The Stony Dance
Unity and Gesture in Andrey Bely's Petersburg
Publication Year: 2005
Published by: Northwestern University Press
My interest in Petersburg began at Harvard University, where Alexandra Barcus and Melissa Stockdale introduced me to the novel and nurtured my embryonic ideas about it. William Mills Todd III has offered guidance at every stage of my scholarly development,...
In January 1912, Andrey Bely submitted the first half of a novel for publication in the Moscow journal Russian Thought. The novel, his second, revolves around a terrorist plot to assassinate a reactionary senator—the assassin being the senator’s own son. It was provisionally titled either The Lacquered Carriage or Evil Shadows, and Bely promised to finish it by April or May of the same year. No need, said the journal’s editor, Pyotr...
A BOOK IS a strange sort of thing: ideas, sounds, feelings, images, motions spun into words, woven into a text, unraveled letter by letter as each reader brings it back to its ephemeral state of conception.1 Our thread begins with a title,...
ON JANUARY 8 ,1934 , Andrey Bely died. Or rather, Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev died, and Andrey Bely wrote no more. Many reminiscences written by friends and acquaintances express a curious discomfort with the notion that Bely or Bugaev had ever existed,...
SEPARATENESS AND INSEPARABILITY—these are the contradictory principles that fuel Bely’s writings, not in turn, but simultaneously. As we have seen, Bely conceived of existence in these terms: there is a higher or alternate realm of being that is in...
PETERSBURG IS STRANGELY DEVOID of creative artists. There are plenty of destroyers: Lippanchenko the schemer, Dudkin the murderous madman, Apollon Apollonovich the skewerer of islands. Apollon Apollonovich also creates “genii,” as we have...
A GLEAMING, GOLDEN SPIRE against the leaden Petersburg sky. Nikolai Apollonovich, mask pulled absentmindedly off his face, gaping at a mysterious letter while his father looks on. Dudkin in a pose of crucifixion against the wall. An Asiatic face in the wallpaper. The enormous wart on the side of Morkovin’s...
JUST WHAT DID Bely create, when he wrote Petersburg? He did not make the paper, mix the ink, or bind the covers. He did not invent the themes of illusion, parricide, and transcendence. He borrowed the genre of the novel and (for the most part) the...
“ONLY ONCE HAD Apollon Apollonovich taken note of the trivia of life,” reports the narrator of Petersburg, “he had made an audit of the household inventory.” The inventory was registered in proper order...
YOU CAN NEVER STEP in the same river twice, said Heraclitus, and he was wrong. If I step today into the Missouri or Nile or Neva, then come back a day or a year later, I can easily step into the same river: not the same molecules of water but the same...
AROUND THE TIME Petersburg was written, scholars were beginning to practice literary criticism as a sort of triage. The formalists’ concept of “literariness,” the New Critics’ focus on the “text [or ‘work’] itself,” and Wimsatt and Beardsley’s essays on...
IF THE NEVA RIVER is a pattern of flow into the Baltic Sea, then what about when the sea swells and the river backs up and floods the city? If the public circulates via the prospects, what about when they surge onto Nevsky Prospect in a general...
ONE OF THE MOST appealing characters in Nabokov’s Pnin is Professor Laurence G. Clements, “whose only popular course was the Philosophy of Gesture.”1 He soon learns that the title character, Timofey Pnin, is “a veritable encyclopedia of Russian shrugs...
BELY’S WRITINGS HAVE a deep kinship with Isadora Duncan’s dance, and both tend to polarize critics. Either the work (dance or text) is seen as totally pointless and incoherent, or, if the assessment is positive, the artist is seen to have invented a totally new kind...
AT THE BEGINNING of the novel, as Dudkin is on his way to deliver the bomb to Nikolai Apollonovich, he stops at a dingy restaurant where a cacophony of voices assaults him with fragments of conversation. It is not an occasion for orderly thought, and yet his...
About the Author
Timothy Langen is an assistant professor in the Department of German and Russian Studies at the University of Missouri....