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  1. Contents. Here & There: News from the Classical World Concerts Everywhere Opera Everywhere... 45
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New heroes appear: Asian businessmen who are also mystics, lyrical alcoholics, starched-collar detectives, serial killers, the tsarist secret police as role model, storage sheds that commit suicide. Certain constants survive from chapter to chapter: honor and humiliation as paths to a viable identity, the death of children. For some periods, the benchmark writers anchoring the edges of literary space are so different from each other that each begins his own literary tradi- tion.

But in other periods, a great writer will combine elements of both poles in a conscious quest for new and healthier hybrids. The task of the mediating author is to challenge the oversim- plification that is endemic to binary thinking and thus to re-complicate the field. To take only one example, the most timeworn binary in all of Russian literature: Tolstoy versus Dostoevsky. Like Pushkin and Gogol from an earlier period, these two were seen as incompatible geniuses. But writers appeared — one thinks of Anton Chekhov — whose gift it was to bridge, test, break down, and transform the most canonical hero types and legacies.

On occasion, a more recent author at the end of the chain can turn prior inherited worlds inside out or upside down. In no way are these inversions or syntheses assumed to be superior to the benchmark authors who flank them. They are simply complex in a different way, for the intelligence of a literary tradition is not linear or progressive. It constantly grows in all directions without invalidating its earlier truths. For that reason there is no single optimal place from which to view it. But some students of the Russian tradition have seen in it a darker and more severe pattern than the binaries and triads offered here.

Not by its length, setting, characters, spirituality, moral demands — in other words, not by a stable list of traits or revealed truths. This nay-saying was practiced at a very sophisticated level. Out of such restlessness and resentment came Russian maximalism, irrationalism, messianism, mysticism, utopianism.

On censored Russian soil, these unruly ideas were either promptly banned, or else co-opted by the state and turned to sinister purpose. But they were a source of inspiration to revolutionaries and dispossessed people everywhere else around the globe. This ecstatically nihilistic edge to so many Russian achievements in art is key to their enduring success. Marks has been praised as well as censured for this thesis.

His book has been taken as a tribute to the dynamic creativity of Russian culture, to its infec- tious pan-humanism, and also as a slanderous insult to it. One negotiation of his hostile binary might be offered. What returns us to Russian literature again and again is the chance to savor risk-taking at the extreme edges of an idea.

And even those writers who parody these extremes like Chekhov or who despair at surviving them like Boris Pilnyak [—] are unsympathetic to the goals, behaviors, and humdrum activity that result from a disciplined or calculated pursuit of material prosperity. This Idea, born in Moscow in the s among Russian Romantic disciples of Schelling, has had a long gestation. The work of great novelists and poets was recruited selectively as evidence. Three Russian Ideas As Russian imperial pretensions were enfeebled and discredited in the final decades of the twentieth century, these cosmic ambitions contracted.

In , an anthology of present-day Russian opinion on this time-honored, oft- maligned topic appeared as The Russian Idea: In Search of a New Identity, edited by a Canadian scholar of religion after seven years spent teaching at Moscow State University. Even in this anthology, however, traditional value-categories prove resilient. No literary work can wholly escape their shadow. These are the Russian Word, Russian space, and their meeting ground on the human face. Russia understood herself as having come to consciousness as a mute infant comes to consciousness through language.

This Romantic-era conviction has had enormous staying power, and to some extent explains the charismatic grip of the Poet on Russian culture. At first glance the spiritual primacy of the word might seem paradoxical, for in Russian high medieval culture up through the late seventeenth century, literacy was low. The visual image and the miracle-bearing relic had far more potency than the written word.

Eastern Christendom — first Byzantine, then Russian — revered icons even more intensely than did Roman Catholicism, especially after the Eastern Church decisively refuted the iconoclast movement triggered by the charge that icon worship was akin to idolatry in the eighth century CE. What is more, signed, authored literature was undervalued and at times even demonized. Mirsky writes in his History of Russian Literature.

Although Western medieval culture shared many of these values, Russia — which expe- rienced no Renaissance or Reformation — upheld for much longer the idea of the divinely received Word as the measure of all things, as a sort of Absolute. For this reason, the qualities of visuality, palpability, and fixedness were compatible with a Russian cult of the word. In fact, they served it. The great nineteenth-century Realist writers inherited this tradition. Once uttered, words were not mere means to an end but already, in some sense, ends — deeds in themselves.

These traditions fed richly into the revival of Russian poetry in the early twentieth century, and, ominously, into an equally rich cult of forced or fanciful political denunciations in the Stalinist s. A magically potent Word was a word worthy of being closely watched. From the mid-eighteenth to the end of the twentieth century, state censorship could reach a degree of suspiciousness and capriciousness hard for us to fathom in terms of the labor-hours required to impose it.

Of course, there was always freedom by default: bureaucratic carelessness, networks of protection and politeness, regal arbitrariness, mercy, and the sheer vastness of the administrative task — but all the same, not even a rudimentary system of safeguards for individual expression in the public realm ever existed. In principle, every scrap of newsprint, every line of verse could be scrutinized, by secular and church authorities, with separate, successively more severe filters for in-print genres and theatrical performance.

This quest to root out unapproved ideological content was made even more virulent by a worship of the shape and sound of the specifically Russian word. But when Pushkin addressed local realities and applied his glorious Russian to those banally familiar turns of phrase, they became startlingly new, authoritative, and impermissible. Space saved Russia from Napoleon and Hitler. The need to control this potent surplus of space and tie its wandering population down to the tax rolls justified the centralized autocracy.

But the humiliation and vulnerability remained, and communism attempted to alter both. There is no Chapter 1. All the same, that abundant and reliable parameter, Russian space, could be deceptive. Just as a reverence for the Russian word can lead paradoxically to its obsessive monitoring and even enslavement, so triumphant Russian space has been accompanied by a sense of being trapped, tied down, crowded together in tiny communal apartments in cities with permanent housing shortages or herded into prison cells scattered over an open plain.

Since so many literary narratives, from fairy tales to epic poems to postmodernist science fiction, are built on this paradox of vast but constricting Russian space, let us consider some of its dimensions. First, size does not mean power or safety. Geophysically speaking, Russia is a wide, flat, overexposed, underdeveloped plain, with her major rivers run- ning north—south, into foreign ports or frozen marsh. Her huge spread has been a constant source of national pride, but the lack of fixed boundaries or natural obstacles on her land borders has encouraged aggression by other peo- ples and a wanton imperialism pressing outward from her own core.

It was easier to exile dissidents to Siberia than to integrate them, to trash and move on rather than to recycle, negotiate, and conserve. Setting out, there is no assurance one will ever arrive. Cities, those dots on a plain, were protected by their churches and Christian saints; everything outside the city fell under the sway of pagan gods. Space was divided into what was known and protected — what had its patron saint or spirit — and what was unprotected and unknown, the uncharted roaming grounds of various demons, imps, and mischievous spirits. Russian expanse was deified as Moist Mother Earth, but not after the manner of most gods.

The enormity, flatness, insecurity, and low population density of the Eurasian continent had socioeconomic consequences that conditioned all domestic Rus- sian narratives. Those who worked the soil did not initially stay put. To guar- antee the tillable land its laborers, the army its soldiers, and the state its tax revenues, peasants were tied down to their villages in the late sixteenth century and then gradually enserfed as the personal property of the gentry and noble class.

But with Peter the Great, Russia in effect became two countries in an equivalently explosive way. Peasant villages adopted a siege mentality against the cities and towns. When urban outsiders appeared at the edge of a village, it was not to trade, educate, heal, but always to bring the bad news of recruitment or taxes: always to take something away. Eighteenth-century prose dramas mercilessly satirized country bumpkins.

Of equal or greater weight to these comic scenes were the tragic or angry variants. Of course he would not have unscrewed all of them. This image of an uncomprehending and trapped peasant sometimes innocent, sometimes defensively sly , victimized by a cal- lous city dweller with a sheaf of laws in his briefcase and an arrest warrant in his hand, became a painful nineteenth-century genre scene. This geophysical binary — urban seats of power against the countryside — reached its apogee in the collectivization campaigns of the first Stalinist Five-Year Plan — By that time, of course, writers were no longer free to describe it.

It has been said that only during the war of —45 did enough Russians succeed in suf- fering together to heal this split between the tiny, rich, exploiting cities and the broad laboring plain. Surely this was one reason why World War II narratives remained a vigorous literary genre in Russia long after the other combatants in that conflict had moved on to other themes. This abrupt distinction between city life and life everywhere else has proved tenacious. But significantly we do not know where the Prozorov family estate is: is it four miles from that dreamed-of Moscow, or forty, or four hundred?

Roads were and are a disaster. There is little tradition of the civilized suburb. To leave Moscow or Petersburg has always meant not only to go out in space but also to go back in time. This too reinforces the sense of space being primary and pockets of time negotiable, set down like the cities, as islands in a sea. Even this excessive, untamable Russian space had its edges. In , Pushkin slipped out from under police surveillance to visit the Russian army skirmishing on the Caucasus—Turkish border. As he later described this episode in his droll travel notes, A Journey to Arzrum , en route to join the Russian troops he happened upon a small river which, a Cossack informed him, was the boundary.

Never before had I broken out from the borders of immense Russia. I rode happily into the sacred river, and my good horse carried me out on the Turkish bank. But this bank had already been conquered: I was still in Russia. This scenario of sealed borders around an immense, unmappable world became another theme, both hair-raising and comic, that lasted right up until the end of the Soviet Union.

Russia, so this thesis went, is so big, her borders so impenetrable, her censorship so pervasive, her people so gullible, and her ability to construct whole countries inside herself with space to spare so difficult to detect, that the authorities could simply fake the existence of everywhere else.

In his novella Omon Ra, Viktor Pelevin b. A simple factory worker from the Urals circa is finally allowed to go to Paris. It never had. I have in mind Russian spatial utopias. But Russia also has a vital minor tradition of timeless, salvation-bearing utopias in space. And thus they manipulate space — that inexhaustible Russian resource — to overcome the vulnerability of space. Yury Lotman, who devoted a good portion of his scholarly life to spatial topographies, discusses this mythical geo-ethics as codified in Russian medieval texts.

Dostoevsky drew on it in his great novels reverently for his righteous persons like the Elder Zosima, symbolically for his seekers like Raskolnikov, in travestied form for his petty devils , and traces of this value system survive in Stalin-era socialist realist texts. Geo-ethics combines the high status of physical matter in the Eastern Orthodox Church with the moral implication of the compass.

Lands to the east are pagan, to the west are heretic: only at the Russian center can one find holiness. Righteous persons [pravedniki] wander through this space, colonizing it with their humility and charity, aware that all corruptible matter encountered down below can be resurrected in a heavenly space that is continuous with it. Eternity is not the absence of matter or the transcending of matter, but its absolute triumph. Up there, matter lasts forever. Among the most celebrated sites of geo-ethics in Russian culture is the Invisible City of Kitezh on the bank, or the bottom, of Lake Svetloyar.

Great Kitezh was built in the Yaroslavl-Volga region northeast of Moscow in the twelfth century. In it was destroyed by the Mongol Khan Batu, grandson of the great Ghengis. No contemporaneous account of the battle mentions any survivors; the city simply vanished. In successive Russian times of trouble, the Kitezh legend revives and Lake Svetloyar becomes again a place of pilgrimage.

The populist Vladimir Korolenko — wrote an ethnographic sketch on the region in Peter and Alexis, linked the invisible city to all in Russian culture that Peter the Great had attempted to destroy. The Symbolists warmed to the apocalyptic resonance of this miraculous place, and twentieth-century history bore them out.

In the opening lines of her poem, Akhmatova calls herself a kitezhanka, a resident of that doomed, saved, sunken city. Essential to the myth is that the city indubitably exists — only we who now gaze upon it are insufficiently pure to hear it or see it. In her work on the Kitezh legend, Ksana Blank suggests that the myth of this Invisible City is structured as anti- Petersburg and set in the hidden, apocalyptic, backward-looking space of the seventeenth-century schismatics or Old Believers, where it refutes the very idea of linear, temporal progress in the visible public realm.

With this image, we arrive at our final Russian idea, or cultural invariant, that might be said to link the Russian Word and Russian space: the concept of lik. Lik pronounced leek is one of several Russian nouns for the human face, and etymologically the most basic. Eyes on such a face transmit divine light.

At any point litso can degenerate into lichina, a mask that refuses to communicate, that looks and is lifeless, whose beauty becomes rigid and demonic. Leo Tolstoy felt these distinctions keenly, if intuitively, when creating the characters of War and Peace. Female beauty fascinated him. Natasha enchants, but she is not beautiful. To the highest degree, however, this face is responsive, porous, a lik. Tolstoy awards to his beloved Princess Marya a third type of female face: an ugliness so severe that men turn away in embarrassment and she herself despairs before the mirror. The speaking, receiving face is the only force competent to bridge great Russian distances.

Central to this complex of ideas is that wholeness does not mean homogeneity or sameness. Every face is different, every personality is distinct, but each needs the other or many others in order to realize the contours of its own self. It is significant that the Russian language has no native word for privacy, and also that Russian culture did not develop the metaphysical image so productive in Western Christendom, that of the soul imprisoned within the body.

The success of such a campaign, for all its brutality, betrays its deep organic roots. As Tolstoy correctly divined, the two master plots in Russian socio-literary history are War and Peace. How they are won is peculiar to this nation. War is won by space, although usually at ghastly human expense.

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Contents. Here & There: News from the Classical World Concerts Everywhere Opera Everywhere... 45

Peace is registered as a victory of face-to-face intimacy, clustering around the kitchen table, samovar, nursery, whispered or outlawed poem. For most of Russian literature, the battle- field and the hearth have been enduring polar values. Cultural anthropologists at work today on Russian communication patterns note the genres of litany and lament that develop freely only in the space of small often communal apartments, bathhouses, and run-down country dachas barricaded against the hostile outside world.

Successors to that great novel in the twentieth century were pressured to redefine this ritual out of the nuclear family into some larger, equally compelling unit that could serve communist ideology and motherland. These are the middle spaces: commercial classes such as merchants, bankers, and Jews; professional classes such as lawyers and professors; and bureaucratic classes of every sort. If a learned person is of low enough rank, like a provincial tutor or schoolteacher, then some virtues might be mixed in with the weakness and vice.

One challenge for twentieth-century Russian literature was to devise an acceptable sort of success for the pragmatic and disciplined wage-earner, state servitor, or career bureaucrat in modern civic culture, without losing the enormous energy contained in the sacrificial, spiritually rich hero. If this was a difficult task for the Soviet century, it will be even more daunting for the more fragmentary and less cohesive twenty-first.

But full stops, failed apocalypse, and looking out the window at empty space going nowhere are completely familiar to this cultural tradition and easily accommodated by it. It might be helpful in this chapter, before discussing some favored Russian character types, to review the services it can provide. Prose fiction is a field. Usually it is populated by more than one consciousness and designed to be experienced over time.

In all but the most disorienting fictional environments — the absolute absurd, for example, or literature of terror and trauma devised to frustrate all attempts at communication — readers will seek to talk, interact, or empathize with characters inhabiting this field. Both the type of creature and the rules for relating to it depend upon the conventions of the literary genre. What feels strange in one environment can be wholly unmarked in another. In all cases, however, time and space in the chronotope are fused.

Some sorts of time — say, in old-fashioned comic strips and soap-opera serials — never add up. Hours, days, years pass, but people do not age; characters might not even remember from one episode to the next. Accordingly, the space that accompanies such time is abstract and non-historical. Some sorts of time permit the hero to change, but only at miraculous, isolated moments say, tales of metamorphosis or religious conversion.

The qualities of the surrounding space may or may not change to accord with the abruptly altered hero. Their potential is predetermined. They may be tested by events, but they do not learn or mature as a result of such testing; they merely unfold as a pre-formed bud unfolds into a given leaf. It is no surprise, however, that the most durable parameter in many Russian chronotopic sit- uations is space, with the temporal dimension a secondary, often dysfunc- tional afterthought.

Developmental time simply stops: through early sacrificial death, in capped or arrested adolescence, or on the far side of threshold moments that commit the hero to an unchanging revealed truth. Start with the spatial imperative, and time will tag along. Even when the journey is parodied beyond repair, as in the tragicomic alcoholic fantasy Moscow to the End of the Line by Venedikt Erofeyev —90 , the illusion of movement is the indispensable starting point. And then a week before his death, he himself boarded a train to get out.

In traditional Rus- sian folk culture, the devil [chort] was small: omnipresent, petty, devious, often a changeling, miserably ugly and unheroic. Instead, a myriad of tiny folk devils hovered around your body, eager to crawl down your throat when you yawned, up your birth canal while you were deliv- ering your infant, into your ears during an unguarded moment. Against this onslaught of small exhaustions and seductions one could apply numerous folk charms and incantations.

A righteous person usually requires an enemy to fight against — the Mongols, Napoleon, Hitler, capitalists as a class, the Antichrist — but a big, showy Foe is by no means necessary. The enemy as well as the task can be very small. Success in the deed is not essential, but steadfastness is. Central to the type is always a willingness to suffer — but regardless of torment self-inflicted or imposed, a pravednik does not change his mind or his soul. He cannot, for he is inseparable from his truth. He can become a righteous person after a sinful youth as does the elder Zosima , but like Saint Augustine, once he has seen or arrived at the truth, he does not develop further.

The prototypical pravednik is a martyred saint. He may choose to coop- erate with the state, rescuing it heroically in its hour of need, but he can- not be owned by any earthly power and often boycotts existing governments altogether. The righteous almost always prefer the village to the city. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn b. Unsurprisingly, after the Revolution the Bolshevik government made strenuous attempts to recruit righteous sufferers for the cause of forward- looking communism.

Precedent was not difficult to find. Revolutionaries shared many traits with medieval saints. He perfects himself and withdraws further, into increasingly remote geographical spaces. Others may follow him into that wilderness, but the hero does not need others to realize his truth. He is complete in himself. We might say, then, that relations between righteous persons and their Truth remain stable and unambiguous, but relations between a pravednik and other human beings can differ widely — both inside fiction, and between fictional characters and the reader.

Consider some examples from famous Russian nov- els. Sonya Marmeladova in Crime and Punishment is a pravednitsa; she never doubts the rightness of her views over the vacillating anguish of Raskolnikov. But she rarely preaches, either to him or to the reader. Only when directly interrogated does she share the grounds of her faith, and then reluctantly. She is aware of her truth unconsciously, in action, because she is fused with it. Her concern and love are directed at all times toward saving the tormented hero. The chattering, opinionated confessant in Dostoevsky is rarely worthy of trust.

Autobiographical heroes such as Konstantin Levin from Anna Karenina or Dmitry Nekhlyudov from the novel Resurrection are genuine seekers who come to know Truth. Tolstoy was of course alert to this selfish, self-inflating dynamic, and strove helplessly throughout his life to attain an unconscious humility. The Duel is an exemplary tale in this regard: each antagonist begins confident that he knows and can expose the fraudulence of the values that the other lives by — and manages to do so very skillfully.

He can even be rewarded, although not with salvation. The Master is tested and found wanting in fortitude — he cannot protect his novel against the hostile outside world — but ultimately he is empowered, as a writer, to create the new word that alters Divine history. His mistress Margarita, who has bargained with Satan to get him back, emerges as a pravednitsa, a truth-bearer for whom loyalty and love do not merely work miracles, but are themselves the miracle.

But there are others. As did Rome, Russia domesticated this revered Marian image, but along somewhat different lines from the Western or Catholic Madonna, who was eroticized as early as Dante and became a cult in Europe during the Age of Chivalry. The Beautiful Lady arrived late in Russia, on the brink of the twentieth century. Even in her secularized guise, the Marian pravednitsa transcended sexuality as often as she incorporated it.

Two of her most popular manifestations were as maiden or bride, and as mother. This hybrid inspired a decade of stern, earnest female heroes, perfected by Ivan Turgenev in a triad of early novels: Rudin , A Nest of Gentlefolk , and On the Eve Unconsummated love stories — being simpler, more controllable, and in their own lofty way, more selfish — are characteristic of truth-carriers. The pravednitsa did not have to be a maiden or a nun. Wives and mothers in Old Russia were revered and formally canonized. Fools Russian culture produced three types of fool. None coincides precisely with fools further west.

In common with Western Europe, Russia has the fool of the folk tale, the durak in Russian Ivanushka-durak, Ivan the Fool, the youngest, laziest, bumbling yet lucky third son. Old Russia also knew medieval jesters, the trickster or shut pronounced shoot , and a wandering minstrel-acrobat- actor, the skomorokh. All were associated with pagan magic and the demonic. Finally there is that peculiar Russian variant on a Byzantine saint, which has amazed European visitors ever since the sixteenth century: the yurodivy fool in Christ, holy fool or blazhenny blessed one.

If in Europe the fool tended to be a dunce or a rogue, laughed at and held in low esteem, then Russians displayed both a reverence for folly and a tol- erance for the physically grotesque and mentally deranged. The tradition of the cleverly spoken fool, the fool as sidekick, confidant, or court buffoon to the king, was weakly developed in Russia, enjoying a brief stage life only in the imitative eighteenth century.

If unable to avoid a task set by his older and smarter brothers, he does it stupidly, without forethought, to further his own comfort not, note, out of kindness or passivity: Ivan the Fool can punch, kill, lie, sew up innocent people in sacks and dump them into the icy river without a second thought.

Equally promi- nent in them, however, is the folk-tale thief and shut-skomorokh. Like the folk fool, the jesting, pilfering thief travels light and lives in a perpetual present. He robs, but since he never accumulates wealth for himself — he either loses it, or gambles or drinks it away — openness and a sort of honesty adhere in him too. Skomorokhi, the Russian wandering minstrel-mummers, constituted a more established profession, almost a guild. Hired as professional merry- makers to perform at feasts, weddings, and funeral ceremonies, they plied their trade even at the tsarist court.

As part of a more general ban on public levity, the Orthodox Church outlawed them in Many practitioners masked their activities and went underground. In a strange conflation, skomorokhi became associated in some areas with the act of writing and the art of bookmaking. Psalters have been found dating from fourteenth-century Novgorod, for example, where the initial letters are illuminated by skomorokh figures dancing, playing stringed instruments, or wrapped around the letters of the alphabet in lithe acrobatic pose.

Skomorokh speech, too, was creative and potentially poetic — full of elastic triple rhymes and deceptively sly double meanings. In his drama Boris Godunov , Pushkin creates a dissolute wandering monk, Varlaam, who, when a little drunk, starts speaking in triple rhymes. In a later scene the play- wright has his own ancestor, Gavrila Pushkin, remark that in Russia a poet is treated no better than a skomorokh. By the time the play passed the censor , that naughty line had been edited out.

But a shut was more self-consciously costumed and theatrical. But pagan devil-jesters and ecclesiastical church-recognized devils tended to laugh for different reasons. The yurodivy was a wanderer, an ascetic, a renouncer of goods, home, family, social standing, even the resources of rea- son. If a holy fool did seek temporary residence, his peasant host was honored as a pravednik. The yurodivy went around barefoot, winter and summer, dressed in rags and often bruised across the back, shoulders, and loins by heavy chains.

He was foolish or feigned madness not for his own benefit, and not always even for the sake of some concrete good, but in order to stimulate others toward a moral reassessment of their actions or attitudes. The holy fool lived in another time-space and had access to its truths. A yurodivy could speak the truth to tsars without fear of reprisal. He must live in permanent insecurity and homelessness, despising all hierarchy, fixing his focus not on this world but on the other world, yet he is not a hermit or recluse.

He is a social and public figure. It is difficult to represent this type in a psychological novel, because the author and the reader can- not get inside its consciousness. There is no coherent, mappable inside. Holy foolishness is entirely performative, symbolic, and specular. The type fascinated Dostoevsky.

At one point in his confession to Sonya, Raskolnikov — wondering what sustains her in the squalid, beggarly underworld of Petersburg — calls her a yurodivaya. He fears that further contact with her will cost him his reason and perhaps even turn him into a holy fool himself. Dostoevsky — the most frightening, most hilariously comic master of all types of fool in Russian literature — built his greatest plots on the edge of blasphemy.

The result of this union is the depraved offspring Smerdyakov, family cook and epileptic, who commits parricide. Must Russian fools be subversive, and are they always comic? Not necessarily; the tone of a foolish narrative can be lyrical, delicate, laden with pathos. But fools must always be strange, governed by rules that others cannot grasp, or else by no rules at all.

For this reason fools proliferate when cultural norms break down. At the end, heavily pregnant, she ascends to heaven to give birth to a new sun on the brink of the Cuban missile crisis, There would be no death! That indeed has been the convention. They shunned work, earned next to nothing, accepted every- thing with a smile of good-natured irony and gentleness, and ignored all the usual standards of victory or success so as to have time for art, conversation, drink, and recitation of oral epics based on their life.

They refused to consider the loss of worldly goods or repu- tation a bad thing. In the group gave up drinking altogether and sponsored the first free-of-charge rehabilitation center for alcoholics in post-communist Russia. A series of images of Mitya Shagin has been painted in canonical iconographic style. The pravednik is innerly whole and single-voiced. He can be apocalyptic or merciful, an irritant to society or the savior of it. Fools, however, are double- voiced and sly. They must be ridiculed, abused, misunderstood by others. At times they present their protest as an alternative to the righteous.

But holy fools are also numbered among the righteous, for they elevate moral consciousness in those who witness them. Only those pure instruments of amusement, the shut and skomorokh jester and minstrel , are pagan enough to serve solely themselves, and for that reason so often blend with the rogue. Frontiersmen Between the fifteenth century and , despite devastating invasions, the Russian state expanded steadily.

There was always more frontier. As distances increased, however, political power was not dispersed. The highly centralized Russian Empire continued to be run from its two capitals, each of which, by the early nineteenth century, had developed a cultural mythology of its own. Countering the myths of these two metropolises, the myth of the ever-widening edge became home to all those heroes who, abandoning the center or exiled from it, explored the periphery. Three peculiarities of this expansion are worth noting. Colonizers could creep into it, could reside comfortably on its edges and spread out in them.

Expansion involved violence, of course. But many narratives interwove peace and war. Written soon after the event, the Lay describes the ill-fated incursion by a minor prince named Igor Svyatoslavovich into hostile territory controlled by pagan Polovtsian tribes to the southeast of Kiev. In imagery of great lyri- cal power, the anonymous author of the Lay rebukes Prince Igor for his rash adventurism and laments his capture by the enemy. But historically, matters were not that tragic.

The alliance made good military sense: quasi- Russified Polovtsians could then be deployed as warriors and spies against hos- tile tribes further east. The eastern frontier did not become culturally significant for its pragmatic military alliances, however. In the mids, the composer Aleksandr Borodin —77 turned this ancient epic song into a Romantic orientalist opera, Prince Igor. A century later, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn exploited another, more sinister aspect of this myth of the permeable Russian frontier.

The performance unfolds in a fictional format well known to the Stalinist era, and to these incarcerated men personally: a mock show trial. Our third peculiarity concerns the compass. But in fact, the North—South axis has always been equally pronounced and productive of plots. On the free side we find the monastic frontier communities, homesteaders, pilgrims, adventurers, commercial travelers, heroes of Romantic Wanderlust, and — after the founding of the Russian Academy of Sciences in — scientific expeditions.

On the unfree side belong the exiles and prisoners. Two astonishing early autobiographies by pravedniki one religious, the other political anchor the punitive Russian frontier narrative. His travail through Siberia and then the Far North ended in martyrdom in , when he was burned at the stake.

The second autobiography is the memoir of Princess Natalya Dolgorukaya, who was exiled by order of Empress Anna in four days after marrying into a disgraced family. It details their mile depor- tation to a central Siberian settlement north of Tobolsk on the Ob River. Under such conditions, to sustain oneself and survive without doing harm to others is the maximum that can be asked of the victim by way of a moral goal.

A hero or heroine need take no other initiative. Raskolnikov confesses his murder in Petersburg — but only repents of it in Siberia, in prison, gazing out over the empty steppe. In such narratives, the unfree Siberian exile is Everyman, by birthright a sinner, for whom release into true freedom is release from life itself. Let us consider only one final contrast: settlers versus wanderers. Here the relevant distinction is between those who set out with the goal of arriving somewhere, of putting down roots in a new home, and those for whom space itself is their destined and undifferentiated home, their ultimate residence.

Wanderers can be secular or religious. The religious variant of wanderer, the strannik, was a figure of some spiritual stature. He ends his life as a strannik in the company of a Bible-vendor, which casts a faint but authentic aura of wisdom over his oth- erwise parodied and indulgent person. Seekers are drawn to wanderers. Wanderers are not obliged to arrive anywhere, but their natural end is a monastery. Maksim Gorky — tapped into the same tradition, when he launched his career as a writer in the s with bestselling stories of itinerant dockworkers and charismatic tramps. The wanderer or displaced person during war constitutes a terrible and vital subset of Russian heroes, one that remained vigorous in literature and film up through the end of the Soviet era.

Its human parameters stretched from helpless children to cold-blooded killing machines Bolshevik as well as enemy. A rich Soviet literature of the literally embattled frontier emerged out of the savagery of the Civil War —21 , which was fought simultaneously on dozens of fronts: on the Western frontier among Poles, Cossacks, and Jews, portrayed in the violent miniatures of Isaak Babel — in Red Cavalry —26 ; throughout Siberia, Mongolia, and along the Chinese border in the brutal war stories most notably Armored Train 14—69 of Vsevolod Ivanov — , himself of mixed Polish, Mongolian, and Russian ancestry.

But all Russian war literature has tended to be read as a parable on Russia herself, a land in which experience could never be made short, painless, or small. Rogues and villains Our previous three hero types — righteous people, fools, frontiersmen of the ever-expanding and never-pacified edge — have noticeably Russian chrono- topes. To an important degree, each is space-and-time-specific to the Russian culture and continent. With the rogues and villains we move into more pan- European territory.

The Russian rogue [plut, pronounced ploot] shares much with the Spanish picaro [rascal], his genetic cousin. But the Russian rogue exhibits some unmistakably national traits, which come into focus at those points where a rogue becomes a villain.

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In the Russian context, certain acts came to be considered villainous that would not be so quickly condemned elsewhere. Rogues are not virtuous, of course, but neither are they evil. If they prosper, it is because their human surroundings are corrupt, greedy, foolish, selfish — or simply amoral. Rogues are survivors; they live by symbiosis and take on the color of the terrain.

There is something of Ivan the Fool in them, rooted in the immediate present, although rogues are far more energetic and entrepreneurial. A villain, in contrast, creates victims. Frol is a poor solicitor. He ends up in bed with Annushka, who, at first shocked, rapidly develops a liking for her seducer and their mutual sport. By means of various minor blackmails the couple manages to elope.

The parents are scandalized; the tsar is alerted; Frol confesses his heinous deed to his in-laws with a shrug. The incensed parents ban their daughter and son-in-law from their house. Both at once, perhaps. These can vary widely. Two things must be noted about this class of rogue. First, in keeping with the traditional Russian virtues of hospitality, generosity, communality, circulation of wealth — and also their inverse, Russian intolerance for profit-making schemes and hoarding of any sort — the Gogolian rogue is overwhelmingly a mercenary one.

The tests that he puts to others, and the tests that the narrative puts to him, concern proper and improper uses of money. But his flaws pale in comparison with Plyushkin, the miser in that novel, whose hoarded wealth turns to rot and whose person becomes paranoid and beggarly. Plyushkin is beyond rogue or villain, a black hole that sucks in every material thing and immobilizes it.

He is absolutely unredeemable. Greed of this paralyzing scope is so disrespected that rogues who redistribute wealth by any means, on any pretext, can easily become noble outlaws, or cease to be outlaws at all. This Russian discomfort with material accumulation provokes our second comment. This mediocrity knows neither heights nor depths; he is cautious, acquisitive, narrow-minded. To bolster his weight in the world, he would always prefer to buy than to spend.

In War and Peace, Tolstoy forgives the extravagant, impulsively generous and finan- cially bankrupt Rostov family, even when their fiscal irresponsibility causes a great deal of grief. He marries the profligate survivors, Natasha and her brother Nikolai, to wealthy heirs and heiresses. But Tolstoy does not forgive the elder Rostov daughter Vera and her shallow, calculating husband Berg for decorat- ing their apartment out of the spoils of war.

No capital value can accrue to a thing, only to a life. Such satirists routinely ignored or discredited as sham whatever civil liberties or political freedoms they saw, emphasizing only the triviality, conformity, and tedium of a comfortably provisioned life. One good example is The Islanders, a novel of British life written in by Evgeny Zamyatin — , by profession an engineer who supervised the construction of Russian icebreakers in England during World War I and later authored the anti-utopia We.

He is staggered. Quite the opposite: an excess of possessions can lead only to smugness and spiritual inertness. Material security — a morally neutral background texture for many literary plots in post-industrial countries — has aroused far greater irritation and suspicion in Russian culture. This important type entered Russian high literary culture only during the Romantic period, and even then long retained the flavor of a European import. But character- istically, Pushkin awards his Don Juan lofty poetic dimensions that undercut the covetous physical aspect of his pursuit and add aesthetic luster to it.

If Pushkin cleanses and poeticizes the purely sensuous, then Tolstoy darkens and coarsens it. This should not surprise us. If these hoarders hurt strangers or obstruct tax-collectors sent by an impersonal state bureaucracy, their sin is not so heinous. They can become attractive rogues and sometimes even positive heroes. But if their hoarding destroys their family, it is unforgivable.

Money, like love, only has value if it circulates. Pin it to yourself and you will lose everything. The nadir of such greed and money-driven villainy is reached with the dark- est nineteenth-century novel, The Golovlyovs s , by the civil servant and satirist Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin — The tone is set by its grasp- ing matriarch Arina, successful businesswoman. The second generation slips into prostitution, Siberian exile, suicide. But of whom? Thus the practitioners deserve no mercy and can be rubbed out.

Popular support for their extermination was easy to incite. The Evil Spirit to his ways is winning. Consider the most famous por- trait, Nikolai Stavrogin from Demons. But Stavrogin becomes progressively weaker as a result of his amoral profligacy, not stronger. The authentic Gothic villain does not weaken. But in a Russian cosmos, evil rewards him with impotence. Our final category is the political villain, the villain backed by governmental power. This Terrible tsar [lit. His rehabilitation as an exotic, patriotic, divinely decreed precedent for Stalin, in a campaign that began in and recruited the best talent in literature, film, and music, formed the aesthetic backdrop for those fabricated charges of treason that claimed the lives of so many artists during the Great Terror.

The greatest poets fought back literally with their lives. The tyrant in Russia has always been threatened by acts of straightforward outrage and feats of more private loyalty. But tyranny has also been successfully undone by more double-voiced means — through parable, satire, the fantastic, the absurd, and perhaps with greater effectiveness. Its ful- crum is the doorman Nikita, an impenetrable bully with the power to lock in or lock out as commanded by his superiors. It is Nikita who redefines a slothful, recalcitrant doctor first into a patient and then into an inmate. This story was one of a handful of tales that turned Lenin into an implacable enemy of the tsarist state.

Laughter can be equally terrible, especially with its demonic undercurrent. And finally: avant-garde drama is well acquainted with political villainy. But that room turns out to be reality. During the Realist period, they evolved into distinctly Russian nihilists, utopians, and other idea-driven reformers or eccentrics. From the outset a cutting-edge of parodic reassessment characterized Russian borrowings from Europe.

The idea caught on among Russian critics and was retrofitted to heroes of the Romantic era. Its perspective is largely that of society, not of the individual. If the European Romantic-era misfit was an egoist, outcast, rebel, and proud of his rebellion — proud even to fail in that rebellion, if need be, for the attempt and the quest were all — then Russian variations on the Byronic hero were more contemplative, passive, and resigned.

They were less deluded which is why Onegin and Pechorin thrill us even today with their intelligence , but they were frail. By default, this frailty brought them back into the fold. Traditional Russian culture valued communality and wholeness. As we have seen, however, this culture was also highly tolerant, even protective, of eccentricity: it admired holy fools who spoke their truth to tyrants or even who spoke gibberish , wanderers who abandoned their homes and goods, Ivan the Fool who was lazy, dunce-like, cruel without cause, and ended up on top of the heap.

The Westernized eccentric or outsider on Russian soil was not so fortunate. He was featured but neither pitied nor respected, and usually he did not survive. We limit our discussion here to three Russian variants: Napoleonic, nihilist, and utopian. The Russian Napoleon myth evolved in several stages, each with its own literary signature. By the s, national trauma had faded and the cult of Napoleon had begun: in the stifling civil and military bureaucracy of St.

Peters- burg, a self-made man and merit-based career was an exhilarating, illicit dream. Heroes and their plots 55 Pushkin had been only thirteen when Moscow was occupied and burned, too young by two years for military service or exploits against the foe; in his various poems on Napoleon, the poet already saw the Frenchman more as a liberator and democrat than as a scourge. As the myth matured in the s, however, it again darkened. During the mids, while Crime and Punishment was being serialized, Tolstoy was recreating in his War and Peace the saga of the invasion replete with its cardboard Napoleon — and already Tolstoy was nervous that the wheel might be turning again, that the French Emperor was regaining his aura and would have to be debunked.

In several decades, this proved true. The Symbolist generation admired Napoleon anew. The Napoleonic hero had a cyclical trajectory in Russia, one tied to the mys- tique of the West and to the nightmare and the nostalgia of foreign invasion and heroic self-defense. In contrast, and somewhat paradoxically, the nihilist hero — who doubts and negates everything — was nourished by rumors of positive internal reform. Only by applying a utilitarian standard could a rational human being escape the disil- lusionment of the Byronic hero and the delusions of Napoleonism.

The first attack on the life of the Liberator Tsar Alexander II, by a domestic terrorist organization, occurred in , and it promoted the nihilist from metaphysical portrait to political threat.


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Political assassinations rose steadily in Russia until the outbreak of the Great War. There was also no use for cynical, nay-saying nihilists in the spirit of the Underground Man. Literary utopia has a lengthy European pedigree, beginning with Sir Thomas More in the early sixteenth century. But utopian thinking remained robust longer in Russia than in the West. And properly so: this romance about a high-minded Petersburg girl who sets up a seamstress cooperative with the help of several devoted, non-possessive men- friends, punctuated with marvelous dreams of an idyllic future life given over to love and leisure in crystal palaces, is governed by no accountable economy at all.

The novel is a dream, free of the anxieties of a workable political blueprint, and no wonder Lenin was so fond of it. Anti-utopias, it turns out, are as double-voiced as utopias. It is both impos- sible to remain as we are, and impossible to survive in a society where our current vices have been eliminated. Vladimir Mayakovsky — was a Bolshevik poet, committed in word and deed to the futuristic slogans of the new regime. Why am I alone in this cage? The protagonist and diary writer of We is liberated by his rediscovery of the first-person singular — and simultaneously appalled by it.

It is no surprise that this underground hero has no discernible face. The heroes we might yet see, and what lies ahead This gallery of favored Russian heroes has not been strong in certain categories widespread in Western fiction. Virtuous merchants and productive bureau- crats are few, beautiful sinners are rare. Has the twenty-first century already irreversibly changed this repertory? Russian literary space openly welcomed per- sons and themes that had always been on the brink of taboo: detective fiction featuring state security personnel or the ruling dynasty or party; crime where the state is to blame; wars that Russia has lost or is losing like Afghanistan and Chechnya ; attractively snappy capitalists.

And also, to be sure, explicit pornog- raphy, violence, and misogyny. Instead we begin to see a partial return to the bawdy mixed prose of the eighteenth century, to wide-open not Aesopian satire, and to the amoral ethics of the folk tale. These and other narratives of the pre-Pushkin era are the subject of our next two chapters. In , Tsar Ivan the Terrible allowed a printing press to be set up in Moscow. The first book published in Russian on Russian soil, an elaborate edition of read- ings from the Apostles for use in the liturgy, appeared in In , the press was destroyed by a mob incited by clerical authorities.

Although printing made steady gains, until the late seventeenth century, the small number of literate Russians preferred scrolls to printed books. Traditional texts were performed in connection with specific communal rituals. In his final years, Leo Tolstoy — provocatively declared a wedding song and a well- timed anecdote or joke preferable to a symphony or a novel. At the time of his death, the visionary Symbolist composer Aleksandr Scriabin — was planning a vast choral work of divine revelation, Mysterium, which would synthesize all the arts in a single performance, usher in the apocalypse, and herald the birth of a new world.

Tolstoy as a peasant primitivist and Scriabin as a religious ecstatic might be seen as two possible twentieth-century end points for traditional pre-modern, pre-print Russian narrative. One is the down-to-earth, profane wisdom of folklore and the folk tale [skazka], rooted in a partially Christianized paganism. Issay Dobrowen. Gianandrea Noseda. Boris Khaikin. Kent Nagano. Raphael Kubelik. Reginald Goodall. Konstantin Chudovski. Valery Gergiev. Sebastian Weigle. Thomas Schippers. George London. Giacomo Lauri-Volpi. Robert Shaw.

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