Metamorphosis in Russian Modernism

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Publication date: 
192 pages

Modern Russia has been shaped by Peter the Great's sudden attempt to transform it into a European country. Since shapeshifting and identity are so closely linked in Russian history, it is hardly surprising that metamorphosis is a prevalent - albeit hitherto neglected - theme in Russian literature. Metamorphoses in Russian Modernism provides the first detailed account of metamorphosis as a Russian theme, structuring principle, and source of artistic identity.

Barta examines how the magical transformations depicted in the ancient classics and in the oral epic heritage resonate in Russian literature and film at the fin de siècle and the early decades of the twentieth century - a period of dynamic change in Russian culture. Two hundred years after Peter's forceful westernization and facing its second crucial transformation in 1917, Russia witnessed the decay of classic realism and positivism and the rise of irrational philosophies, psychoanalysis, artistic experimentation, Marxism, as well as the birth of the new genre of film. This in-depth volume examines metamorphosis in the works of prominent representatives of the divided Russian intelligentsia: the Symbolists; the most famous émigré writer, Nabokov; Olesha, the 'fellow traveller' attempting to find his place in the Soviet state; the enthusiastic poet of the Bolshevik movement, Maiakovskii; and finally, Russia's greatest film director, Sergei Eisenstein.

The volume directs attention to the fact that Russia itself is a metamorph. The shapeshifter always retains features of previous identities and is sometimes capable of returning into previous forms; whether today's Russia will want to, or be able to do so, remains to be seen. It is futile to attempt to try to understand this civilisation - let alone predict its future - without considering the intellectual, social and emotional reasons why it is not at rest with itself. It is to this end that this volume hopes to make a contribution.

Introduction: Russian literature and the metamorphic theme 

Part 1: Echo and Narcissus in Russian symbolism

Part 2: The transformation myth in Russian modernism 

Part 3: Pythagoras and the butterfly: Nabokov's Ovidian metamorphosis 

Part 4: Ovidian intertexts in Olesha's 'The Cherry Stone' 

Part 5: Sansculotte improvisors and clouds in trousers: poetic metamorphosis in Pushkin and Maiakovskii 

Part 6: Savage thinking: metamorphosis in the cinema of S.M. Eisenstein

"Readers will find much of interest in all of the articles, which detail the relevance of the Classical tradition as will as its modern variants... Well-grounded theoretically, yet still closely concerned with the original texts, the essays in this volume represent the best this kind of thematic study has to offer. The topic is timely, broad, and interdisciplinary... Well edited and nicely produced by the Central European University Press, Metamorphoses in Russian Modernism belongs in research libraries everywhere."
"Peter Barta's book gives us an in-depth insight into the abiding vitality of the Greek and Latin classic heritage in twentieth-century Russian culture and, by concentrating on a well-chosen selection of examples of the poetic exploitation of metamorphosis as subject, device and philosophical tenet, achives a sharpness of focus which might have been missing from a more general symposium on Greco-Roman mythical subtext."
"... a stimulating and informative volume, recommended to anyone with an interest in Russian modernism."