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Once More on the Strength of Weak Ties

The section “Once More on the Strength of Weak Ties” is dedicated to revising the problem of commentary in literary scho­larship: on what should one comment, and how to do so? This question, which has traditionally defined the fundamental problems of philology as a science of literary texts and their authors is not without interest from a pragmatic perspective: every commentary constructs a hierarchy of the self-evident and the obscure, the most important and the secondary. But what defines this hierarchy, and how stable is it? By examining various cases, the articles in this section demonstrate that it’s possible to read canonical texts with an emphasis on details and miscellanea that may seem peripheral within the structure of their plot and narrative contextualization, but are shown to be important in the ideological, biographical, and discursive context of their emergence. These are details that open up a horizon for readerly reflection on the following count: insofar as they are accidental in the overall construction of the author’s design and biography, should they be regarded as a hindrance or a clue for understanding the text and the circumstances of its emergence? And finally, as the principle topic for theoretical reflection, why is the very same text read differently: what links within a text allow us to think that a text opens out into the extra-textual space of thoughts, communication, and social action?

The section begins with Dmitri Pan­chenko’s article “War, Philosophy, Intertextuality: A Commentary on a Seemingly Insignificant Phrase in the Early Work of Plato.” In Plato’s Laches an apparently insignificant remark appears: “The law places the soothsayer under the general, and not the general under the soothsayer” (199a). However, Socrates pronounces this phrase in conversation with the military commander Nicias, and it was known in Athens that Nicias had followed, in a critical situation, the suggestion of the soothsayers, which resulted in a military disaster and the death of Nicias himself (he was sentenced to death by the victors). Nicias made an incorrect decision in nontrivial circumstances on account of not having a correct understanding of the situation, and Plato hints at this event in order to show that philosophy, which nourishes the ability of a correct understanding of any question, is not an idle exercise. In essence, he constructs an apology for philosophy — and first of all an apology for the philo­sophy of Socrates. At the same time, Plato enters into an unannounced polemic with Thucydides, who held Nicias’ virtue in an exceptionally high estimation (VII.86.5): from Plato’s point of view, it is Socrates rather than Nicias who deserves such an evaluation.

In his article “Lev Tolstoy, Louis Pasteur, and Rabid Dogs: An Essay on Christian Anthro-zoology,” Konstantin A. Bogdanov attempts to account for the reasons behind Lev Tolstoy’s critical response to the experiments of Louis Pasteur, who proposed a method for treating rabies with the aid of vaccination. Tolstoy’s logic consisted of the following: Pasteur and his adherents were seeking to subject the “supernatural” conventionalism of reality to a rational ordering. But for Tolstoy this order was nothing more than a synonym for human presumption. Tolstoy evaluated Pasteur’s activities on a moral level, rather than a medical one — under the headings of ethical freedom and the complexity and non-obviousness of causal connections (including the connection between an animal bite and the appearance of an illness), as well as nonresistance to the inevitability of death and a refusal to commit an evil act, even if that evil turns out to be the murder of a rabid dog.

Elena Kardash’s article “‘...Given Out for Rent and Old Ones Repaired’: The Secret of Adrian Prokhorov’s Sign” is devoted to a paradoxical plot detail in Pushkin’s short story The Undertaker: the writing on the sign outside the protagonist’s place of business: “Plain and painted coffins sold and upholstered here, also given out for rent and old ones repaired.” Although there already exist quite a number of interpretations of this sign, these studies do not take into account its provenance, its association with literary tradition, or its cultural semantics. The author demon­strates how the motif of the coffin given out on rent enters Pushkin’s text from the Western European practice of burial services, more precisely, from the description of this practice in anecdotal and customs-describing literature. The brief reference to this topos in the text of The Undertake­r inducts this story into a major international literary tradition.

Nabokov scholars have frequently discussed one particular detail that appears with obsessive persistence in various episodes of Pnin. We are referring to the squirrels of the species Sciurus carolinensis and Sciurus vulgaris, which the reader encounters in the most varied “incar­nations”: from a living beastie sitting under a tree in the park to a photograph on a postcard and the surname of Pnin’s late beloved, Mira Belochkina. The authors who have written about Pnin have ascribed to these Nabokovian squirrels the most varied literary, metaphysical, and social meanings: they have managed to find in them the incarnation of Mira’s soul after being murdered by the Nazis, a reference to Pushkin’s “Tale of Tsar Saltan,” and a posthuma­nist manifesto. Meanwhile, there exists another point of view, holding that the “squirrel theme” in Pnin(just like the violets in The Real Life of Sebastian Knight or the sunglasses in Lolita) doesn’t have any allegorical significance nor do they express anything more than the idea of repetition itself. In this case, the very choice of this theme would appear more or less accidental, considering the fact that squirrels, which are all over American campuses, really do fit well in the scenery for a “university novel.” In his article “Squirrels, Twins, and Phallic Symbols: Nabokov on Anthropology”, Alexander A. Panchenko proposes a somewhat different understanding of this theme. Not limited to a stable allegorical meaning, this theme nonetheless serves as the key to a chain of cultural and historical associations expressin­g Nabokov’s attitude toward Russian ethno­graphy, partly based upon Nabo­kov’s work on an English edition of The Tale of Igor’s Campaign along side Marc Szeftel — a prototype for Pnin — and Roman Jakobson. What is more, these associations allow us to find a critique of anthropological structuralism in Pnin, which is addressed to Jakobson’s and Szeftel’s colleague at the Francophone École Libre des Hautes Études in New York, Claude Lévi-Strauss. It’s possible that in the novel’s sixth chapter one ought to perceive a direct parody of the ideas presented by Lévi-Strauss in his article “The Structural Study of Myth” (1955).

Detective, Post-/Quasi-detective, Conspiracy Drama

Whereas the Konstantin A. Bogdanov’s section is more methodological, the authors of the section “Detective, Post-/Quasi-detective, Conspiracy Drama” investigate the genres that form detective, modify it or depart from it.

Boris Maximov’s “At the Origins of a Classic Detective Story: The Novellas and Plays of Heinrich von Kleist” explo­res the German sources of detective literature. The semi-detective Romantic story (Tieck, Kleist, Arnim, Hoffman, Hauff) as a link between the Gothic of the Enlightenment and classic detective fiction enables us to pinpoint the genre specifics of the latter. This applies to both the thematic core (not so much a crime in the legal sense as an outbreak of unjustified violence) and the issues (the temporary undermining of the common belief in humanity and in divine justice and an atmosphere of suspicion and mutual distrust). In regards to the composition, the German Romantic “protodetective” story aims not only to reconstruct a fatal event from the past, but also to “replay” it, not only to restore the cracked order, but also to reexamine and restore interpersonal ties.

In his article “Waugh and Detective Fiction” Petr Moiseev use the example of Evelyn Waugh’s novella Tactical Exercise to show the existence of a new type of artistic work, one that could be called “postdetective”: works written using the devices of detective poetics, but that are not detective fiction. How purposeful Evelyn Waugh’s use of detective devices was is evident from the time period of his life (the Golden Age of detective fiction); his friendship with Ronald Knox, the le­gen­dary author detective fiction; his lite­rary tastes; and his subtle understanding of the nature of the detective genre.

Masha Levina-Parker and Misha Levin in their article “Andrei Bely’s Quasi-Detective: The Story of the Bomb in Petersburg” offer a new way of readin­g Petersburg as a modified detective story, where the mystery is not a crime, but the meaning of the author’s narrative, but the search for a solution is conducted using methods borrowed from traditional detective stories. The solving of the mystery consists of two stages: the discovery of the mystery (which is not found in a traditional detective story) and its solution. The author indicates the presence of the mystery, creating discrepancies between sections of the text. The search for an explanation for the discrepancy causes us to compare the details, like during the solving of a crime, and it leads to the solution. The reconstruction of the storyline of the bomb on this basis significantly clarifies the nuances of the origin and disappearance of the bomb, the symbo­lism of the threat, and the motivations and actions of the characters. Beyond the visible confusion of Petersburg lies the narrative’s finely constructed system of invisible connections.

In his article “Spies, Saboteurs and Good People (Soviet Conspiracy Drama of the 1920’s and 1930’s)” Valery Vyugin argues that it is appropriate to consider the numerous theatrical productions of the 1920s and 1930s linked by their common interested in spies and saboteurs as an independent genre that can tentatively be called “conspiracy drama”. If there are analogs in prose, cinema, and fine art, “conspiracy drama” has retained its individuality. The interest in “spy” stories in the USSR never wavered, but the theater of espionage is mainly a phenomenon of the prewar period, and later forgotten. What did Soviet conspiracy drama discuss? What kind of ethical and ideological program was document by it? How was it connected to the detective genre? These are the questions exami­ned in this article.

In Memoriam: Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov (1929–2017)

This memorial section is dedicated to the memory of the academic Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov, who was a semiotician, linguist, literary scholar, anthropologist, expert on culture, translator, farranging specialist in the field of the humanities, and one of the founders of the Tartu—Moscow semiotic school and Moscow school of comparative linguistics. It includes an article by Ronald Vroon and Igor Pilshchikov on Ivanov’s scholarship and significance to research in Russia and worldwide; responses to Ivanov from Irina Belobrovtseva, Peeter Torop, Boris Egorov, and Vladimir Plungian; the first publication of Ivanov’s article “Semiotic Models in Economic Ethnology” (1971–1972) with a preface and commentary by Mikhail Trunin; and a selected bibliography of Ivanov’s writings from the years 2007–2017, prepared by Igor Pilshchikov.

Genrikh Sapgir: “Collage, Protocol, the Voices of Other People...”

This section is dedicated to understanding the artistic legacy of Genrikh Sapgir (1928–1999), one of the major uncensored poets of the late Soviet period, who was also famous as an author of children’s poetry and screenplays for cartoons. The section opens with an article by Massimo Maurizio, "A Game with the Classics: Innovative Tradition in G. Sapgir’s “Psalms” and “Pushkin’s manuscripts” at the center of attention of which are various aspects of Sapgir’s writing strategies and primarily his poetic dialogue with tradition (both biblical —Psalms — and classical — Pushkin’s rough drafts). In Mikhail Pavlovets’ article “‘And Everything that Constitutes Emptiness’: Destruction of the Verbal Form in Genrikh Sapgir’s Poetry” forms of destruction of the lexical cloth are examined, from the “poetics of the semi-word” and the “lacunization” of a text to the replacement of the missin­g or deconstructed text with the “equivalent of lexical signs.” The analysis allows the author to draw a conclusion about Sapgir’s “interme­diary” position between Neo- and Post-Avant-Garde of the second half of the 20th century. Danila Davydov’s essay “Formalist, Intuitive, Teacher: On Genrikh Sapgir” is a memoir about his personal meeting­s and conversations with the older poet, whom the author considered to be his teacher. Discussed are the points where Sapgir intersects and diverges with other participants of the Lianozovo Group (Igor Kholin, Vsevolod Nekrasov) and his relationship to his predecessors and contemporaries. In Yuri Orllitsky’s 
article “Late Sapgir (Poetics and Texto­logy). Instead of the Preface to Publication”, based on analyzed materials from Sapgir’s last published poetry books, it is shown which new innovations of workin­g with the poetic word the poet offers and develops in these books. An analysis is given of publications of Sapgir’s poetry in books in the 1990s and 2000s, his electronic is archive is described, and a selection of previously unpublished poems is offered, chiefly from the later books Verification of Realit­y and Tactical Instruments. The section concludes with an archival publication of poems, notes, and interviews by Genrikh Sapgir prepared by Yuri Orlitsky and Mikhail Pavlovets.

Toward a History of the Moscow Time Poetry Group

The materials of this short section reconstruct the history and the aesthetic principles of the Moscow Time group, which emerged in 1974. In Ekaterina Poletaeva’s opening, “The Introductions to Issues of the Anthology Moscow Time as Manifestos,” the samizdat issues of their poe­tic anthologies are examined, focusing on their introductions. It is the introductions where the ideas and positions of the group’s participants took shape (its early members were Sergei Gandlevsky, Alexander Soprovsky, Tatiana Poletae­va, Alexander Kanzintsev, and Bakhyt Kenzheev), who polemically opposed themselves to official Soviet poetry as true successors of the “great tradition of Russian poetry.” The second set of materials are the first since the era of samizdat that the introductions to three issues of the Moscow Time antho­logy (1975), held in the archives of Alexan­der Soprovsky and Tatiana Poletaeva, are being published.

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