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Writing as Exorcism

The Personal Codes of Pushkin, Lermontov, and Gogol

Ilya Kutik

Publication Year: 2005

A remarkable literary performance in its own right, this interpretive essay brings a highly original poetic sensibility to bear on the lives and works of three major Russian writers. It is Ilya Kutik's contention that many writers are tormented by secret fears and desires that only writing in particular, the use of certain words and images can exorcise. Making this biographical approach peculiarly his own and susceptible to the nuances of comedy, tragedy, and critical equanimity Kutik reads works of Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, and Nikolai Gogol, three Russian writers who were demonstrably subject to the whims, superstitions, and talismans that Kutik identifies. Exposing the conjunction of literary effort and private act in writings such as "The Queen of Spades," Dead Souls, and A Hero of Our Time, Kutik's work gives us a new way of understanding these masterpieces of Russian literature and their authors, and a new way of reading the mysteries of life and literature as mutually enriching.

Published by: Northwestern University Press

Series: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory


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p. v

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Introduction: Reading the Extra

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pp. vii-xiii

Sometimes it takes a poet to read a poet. In this inspired, idiosyncratic study, Ilya Kutik offers exemplary interpretations of three Russian writers, of the lessons of fatalism, and of the complexities of reading. Interestingly enough, though Kutik focuses on literary texts, examines them almost atomistically, and discovers important but missed intertextual references ...

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Chapter One: Exorcism and “the Extra” in the Text

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pp. 3-13

In 1973, the movie The Exorcist, directed by William Friedkin, became part of the American horror film classic tradition. In the film, a priest, played by Ingmar Bergman’s famous actor Max von Sydow, fights the Devil (who has moved into a young girl’s body) with the magic of special incantations, that is, with the power of words. The Devil fights back, forcing the girl to fly ...

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Chapter Two: Two Superstitious Men

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pp. 14-52

In all of Russian culture one could probably not find anyone as openly superstitious as Alexander Pushkin. The same can be said of many of his characters: heroes and heroines read fortune-telling books, see prophetic dreams, and are full of forebodings. Of course, the issue of superstitions and prophesying, divination, and prejudices was one of the most popular in...

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Chapter Three: Gogol’s Nausea and Nossea

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pp. 53-83

Nikolai Gogol was an oddball, an eccentric, a strange man, in both his life and his literary art. The strangeness of his literary work—its novelty of language, its pre-Surrealist Surrealism—has been discussed and recorded by many critics, who exercised their wit in explicating it. In addition, some insightful investigations, especially those of Vikenty Veresaev in Russia and of Vladimir Nabokov and Simon Karlinsky ...

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Chapter Four: Rome before Rome

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pp. 84-117

Nikolai Gogol’s exorcism is rich in variations. Mostly, as has been shown in the previous chapter, through writing, he was attempting to neutralize his worst fears—in particular the fear of losing his mind—and thus to prevent his “demons” from coming true. In this chapter I will try to unveil one more Gogolian exorcism, one that can be called an exorcism ...

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Conclusion: Musings on Modifications of Exorcism

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pp. 118-130

I have used examples drawn from the work of Pushkin, Lermontov, and Gogol to illustrate that what I call a psychological dominant of an author of this type—a prose writer with a transcendent poetic mentality—can be traced by using two things simultaneously: the author’s texts and the author’s life. In other words, it can be found at the crossroads of intertextuality ...


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pp. 131-139

Works Cited

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pp. 141-144


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pp. 145-152

E-ISBN-13: 9780810165861
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810120518

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2005

Edition: 1
Series Title: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory
Series Editor Byline: Gary Saul Morson See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 607614933
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Writing as Exorcism

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Authorship in literature.
  • Gogolʹ, Nikolaĭ Vasilʹevich, 1809-1852 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Russian literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Pushkin, Aleksandr Sergeevich, -- 1799-1837 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Lermontov, Mikhail I͡Urʹevich, 1814-1841 -- Criticism and interpretation.
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