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Exile: The Sense of Alienation in Modern Russian Letters

Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The life of a human community rests on common experience. Yet in modem life there is an experience common to all that threatens the very basis of community -- the experience of exile. No one in the modem world has been spared the encounter with homelessness. Refugees and fugitives, the disillusioned and disenfranchised grow in number every day. Why does it happen? What does it mean? And how are we implicated?

    David Patterson responds to these and related questions by examining exile, a primary motif in Russian thought over the last century and a half. By "exile" he means not only a form of punishment but an existential condition.

    Drawing on texts by such familiar figures as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn, and Brodsky, as well as less thoroughly examined figures, including Florensky, Shestov, Tertz, and Gendelev, Patterson moves beyond the political and geographical fact of exile to explore its spiritual, metaphysical, and linguistic aspects. Thus he pursues the connections between exile and identity, identity and meaning, meaning and language.

    Patterson shows that the problem of meaning in human life is a problem of homelessness, that the effort to return from exile is an effort to return meaning to the word, and that the exile of the word is an exile of the human being. By making heard voices from the Russian wilderness, Patterson makes visible the wilderness of the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5893-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Prefatory Remarks
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Part One: The Word in Collision

    • 1. The Loss of the Word in the Superfluous Man
      (pp. 2-18)

      Modern Russian letters arise through an encounter with Western European letters, and a figure who soon makes his appearance in the wake of that encounter is the superfluous man. He appears, moreover, not just as another literary type but as a paradigm of a person who has lost a point, a place, and a presence in life: the superfluous man is the homeless man. As a literary figure the superfluous man shows up as early as Chatsky in Alexander Griboedov’sGore ot yma(Woefrom Wit, 1824), but he does not acquire his official literary designation until 1850, with the publication...

    • 2. The Collision of Discourse: Dostoevskyʹs Winter Notes
      (pp. 19-36)

      According to theLiteraturnaya entsiklopediya, the alienation from self and society that distinguishes the superfluous man arises to a large extent from his Western European education (578). If the ʺterrible emptinessʺ suffered by a Chulkaturin is tied to ideas distinguishing Western European education, it is because those ideas repudiate the presence of any higher relation at work in human relation, as discussed in the previous chapter. This conflict between the Russian and the European education, moreover, has a linkage with the development of the dispute between the Westernizers and the Slavophiles. For the Russian, this conflict entails more than the...

  5. Part Two: The Breach between Life and Word

    • 3. Monological Death and Dialogical Life: The Case of Ivan Ilʹich
      (pp. 38-56)

      In Part 1 we examined the problem of exile as it enters life from the outside, so to speak, in the collisions of the word that transpire between the superfluous man and his society, between Dostoevskyʹs view of the Russian soul and the discourse of Europe. We also found that these collisions with what is both alien and alienating have certain implications for the inner life of any human being. The soul itself is externalized, turned inside out, in its relation to the world, to other souls, and ultimately to God. The conflict of discourse thus leads to a breach...

    • 4. The Theological Aspects of Exile: Tolstoyʹs Resurrection
      (pp. 57-74)

      In 1888, two years after the publication ofThe Death of Ivan Ilʹich, Tolstoy began work onResurrection, a project that would occupy him at intervals for the next eleven years. During this period he was also pursuing a number of theological and other religious writings, texts that have a bearing on how one might read the text ofResurrection. Implicit to these religious texts is the premise that exile, as a human condition isolating one person from another, can be overcome only through a life lived in such a way that it testifies to a higher relation. It is...

  6. Part Three: The Rupture of Religious Discourse

    • 5. Pavel Florenskyʹs Antitheology
      (pp. 76-93)

      ʺThe imaging of God,ʺ writes Karl Jaspers inTruth and Symbol, ʺis called theology. Theology never gets further than an intellectual conception of the language of cyphersʺ (75). Viewing theology in these terms, as ʺan intellectual conception of the language of cyphers,ʺ Jaspers places it in a speculative tradition. The truth of the cipher or the symbol, on the other hand—the truth of that which is a revelation of God—transpires in a living encounter with a living God. We have seen this at work in the lived theology of TolstoyʹsResurrection; God must be lived, not just studied...

    • 6. Shestovʹs Return from Athens to Jerusalem
      (pp. 94-114)

      In the last chapter we found that, although Florensky places his accent on love as the essence of a living truth, he does not reject reason as a source of insight into life; despite his difference with Tolstoy in his view of the Church, the two of them have at least that much in common. It will be recalled further that Florensky is not averse to using the wordknowledgein his discourse on lifeʹs truth, even though he does employ that term in a special sense, more along the lines of knowing a loved one than knowing a fact....

  7. Part Four: The Exile Within

    • 7. From Politics to Metaphysics: Solzhenitsynʹs From under the Rubble
      (pp. 116-133)

      According to a Russian folk legend related by the prisoner Shukhov in SolzhenitsynʹsOne Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, God breaks up the old moon into stars each month when the moon fades away. ʺAnd why does God do that?ʺ asks the Captain, who has just heard the tale. Shukhov replies, ʺDonʹt you see? The stars keep falling down, so youʹve got to have new ones in their placeʺ (128–29).

      One constellation of beacons made from a dying light appeared in Russia in 1909; it was the collection of essays titledVekhi, which means ʺlandmarksʺ or ʺreference...

    • 8. Fragments of a Broken Silence: Andrei Sinyavskyʹs A Voice from the Chorus
      (pp. 134-152)

      In 1971, when Solzhenitsyn had just started gathering together the essays that he would include in his collectionFrom under the Rubble, forty-five-year-old Andrei Sinyavsky (Abram Terts) was released from the Soviet labor camp. He had spent five years there for his violation of Article 70, Section 1, of the criminal code, which states, ʺAgitation and propaganda carried out with the purpose of subverting or weakening the Soviet regime or in order to commit particularly dangerous crimes against the state, the dissemination or production or harboring for the said purpose of literature of similar content are punishable by imprisonment for...

  8. Part Five: The Word in Exile

    • 9. Exile in the Diaspora: The Poetry of Joseph Brodsky
      (pp. 154-173)

      Valentina Polukhina has pointed out that ʺindirectly, and sometimes directly, Brodskyʹs thought lies in the orbit of the ideas of Kierkegaard and Shestovʺ (263). This is the orbit of the ultimate, where the word takes up its search for meaning and the person sets out in search of a home. Indeed, home is precisely the place where word and meaning join to make life hale, whole, and holy. The home and the holy are of a piece. As a poet of ultimate concern and therefore of spiritual concern, Brodsky is attuned to the function of the word in its capacity...

    • 10. Exile in the Promised Land: The Poetry of Mikhail Gendelev
      (pp. 174-188)

      Born in Leningrad in 1950, Mikhail Gendelev emigrated to Israel in 1977. He served as a doctor in the Israeli army during the war in Lebanon from 1982 to 1985 and has been considered a professional writer since 1983. His poems have appeared in numerous periodicals, includingVremya, as well as in anthologies such asScopus(1979) andRussian Poets in the West(1986). The three volumes of his poetry with which we are here concerned areVʺezd v Ierusalim(Journey to Jerusalem, 1979),Poslaniya Lemuram(Messages to the Lemures, 1981), andStikhotvoreniya Mikhaila Gendeleva(The Poems of Mikhail Gendelev,...

  9. Concluding Remarks
    (pp. 189-191)
  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 192-199)
  11. Index
    (pp. 200-206)