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Osip Mandelstam and the Modernist Creation of Tradition

Osip Mandelstam and the Modernist Creation of Tradition

Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 377
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    Osip Mandelstam and the Modernist Creation of Tradition
    Book Description:

    If modernism marked, as some critics claim, an "apocalypse of cultural community," then Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938) must rank among its most representative figures. Born to Central European Jews in Warsaw on the cusp of the modern age, he could claim neither Russian nor European traditions as his birthright. Describing the poetic movement he helped to found, Acmeism, as a "yearning for world culture," he defined the impulse that charges his own poetry and prose. Clare Cavanagh has written a sustained study placing Mandelstam's "remembrance and invention" of a usable poetic past in the context of modernist writing in general, with particular attention to the work of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.

    Cavanagh traces Mandelstam's creation of tradition from his earliest lyrics to his last verses, written shortly before his arrest and subsequent death in a Stalinist camp. Her work shows how the poet, generalizing from his own dilemmas and disruptions, addressed his epoch's paradoxical legacy of disinheritance--and how he responded to this unwelcome legacy with one of modernism's most complex, ambitious, and challenging visions of tradition. Drawing on not only Russian and Western modernist writing and theory, but also modern European Jewish culture, Russian religious thought, postrevolutionary politics, and even silent film, Cavanagh traces Mandelstam's recovery of a "world culture" vital, vast, and varied enough to satisfy the desires of the quintessential outcast modernist.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2149-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: The Modernist Creation of Tradition
    (pp. 3-28)

    To speak of modernist culture as a culture born of crisis and catastrophe seems to have become in recent years a critical commonplace, a cliché no longer adequate to the phenomena it purports to describe. Indeed, much recent discussion of the modernist movement in European and American culture has focused precisely on exposing what one scholar has called “the myth of the modern,” the myth, that is, of a radical break with a past that modern artists continued to draw on even as they mourned—or celebrated—its loss. Such skepticism can be bracing, and certainly it is necessary if...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Self-Creation and the Creation of Culture
    (pp. 29-65)

    All the “things that Mandelstam creates have biographies,” Nikolai Berkovsky remarks apropos of the many people and objects that Mandelstam endows with succinct, suggestive histories throughout his prose and, most notably, in his autobiography,The Noise of Time(1925). Berkovsky’s observation is entirely apt—and yet it seems puzzling in the light of Mandelstam’s own pronouncements on biography generally and on his own personal history in particular. In “The Nineteenth Century” (1922), Mandelstam records “the catastrophic collapse of biography” to which the twentieth century has borne reluctant witness (CPL, 144). To judge from the evidence of his autobiography, though, this...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Making History: Modernist Cathedrals
    (pp. 66-102)

    As concerns culture, T. S. Eliot observes, “one cannot be outside and inside at the same time.” He gives a grisly example to illustrate his point: “The man who, in order to understand the inner world of a cannibal tribe, has partaken of the practice of cannibalism, has probably gone too far: he can never quite be one of his own folk again.”¹ Eliot’s cannibals would seem to be immeasurably distant from the Christian Europe that he himself seeks to penetrate. The experience that lies behind Eliot’s grim anecdote is, however, recognizably his own. It is the bitter experience of...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Judaic Chaos
    (pp. 103-145)

    “Culture has become the church,” Mandelstam writes in “The Word and Culture” (1921; CPL, 112). His “Notre Dame” reveals that the church can also become culture, and this is the role that the Christian church—as building, as body, as the embodiment of a living Western tradition—plays for Mandelstam throughout his writing. As Omry Ronen notes, Mandelstam does not go to church so much as enter and exit various churches at will in his search for ever more capacious vessels for his world culture;¹ and in “Notre Dame” he seems to have found a way to reconcile his yearning...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Currency of the Past
    (pp. 146-192)

    InThe Noise of Time, Mandelstam describes his naive childhood efforts to envision in the century’s “prehistoric” years a “human economy” in which every thing and person would find its proper place in an all-encompassing cosmic order:

    I was able to populate, to socialize the visible world with its barley, dirt roads, castles, and sunlit spider webs, breaking it down into diagrams and setting up under the pale blue firmament ladders, far from biblical, on which not the angels of Jacob but small and large property holders ascended and descended, passing through the stages of capitalist economy (kapitalisticheskoe khoziastvo).


  10. CHAPTER SIX Jewish Creation
    (pp. 193-214)

    In an essay on modernist writing, W. H. Auden remarks that “it was fit and proper that Kafka should have been a Jew, for the Jews have for a long time been placed in the position in which we are all now to be, of having no home.” In her “Poem of the End” (1924), Marina Tsvetaeva creates a more startling variant on this notion of the Jew as exemplary outcast by announcing ironically that “in this most Christian world, the poets are the Yids” (V sem khristianeishem iz mirov, poety—zhidy). Tsvetaeva’s family beginnings were Russian, German, and Polish,...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Powerful Insignificance
    (pp. 215-278)

    “I may be to blame, but I’m not at a loss—/ There’s a many-layered life outside the law,” Mandelstam writes defiantly in his first “Voronezh Notebook” (1935), and we recognize the couplet’s speaker instantly: he is the poet-Jew of “Fourth Prose.” This poem’s first two lines (it has only four) reveal that the outcast poet has managed to retain his booty, the flotsam and jetsam of world culture, even in exile. “The full-weighted ingots of Roman nights,/The loins that enticed young Goethe” have followed Mandelstam to his open-air prison in Voronezh, the provincial town in southern Russia where he...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Chaplinesque, or Villon Again: In Place of an Ending
    (pp. 279-304)

    “In my beginning is my end,” Eliot writes in “East Coker,” the second of hisFour Quartets(1944). “My future is in my past,” reads one of the many epigraphs to Akhmatova’s “Poem without a Hero”(1940–66). Akhmatova echoes not only Mary, Queen of Scots, whose motto she quotes, but the Eliot who observes in “Burnt Norton” that “Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future,/And time future contained in time past.”¹ Both theQuartetsand Akhmatova’s late masterpiece are examples of the kind of poem that Lawrence Lipking has in mind when he speaks of the...

    (pp. 305-312)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 313-358)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 359-365)