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Abram Tertz and the Poetics of Crime

Abram Tertz and the Poetics of Crime

Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy
Copyright Date: 1995
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Abram Tertz and the Poetics of Crime
    Book Description:

    Andrei Sinyavsky is one of the most important Russian writers of the post-Stalin period, author of highly esteemed and controversial fiction, essays, and criticism that he has published for the past three decades both under his own name and under the pseudonym Abram Tertz. Yet there has been little written on the works of Sinyavsky/Tertz until now. Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy fills the gap, examining Tertz's writings for the first time.Nepomnyashchy begins by discussing the explosive literary scandals touched off by the works of Tertz in Russia and in the Russian emigré community in the West. She argues that the controversies stem from the fear of uncontrolled language that runs deep in Russian culture, a fear that the Tertz texts seek to subvert by testing the limits of verbal representation. After examining the attacks on these works over the years, Nepomnyashchy turns to close textual analyses of the individual works-novels and novellas includingThe Trial BeginsandGoodnight, the short stories, Tertz's collection of aphorismsThoughts Unawares, his prison-camp memoirA Voice from the Chorus, and the critical studiesStrolls with PushkinandIn the Shadow of Gogol-and shows how these works liberate and redefine the roles of writer, reader, and text.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15698-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Chapter One The Trials of Abram Tertz
    (pp. 1-39)

    For more than three decades Andrei Sinyavsky has published writings under the pseudonym Abram Tertz. Borrowed from Abrashka Tertz, a legendary Jewish outlaw whose exploits were celebrated in a thieves’ song popular in Odessa in the 1920s, the Tertz pseudonym was from the beginning of Sinyavsky’s career emblematic of the writer’s approach to literature both as text and as process. In the years since Sinyavsky’s true identity was discovered, the alias no longer a necessary cover, the writer has continued to sign all of his fiction and certain of his critical works with the name Tertz. In simple terms, the...

  5. Chapter Two Subversion from Within: What Is Socialist Realism and The Trial Begins
    (pp. 40-63)

    The essayWhat Is Socialist Realism(Chto takoe sotsialisticheskii realizm) and the novellaThe Trial Begins(Sud idet) were the earliest of Sinyavsky’s Tertz works to be written and to be sent abroad for publication. Both first appeared in Western publications in 1959, launching Sinyavsky’s career as a tamizdat writer.¹ They also mark the beginning of Sinyavsky’s unofficial writing activities in that they constitute an exorcism of sorts, a confrontation with and attempt to overcome the then-prevailing hegemony of Socialist Realism over Soviet literature through an exposure of its formal incoherence. The two works thus may be viewed conjointly as...

  6. Chapter Three The Writer as Criminal: “Pkhents” and “At the Circus”
    (pp. 64-82)

    In his closing speech at his trial, Sinyavsky, deploring the impulse to categorize everyone different as an enemy, invoked his story “Pkhents” as an example of alterity that eluded the binary opposition of “for” and “against”: “In my unpublished story ‘Pkhents’ there is a sentence that I consider autobiographical: ‘You think that if I simply am different, you must immediately curse me …’ So there it is: I am different. But I do not regard myself as an enemy, and my works are not hostile works.”¹ His two earliest “fantastic stories,”² “At the Circus” and “Pkhents,” are constructed around metaphors...

  7. Chapter Four Confrontations with God: “You and I” and “Graphomaniacs”
    (pp. 83-108)

    Tertz’s fantastic tales “You and I” (“Ty i ya”) and “Graphomaniacs” (“Grafomany”) stand in roughly the same relation to one another as do “Pkhents” and “At the Circus.” Both take as their focus self-absorbed characters—one who flees attention and another who craves it. These stories, however, in essence originate out of their characters’ misreadings of the texts in which they figure, misreadings that in each case entail misconceptions of crime. Both characters fall prey to solipsism, pitting themselves against the rest of the world and imagining themselves the targets of conspiracies hatched by ill-intentioned antagonists. The limitations of their...

  8. Chapter Five The Fantastic as Metaphor: “Tenants,” “Icy Weather,” and Lyubimov
    (pp. 109-148)

    The figurative use of language, metaphor in a broad sense, stands at the core of Tertz’s conception of literature as crime. His remaining early fictional works—the stories “Tenants” (Kvartiranty, 1959) and “Icy Weather” (Gololeditsa, 1961) and the novelLyubimov(1962–63)¹—all explore the generative and potentially destructive force of metaphor. In each of the three works the ability of language to create figures is identified with the fantastic—with the self-proclaimed fictionality of the text, originating in language’s ability to give birth to itself in narrative—and, in each text, metaphor ultimately eludes restraint and runs amok. The...

  9. Chapter Six “It Is Forbidden to Write Like That”: Thoughts Unawares and A Voice from the Chorus
    (pp. 149-196)

    The aphorisms, meditations, scraps of overheard conversations, and anecdotes collected under the titleThoughts Unawares(Mysli vrasplokh) and the compilation of excerpts from Sinyavsky’s letters to his wifeA Voice from the Chorus(Golos iz khora) belong to distinctly different periods of Tertz’s evolution and are quite dissimilar in scope. YetThoughts Unawares, composed during the period of Sinyavsky’s illicit tamizdat career, anticipates the more mature and ambitiousA Voice from the Chorus, written during the years of Sinyavsky’s incarceration at Dubrovlag. Both challenge conventional genre classifications, experimenting with what I would term structured formlessness in an attempt to confront...

  10. Chapter Seven Decanonizing the Classics: Strolls with Pushkin and In the Shadow of Gogol
    (pp. 197-247)

    Throughout the writings of Tertz the image of the writer as criminal is threatened by the specter of the writer canonized, turned into a figure of authority, a prescription for how one must write. In “Pkhents” the narrator is terrified by his own imaginings of being transformed into the center of a cult, while in “Graphomaniacs” Straustin is oppressed by the overbearing presence of the classics, which haunt him in the names of streets throughout Moscow, in the preserved tubercular spittle of Chekhov and the fingernail parings of Tolstoy, and, most of all, in this injunction: “ ‘Read Chekhov, read...

  11. Chapter Eight Literature and Morality: Little Tsores and Goodnight
    (pp. 248-320)

    Sinyavsky has written two pseudonymous works published separately in book form during the third period of his Tertz career, dating from his emigration to France in 1973: the novellaLittle Tsores(Kroshka Tsores) and the much-longerGoodnight(Spokoinoi nochi), to which the writer refers in the text alternately as a “novel” and “memoirs.”¹Little Tsoreswas originally conceived as part ofGoodnight, outgrowing its original frame and emerging as an autonomous work only in the course of its writing. It therefore, hardly surprisingly, shares a certain affinity in imagery and concerns with its “parent” text. Both are hybrid works straddling...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 321-360)
  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 361-382)
  14. Index
    (pp. 383-390)