Soviet Union, Fiction and Post-modernism

Total Posts:  39
Joined  31-12-2017
29 August 2018 18:51

In their time, Dante (in the early 14th century), Gogol (in 1842 with ‘Dead Souls’:  //, Balzac (at roughly the same time as Gogol with ‘La Comédie humaine’: //, and Karl Kraus (with ‘Last Days of Mankind’ in 1922: // wrote expansively about the human condition.  Their works reflected their respective worlds.  What would a work with similar ambitions to these authors’ look like in the world of the late Soviet era, a work also imbued with the literary spirit of the time; a spirit that questioned hierarchies, foundations, systems, and schools. 

If one wants to learn something about what the Soviet Union was, why it collapsed and what followed it, many sources may be consulted [such as these podcasts…(The exile of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:  //, (Are we entering a new Cold War? which describes some of the theater of the public sphere in current Russia: //, (Stalin and the Ukraine Famine - Anne Applebaum, //, (Slow convergence? Eastern European economies after 1989 - with Tamás Réti: //, (Joseph Heath on RS51, where he mentions Kornai’s 1992 book “The Socialist System: The Political Economy of Communism: //].  These podcasts, and many others like them are well worth listening to, but I would like to mention a different one, which is episode 5 of the “Casual Academic Podcast” [podcast series #4 in my list of literary podcast list: //], with Alex Johnson and Jacob Welcker, who provide us commentary on a work that emerged in 1973 from the Soviet Union, Venedikt Erofeyev’s “Moscow to the End of the Line”. 

Dante drew inspiration from God; Gogol, Balzac and Kraus satirized a reality that didn’t meet certain standards; for Erofeev (sometimes spelled Yerofeyev), there don’t seem to be any standards, because with him, we shift to something else.  Our standards can no longer come from God, from any alternative to him, and ultimately not from any place at all, because once we have the audacity to leave the God-standard, nothing stops us from leaving any other standard—there can be no absolute stopping point at rationality or empiricism (once we declare “not this, but that”, we may be not too far off from saying “why that, why not something else entirely?”, etc…; this type of destabilization can be quite controversial).  In putting together his masterwork, Erofeev not only dispenses with standards, he also dispenses with the usual genres of hi-lit (in this he has company, e.g. you may want to listen to Kathy Acker’s interview on KCRW’s Bookworm [//], in which she discusses her writing style).

Starting with their first episode on Thomas Mann, I have been listening to and catching up with Johnson and Welcker’s podcast series.  I have many more episodes to get to, but I can report that by episode 5, they are in a great groove, bouncing ideas off each other with energy and levity, providing insights as they explore areas of high culture, making these ideas, which can often be obtuse, highly accessible. There first four episodes, starting with Mann, and moving through Kafka, Hemingway and Borges, were informative and provocative, but with Erofeev, Johnson and Welcker cover quite new ground (for me at least) and bring us someone who probably should be more a part of our discourses.

Casual Academic episode 5:
Erofeev’s “Moscow to the End of the Line”:

[ Edited: 29 August 2018 18:55 by saeed]