REVISION AS A TECHNIQUE:
PORTRAIT OF BORIS BUCHSTAB AS A YOUNG FORMALIST
This section is devoted to the early writings of one of the students of Boris Eichenbaum and Yuri Tynianov at the Institute of Art History — Boris Buchstab (1904—1985).
Stanislav Savitsky’s (Institute of Art History, St. Petersburg) article ““Living literature of fact”: a discussion around the “Lyrical Digression” by Nickolay Aseev” discusses the connection between the so-called Young Formalists (the young generation of the Formalist School) and russian literature of the 1920s. The author uses Lidiya Ginzburg’s correspondence with Boris Buchstab, Ginzburg diary entries and the memoirs of actress Yuliya Solntseva to describe the strategies of reading Nikolay Aseev’s poem the “Lyrical Digression” by young philologists as a kind of experiment with an academic genre of real commentary. The Young Formalists introduced the personal relationship of Nikolay Aseev with an dedicatee and a prototype of the poem’s heroine, Solntseva, both into the analysis of the aesthetic structure of the “Lyrical Digression” and into their synthetic para-literary activities at the junction of several genres (family album, correspondence, diary writings). According to Savitsky, an incident with Solntseva and the “Lyrical Digression” became one of the major points of aesthetic self-determination for Lidiya Ginzburg as well as the way to determine the place of her autobiographical prose among the other literary projects of the revolutionary avant-garde.
Yan Levchenko’s (Moscow) article “Failure to appear before the court of history (a commentary on one diary entry)” considers the position of the Young Formalists in their confrontation with their teachers in the second half of the 1920s. While the majority of previous interpretations of the schism within the Formalist school were written as if from the students’ side, from their perspective, Levchenko notes negative consequences of Young Formalists making too hasty an attempt to revise the SSPL’s heritage. The concept of philosophically and aesthetically founded philology that according to young Buchstab should have overcame the one-sidedness of Shklovsky and Eichenbaum is treated by the author of the article as an ultimately barren one.
The final material of this bloc — a lengthy publication of the unfinished Boris Buchstab’s work of the late “Philosophy of Khlebnikov’s “translogical language”” from the author’s personal archives prepared and exhaustively commented on by Sofia Starkina (St. Petersburg). In this work Buchstab examined Velimir Khlebnikov’s linguistic experiments and his theoretic linguistic excursus against the wide background of the history of linguistics (including F. de Saussure and K. Vossler’s school). He demonstrated the special nature of the “dilettante” quest of the poet and its similarity to pre-Humboldt language studies. S. Starkina, in turn, reveals the specific character of Buchstab’s research against the backdrop of later studies dedicated to the poet’s linguistic innovations and his theoretical works (by Vyacheslav Ivanov, Victor Grigoryev, Tatyana Tsivyan, etc.)
STALINISM AS AN OBJECT OF STUDY:
The editorial preface to this section explains that it is opening a big series of publications in our magazine. Its task is to analyse the new prospects for examining the era of repression in the USSR. It seems to us that the “revisionist” approaches of the 1990s on one hand threaten us with the loss of an ethical attitude to the history of the totalitarian regime, and on the other they represent the same “master narratives”, the studies of the 1970s—80s represented. From our point of view the most important task today is to include an axiological and ethical self-identification of the researcher into the very methodology of analysis of the society, culture and authority in the USSR. The necessity of such reflection is dictated by the very nature of the issue under examination — it’s a “burning”, traumatic memory — the past that has not yet been separated from us by “epic distance”. We consider the most productive the works that analyse anthropological problems of the era of repression — they could once again describe the repressive atmosphere of that era, but also the creation of new artistic models that synthesise aesthetic “demand of the moment” with cultural preferences of the mid-20th century intellectuals.
Arkady Bliumbaum (The Russian Art History Institute / Forum for Anthropology and Culture, St. Petersburg) in his article “The Statue Coming to Life and the Music Embodied: Contexts of “A Strict Youth”” discusses “A Strict Youth” (1936), a famous (yet banned right after the filming was finished) Soviet film produced by Abram Room after a screenplay by Juri Olesha. The film is usually regarded by scholars as the most enigmatic one in the Soviet cinema of the Stalinist era. To make clear the semantic world of the “strange” screenplay and “arcane” film the author offers several political, literary and aesthetical contexts from the 1930s as a kind of keys to the “mysteries” of “A Strict Youth”.
FROM THE HISTORY OF RUSSIAN LITERATURE
OF THE 1830s—1840s: NEW ARCHIVAL DISCOVERIES
Irina Reifman (Columbia University, New York). “An Autograph of
V.A. Zhukovsky’s Russian Translation of the New Testament in the New York
Public Library”. The Slavic and Baltic Division of the New York Public Library recently acquired an autograph of Vasily Zhukovsky’s 1844—45 translation of the New Testament into Russian. The manuscript is a rough draft and the only extent autograph: an edited version survived in a copy made by Zhukovsky’s secretary. It is also the manuscript from which the only publication of Zhukovsky’s translation (Berlin, 1895) was made. A new scholarly publication of the original manuscript is needed: it would greatly enrich our understanding of Zhukovsky’s views as a translator as well as his religious outlook.
Abram I. Reitblat (The New Literary Observer magazine, Moscow) is publishing in this block the letters of a journalist, editor and philologist Nikolay Grech to a writer Faddey Bulgarin for the years 1832—1843 (Bulgarin’s letters to Grech did not survive). This collection of letters continues the publications of Grech’s correspondence with Bulgarin that began in our journal in № 40 (1999) and 42 (2000).
CONTEMPORARY RUSSIAN LITERATURE:
BEYOND THE LIMITS OF SCHOLARSHIP?
In this section we publish the article based on the speeches made by the participants of the roundtable organised by the New Literary Observer magazine during an AAASS convention in New Orleans on 14 November 2007.
Mark Lipovetsky (University of Colorado, Boulder) discusses such issues as performativity in literature and the representation of violence in Russian culture. In his opinion, these two broad aspects of literary analysis remain obfuscated in Russian Studies, which is partially responsible for the “nonrecognition” of such literary phenomena as New Drama in Russian literary criticism.
Sergei Oushakine (Princeton University). “Noticing “Omitted” Names: Why Fictive Kinship Could be Useful”. Oushakine’s paper points out two plausible reasons that could explain the absence of late-Soviet and post-Soviet literature in current studies of Russian culture. As Oushakine argues, aesthetic canons and genealogies created during the Cold war still remain largely intact in structuring Russia’s cultural development during last three decades. As a result, texts that could not fit the usual paradigm “domination vs. resistance” tend to remain on the margin of the contemporary scholarship. Similarly, the fundamental (Marxist) fascination with intricacies of literary production results in the persistent marginalization of practices of literary consumption: studies of popular genres continue to emphasize how these genres emerged rather than how and why they become popular.
Kevin M.F. Platt’s (University of Pennsylvania) contribution articulates a critical approach to the works of St. Petersburg poet (and art critic) Dmitry Golynko-Volfson. In the view of the author, Golynko-Volfson’s oeuvre renders plain the inadequacy of the blanket terminological distinction “post-Soviet,” still widely used to describe literary production of the past 15 years in general. “Post-Soviet,” describing any of a number of definite stances towards a given history, fails to capture the possibility of Golynko-Volfson’s cardinally neutral, disinterested relationship to that past. In this, Golynko-Volfson renders necessary the development of other historical-critical terminology. In his subsequent commentary, Platt responds to Sergei Oushakine’s presentation, offering contrasting analysis of the dynamics governing literary critical work on Russian topics in the USA, which he sees as driven by market forces and the persistence of an antiquated, yet fast fading system of cultural prestige associate with high literary culture.
Stephanie Sandler (Harvard University) in her article “The Praise of Translation” states that the contemporary moment for comprehending Russian poetry is defined by the active tearing down of borders that previously marked poetry off from other art forms. The boundaries around the Russian language itself are more fluid. “The Praise of Translation” comments on poetry that is itself already a kind of translation, and on translation as a revealing critical practice. The poetry of Alexandra Petrova provides the exemplary text.
Ilya Kukulin’s article (The New Literary Observer magazine, Moscow) “From Swarovski to Zhukovsky and back: on the way a research method would construct a literary canon” discusses the concept of “new epos”. In 2007 poet Fjodor Swarovski proclaimed a manifesto of the “new epos” movement that according to him had started in Russian poetry in the first half of the 2000s. By analysing the poetry of Swarovski himself the author demonstrates that while being aesthetically innovative it does not match the definition of “epos”. It seems that their main features are the aesthetics of steam punk and trash science fiction (portraying the world of “sick robots”); virtualisation of action, i.e. presenting action not as something that has happened but as something possible; and finally using special type of imagery built along the lines analogical to those of the aesthetic of European avant-garde cinema of the 1960s. Author suggests that in reality the “new epos” is derived from both the poetics of a romantic ballade and the poetics of “experienced imagery” developed by Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini.
In the “Bibliography” section we offer reviews of new books on the humanities and a discussion of Ruth R. Wisse’s book “The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey Through Language and Culture” that was published in 2007 in Russian translation.