Eugene Zamyatin’s We, the pioneering anti-utopian… – Сustom Literature essay


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Author had obviously already formed his conclusions before undertaking his researches. He lays the blame for Russia's troubles at the doorstep of the liberal democrats - not the reds, but the pinks, leftist politicians who for years undermined the foundations of the Russian monarchy and the stability of the empire. The Tsar comes in for his share of criticism too: he emerges as a man without will or character. One may take issue with Solzhenitsyn's theories, but he is still a major prose writer and thinker. His return to literature and intellectual life at the center of Russian culture is an epochal event.

The rediscovery of these three major novelists is not all there is to the renewal of Russian cultural life. In the course of these three years Russia also discovered Andrey Platonov, whom until then it had known only partially. His two chief works - The Foundation Pit and Chevengur - appeared then, and elevated their author to the rank of a classic writer. It became clear that there must be a re-examination not only of his career, but of the entire literary process of his day, from both the ideological and the artistic points of view. Eugene Zamyatin's We, the pioneering anti-utopian novel written in 1920, was only introduced to Russia seventy years later. Zamyatin was also the creator of other innovative works, an original writer quite unlike his predecessors - it is not surprising that Solzhenitsyn considers Zamyatin his mentor in prosewriting.

A few years earlier, in the mid 1980s, there had appeared in Moscow a volume of writings by Alexey Remizov, that brilliant stylist who combined the achievements of the Silver Age with those of the later Russian avantgarde. And the reappearance on the scene of Mikhail Kuzmin, a highly original poet and elegantly refined prose stylist, complicated the literary situation in the latter half of the 1980s even further.

From a later generation, Varlam Shalamov has taken a place alongside Solzhenitsyn with his Kolyma Tales, first published in the West in 1978. The critics, with some justification, see in his stories a rebirth of a compact, dynamic, graphic prose founded upon Pushkinian traditions, which had recently receded into the background. Shalamov's contemporary, Yuri Dombrovsky (1909-78), first gained a reputation by his short novel The Keeper of Antiquities (Khranitel drevnostey, 1964), which appeared in New World. His continuation of that work, Faculty of Superfluous Things


Cambridge Histories Online © Cambridge University Press, 2008


(Fakultet nenuzhnykh veshchey), was published in Paris in 1978, and then in 1988 in Moscow, again in New World. Dombrovsky's art has its roots in the varied achievements of European prose, as the critic Simon Markish has noted in defining his links with Kafka and with French Surrealism.

The works of members of the so-called "third wave" emigration of the 1970s have also flooded Russia, something most of them never thought they would live to see. There are Andrey Sinyavsky's books on Pushkin, on Gogol, and Rozanov, his novel Good Night (Spokoynoy nochi), and his numerous stories and short novels; there is Victor Nekrasov, who unhappily died in Paris in 1987; there is Felix Roziner, whose novel A Certain Finkelmeyer (Nekto Finkelmayer) appeared in 1990 in Moscow in 200,000 copies; there are Arkady Lvov, Sasha Sokolov, Yuz Aleshkovsky, Igor Efimov, Sergey Dovlatov (who died in New York in 1989), Boris Khazanov, and Georgy Vladimov. Vladimir Voynovich's Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin, printed in millions of copies in Youth, has enjoyed spectacular success. The Soviet reader has also acquired Alexander Zinovev's pamphleteering prose (Yawning Heights), Igor Efimov's philosophical essays, Alexander Men's theological treatises, and Wladimir Weidle's poet-ological and literary historical works.

The recovery of the theoretical works of the pleiad of twentieth-century religious thinkers has been of enormous consequence for Russia's ideological renaissance. There can now be published the works of men long condemned to oblivion and for the most part expelled from the country in 1922: Nikolay Lossky (1870-1965), Semyon Frank (1877-1950), Lev Karsavin (1882-1952), Ivan Ilin (1882-1956), Leo Shestov (1866-1938), Fyodor Stepun (1884-1965), Boris Vysheslavtsev (1877-1954), Nikolay Berdyaev (1874-1948), Paul Florensky (1882-1943), and Sergey Bulgakov (1871-


In addition, numerous memoirs published long since in the West but only recently in the USSR have made possible a more profound comprehension of the literary process. These include the memoirs of Nadezhda Mandelshtam, who preserved many of her husband's poems by memorizing them; Lydia Chukovskaya's Notes on Anna Akhmatova (Zapiski ob Anne Akhmatovoy); and Evgeniya Ginzburg's Journey Into the Whirlwind (Krutoy marshrut),

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