borderland, revealing strata both mythic and historical. Once the edge of the known world separating the ancient Greeks from the Scythians, it became, millennia later, the periphery of the Russian empire. Emblematic of the modernist period’s ability to connect archeology and aesthetics, the Black Sea region presented Russian modernism with an exemplary site upon which the primitive and the classical converged in a crucial juxtaposition, and served to delineate the leading schools of Russian modernist art and literature. This paper begins by focusing on the pronounced orientation towards Hellenistic Athens and Scythian “barbarians” in the work of Viacheslav Ivanov, Osip Mandel’shtam, the archeologist and historian Michael Rostovtseff, Benedikt Livshits and Velimir Khlebnikov.

Insofar as this paper will claim a more pronounced relationship between archeology and aesthetics, I examine, in parallel with these writers, the work of Michael Rostovtseff, an archeologist and later a famous historian of the Roman empire, who was also a close member of Ivanov’s circle The Tower. Rostovtseff’s Iranians and Greeks in the South of Russia (1918) provided material evidence to draw the Scythians, and hence Russia, into the cultural orbit of antiquity, and I argue, supplied these poets with the archeological underpinnings of their aesthetic programs. Set against the Hellenistic impulse of Russian modernism, this paper will focus principally on the Scythian theme of Russian modernism. It puts forward the interpretation that the Scythians, and well as other “Asiatic nomads” supplied Russian modernists with an ostensibly indigenous ancestor upon which to base their own experience of modernity as exile or displacement.


Title:       Japan and Velimir Khlebnikov’s Eurasia

Author:   Susanna Lim, Wheaton College

This paper will discuss the significance of Japan in the work of the futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov (1885-1922). The poet’s wish to seek out the “laws of time” governing history was first prompted by his reflections on the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Khlebnikov was also deeply interested in Japanese language and art: he was fascinated by ukiyo-e, and, in a letter to A. Kruchenykh (1913), discussed the possibility of applying aspects of Japanese language and verse to Russian literature.

Khlebnikov’s attraction to Japan can be understood first and foremost in relation to the admiration and sympathy for the East prominent in his work. However, in the context of the poet’s vision of a Eurasian utopia, Japan’s place is not entirely unproblematic.

In this presentation I examine two of Khlebnikov’s works related to Japan, “Letter to Two Japanese” (1916) and the poem “The Coup d’État in Vladivostok,” (1922) in their historical context. The first is the Futurist’s enraptured response to letters written by two Japanese youths to Russians and published in the Japanese daily Kokumin Shimbun and Russkoe Slovo; the second, one of Khlebnikov’s last works, depicts the Japanese occupation of the Russian Far East during the Civil War.

I suggest that although reflecting an ideal of a harmony between East and West, these two texts at the same time also point to a disjuncture between the poet’s utopianism, on the one hand, and the reality of geopolitics and imperial maneuvering, on the other, a disjuncture that is translated into ambivalence about Japan’s place in Eurasia.

At issue is the shifting place of Japan in Khlebnikov’s Eurasia: the poet’s desire to create a Eurasian utopia free from the fetters of the West comes to stand in increasing tension with the reality of Japan’s imperial ventures and its occupation of the Russian East.