restricted access Remizov's Fictions: 1900-1921 (review)
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Reviewed by
Greta N. Slobin. Remizov's Fictions: 1900-1921. Dekalb: Northern Illinois UP, 1991. 203 pp. $30.00.

The rediscovery of Aleksei Remizov (1871-1957) in Russia and in the West is linked, in general, to the undying interest in the Silver Age of Russian literature and, in particular, to the recent appearance of Remizov's hitherto unpublished fiction and correspondence. Slobin is a major participant in this rediscovery. In fact her latest study may be considered a major event in Remizov scholarship. Through this study she provides much needed insights into the literary practices of one of Russia's great modernists, who was, unfortunately, dismissed by many of his contemporaries, and ignored by Soviet Russian critics for decades after his emigration in 1921.

While it is obvious that Slobin champions Remizov's experimental writing, it should also be obvious that such championship is based upon a careful distillation of the philosophical, aesthetic, and existential features of his writing in the context of turn-of-the-century Russia, a time when even the French cultural establishment recognized another center of gravity for the avant-garde.

Slobin begins with an introduction to Remizov's life and times, not losing sight of what the Symbolists called "a mythology of the self," a tenant to which Remizov adhered, and according to which the details of his persona were creatively mediated. She then explores the Modernist consciousness of the period, suggesting sources as well as models for Remizov's experiments, especially in his practice of incorporating more than one type of discourse into a narrative. Finally she turns to Remizov's major works, putting forward a detailed analysis of the composition, structure, and reception of, for example, Prud (The Pond), Chasy (The Clock), Povest' o Ivane Semenovich Stratilatove: Neuemnyi buben (The Tale of Ivan Semenovich Stratilatov: The Irrepressible Tambourine), Krestovye sestry (Sisters of the Cross), Pyatava yazva (The Fifth Pestilence), Plachuznaya kanava (The Weeping Ditch), and Vzvikhrennaya Rus' (Whirlwind Russia).

While Slobin does not include a chapter on the atmosphere of the Silver Age, she does comment on Remizov's social and literary connections with Andrey Bely, Alexander Blok, Valery Bryusov, Zinaida Hippius, Dimitry Merezhkovsky, Vasily Rozanov, Fedor Sologub, and Maximilian Voloshin. Through these connections she not only further acquaints the reader with Remizov, but also with the issues and projects of the "Decadent" authors. Namely these projects help to frame Remizov's projects, if not put his preoccupation with the misery of human existence into Symbolist perspective.

Above all, Slobin makes a strong case for the centrality of Remizov's syncretism of texts, which she considers the hallmark of Modernism. She argues, moreover, that this syncretism is a subversive act, an attempt to underscore bipolar tensions, such as the official and the unofficial, or the sacred and the profane. In The Pond, one of Remizov's early works, she identifies the magnitude of this syncretism, the interplay of musical composition, lyricism, expressionism, poetry, orality, and interpolated nonliterary texts. In effect, Slobin looks through [End Page 971] Bakhtinian eyes at the "novelization," for example, of ethnographic material, at the "dialogization" of autobiography, historical events, literature, and folklore.

What other critics call "ornamental prose," Slobin calls "dialogic discourse," a discourse that Remizov constructs from antistructural gestures, existential rebellion, shamanism, spirituality, ritual and record. She, in fact, updates the image of Remizov, insisting not on the brilliance of his style, but on the significance of his "cultural polyglossia." With such updating, she bids for a more substantial place for Remizov's legacy, the foundation of which she has just put into place.

Walter F. Kolonosky
Kansas State University