AN ART OF AUTO(BIOGRAPHY)
The block of articles opens with an article by Masha Levina-Parker (Los Angeles — Paris), “Introduction to Autofiction.” As post-structuralism begins to fade, French theoretical thought, in order to uphold its reputation of being innovative and ambitious, comes up with a new concept — the concept of “autofiction.” Autofiction can be understood as a composite genre of an oxymoronic nature that results from the crossing of two mutually exclusive pacts, namely, the “autobiographical pact” and the “novelistic pact”. This “monstrous” hybrid of the referential and fictional, of the literary and theoretical quickly becomes a new actuality in narratology, the history of literature, and the theory of subjectivity. It also becomes an object of heated polemics among French academics and literati. What is predominant in autofiction — the “auto-” or the “-fiction”? Is autofiction a post-modernist phenomenon or a new stage in the development of a universal literary supra-tradition evolving since antiquity? And who can be considered an “autofictionist”?
Irina Paperno (University of California, Berkeley) in her article “Privacy and History: Herzen’s family drama in the history of Russian intelligentsia (the 1850s—1990s)” discusses the notorious family drama of Alexander Herzen in the years the European revolutions, 1848—1852, showing how intimate life gains historical and political significance. Indeed, from 1848 to 2001, many people became intensely involved in what to less historically conscious minds might have seemed a family matter. Herzen and other immediate participants, as well as distant scholars, struggled to influence the story by providing or withholding evidence and interpretations. The article argues that the Herzen family drama became an institution of Russian intelligentsia culture: the intimacy-history connection became publicly observable and reproducible.
ON THE JEWISH QUESTION: AN ACADEMIC TURN
The block of articles looks into the specifics and the nature of the Jewish “presence” in the modern humanics. Victor Karady’s (Paris — Budapest) article “Jews in social sciences: approaches to solving the matter” is based on the achievements of Pierre Bourdieu’s social analysis theory. He studies a precept of enfranchisement via education and employment in the academia in the secularised Jewish milieu starting the second half of the 19th century as well as putting one’s stake on new non-traditional segments of the sciences of the spirit (sociology, psychoanalysis), that proved to be rather attractive for Jews as newcomers and marginalised people in the area of spiritual production.
Alek D. Epstein (Open University of Israel; Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences) in his article “Russian-Jewish intellectuals of the first Soviet generation: some brush-strokes for the portrait” analyses academic strategies and precepts of the Jews of the post-Stalin generation working in the humanities and social studies — from Yuri Lotman and Aleksandr Pyatigorsky to Igor Kon and Revekka Frumkina. He uses their memoirs to study the peculiar type of cosmopolitanism characteristic of this group of outstanding scholars of the Soviet times and looks into the reasons for their emphatically distanced attitude towards Jewish national issues (given their respect to the Jewish tradition and the State of Israel). Though they lack the features of a stable group these scholars can be seen as a certain cohort of researchers and intellectuals linked together by their common historical experience and the fat they places their stakes on creative and non-isolationist programs.
STRATEGIES OF CANONISING GOGOL
The block of articles discusses forms and methods through which a rather ambiguous and contradictory writer was turned into a textbook paradigmatic classical author whose work and life both became role models.
Vadim Polonsky (IWL, Moscow) in his article “Looking at a century a hundred years later or Gogol in 1909: the writer’s centenary based on the Russian press” traces the mechanism of “acquiring” and actualizing Gogol’s work by mythologizing it and emphasizing different points there, etc., using responses to Gogol’s 1909 centenary in four metropolitan newspapers of diverse ideological and political affiliation.
Andrey Ranchin (MSU) in his “an attempt at an ironical essay” “In Pushkin’s shadow or Gogol-2009: non-anniversarial notes on Gogol’s bi-centenary” compares the rather bleak celebration of Gogol’s bi-centenary in 2009 with a magnificent and pompous celebration of the recent Pushkin anniversary and discusses the reasons that might lie behind this treatment of Gogol by the authorities and the public.
SEMANTICS OF PSEUDOTRANSLATION
The block of articles deals with a well-known cultural phenomenon when an original work of art is passed off as a translation. Maria Malikova (Institute of Russian Literature, St. Petersburg) in her article “Slopwork studies: a Soviet pseudo-translated novel of the NEP era” analyses a number of mock adventure books as an attempt to play a part of an author trying to find a compromise that would allow him to bring together “freedom” understood as “skill” that becomes a “conventionality” of the pre-set adventure genre, with the temptation of “doing a necessary task”, a struggle “for the right to be counted among the Soviet writers” and the mere fact that “one had to eat”. A.L Toporkov (RSHU, Moscow) in his article “Russian werewolf and its English victims” speaks of a famous “shapeshifting spell” that was, as the author demonstrates written in 1829 by the writer O.M. Somov and then published as part of a I.P. Sakharov folklore collection in 1836. It was later translated into English and proved to be the source of inspiration for an English writer E. O’Donnell who composed a text very close to Somov’s in its nature — and that text in turn ended up being used by scholars studying Russian folklore.
The “Interpretations” section contains Aleksandr Zholkovsky’s (University of Southern California, USA) article “Thus-thus-thus” that looks into a motif of twoness in the song “Two Maxims” (1941), music written by S Katz, lyrics written by V.Dykhovihny.
FROM THE OTHER SHORE
The purpose of this section is to adumbrate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as an artist and thinker whose texts, though monologic in the strict paradigmatic Bakhtinian sense, are multivalent in a broader syntagmatic one. Moreover, his historic stature has served to magnify the artistic, intellectual, and ethical complexity of his works. After all, this writer was a dedicated opponent of modernism who nevertheless fits into the spectrum of historically and socially determined voices within the space of Russian and European modernism; a moralist who admired the morally problematic novels of Vladimir Nabokov and Mikhail Bulgakov; a fighter against totalitarianism who on occasion expressed sympathy for some of the premises and practices of the authoritarian states of the past or present; the purveyor of an universalizing ethical message whose public discourse was ethnocentric and highly, at times harshly, argumentative. Now that Solzhenitsyn is no more, his ideas and the poetics of their textual presentation, whether fictional or non-fictional, should no longer be the subject of partisan attacks or uncritical encomiums, but rather rigorously problematized in a multidisciplinary context.
Thus Joseph Pearce (Ave Maria University, Florida, USA) in his essay “Kindred Spirits: Solzhenitsyn’s Western Literary Confréres” frames his religious, anti-progressivist worldview within the twentieth-century conservative tradition, adducing modern — modernist or anti-modernist — artists and thinkers, primarily those from the Anglo-American world. In her article “Dangerous Universalism: Re-reading Solzhenitsyn’s Dvesti let vmeste” Harriet Murav (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA) critically examines what she sees as the essentialist and organicist conceptions of national identity and nationhood in Solzhenitsyn’s treatise “Two Centures Together” (2001—2002). Lisa Ryoko Wakamiya’s (Florida State University, USA) “Rhetorical Constructions of Repatriation in the Work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn” examines the interplay between Solzhenitsyn’s relocations as an empirical writer, whether forced and voluntary, and the reception of his pre-exilic, exilic, and post-exilic productions. Richard Tempest (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA) in his aticle “Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, (Anti)Modernist” explores the author’s overt and covert (dis)engagements with Russian and European modernism.
ELENA SHVARTS (1948—2010)
This section is dedicated to the memory of Elena Shvarts, the great post-war Russian poet. It opens with the poem by Alexander Mironov (St. Petersburg) who was her close friend. Olga Sedakova (Moscow) in her essay “L’Antica Fiamma Elena Shvarts” speaks about wide international tradition (Dante, Emily Dickinson, Velimir Khlebnikov) and the ancient — both spiritual and poetic — fire from which Shvarts poetry derives. In his notes “To the Memory of the Impossible” Boris Vantalov (St. Petersburg) describes his highly personal experience of how he come to read and to appreciate Elena Shvarts as far back as in the age of samizdat. Dmitry Panchenko’s (St. Petersburg) article ““Kinfia” by Elena Shvarts” refers to samizdat as well, for it was first published in 1980 in the unofficial Leningrad literary magazine “Chasy” (“Clock”); it analyse formal structure and antic subtext of Shvarts early masterpiece. In his essay “The Giantess of the Small Poem” Thomas Epstein (Brown University, Providence, USA) recalls his meetings with the poet and emphasize her deep interest in mysticism and such figures as Ksenia of Petersburg, Lermontov and Dostoevsky. The section ends with Elena Shvarts own “Diary entry” from 1966 which sounds like a poetic credo and her last poems.