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The Archaeology of Anxiety

The Archaeology of Anxiety: The Russian Silver Age and its Legacy

Galina Rylkova
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  • Book Info
    The Archaeology of Anxiety
    Book Description:

    The "Silver Age" (c. 1890-1917) has been one of the most intensely studied topics in Russian literary studies, and for years scholars have been struggling with its precise definition. Firmly established in the Russian cultural psyche, it continues to influence both literature and mass media.The Archaeology of Anxietyis the first extended analysis of why the Silver Age occupies such prominence in Russian collective consciousness.

    Galina Rylkova examines the Silver Age as a cultural construct-the byproduct of an anxiety that permeated society in reaction to the social, political, and cultural upheavals brought on by the Bolshevik Revolution, the fall of the Romanovs, the Civil War, and Stalin's Great Terror. Rylkova's astute analysis of writings by Anna Akhmatova, Vladimir Nabokov, Boris Pasternak and Victor Erofeev reveals how the construct of the Silver Age was perpetuated and ingrained.

    Rylkova explores not only the Silver Age's importance to Russia's cultural identity but also the sustainability of this phenomenon. In so doing, she positions the Silver Age as an essential element to Russian cultural survival.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7335-5
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

    (pp. 1-22)

    The postperestroika restaurant the Silver Age (Serebrianyi vek) is an important landmark on the Moscow scene. It is one of the few enterprises that can boast a ten-year survival history through the most turbulent times that have gripped Russia in recent decades. It occupies the glamorously refurbished building of what used to be the Moscow Turkish Bathhouses. Located only a few blocks from the infamous Lubianka, it combines the late imperial grandeur of its decor with the dullness (and emptiness) of a big Soviet restaurant of the Brezhnev era. In the summer of 2005, I made my third visit to...

  2. 2 Literature and Revolution: THE CASE OF ALEKSANDR BLOK
    (pp. 23-44)

    In 1980, the Soviet people celebrated the centennial of Aleksandr Blok. The jubilee turned into a large forum at which literary scholars and writers were invited to make their comments on the influence of Blok on Russian culture in general and on their personal development in particular. In response to the questionnaire put together byVoprosy literatury,the poet and literary critic Stanislav Kuniaev compared Blok to a sapper whose job had been to build bridges between different epochs:

    After the majority of the old, prerevolutionary intelligentsia had betrayed Russia and the majority of the new intelligentsia was doing its...

  3. 3 The Russian Silver Age: ITS MAKERS AND UNDERTAKERS
    (pp. 45-65)

    What do we know about the Silver Age? To paraphrase Marina Tsvetaeva’s famous statement about Pushkin—“The first thing I learned about Pushkin was that he was killed”—the first thing that I learned about the Silver Age was that it had ended. And I was not alone. A cultural historian, Vitalii Shentalinskii, lamented in 1998:

    The Silver Age . . . As if the flame of inspiration broke out forcefully—not before it got extinguished, no!—but before it had to retreat into the depths, before it had to hide itself amongst the ashes from the hurricane of history....

    (pp. 66-107)

    Although the Silver Age came into being as a result of the collective efforts of many often nameless individuals, one can also detect contributions by outstanding Russian writers, such as Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, Vladimir Nabokov, and Viktor Erofeev. These contributions deserve closer examination. While continuing to focus on the 1920s, the 1930s, and the early 1940s, I move from the public arena to the private space of Anna Akhmatova’s communal apartment. The 1930s marked an important stage in Akhmatova’s development as a poet and in her understanding of her role in Soviet society. During those years she went through...

  5. 5 The Winged Eavesdropper: KUZMIN AND NABOKOV
    (pp. 108-126)

    In one of the episodes of the literary television broadcastThe School for Scandal(Shkola zlosloviia,May 2005), the writer Sergei Gandlevskii suggested that Vladimir Nabokov was far better at keeping Russian cultural traditions alive than Akhmatova, who was only interested in herself. Although Gandlevskii did not substantiate his claim with any concrete examples, he was certainly right in one respect: Nabokov’s position within the pantheon of Russian cultural custodians is indeed different from that of his older contemporaries. Unlike Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966) and Boris Pasternak (1890–1960), Vladimir Nabokov (1899–1977) did not write during the so-called Silver Age....

  6. 6 The Silver Age in Translation: BORIS PASTERNAK’S DOCTOR ZHIVAGO
    (pp. 127-153)

    Unlike Nabokov, Andrei Bely, Konstantin Fedin, Maxim Gorky, Aleksei Tolstoi, and many others, Pasternak failed in the 1920s and 1930s to produce the major prose work that he longed to do or to transport his intellectual characters (with a few exceptions, such as those of “Aerial Ways” and “Malady Sublime”) across the watershed of World War I or the Bolshevik Revolution. This is not to say that Pasternak really did not want to write about contemporary issues. He did, but his big prose work, which he kept announcing in his letters to friends and colleagues, for a long time had...

  7. 7 Braving the Thaw: ANNA AKHMATOVA IN THE 1950s AND THE 1960s
    (pp. 154-178)

    In June 1960, Akhmatova learned of Pasternak’s death while she was recovering from a heart attack at the hospital. She was a few months older than Pasternak and was deeply affected by his death. Apparently, Joseph Brodsky saw Akhmatova as significantly older than that. He mentions their age difference and Pasternak’s short stature (Akhmatova was taller) as decisive factors in making Akhmatova decline Pasternak’s repeated proposals to marry him in the 1930s.¹ Brodsky was not alone in his view of a generational difference. In 1935, a Soviet critic, Mikhail Levidov, rejoiced over the poetic victory of the new postrevolutionary poets,...

  8. 8 The Apocalypse Revisted: VIKTOR EROFEEV’S RUSSIAN BEAUTY
    (pp. 179-199)

    In the 1980s, the cultural legacy of the Silver Age was further reexamined by the so-calledalternative prosewriters. For example, Sasha Sokolov (b. 1943) inPalisandria(1985) debunked a highly popular belief that the Silver Age continued after the revolution in Russian emigre circles. When the main character, Palisandr Dal’berg, is sent abroad by the Soviet leader Yurii Andropov to establish links with old Russian emigrants, he finds himself in an assisted living facility for senile men and women. It does not take him too long to discover that the only thing that ties all these people to the...

    (pp. 200-210)

    During the night of March 15–16, 2004, I dreamed that Anna Akhmatova and I were climbing a very tall mountain, with me acting as a guide. Besides the two of us, there is some boy and Lidiia Korneevna Chukovskaia, whose age is difficult to tell. Out of nervousness, I keep addressing her as “Sofia Petrovna.” It takes us forever to climb the mountain, but we keep going. Then we are lying on the brink of a bluff, looking around and down the drop with enjoyment, and suddenly we become aware that we have left Akhmatova somewhere behind us. We...

  10. Appendix: Original Russian Texts
    (pp. 211-216)