Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


4AM will never be the same again

Yardley is spot on about Olga Grushin (relinked previously visavis Hemon), though underestimating her American audience and its (and her) appreciation of Russian history (Moscow is no character, nor a cardboard facade of Western construction). The Dream Life of Sukhanov, revolving around an apparatchik of art, lays on the Nabokovian allusions thickly, from details scattered about like bits of orange to more pervasive structure and theme, in particular that of being overtaken by memory (at a time when Russia,or RSFSR, too was being overtaken by history, in cultural replay of the Khruschev thaw), down to the final stroke of the pen. But where the cover blurb points to Bulgakov and Gogol, Sukhanov's oldest friend takes his name from Pushkin's Tales (well respected by Nabokov), and the name of his distant cousin, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dalevich, borrows from (not so well respected) Dostoevsky's initial names. This points in another intriguing direction: Dalevich's critical article on Chagall hinges on an anecdote of a pre-war confrontation between Chagall and Lunacharsky (later to become Commissar of Enlightenment), wherein the former rejects any Marxist explanation to his work. It was in Vitebsk that Chagall returned after WW I, meeting Lunacharsky, and establishing an avant-garde colony, one of more robust blossomings prior to Soviet realism wielding its sickle, before leaving for Moscow. Shortly thereafter, Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin arrived in Vitebsk and began assembling his litcritical essays, culminating in Leningrad in his '29 study on Dostoevsky, which was published shortly after his arrest (reworked in '63, another date significant to Sukhanov's story, with nothing published in between), and of which Lunacharsky's sympathetic review probably mitigated Bakhtin's sentencing to a more hospitable (i.e., less deadly than permafrost) exile. I'm not alone in seeing some connection between Nabokov and Bakhtin, beyond their roots in Russia's Silver Age, and I think Grushin makes use of this, however obliquely, in a chronological setting where the latter was central to the rehabilitation of criticism not mired in Soviet monology. As Nabokov's most incisive and yet wide-ranging literary criticism (and philosophy) was in his novels, not his lectures, so too Grushin accomplishes much more than just giving us a man mirroring his time, as long-distant events may appear smaller than they are. So, having read the primary texts of Bakhtin (and Holquist & Clark's bio) as they became available in English, I'm now relying on Caryl Emerson's The First Hundred Years of Mikhail Bakhtin to fill in the groundwork of his reception on his home ground.

(Other reading: Keegan's The Face of Battle, a history classic I missed along the way; Szewc's Annihilation, a different, lyrical sort of recovery of memory, less to my liking; YMMV.)


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