TEXT COUNTER TEXT : Rereadings in Russian Literary History.
Stanford University Press, 1994
USC University of Southern California
INTERTEXTUAL MALGRÉ LUI:
THE CASE OF LIMONOV
With regard to literariness, as in other respects, Eduard Limonov is
an antipode of Brodsky,'1 to whose Mandelstam he can be said to play a Mayakovsky and Esenin persona wrapped in one.
Whereas Brodsky reads like an on-going "Acmeist" study in metapoetics, Limonov seems anxious to furnish an "avant-gardist" counterexample, illustrating, as it were, the question begged by all discussions of
intertextuality, namely: What if there appeared a writer either totally unversed in literary tradition or resolutely set on ignoring it -- how would that fit into our scheme of things? An obvious response is to invoke the systemic status, or 'objective presence,'
of intertexts (as distinct from the genetic subtexts). Unregistered by the author, they are forever available to the reader — as a pairadigm
of choices, field of tensions, background for oppositions.
Intertextuality subsumes a-version to traditional models as a particular case
of their sub-and con-version. In fact, Limonov's defiantly 'anti-culture' and 'pro-reality' writing itself forms part of the cultural tradition (cf. Chapters 2, 3); it inevitably follows psychological,
cultural, and literary archetypes, uses strategies evolved by earlier iconoclasts, and cannot help engaging specific texts.
As Limonov claims to shift his attention from Art to Life, denying textual
origins and connections, our focus should be reoriented accordingly, in order to recuperate the dissimulated intertextuality. Reversing the order of presentation of Chapter 5, we will begin with close readings and only after that proceed to search for subtexts.
If with Brodsky, underneath an obvious parody we found his own idiosyncrasies, with Limonov, on the contrary, we will first oblige him by examining, at appropriate length, his precious narcissistic
self and then try to show where it comes from.
Like other Russian poets turned prosaists (including Pushkin and Lermontov), Limonov is known outside Russia for his prose if at all;2his poetry (see Limonov 1977b, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1986) has attracted virtually no attention, although many native readers agree on its power and originality. We will look at specimens of both modes: a lyrical poem from his Moscow period (1979
), and a short story written much later in emigration (1990).
The Beauty Mark and the 'I's of the Beholder
("I Will Hold Another Person in My Thoughts")
A NARCISSIST POEM
| ||Ia v mysliakh poderzhu drugogo cheloveka |
Chut'-chut' na kratkii mig ... i snova otpushchu
I redko-redko est' takie liudi
Chtob polchasa ikh v golove derzhat'
Vse ostal'noe vremia ia est' sam
Baiukaiu sebia laskaiu glazhu
Dlia potseluia podnoshu
I izdali soboi liubuius'
I veshch' liubuiu na sebe
a ia do shovchikov izlazhu
i dazhe na spinu pytaius' zaglianut'
no zerkalo pomozhet
Uvizhu rodinku iskomuiu na kozhe
Davno uzh gladil ia ee liubia
Net polozhitel'no drugimi nevozmozhno
mne zaniatomu byt'.
Nu chto drugoi?!
Skol'znul svoim litsom. vzmakhnul rukoi
I chto-to beloe kuda-to udalilos'
A is vsegda s soboi
I will hold another person in my thoughts
A teeny-weeny bit for a brief moment ... and [will] again let him go
And very-very rarely are there such people
So as to hold them in [your] head for a half-hour
rest of the time I am by [lit. I is] myself
[I] rock myself -- caress -- stroke
Bring [myself] up for a kiss
And admire myself from afar
And every thing on myself
I exhaustively scrutinize
I will go over [it] down to the [last] little seams
and even try to peek over at my back
[I] stretch stretch
but a mirror will help
manipulating [lit. interacting with] two [mirrors]
[I] will see the sought-after beauty mark on my skin
Long have I already stroked it loving[ly]
No positively [it is] impossible with others
for me to
After all what [is] another?!
[He has] glided by with his face. waved [with] his hand
And something white [has] disappeared into somewhere
While I [am] always with myself
Theme. The poem is a serio-ironic display of the 'Narcissus complex; whose dynamics Genette has defined as "the confirmation of the Ego under the guise
of the Other," and the corresponding aesthetic, as "a baroque ... Vertigo, but one that is very conscious and... well-organized" (1966: 28). Going back to the Greek myth of Narcissus,3 the term 'narcissism' owes its current use to Freud's classic 1914 study (see Freud 1964 and its redefinition by Kohut ).
To sketch a composite portrait
of narcissism, it results from developmental problems with self-cohesion, in particular, a lack of 'mirroring' approval by the mother. Withdrawing the libido from external objects, the subject concentrates it on his/her own body by gazing (with or without
a mirror), fondling, and other forms of gratification in order to protect the body-self from (the fear of) fragmentation. The resulting enviable sense of omnipotence, self-sufficiency, and immortality is compensatory and thus precarious. Compensation involves
a retreat into an archaic grandiose self and approval by a parent figure, imagined watching the childish self and speaking about it in the third person. The self-directed libido is virtually auto-erotic or homosexual; the feelings of omnipotence border on
megalomania; while the archaic obsession with the body-self and material self-objects (clothes, skin, erogenous zones, genitals) tend toward exhibitionism and fetishism.
Inherent in the Narcissus
complex is a wealth of artistic possibilities. Associating its major components with the patterns to which they predispose,4 we
obtain a cluster of motifs that bears a striking correspondence to Limonov's poem.
The mirror calls for symmetries; withdrawal, for closure and centripetal composition; megalomania, for expansion;
gazing and self-objects, for focus on detail; childish regression and dreams of immortality, for suspension of time; personality splits, for play with the grammatical category of person.
components proffer contradictory demands, but, then, 'reconciliation of opposites' is the stuff poems are made of, and Limonov's text is no exception. Indeed, it manages an oscillating mediation between the infantile pole of 'impropriety, irregularity, imbalance'
and its parental counterpart (whose stamp of approval is being sought) the pole of 'propriety, correctness, organization.'
This master design is inscribed on the poem's major planes. Emplotted as
an opposition between fragmentation and cohesion, grandiose delusions and adult control, it is echoed by the asymmetry/ symmetry of the composition, irregularity/regularity of meter and rhyming, and subversion/observance of linguistic norms. Intertextually,
therefore, one might expect some classical models to come up for simultaneous vandalization and appropriation.
FORMAL STRUCTURES: CHAOS AND SYMMETRIES
Versification. The seemingly uncouth text is well organized. The variation in the length of lines (from one foot to eight) is compensated by their iambic homogeneity and implicit length regularity, suggested by the syntax and
rhyming: a "normalization" of lines yields only four to six iambs, plus the final trimeter (see my bracketed numbering). Rhythmical variation is modest, well motivated, and held together by recurrences.5
The rhyme structure emerges gradually out of an unrhymed chaos, reaches a maximum of regularity, and then founders again.
In stanzas 1-2 there are
occasional internal rhymes (poderZHU--otpuSHCHU) and assonances (otpushchu, liudi), which
develop into approximate and primitive rhymes (otpuSHCHU—podnoSHu--liubuius'--rassmotriu). The first exact rhyme (gLAZHU--izLAZHU) is inconspicuous, as it straddles stanzas; but, finally, a regular quatrain emerges (pomOZHEt--dvUM1A--koZHE--IiuB1A; lines
Then rhyming peaks.6 The poem ends on an uneasy truce between
the two principles: the blank penultimate line subverts iconically the contacts with the "other"; the rhymed closure seals the speaker's self-sufficiency.
poem's unevenness disguises a well-proportioned stanzaic structure, with a beginning, middle, and end: 4 + (4 + 8) + 5. The two middle stanzas are devoted to the speaker's concentration on the self, the outer two to the rejection of others. The last line is
again about the self, in a symmetrical reflection of the opening word ("I").
This pattern combines the urge for withdrawal with the interest in mirroring. 'Withdrawal' calls for a paradoxical 'introverted
expansion,' i.e. a development that consists of an increasingly narrower focus on oneself. In a typical pattern of syntactic amplificatio(Riffaterre 1978: 49-51), the poem has to grow, gradually conquering
the world and Russian grammar, but narcissism confines the speaker to his body-self. Projected onto the symmetrical ('mirror-like') A-B-A design, this makes B the main arena of struggle between expansion and contraction.
Most of the longer lines (the "classical" hexameters and pentameters) and complex actant and sentence structures are in the outer stanzas, which deal with “others.” In the middle, the syntax at first shrinks almost to monosyllables
(line 6), but then rebuilds itself, to involve, by the end of stanza 3, four actants ("I,” "two [mirrors]," "beauty mark," "skin") and to celebrate the culmination with a hexameter about the "1" (line 15). The transitions are facilitated by ellipses
and the equality of line lengths around stanza boundaries.
The climactic mirroring scene occurs in lines 13-15, i.e. close to the golden section point; a mirror is implied also at the other golden
point, in 7-8. The 'mirroring' motif is supported by numerous other symmetries, among them:
--the reversed repetition of the content of the first stanza in the last: lines 1-2 and 19-20 are about
'others' leaving the scene, lines 3-4 and 17-18, about the impossibility of entertaining them even mentally;
--lexical repetitions and reduplications; and
--the accumulation of symmetries in the culmination zone, in particular, in 1ine 14 (vzaimodeistvuia dvumia, "manipulating two").
Here for the first time, the idea of 'doubling,' until now subliminally suggested by a crescendo of reduplications,7 is
called by its name(dvumia, "two"); this is accompanied by the only-and rhymed-reference to the mirrors, subtly highlighted by the ellipsis of the actual word for "mirrors". The 'binary' theme breeds
--it is named twice, at first less explicitly, by an unstressed prefix vzaimo- (lit.
--the two expressions symmetrically surround the verb of action (-deistvuia); and
--all three components echo one another phonetically in several ways, thanks to repetitions of consonants (vzstv; mm; dd; tv-dv) and
vocalic hiatuses (ai-ei-uia).
To convey the suspenseful instability of the balancing act, symmetries are supplemented with asymmetrical patterns.
The line is full of syntactic tension:
--it is a gerund construction preceding the main verb;
--it omits the object ("mirrors");
--its metrical rareness is reinforced by the lopsided division into words, the first twice as long as the second.
All three devices (inversion, ellipsis,
top-heaviness) serve also to propel the line forward. The anticipated resolution is achieved in the next line, which is the longest in stanza 3 (hexameter redux), placed at the peak of the rhyming structure, and punctuated with alliterations and assonances (uviZHu rodiNKu isKomuiu Na koZHe).
Yet it is here that the unraveling begins. The strongest stresses fall on uvizhu
rodinku, after which the tension flags. The relaxation continues in the last line of the stanza (line 16), with its shorter length, weaker rhyme, postposition of the gerund phrase, past tense, and imperfective
PLOT: SPLITTING AND COHERING
Enacting the poem's narcissist tensions, the plot revolves around the opposition 'separation/union'
and informs the persona's 'withdrawal from others' with the compositional pattern of expansion. The relations with others, treated in the framing stanzas, contrast with and echo the inside story, where proliferation of split-off selves is compensated by a
parallel forging of bonds between them. Generically, the plot is cast in the mold of the meditative lyric.
Stanza 1. Cohesive touching and
gazing and meditative contemplation overdetermine the poem's master trope of '(be)holding.' It is first tried out on the "other," in the form of 'mental holding/separation' ("hold ... in my thoughts ... ," "let him go," "to hold ... in my head"). Once the
exclusion of others has left the speaker in splendid isolation, the stage is set for Ichspaltung, which will reproduce the dichotomy within his persona. 8
Stanza 2. The
equation of/division into "I" and "myself" (sam, 1ine 5) is followed by more palpable forms of
'separation/union': one part of the persona, the parental self ("I"), starts variously handling the infantile body-self, which is in need of mirroring (1ines 6, 8). Ego-splitting is accompanied by a differentiation between physical and visual holding ("rock--caress--stroke"
vs. "admire"); the intermediate states ("bring myself up for a kiss") and the common denominator, 'love,' help to unite all the actions.
The first, covert appearance of the mirror both enhances the
separation (by introducing an external self-object) and inaugurates a new strategy of cohesion. Line 7 also evokes the image of a parent taking a baby in his/her arms and bringing it up for his/her or a third party's kiss, in a further multiplication of the
As the stanza dissolves into a summing-up mirror view "from afar" (line 8), the last word, liubuius' ("admire"),
encapsulates semantically, as well as paronomastically, the visual and amorous contacts with oneself that will span the next stanza (note the sequence: liubuius, "admire"--liubuiu, "every”--liubia, "lovingly").
Stanza 3. In
this stanza the body-self, initially perceived as one piece, gradually ramifies into a variety of material self-objects (shirt, seams, back, mirrors, beauty mark). Fragmentation goes hand in hand with cohesive processes: the numerous 'touches' and 'gazes,'
mediated by 'physical movements in service of looking.' The activities grow in intensity: visual inspection gives way to thorough tactile probing, then both unite in the tortuous search that leads, via mirror juggling, to the spectacular meeting of the reflected
gaze with the previous touch on the hidden back/ underside of the speaker's body and personality.
In relation to the bonding of the different selves, this is indeed an encounter with the infantile
past (highlighted by the past tense and the word davno, lit. "since long ago"). Rodinka, "beauty
mark, birthmark," has clearly childish connotations (the root is "birth," the suffix, quasi-diminutive), as does the interest in one's body, clothes, and physical exertions. The birthmark also provides the parent-child relationship with an archetypal underpinning,
given the role of such marks in the motif of recognition of lost children in myth and literature.9
hidden self has feminine aspects (rodinka is a feminine noun). This invests the release of tension on reaching the desired but until then only secretly
caressed point with an aura of autoerotic orgasm uniting the male persona with the hidden female self. The effect is reinforced by the pronouncedly amorous vocabulary ("caress," "stroke," "kiss," "lovingly"). Furthermore, the active persona's feminine posture
-- of a Venus with a mirror -- infuses the scene with homosexual and androgynous overtones. Yet, in keeping with the meditative thrust of the poem, it is autovoyeurism that is presented as an exciting discovery, while physical caressing is taken for granted
(it has been available all along).
To match the enhanced bonding, the syntactic structure must now 'hold' more self-objects.
In a cross between the three-actant
constructions from stanza 1 and the reflexive ones from 2, there appear predicates that fill their three slots with external self-objects: "I--everything--on myself"; "I--seams--[of the shirt"; "I--[something]--on the back"; "I--beauty mark--on the skin."
Yet, the persona's introversion shows through the expansion as the autonomous self-objects gradually come to blend back with the body-self. A notable exception is the mirror (or, rather, "the two," as the mirror,
reifying its function, doubles), but this only dramatizes the rule. The mirror is an epitome of the ego split -- an externalization both of the 'object of contemplation' (like the "other" and the various self-objects) and of the holding 'screen' (like "head,"
"skin," etc.). The mirror's autonomy is stressed by its promotion to grammatical subject (line 13a); but its function is clearly a cohesive one: to return the action back to the 'I’.10
If syntactic complexity iconizes the 'span' of cohesive mirroring, the 'intensity' of self-concentration finds its formal expression in the enlargement -- and endearment -- of the ever more fragmentary selfobjects.
--Line 9 is the first to use the singular number, so far of a class of objects ("every thing").
--A concrete singular object ("shirt") appears in
1. 11 and promptly splits into details, plural but tenderly diminutive ("little seams").
--The next shot is of the singular "back," which is already part of the body itself, but rather big and emotionally
--Then follows a further detour via mirrors, first singular and then plural, and only after that
--the striking close-up of the
tiny, singular, quasi-diminutive rodinka comes to occupy the entire dramatic 1. 15 (and, in fact, the next one too).
Thus the many self-objects and types of (be)holding serve as props in developing a meager surface view of the body-self into a veritable minidrama, a baroque tour de force of vertiginous physical and linguistic acrobatics, converging
on the blown-up beauty spot in a suggestive array of narcissist effects.
Stanza 4. Here the external frame returns to reconfirm the persona's
self-sufficiency in the face of a larger world.
PERSPECTIVE: DETACHMENT AND NEUTERING
Point of view. In
a counterpoint to the opening introspection ("thoughts," "in my head"), throughout the autovoyeuristic session the description remains on the surface of the speaker's body-self. The body is seen and touched, as it were, by an external observer -- Freud's (1964:
95) 'idealized parent,' who mirrors the 'I' into cohesion and speaks about it in the third person: "I am/ is alone" (1. 5).11
The speaker's detachment from the various described 'I'-selves begins with the use of the habitual tense in 1. 1. This effect reaches a high point in 1. 16: once the caressing is discovered to have gone on for quite a while unbeknownst to the gazing
parental 'I,' the latter is dramatically proven not to coincide with the omniscient speaker. 12 In
other words, even as the plot celebrates the spectacular parent-child reunion and culminates in its most epiphanic predicate, 'recognition,' it effectively reconfirms the detachment of the speaker, subverting the epiphany itself.
The separation continues in the closing stanza. The extravagant sentence in 1ines 17-18 ("No, positively [it is] impossible with others / for me to be occupied") is a variation on 1ines 3-4, but with a difference. The earlier statement
("And very-very rarely are there such people/ As to hold them in [your] head for a half-hour") did not mention the "I": being predicated on "people" and an impersonal "head," it made "others" the only objectivized presence. The reformulation, however, places
the "I" and the "others" on an equal -- and equally peripheral -- grammatical footing (in the dative and instrumental, respectively), beneath an omnipotent impersonal "it." In fact, the "I" is now subjected, at least putatively and technically, to the impact
of "others" ("to be occupied" reads as the passive opposite of "to hold"). To be sure, this is no more than a negated possibility, and presently the "other" suffers a complete removal from the scene. Yet the persona's solipsism has been punctured: the "I"
both is and is not the only important presence.
Gender. It is fitting that just as "others" make their definitive exit, a higher agency should
take their place, albeit subliminally. The resolution of a lyrical plot is often mediated by God or his surrogates (Nature, Life, Fate, etc.),13 but
the specific form this takes here is related to the gender perspective of the poem. Assumed to be male, the "I" is accordingly marked for gender (1ines 5, 16, 18). His main partners are pointedly non-masculine:
in the framing stanzas, the generic "other" slips from masculine to sexless plural and then to explicit neuter (line 20); in the middle, grammatically feminine self-objects predominate ("thing," "shirt," "back," "beauty mark," "skin").
This schema is, however, subverted by the "I"'s ambiguous semipassivity,14 the
unmarkedness for sex/gender in the framing stanzas, and the subliminal androgyny/homosexuality in the middle. As a result, the various 'disembodied' categories of the last stanza -- neuter, passive, impersonal, infinitive, negative, atemporal, verbless, etc.
-- not only echo the explicit neutering of the "other," but seem to cast a similar shadow on the sexual identity of the speaker, whose self-searching discourse they crown.
The persona's slipping,
along with the 'other,' into the neuter is foreshadowed by the previous parallels between the two and by the neuter gender of zerkalo,"mirror."
neutering effect is also supported by the multiple foregrounding, in lines 17-21, of the neuter or neuterlike -o- endings (polozhitel'no,
nevozmozhno, chto, chto-to); moreover, phonetically, they neutralize the opposition of the poem's main rhymes in -u- and -a-.
TIME AND TENSE: HABITUAL UNIQUENESS
Time is crucial to the narcissist dream of eternal childhood
/ youth / beauty, and the idea of 'eternalizing the moment' dominates the temporal perspective of the poem, punctuated with circumstances of time stressing the transience of the "other" and the permanence of the "I." Grammatically, this is echoed by an original
patterning of tenses and aspects that accommodates three contradictory tendencies:
--to extend the moment and bring time to a standstill (conveyed by the present tense, imperfective aspect, omitted
copula, and lexically stative or continuous verbs: derzhat', est', liubuius', vzaimodeistvuia, zaniatomu byt');
--to achieve the climax (conveyed by the perfective
aspect and the imperfective verbs of coming, reaching etc.: tianus', pytaius');
--to ensure eternal recurrence of the precious moment (conveyed
by the perfective future forms used in the habitual sense and by lexically iterative verbs:rassmotriu, pomozhet, izlazhu, uvizhu; baiukaiu, laskaiu, glazhu, izlazhu, gladil).
temporal frame is provided by the future perfective denoting habitual present. It contrasts with the past and negative forms, referring mostly to "others"; is interspersed with imperfective present forms of all three kinds (stative, inceptive, iterative);
and ends up dissolving in a neutralized, eternally lasting, or eternally recurring verbless present. So juxtaposed,
verb forms cross-fertilize one another with subtle semantic overtones. The overall effect is paradoxical: the persona's activities are presented both as unique, continuing, striving toward and attaining a goal (through the exceptional tour de force with mirrors)
and as happening regularly in the past, present, and future.
The rhetorical figure of 'regular uniqueness' is an archetypal vehicle for the themes of memory and transcendence of time; it underlies,
for instance, Proust's idiosyncratically detailed descriptions of childhood scenes in a habitual past tense (Imparfait; see Genette 1970). Classic Russian
parallels would be Derzhavin or Pushkin gradually slipping from habitual present to present continuous or future in detailing his usual pastimes.15 In
the tradition of the poetry of frozen time, Limonov turns his description of a present moment into a parade of Russian tenses.
Stanza 1 introduces the habitual perfective future and the ideas of
lingering and transience (POderzhu, "will hold a little"), then moves into a very general present ("there are") and further into the abstractness of an
infinitive ("to hold"). Stanza 2 stays mostly in the imperfective present. In stanza 3, habituality reasserts itself in the perfective future forms ("will scrutinize," etc.), which now refer to a stable concentration on oneself (instead of fleeting contacts
with "others"), or rather to paradoxically repeated unique feats of such concentration. The effect is strengthened by the alternation of perfective and imperfective forms, which helps to protract the attainment of each successive result. 16 This slowing down of motion parallels the spatial closing in on the beauty mark. The climax is again the construction
"manipulating ... (I] will see," where the present imperfective gerund accumulates all the continuousness of the described activities while the future perfective main verb represents their punctuality and recurrence.
Line 16 ("Long have I caressed") paves the way for the past and indefinite present tenses of the next stanza and for the general flagging of tension. Rather than stopping the clock at the summit ("will see"), the text offers a flashback into an unclimactic
In stanza 4, the "other" returns -- to shoulder the habitual perfectives, whose brief span and negativeness are now underscored by the past tense. "I," on the contrary, stays with the present
indefinite, which acquires the abstract overtones of the infinitive ("impossible ... to be") and the timelessness of the omitted copula. This atemporality, again, is first tried out on the other (i chto drugoi? appr. "Well, what about another?") and supported by the various 'neutering' effects and the overall closural dissolve.
STYLE: GRAPPLING WITH THE NORM
The persona's internal instability and child-parent split determine the oscillation between a 'faulty childish' tone and a 'proper high' one. The former dictates the baby-talk vocabulary and morphology (baiukaiu,
shovchiki, chut'-chut,' redko-redko) and primitive, often asyndetic, parataxis; the latter determines the meditative posture, emblematized by hexameters. Childlike as the poem may seem, 'adult' attitudes
permeate all levels of discourse.
The syntax sometimes becomes pointedly difficult.
The poem features gerunds; parenthetical, impersonal, and complex
object constructions; and a subordinate clause defining a hypothetical class of objects introduced by the existential quantifier ("there are such ... as to").
Many structures are redundantly complete, with every
Note the dutifully included ikh in l. 4; such awkwardly accurate circumstances
of place as "every thing on myself"; the convoluted structure in lines 17-18 (with both a dative and an instrumental); and the two indefinite -— uninformative -- pronouns in l. 20 (chto-to; kuda-to).
The persona's 'adult credentials' include
--thoroughness: note the "down to" construction (1. 11a) and a variety of universal, existential, and numerical quantifiers
("all the rest of the time," "every thing," "always"; "there are such . . . , "something," "somewhere"; "half-hour," "with the two [mirrors]");
--purposefulness and logic: "go over," "try," "will
help," "manipulating"; "impossible," "such as to ..."; "but," "after all, what ... ?";
--partiality for archaisms (kratkii mig, chtob), businesslike
colloquialisms (polozhitel'no), and bookish or professional terms (vzaimodeistvuia, iskomuiu).
The two poles usually appear in Janus-like combinations with each other. Duality underlies the general strategy of dwelling, in all seriousness and, moreover, in a classical meter, on childish trifles. The
same combinatory principle -- 'adult pattern, infantile filling' -- is at work when childish expressions (e.g., "teeny-weeny," "very-very rarely") are inserted into an otherwise lofty sentence.
other cases, the effect of 'impropriety' is created by a general failure to maintain the 'high' standard rather than by a particular baby-talk item.
For example, the ungrammaticality of is est'
sam, "I is alone," results from trying to sound too solid or archaic (by not omitting the copula).
The same ill-fated ponderousness undermines the melding of two very 'adult' constructions in lines 17-18. On the one hand, the speaker reaches for the archaic double dative ("for me to be occupied"), which is possible only with a short adjective (e.g., mne byt' zaniatu; the full dative form was already marked as undesirable in this construction by Lomonosov [1958: 566]). On the other hand, he tries to use
the modern pattern, where the full adjective is appropriate but must be in the instrumental (mne byt' zaniatym).
Still subtler stylistic fusion
is achieved when the same element of discourse has two facets, a 'proper' and an 'improper'. Thus, the poem's concentration on detail combines the madness of childish self-absorption with the method of a meticulous grown-up, and the elliptical syntax can be
construed as both primitive inner speech and brisk business communication.
SUBTEXT: GRAPPLING WITH A MODEL
Why Derzhavin? Our
focus on the poem's intrinsic analysis has involved a host of intertexts of varying specificity: Narcissus (myth and complex), Venus (with mirror), 'recognition by birthmark' (motif), Oblomov (vs. 'others'), Derzhavin, Pushkin, and Proust ('regular uniqueness'),
Khlebnikov (ungrammaticality), meditative lyric (genre), archaisms and hexameters (lofty connotations), and so on. Even such an avowedly antiliterary and self-sufficient narcissist as Limonov owes much to 'others' and the 'tradition': these constitute his
indispensable foils, and their 'dismissal' the point, rather than premise, of his discourse. One may expect, therefore, these twin foils to have merged into some particular presence, authoritative and alien at the same time: a classical subtext.
To sum up Limonov's stylistic game, it is as if the speaker tried to sound Derzhavinian but constantly slipped into baby-talk, "bad" writing, and doggerel.17 But this very slippage is also reminiscent of Derzhavin, whose poetry Pushkin called a bad free translation from a marvelous Attar original (13: 181-82) and whose stylistic irregularities echo the unconventionality
of his lyrical persona. In a deliberate mixture of Lomonosov's "high," "middle," and "low" styles, Derzhavin conversed with czars about God "in cordial simplicity" and "an amusing Russian style," introducing into the psalm and ode his own earthly personality
("Such is, Felitsa, my debauched self!") and even elements of narcissism.
Not unlike Limonov's persona, he would refer to himself as
--resembling a pampered child in
a cradle (v liul'ke);
--interested in clothes (kaftan) and
body hygiene (attended to by his wife, "by means of whom" he looks for lice in his hair [the famous "To eiu v golove ishchusia"]);
--self-sufficient and grammatically reflexive, often with "Limonovian"
double reflexives ("And [I am] happy with my own self [lish' soboi samim]"; "[I]myself by my very self [soboiu sam] tilling
the fields. ... /My peace is in myself");
--lavish in poetic and personal self-praise ("Boast, boast of that, my lyre! ... / I will be standing, with self-importance");
--dreaming of grandeur, immortality, identifying with monarchs and emulating God ("imagining I am a Sultan"; "Through you [the empress] I will become immortal myself"; "[the poet] through his inspiration/ Has become a Czar-[has] competed with God himself");
--distanced from and disdainful of others ("And I don't give a damn for [v grosh ne stavliu] anybody").
In developing narcissist themes, Derzhavin inevitably turned to their archetypal literary embodiments: the motifs of 'monument' (his poetic legacy; his bust); 'double' (his lowly namesake, 'another,' with whom
he should not be confused); and 'echo.' 18 In a poem entitled "Echo"
(1811), the poet boldly identifies himself with Narcissus, and the responsive readers, who will ensure his resonance in the future generations, with the nymph Echo.19
To be sure, Derzhavin treated his mortal persona's grandiose claims with irony, but he kept indulging them, mostly through links to great external 'self-objects' -- kings, God, and the Muses. The latter in
particular can offer the poet his poetic immortality, exclusive of other, ordinary humans. But Derzhavin also held that man's value is in his unity with the Creator. This more universal argument is central to the ode "God" ("Bog," 1780-84), which constitutes
a likely subtext of Limonov's ode to himself.
Converting "God." In Derzhavin’s poem (the relevant fragments are cited in the Appendix
to this chapter), the reasoning goes approximately like this: "You are great, I am nothing by comparison; but I believe that you exist, for if I exist, then certainly you do; you are reflected in me, therefore, I am at the center of things and a god myself."
In this ostensibly pious but actually quite self-centered system of syllogisms, Limonov foregrounds the narcissistic equation I = God. He then literalizes it by eliminating God from the text and appropriating His self-sufficiency as well as the rhetoric, lexicon,
and grammar of His laudation. In other words, where for Derzhavin, God is the external self-object, the Great Other, whose existence confirms the persona's own identity, Limonov redirects the libido to his body-self. Thus he performs a conversion that is all
but invited by the Derzhavin hypogram.
A major opportunity for a narcissist rereading is provided by Derzhavin's insistence on the 'egocentric' "I ... , I ..." and "[your]self by [your]self" formulas.20 Limonov also borrows, and turns around, many of the philosophical and rhetorical mainstays of Derzhavin's argument:
The 'But what? ... Nothing!' move; the focus on the predicates of existence and modality ("is," "impossible") and on universal quantifiers ("all,' "every"); the other's reflection in the speaker's "thought";
and God's 'impersonality, facelessness' (cf. "without faces" and "glided by with his face ... disappeared").
A remarkable linguistic link is the use of the triple-verb pattern:
Compare Derzhavin's shift from "Envelops, founds, maintains," referring to God (I. 8), to "Ponders, thinks, reasons," referring to the speaker (l. 69), with Limonov's self-directed triple formula "Rock myself -- caress -- stroke."
Linguistic roots of Limonov's mock-archaic style can be found elsewhere in Derzhavin, often in conjunction with significant thematic parallels 21
As a result, Derzhavin's "But I myself could not be by myself" (1. 90) and "[Your]self consisting of [your]self" (1. 25) are conflated
to yield Limonov's punchline "I am always with myself." The metamorphosis is performed in the spirit of the Nietzschean deification of the superman self, introduced into the Russian poetic tradition by the symbolists; see Zinaida Gippius's pioneering pronouncement
"But I love myself like God" (1972 : 3). Thus, cultural precedents have joined hands with the psychological dynamics of narcissism in propelling Limonov to the Jacobean task of, to use a Derzhavin phrase, "competing with God himself" -- a classicist
forebear represented by his most divine text.
To conclude, the boldly unconventional theme yields an almost classical design; the retrogressive, primitive, anticultural attitude expresses itself
in a play with time-hallowed genres and subtexts; the absorption in one's selves ends on a note of traditional self-irony. In a feat of mediation between these opposites, the poem succeeds in inscribing Limonov's idiosyncratic and 'improper' narcissism into
the objective, 'proper' world of poetry.
Limonov at the Literary Olympics
("The Belle who Used to
Inspite the Poet")
TEXT AND INTERTEXTS: LIFE OVER CANON
Rivalry. From both his poetry and his
prose, the life of Limonov's authorial persona emerges as a chain of victories, a la Balzac's Rastignac or Stendhal's Julien Sorel, over ever higher-class rivals. He begins by surpassing, back home in the provincial city of Kharkov, the local poet Motrich
(1969; see 1979: 59). Once in Moscow, he challenges, with mixed success, various official and unofficial celebrities. Then he turns his sights on the West, which he first conquers in the literary dreamworld of his "We, the National Hero" (1977b), a scenario
he will find hard to live up to in actual emigration (since 1973).
The scope of Limonov's ambitions can be inferred from his contempt of the 1960s Thaw generation, sarcastic treatment of Brodsky
(1984b), condescension to Pasternak, and only a qualified respect for Mayakovsky (1983: 64). He reserves his real admiration for Khlebnikov, the avant-gardist Chairman of the Globe (1985b). Proclaiming his exit from Russian literature (1984c: 219), Limonov
tries to take one last step from the provincial ghetto forward and up, dahin, dahin, to the Olympus of world literature, in a clear-cut case of the Bloomean
anxiety of influence: the urge to make room at the top for one's creativity by visiting symbolic violence on literary ancestors.
Indeed, the story in question (Limonov 1990) begins at a "Poetry Olympics" in London.
The autobiographical narrator-hero outperforms several poetic heavyweights from the Western world and, since "the Soviet authorities, angry with the West over something or other, haven't delivered the usual
gift items, E[vtushenkol and V[oznesensky]," wins the bronze, no mean achievement for a foreignlanguage contestant. On its strength he also gets the sexy tele-starlet Diana.
But this is, as it were,
only a warm-up: the main event matches him up with no less an opponent than the reigning champion, Mandelstam22 And, improbable as it may seem, Eddie takes the upper hand -- almost.
Narrative art has evolved a variety of strategems
for arranging the protagonist's encounter with a great literary forebear. Here are some brief examples of the paradigm.
In Boris Pasternak's "The Mark of Apelle" (1915), the narrator practically
identifies with his inspired poet-hero, an anachronistic twentieth-century "Heinrich Heine," who wins a poetic-and-real-life combat with a challenger; the weapon and the prize is the other poet's beloved.
Bunin has a story, "Mr. Mikhol'skii's Vest" (1934), told by a corny character who believes Gogol once envied him his flashy vest.
Chimes of Breguet" ("Zvon bregeta," 1959) by lurii Kazakov, the narrator chronicles one day in the life of his protagonist, Lermontov, who tries to approach Pushkin, but, alas, it is the day of the duel.
Andrei Bitov sends the literary scholar hero of his "Pushkin's Photograph (1799-2099)" into the past in a time machine; but, having failed to hit it off with Pushkin on an equal footing, the hero has to settle for the role of a Pushkinian "little man."
The narrator-hero of Isaac Babel's "Guy
de Maupassant" (Babel 1955 [19321: 328-38) sweeps off her feet a newly rich plump lady dabbling in literature; he does so by the artistry with which he translates a Maupassant story ("L'Aveu"), whose juicy
plot he thus consummates in real life. Later on, reading about Maupassant's painful dying of progressive paralysis, the narrator supplements his focus on the classic's texts with a glimpse of his life.
In all these cases the encounter with the forebear takes place in the plot's "real life." But quite often, especially in our ultrametaliterary age, the meeting occurs on a purely textual territory -- playing exclusively with the predecessor's text.
The story line of Jorge Luis Borges's "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" (1939), boils down to the protagonist's rewriting, verbatim and yet anew, thegreat
And in Woody Allen's madcap spoof of several genres, "The Kugelmass Episode" (1975), the 1960s hero has an affair with Madame
Bovary and soon does not know how to get rid of her.
What does Limonov do? With his Chernyshevskian conviction that 'life' is more genuine than
'art,' he is bound to opt for a personal confrontation.'23 Limonov would not be interested in a purely literary attack on a
Mandelstam text or in regurgitating the poet's biography or even sneaking into that biography in the guise of a real or fiction, contemporary. Nor would he indulge in fantasy, committed as he i to writing "the truth." On the other hand, the idea of stealing
nc only the show but also the beloved of his literary rival would certain] appeal to him.
To meet the contradictory demands, Limonov has recourse to th motif of the 'Great Widow.' Elsewhere (e.g.,
in 1983: 64) he has show off his friendship with Mayakovsky's two most famous loves, Lil Brik and Tatiana Iakovleva-Lieberman, by then in their senior years.a name="a24">24 Thus
it is that in the title role of his "belle" Limonov casts Mm( Salome (Salomeia Nikolaevna) Andronikova-Halpern (1889-1982), th addressee-heroine of Mandelstam's "Solominka" (lit. "Little straw 1916), with whom the poet was secretly and unrequitedly in love
i the early 1910s.25
In London for the Poetry Olympics, Limonov is taken by Alla, a "professores" (professorsha) of Russian literature, and their common friend, the sexy Dian, to visit Salome. A chemistry seems to work between Limonov and Salome, ar over a glass of J&B (having read It's
Me, Eddie, Salome remembers that it his favorite drink), she tells him how she had paid no attention to that "rune (pliugavyi) Mandelstam,
preferring the brilliant aristocrats of the Guards Corp
Thus Limonov, who in the first round has won the affections of Diani ends up in the finals as a confidant of the once beautiful Salome. Pi
together, the saucy Diana and the authentic if old Salome approx mately equal one young Solominka. Mandelstam, meanwhile, is le: holding merely literary laurels.
Memento mori. Limonov's
'victory' distinguishes his text from mo, of the other encounters with literary greats, mostly written in a revel ently conservative mode. "The Belle" is also different because it tackle the ultimate problems of the human condition and creativity. In bot these
respects it is similar to Babel's "Maupassant."
There, the narrator-hero's foil is Kazantsev, a translator from Spanish wh knows all the castles in Spain but has never been there, a hairless bookwon
identifying with Don Quixote's idealism and Tolstoy's vegetarian homilies.Th hero, on the contrary, sees art as a means of conquering life. By replicatir with the fleshy Raisa the erotic denouement of the Maupassant story, he (albe only symbolically) visits
France, the sunny land of lovemaking.
Art, however, is an instrument not only of love but also of deatF "Then I spoke of style, of the army of words, in which all kinds of weapons are on the march. No iron can enter
the human heart so chillingly as a well-timed period." At close range, this dissertation on verbal weaponry helps the hero to pierce Raisa's soul and body, but its more distant aim is to foreshadow his punch-line response to the death agony of Maupassant:
"My heart contracted. A foreboding of [the] truth touched me." The implied "truth" seems to be that although art has power over love and life, they in turn are inexorably fraught with death.
always is Babel so dead serious. His "Answer to an Inquiry" ("Spravka," 1964 [n.d.]: 16-20) is, in a sense, the same story, but on a deliberately cruder level and in reverse.
The narrator-hero charms
the prostitute Vera he has been lusting after with an invented tale of his martyrdom as an orphan male prostitute kept by rich old lechers and thus gains her passionate "sisterly" love, generously free of charge.
The happy ending is a perfect celebration of the Baudelairian equation / mating of literature and prostitution, but it would have been unlike Babel to leave death completely out.
warden! ... I filched that out of some book or other, an invention of a lazy mind. To make up, I thrust an asthma into the old man's yellow chest, fits of asthma, a coarse whistle of choking. The old man jumped out of his bed and wheezed into the kerosene
Baku night. Before long he died. His relatives kicked me out.
Whereas in "Guy de Maupassant" death has the last word, in "Answer to an Inquiry," the narrator wards it off in advance by spoofing its
kitschy fictionalization?26 Still more cloudless is Pasternak's romantically modernist "Apelle."
Limonov, on the contrary, places 'death' at the very center of his composition, creating a symbolic effect of descent into the nether world.
Invited to meet Salome, he says
he does "not want to visit a corpse." Salome's apartment has many locks, is cold and dark, smells like a museum. The hostess is old, dressed in a man's overcoat, and walks with the support of a gnarled stick. To Limonov's tactless question about feeling old,
Salome replies: "The most unpleasant thing is ... that I still want, but cannot play all those naughty female tricks that I so loved to commit.... It is as if I were put inside a heavy, rusty diving suit. The suit has grafted itself onto my body; I live in
it, move around and sleep in it. Heavy leaden legs, heavy head on a stiff neck." Earlier in the story it was said that the old woman's face "was in harmony with the lacquered knottiness of her stick" and that Diana and Alla saw her as "a sort of iron woman."
This is, of course, reminiscent of the mythological image of the maiden grown one with her armor, from which the hero has to break her free with his sword in a first prewedding test (see Chapter 3), and of
the fatal engagement with a female statue in Prosper Merimee's "La Venus d'Ille" (1837). The consequences of Salome's answer are no less ominous:
Both Salome and Limonov become pensive, the sun abandons
even the lawn outside her window, the guests leave, and as they drive across London, the two women chat in the front while Limonov broods sadly, alone in the backseat.
Limonov fancies "Hemingwayesque"
open closures where the hero, having survived a traumatic experience with honor if not without loss, remains alone with his stoicism (see Eddie, "Love,"
"On the Wild Side" [1983, 1984, 19851). In "The Belle," this psychological superstructure is placed on a solid archetypal foundation. One of the story's major intertexts is Pushkiri s "The Queen of Spades" (1833).
Salome is akin to Pushkin's old Countess (even before meeting her, Limonov feels "like a working man who had climbed into bed with a countess"), once famous in Paris as La Venus Moscovite. They are about the same age: the Countess is eighty-seven, Salome
ninety-one27 and as Limonov promptly announces, his grandmother is eighty-seven. In both texts, the heroines' longevity serves
as a bridge to a long-gone era and its romantic liaisons, which form similar time-warp triangles (Hermann to Countess to Saint-Germain as Limonov to Salome to Mandelstam). The survivors also voice their opinions of today's writing (Pushkin's old lady comments
on the literature of the 1830s, Limonov's on a novel by Limonov). Diana the starlet and Alla the professoress together fill the role of Pushkin's Lizaveta lvanovna, the Countess's poor young ward.
himself, Limonov reserves the role of Hermann, a Russian Rastignac, forerunner of Raskolnikov. Limonov flaunts his delinquent tendencies: "I was ... brazen, like a petty criminal who had finally done a 'big job'"; "[I was] no damn writer, just a crook."'28Limonov's criminality is aimed, among others, at decrepit mother figures (he has an urge "to get his hands under senior women's skirts"). Indeed, the earthly interest the protagonist,
whether Pushkin's or Limonov's (Hermann; Limonov), may have in the young companion (Lizaveta; Diana) is but a step toward the existential rendezvous with the old mother figure (the Sphinx, Pythia, Death), the androgynous (in "a man's overcoat")29 keeper of otherwordly mysteries. The 'diving-suit' motif submerges all this even deeper under the ground, or rather, under the water.30
Although on the surface of things the discussion of old age is painful for Salome, it deals an even deadlier blow to the protagonist,
just as the death of the old Countess, involuntarily caused by Hermann, leads to Hermann's demise. On the whole, the antagonists are well matched.
Limonov parades as a "criminal" and is "cruel" in
his refusal "to come into a premature contact with another's old age ... what's the rush, when my own awaits me." (To be sure, along with cruelty, this statement manifests the narrator's thinly disguised fear of aging, in a foreshadowing of what is to follow
in the plot.)
Salome, in turn, boasts of having been "villainously beautiful in [her] youth" and "cruel": she "tortured [her] lovers and [metaphorically] drank their blood."
The narrator later concludes that "in all epochs, cruel Solominkas, Ligeias and Seraphitas" were cruel to weakling poets, but not to guardsmen, who in their turn, mistreated and "dumped their belles, slapped them, shook them like dolls,
threw them into the mud."
Salome's parenthetical mention of 'blood sucking' is not a mere accident of purple prose; it subtly links the theme of cruelty with the story's other leitmotifs -- in particular,
its emphasis on corporeality and death. "A propos of my lines ... about kissing the hands of the Russian Revolution, the journalist [covering the "Poetry Olympics"] snidely wondered, 'whether this nice little kiss had not left Mr. Limonoff's lips covered with
In addition to its ideological provocativeness, the figurative bloody tryst with Revolution cast as yet another deadly mother figure31 is an early foreshadowing of the fatal encounter with Salome's old age and her message almost from beyond the grave. After that encounter, Limonov becomes practically separated from Diana, although until then he kept
programmatically groping under her skirt. From his initial self-congratulatory "brazenness," via a Dantesque or Orpheus-like descent into Hades, he arrives at a state of sad wisdom.
In light of these life-and-death
issues, the 'victory' over Mandelstam is but a meager consolation.
Early on, describing the Poetry Olympics, Limonov stresses the physical, corporeal nature of artistic success. "But the people were not trying to
make out every word. The words only provided the musical background of the show, while the principal action was performed, like in the ballet, with the help of one's body, facial muscles and, of course, of dress and accessories." In the closing passage, however,
Limonov imagines Mandelstam as "a little dwarf" who has "lain down on the wet sand [on the beach] in his bowler hat and black suit," compares him with a photo of Kafka and with Charlie Chaplin, and wonders what it is exactly that makes the guardsmen so "brilliant"
in the eyes of society beauties (could it be "the abundance of epaulets and buckles(portupei ] ?").
In other words, the narrator comes to sympathize with the poet rather than with the crude
darlings of success, thus virtually siding with Professoress Alla, who idolizes poetry and poets and keeps wondering how Salome could possibly have rejected Mandelstam.32 Thus, from fancying poetry as a winning dance he shifts to a rather Mandelstamian view of poetry as a vulnerable yet eternal Word. To put it in more striking terms, from a Salome (Herod's this time) he turns into
a John the Baptist 33
The final scene, observed by Limonov from
the automobile, is emblematic: "A tall impressive punk with a bright-red hairdo a la Iroquois was slapping [the face of] a pale tall girl in a leather jacket and black leotard. By the wall of a pharmacy stood a small young clerk in a three-piece suit, neck-tie
and all, observing the scene, emotionally absorbed." The young girl corresponds to Diana and the other belles thrown into the mud; the clerk represents Mandelstam; the punk is a reincarnation of the guardsmen of the 1910s and, closer to home, of the two winners
of the Olympics (and thus defeaters of Limonov): "The most obscene in appearance was a punk poet. .. , whose reckless head was decorated with bluish-pink tufts of hair.... The most obscene in content was ... a reggae singer.... He chanted his short verses [chastushki] ... with the refrain: 'England is a bitch.'"
With whom, then, does Limonov identify-the
punk or the clerk? His sympathies split: as a man, he values life, strength, power, sex, but as a sensitive and adrogynous poetic personality, he is doomed to suffer, observe, and portray life, knowing, especially after the encounter with the Oracle, that
it ends in old age and death.
SUBTEXTS: CANON REGAINED
The origins of a hybrid. Life's brevity leads
poets to pin their hopes on the longevity of art, but for Limonov that would be a contradiction in terms, given life's and body's primacy over words. Yet the trust that "what has been penned down cannot be axed out" (a Russian proverb) and will thus "escape
rot" (Derzhavin, Pushkin) forms the very premise of writing. Limonov permeates his text with aesthetic name-dropping.
He begins by portraying his Olympic competitors and "the evergreen Evtushenko
and Voznesensky"; sounds the theme of physical fragility with a remark about the lame poet Krivulin (a living poet); introduces Diana as "playing hysterical women in telefilms based on Maupassant, Dostoevsky, and Henry James"; enlists Rembrandt's help in capturing
the ray of light piercing the dark room; dresses Salome's beach companions in striped suits borrowed from Henri Rousseau's Les Joueurs de Football; paints
Mandelstam as a cross between a shot of Charlie IChaplin] and a photograph of Kafka; and displays his own novel (it's Me, Eddie) at prominent junctures.
To these explicit references by the narrator I have added my own list of typological intertexts. Remarkably, the two sets overlap. For instance, of the three great prosaists mentioned in connection with Diana,
Dostoevsky evokes the hero's Raskolnikov complex, while Maupassant helps to refer us to the Babel story ("Guy de Maupassant"), whose affinities and contrasts with "The Belle" are, indeed, impressive.
of the intertexts center on an obsession with approaching either the Master Artist or Mother Death and wresting from them some Mysteries of Art or Life, respectively. Limonov's distinction lies in having effectively fused the two archeplots by means of the
Great Widow motif. It is as if Pushkin-chasing (in Kazakov or Bitov) had merged with Countess-chasing (in "The Queen of Spades"). Babel comes close to this, short of creating the pivotal hybrid.
Raisa combines two roles: a servant of the Muses and a priestess of sex (assisted in the latter by the pagan atmosphere of her house, in particular her "high-breasted maid" in whose eyes "one saw a petrified lewdness"). Yet dispensing sacred wisdom is beyond
her purview. The hero himself lectures her on the secrets of style, but as for "the truth" about death, it comes from Maupassant himself, via his biographer Edouard de Maynial, and thus in a pointedly nonfictional mode (opposed to Maupassant's fictional story).
Limonov, on the other hand, has a single character, Salome, covering the entire cluster of functions. How innovative is he in this?
A century earlier, Henry James, the third name
on Diana's resume, wrote a novella, "The Aspern Papers" (James 1936 : 3-143; recently translated into Russian), that "brought his ... particular concern with the literary life to a heritage . . . , pioneered by ... Hawthorne and Poe [!], in which a supernatural
happening ... played a significant part" (Curtis 1984: 8). Substituting, in the Russian context, the author of "Queen of Spades" for the two eminent Americans, one is tempted to say that James offered a transposition of Pushkin's formula into a plot about
a "woman who had inspired a great poet with immortal lines" ("The Aspern Papers," chap. 7)34 and thus created a major precedent
for Limonov's "The Belle."
James's narrator-protagonist is a literary historian who tries to acquire the letters of the great (fictional) American romantic poet and ladies' man Jeffrey Aspern. The
papers are closely guarded by his former mistress, Juliana Bordereau, living out her life in Venice in the company of a pathetic middle-aged niece, Tita. Assuming a false identity and hoping for Juliana's prompt death, the protagonist rents, at an exorbitant
price, an apartment in the greedy Juliana's house, wins Tita's confidence and attachment, and is shown by Juliana a portrait of the poet painted by her artist father.
When Juliana falls ill, he tries
to break into her secretary but is surprised by the watchful old lady. He leaves town but returns to hear that Juliana has been buried. On her deathbed she tried to burn the papers, but Tita rescued them for the hero. He can come into their possession by marrying
her. He refuses. The next day he has second thoughts, but by then, Tita has burned them. They part. Later on, she sends him Aspern's portrait. He pays her a handsome price, pretending to have sold it for her, but actually keeps it as a consolation prize for
the loss of the papers.35
The affinities of "The Aspern Papers" with "The Queen of Spades" are striking and evident.
We will therefore concentrate directly on the motifs in James's novella that anticipate "The Belle":
-old age/death: portrayal of Juliana as a corpse, skull, relic; her half-covered face and dark,
cryptlike, cavelike house; Tita's having been cheated out of a life;
-aggressive vitality: Juliana's boldly perverse ways in her youth, her present willfulness and greed; her sense that it is "great
to be alive"; the protagonist's criminality;
-"esoteric knowledge," the "riddle of the universe" invested in Juliana;
-'quadrangular' rivalry with the dead poet (Aspern
-- Juliananarrator -- Tita).
These shared motifs are treated differently. In part, they are simply varied in different ways:
For instance, James develops
the 'criminal' element into a 'crime narrative,' which he compounds with the 'military' metaphor (the narrator speaks of his nom de guerre, the siege of the citadel, etc.) and a Satanic one (Tita is courted with an entire gardenful of flowers). Limonov, on
the other hand, seconds 'criminality' with the 'athletic' metaphor.
But more often, the differences reflect the opposite underlying stances of the two authors -- 'pro-art' vs. 'pro-life.'
James painstakingly distances himself from the actual facts by fictionalizing them.
Thus, in his retrospective "Preface" to the novella (1936 [1908): v-xxiv) James had to defend the plausibility,
doubted by his critics, of an American Byron and an American Miss Clairmont. He developed his ambivalent 'distancing/ approaching' stance into a short treatise on his "delight in a palpable, imaginablevisitable past"
(p. x; his italics). This formula, presupposing a generation gap of about sixty years, fits to a T such pairings as Pushkin and his Hermann vs Saint-Germain and Casanova (in "The Queen of Spades"); Balzac vs Swedenborg (in Seraphita); James vs Byron and Shelley; Babel vs Maupassant; and Limonov vs Mandelstam.
Limonov, on the contrary, insists on narrating the story as an autobiographical fact, concealing
fictionalization where any exists.36
Where James experimented with having a "dim Shelley drama played out in the
very theater of our own modernity" (1984: 30-31; Shelley, along with Byron, was a prototype of Aspern, see note 35), Limonov is bent on systematically undoing the Mandelstam-Silver Age mystique.
identifies with and tries to emulate the late poet.
He wants to join him in a sort of "fraternity"; covets his memorabilia; insists on penetrating into the house, looking into the eyes and holding
the hand of Juliana ("some esoteric knowledge has rubbed off on her"); and is eventually ready to marry into the documents. Yet he is clearly no match for his mentor (who, incidentally, "had treated liulianal badly"), for the various mythological figures of
art/ power (Juliana's painter father; Orpheus; the condottiere statue), or for the two women (in the end he is even rejected by Tita).
Limonov, on the contrary, prefers life.
He starts out by not wanting
to visit Salome, does not care for the Mandelstam poem, and comes out even, if not victorious, in the end. His belle had mistreated the poet, while he, Limonov, earns her respect; and so on and so forth.
All these contrasts notwithstanding, the sad ending and message, to which the two stories arrive from opposite premises and via different but equally self-subverting routes, is much the same: life is not sacrificed to art, but art is the best and most
lasting thing about life. Also similar is the key hybrid of Mother Death and Art's Witness: the Old Beauty who had once inspired the Poet. Moreover, even James's emulation of romantic models finds an unexpected but rather thinly veiled parallel in Limonov,
as we are about to see.
Hidden in plain view. Despite all the panning of the literary canon and its cult figures, much in the story turns
on the appreciation of Limonov's person and writing by Salome. The dual message is that he is simultaneously warned about Death and inducted into Literature's hall of fame. But Salome's canonizing authority derives primarily from her association with Mandelstam
(the Jamesian "rubbing off'!), in particular from her being the addressee-heroine of his famous lyric. Let us then see what treatment Mandelstam's "Solominka" receives in Limonov's text.
mentioned several times, it is pointedly marginalized and just plain mangled. The "professoress" misquotes the line "Lenore, Solominka, Ligeiia, Seraphita," omitting the first of Poe's heroines, replacing the second with the classical Circe (Tsirtseia), and Russianizing the Balzacian name into Serafima.
To be sure, the professorsha's function is to represent, and thereby subvert, the bookworm view of art, similar to that of Babel's Kasantsev.
She worships Mandelstam, reveres Salome,
and "in her house [Limonov) has counted up to twenty-three photographs of the fashionable poet Brodsky" (!). The irony of her genuflection before literature is strengthened by the counterpoint with her spectacular love life in the past: the scenes in what
can be described as the 'Mandelstam museum' are interspersed with brief insets of a younger Alla's risky rushings back and forth between her black husband and black lover in the heart of Black Africa.
neither is Salome too careful with the sacred text and the entire Mandelstam myth. She does not bother to remember either the famous poem about herself or the name of the poet's widow -- Nadezhda Mandelstam, a major literary figure in her own right.37 At the same time, the professoress, who supplies the correct name of the widow, keeps addressing Salome by a stupidly wrong patronymic.'38
And yet the poem that is so ostentatiously shoved aside comes to haunt the story subtextually. In effect, three quarters of a century
later Limonov -- whether intentionally or not -- has rewritten Mandelstam, in the sense of both altering the hypogram and adhering to it. The paradigm comprises the following common elements:
overall strategy of turning a virtual nonevent (failure to fall asleep, casual visit) into an epiphanic encounter with Death with the help of world-class intertexts;
-the image of Salome as a lonely
woman buried alive in her apartment, and thus similar to the archetypal heroines who straddle the boundaries between the male and the female, the living and the dead;
-the motif of sepulchral solidity
combined with underwater coldness; compare Salome's diving suit in the story with the mirror's deadly pond (omut), the icy and heavy Neva, flowing in the
bedroom, and above all, the sarcophagus (obviously Ligeia's, as is the image of air movement in the room) in the poem;
-the vampiric motif of blood drinking, conspicuous already in the poem (where
it is paronomastically associated with Salomeia Solominka, "Salome, The Little Sipping Straw"): "You have drunk up all death"; "blue blood is flowing from
the granite"; "In my blood lives a December Ligeia." 39
most relevant subtext of Limonov's story -- Mandelstam's "Solominka" -- is spurned only as part of the antiliterary, antiquotational game, and thus hidden in plain view. The story engages Mandelstam, pretends to ignore him, but actually follows him and other
predecessors, in accordance with the Jamesian/Bloomian principle of replicating the prototypical Master. Where Mandelstam was busy learning the "blessed words," Limonov strove to shake loose of them and grasp life's "corporeal" object lesson. Where Mandelstam,
like James, tried to put a distance between himself and the woman by enshrining her in a multilayered poetic sarcophagus, Limonov insisted on taking her out of all literary shells and facing her in the flesh. Yet all this could not but result in a new Tombstone
Text, with which the belle, who in her youth had inspired the poet, having aged, inspired the prosaist.
* * *
The rhetorical tightropes walked by Limonov in the poem and in the story are essentially the same. Proclaiming loudly his own, shockingly self-promoting, body-centered, anticultural values ('narcissist,' survivalist'), he ends up joining
the dreaded/coveted tradition that he has tried to beat and whose presence, whether tacit or negated, actually pervades his texts. Wrestling with such a formidable foe, one is bound to lose -- but may be marked in the process and thus leave one's own mark
on the medium.40 In this fundamental sense, Limonov and Brodskv, so different on most counts, are alike.
Note his critical attack on Brodsky (1984b).
2. On his sensational It's
Me, Eddie (1983 ), translated into many languages, see Kustarev 1983, Shukman 1983, Smirnov 1983, Carden 1984, Matich 1986a, variously focusing on the themes of emigration, alienation, megalomania,
narcissism, androgyny, and "moral immoralism."
3. In brief: the gods promise Narcissus a long life, at the price
of his not knowing himself; he rejects all lovers, among them Echo, who admires him and repeats his words; the gods punish him with an impossible love for his own reflection in a spring, which drives him to suicide.
4. On Limonov's narcissist structures, see Smirnov 1983; see also Genette 1966, Zholkovsky 1987a; on the expressive potential of thematic elements, see Zholkovsky 1984a:
5. For instance, a rare form of iambic tetrameter (stressing the second and fourth ictuses) recurs three
times with similar-masculine-clausulas (in lines 7, 10, 14).
6. The first line of stanza 4 continues, loosely, the
feminine rhyming in OZH, to which then the triple masculine rhyme in oi is linked by its vowel,
so that we are partly back to assonant and later on (1. 20) even unrhymed clausulas.
7. From a ready-made lexeme (chut'-chut') to a looser emphatic doubling (redko-redko) to
a free repetition of a main verb (tianus' tianus'); note also "half hour," connoting bisection.
8. A classic instance of the opposition 'I/Other' in Russian literature is Oblomov's indignation at being equated with "Other(s)." In another poem, Limonov's poetic persona is pictured
lying on a sofa, Oblomov-style ("Kto lezhit tam na divane?"; 1979: 88-89). On ego-splitting in poetry see Rancour-Laferriere 1978a: 80-82, 102-4; 1978b: 65-75.
Remarkably, the eyeing of "a birthmark, a special hereditary, aristocratic birthmark ... by which after decades mothers recognize their kidnapped children" is quite prominent in Olesha's Envy (pt.
1, chap. 3), a text which, due to its general popularity and the special affinities of its antihero (Kavalerov) with Limonov's autobiographical/lyrical persona, could hardly have escaped Limonov's notice.
10. To incorporate the mirrors, mere actant growth is supplemented with two gerund constructions and two quasi-hypotactic adversative conjunctions of sentences (contrasting
with the parataxis of 11. 5-13).
11. Limonov often pushes such splits to ungrammatical extremes. Cf. "pridet li
kto, a ia -- lezhit" (whoever should stop by, I is lying [in bed]; 1979: 57).
12. Cf. the speaker's detachment
from his own body/ feelings conveyed by the play with the third person in Pushkin's "I Loved You" (see Chapter 5 and Zholkovsky 1984a: 72-75,188-89) and Khlebnikov's systematic disruption of the traditional single-person perspective (Uspenskii 1973; cf. Zholkovsky
1986f); cf. also the following limerick: "A young man from the banks of the Po / Found his cock had elongated so, / That when he'd pee / It was not he / But only his neighbors who'd know" (Legman 1969: 45).
13. See Chapter 5, second section; cf. esp. the ending of Pushkin's "I Loved You" ("As God grant to you to be loved by another"), where God is invoked as the mediator,
but grammatically it is "I" who lords it over "you," "another," and "God" (the last largely a proverbial fiction). Incidentally, Pushkin's closure is also intertextually relevant to Limonov's lines 17-18 as similar vocabulary and grammar are used to undermine
mixing with "others" (see Zholkovsky 1984a: 267).
14. "I" is first semiactive in letting the other go; then both
active and passive vis-a-vis himself; and finally, rather passive vis-a-vis the other and the grammatically active "it."
E.g., in Derzhavin's "Felitsa" (1782), "Evgeniiu. Zhizn' Zvanskaia" (1807), and Pushkin's "Osen'" (1833), which Limonov's poem resembles in the manipulation of tenses around the climactic perfective future verb (Limonov's uvizhu, Pushkin's potekut). On similar effects in Pasternak, see Zholkovsky 1992a.
16. Izlazhu [pf] -- pytaius' [impf] -- zaglianut' [pf] -- tianus'
tianus' [impf] -- pomozhet [pf] -- vzaimodeistvuia [impf] -- uvizhu [pf].
17. For Limonov's interest in Derzhavin, see Limonov 1977a; on his links to the eighteenth century, see Titunik 1984; on bad writing, Chapters 1, 2.
18. See, resp.: (1) "Pamiatnik" (1795) and "Moi istukan" (1794); (2) "Privratniku" (1808); (3) "Lirnik" (1805), "Ekho" (1811),
and its early foreshadowing, "Kliuch" (1779), complete with the poet, the echo, and the spring.
19. "0 moi Evgenii!
kol' Nartsissom / Toboi is chtus', skaloi mne bud';/ I kak pokroius' kiparisom, / O mne tverdit' ne pozabud'. / ... / Nartsiss zhil nimfy otvechan'em-/ Chrez muz zhivut poety vvek / . . . / Potomstvo vozzvuchit s toboi." Derzhavin culled this accusatory simile
from a letter by his friend Evgenii Bolkhovitinov (Derzhavin 1958: 516-17) and converted it to positive use.
In Russian, the latter construction (sebia soboiu, sam soboi, etc.)
comprises only the self-reflexive forms, which facilitates the conversion from '[your]self' to '[my]self' and, therefore, from 'God' to 'Ego.'
Note, for instance, (1) rhetorical questions and exclamations ("Chto zhizn' nichtozhnaia?"; "Pochto zh semu bolvanu [i. e. the poet's bust] / Na svete mesto zanimat'?"; "Redka na svete dobrodetel' / I redok blag priamykh sodetel'. / On redok! ..."); (2) gerund
phrases ("A ia, prospavshi do poludni, / . . . /To, vozmechtav, chto ia sultan, / .. . / To vdrug, prel'shchaiasia nariadom ..."); (3) complex adjective-infinitive constructions ("I byt' sebia on vechnym chaet"; "No byt' bogatym kupno sviatu /Tak trudno, kak
..." [note the concatenation of the two forms that are mixed up in Limonov's zaniatomu]); and (4) habitual perfectives ("Byvalo, milye nauki / ... / Pozavtrakat'
ko mne pridut").
22. The choice of Mandelstam may have to do with his status as arguably the greatest Russian poet
of this century; the only 'victim writer' who dared epigrammatize Stalin; an idol of the liberal intelligentsia; and, last but not least, Brodsky's mentor and namesake.
Limonov once said, in response to my query about what had influenced his poem "A Bandit's Wife" (1986: 6-7): "The bandit's wife did." In a telling contrast, Brodsky promotes the Language rather than the Beloved as the Poet's Muse (see Chapter 5, last section).
24. Cf. the protagonist's obsession with superannuated women in Sasha Sokolov's Palisandriia (1985) and the historical marriage of Vasilii Rozanov (one of Limonov's few acknowledged mentors) to Apollinariia Suslova, Dostoevsky's real-life femme fatale.
25. The text of the poem is cited in the Appendix; see Mandelstam 196769, 1: 59-60, 430-31; 1990, 1: 110-11, 475-76; Semmler-Vakareliyska
1985; the association with 'straw' is paronymic (Salomeia = Solominka).
The target of this parody could well have been My Childhood (1913) by Babel's mentor-guardian Maxim Gorky; on the "underdog" spin Gorky's autobiographical
trilogy gives to his not-so-victimized childhood, see Wachtel 1990:131-52.
27. This places the actual interview
somewhere in 1980. Professor John Bowlt remembers visiting Mrs. Andronikova-Halpern in London in 1976. In discussing Vasilii Shukhaev's illustrations for the 1920 French edition of "La Dame de Pique" (Paris: Pleiade), she "paused, as if arrested by some vivid,
yet distant thought, . . . not because she was recalling her friendship with Shukhaev, but rather as if, in some perverse manner, she was identifying herself with Shukhaev's image of the cold, aloof, and still powerful countess" (Bowlt's memo to me, March
28. In this, Limonov is not all that different from the historical -- rather than his own, stylized
-- Mandelstam, who saw genuine literature as "created without permission" and downright criminal, "stolen air" (1990, 2: 92), and admired the poet-criminal Francois Villon.
Incidentally, the androgynous protagonist of Balzac's Seraphita (invoked in Mandelstam's "Solominka") is both young and "more than a hundred [years old]"
(Balzac 1986: 36) and at home wears "his usual garment, which was as much like a woman's dressing gown as a man's overcoat" (32).
Underwater imagery was actively explored by the decadents-symbolists ca. 1900 (i.e., during Salome's formative years), in particular, in Balmont's 1894 sonnet "Underwater Plants" and Valerii Briusov's 1904 essay where he portrayed the decadent poets "walking
under water in a diving bell, preserving a telephone link only with those . . . at the surface, where the sun shines" (in Vesy, 1904, no. 1: 50; quoted
in Tsivian n.d.).
31. 'Revolution' is feminine in Russian, as are 'life,' 'love,' and 'death.'
32. Cf. a similar shift in the narrator's point of view in the end of "Gentle Breathing"; see Chapter 4.
33. The Salome-Saint John the Baptist myth originated in the Gospels (Matthew 14: 1-13; Mark 6: 14-29; for a recent analysis, see Girard 1984), had a long history in
European painting, was recycled in Heinrich Heine's Atta Troll, and became the rage in the "decadent" era (Kuryluk 1987: 189-258; Meltzer 1984), into which
Mandelstam's and Limonov's heroine was born. The Salome paradigm includes (1) the dance at a public gathering, leading to the decapitation of the prophet; (2) the prophet's blood-dripping severed head, cognate with that of Orpheus; (3) the kissing of bloody
lips; decapitation as castration; (4) a castrating female, either a virgin (veiled, lunar, icelike) or a goddess of the underworld (Hecate, Venus); (5) a "doubles" relationship between precursor and follower (John and Jesus); and (6) the crushing of Salome
(with the shields of Herod's soldiers). Mandelstam may have deliberately used some of these motifs (e.g., in Neva's icy invasion of the room and the ceiling's descending on Solominka's eyelids). Limonov's story, in its turn, features the following: a Salome;
blood sucking; victimized, symbolically castrated poets; dancing; kissing the bloody lips of the Russian Revolution; a 'doubles' relation with Mandelstam; and, of course, a fateful meeting with an underworld figure. Whether this powerful interplay with the
Salome topos is intentional is of secondary importance.
34. James may have been familiar with "The Queen of Spades"
through Ivan Turgenev or even read it in an early English translation (by Antonio Melidori, in the series Chamber's Papers for the People, Edinburgh, vol.
38 [1850; 31 pp.]) or in Prosper Merimee's French translation (1849). James liked Merimee's work, in particular "La Venus d'llle," which he tried translating (Gale 1989: 676-79, 430-32). As early as 1874, he had read and praised Merimee's translation of Pushkin's
"The Shot" (in a Merimee collection he reviewed; see James 1957: 172). Tchaikovsky's opera (1890) postdates "The Aspern Papers." Limonov's familiarity with "The Aspern Papers" is another moot point. A possible mediating channel could have been Aura, by Carlos
Fuentes (1962), who was familiar with both the Pushkin and James texts (as acknowledged in a conversation kindly reported to me by Gary Saul Morson).
The story fictionalizes several sets of facts. One of Lord Byron's inamoratas, Miss Jane (Clare) Clairmont (1798-1879), who had Byron's and Shelley's letters, lived in Florence. James learned about her only after her death but did not regret having "missed"
her. But he knew somebody who did approach her and also knew a niece of Countess Teresa Guiccioli, who claimed to have burned one of his shocking letters. James moved the action to Venice, the scene of another famous affair, that of George Sand and Alfred
Musset. Sand interested James very much as the "'supersensuous grandmother' of the affair" (Holland 1964: 133), a shrewd businesswoman, and a writer who divulged privatissima of
her affairs in her fiction (Gale 1989: 110-11, 129-30, 582-86; Holland 1964:130-38).
36. For instance, I have been
informed that unlike "Alla," "Diana" was not present at the actual meeting.
37. On Nadezhda as an authority on
Mandelstam and for that matter Pasternak, see Chapter 8.
38. Instead of Nikolaevna, she calls her Iraklievna, as
if Salome were the daughter of the popular Soviet critic and TV personality Iraklii Andronikov. Cf. the mongrelization of Pushkin by Mayakovsky and Brodsky, discussed in Chapter 5.
39. Cf. also such common details as the reference to "bed(room)" in the very beginning of both texts and the "ceiling" later on (in the poem, the ceiling is to "descend upon the heroine's sensitive
eyelids"); both ceilings may go back to Poe ("The ceiling, of gloomy-looking oak, was excessively lofty"; 1950 : 31) and/or to the 'crushing' of the heroine with shields in the finale of Oscar Wilde's Salome.
40. Remarkably, Balzac considered his Seraphita a
"Jacobean effort" (1986: 7) in the sense of wrestling with the ghosts of his literary ancestors, notably that of Swedenborg, so insistently "visited" by the story. Another link to the'Jacob' topos is
the seraphic/angelic nature of Balzac's title protagonist.