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Realizing Metaphors

Alexander Pushkin and the Life of the Poet

David M. Bethea

Publication Year: 1998

    Readers often have regarded with curiosity the creative life of the poet. In this passionate and authoritative new study, David Bethea illustrates the relation between the art and life of nineteenth-century poet Alexander Pushkin, the central figure in Russian thought and culture. Bethea shows how Pushkin, on the eve of his two-hundredth birthday, still speaks to our time. He indicates how we as modern readers might "realize"— that is, not only grasp cognitively, but feel, experience—the promethean metaphors central to the poet's intensely "sculpted" life. The Pushkin who emerges from Bethea's portrait is one who, long unknown to English-language readers, closely resembles the original both psychologically and artistically.
    Bethea begins by addressing the influential thinkers Freud, Bloom, Jakobson, and Lotman to show that their premises do not, by themselves, adequately account for Pushkin's psychology of creation or his version of the "life of the poet." He then proposes his own versatile model of reading, and goes on to sketches the tangled connections between Pushkin and his great compatriot, the eighteenth-century poet Gavrila Derzhavin. Pushkin simultaneously advanced toward and retreated from the shadow of his predecessor as he created notions of poet-in-history and inspiration new for his time and absolutely determinative for the tradition thereafter.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii


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pp. viii

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pp. ix-xiv

Psychologically speaking, we all live on the inhabitable parts of a land bordered by crueler climatic zones called the "literal" and the "figurative." Explain the tangle of emotion and thought that is the true "us" by reference...


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pp. xv-xvi


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pp. xvii


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pp. xviii

PART I: Realizing Metaphors, Situating Pushkin

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pp. 1

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Why Pushkin?

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pp. 3-33

There are all the predictable ways our moment has at its disposal to gauge this leap - is it into the "text"? into "life"? into an "info-byte"? - but let us start with the obvious. Poetry as we know it is dying. Literally. Indeed, one doesn't have to be a Nietzsche to imagine a time when it will be dead....

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The Problem of Poetic Biography

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pp. 34-44

"All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." These words belong to one of the greatest of all prose writers and - one has to imagine the connection is not fortuitous - one of the most demanding ethical thinkers in any tradition. Prose, ethics, verisimilitude, a stripping away of illusion, "telling it like it is" - these qualities...

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Freud: The Curse of the Literally Figurative

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pp. 45-66

One of the hallmarks of a "primitive" as opposed to modern (or postmodern) approach to language is that deity speaks through the poet or priest: the metacognitive assumption is that there is a "transcendental signifier" (note our era's paralinguistic phrasing) out there and...

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Bloom: The Critic as Romantic Poet

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pp. 67-88

As I tried to argue in the previous section, there is a literalism (which at the same time can be completely reversible and hence a pure figuralism) about the Freudian mythos that makes it difficult to accept as continuously operative...

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Jakobson: Why the Statue Won't Come to Life, or Will It?

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pp. 89-117

Schools in the "human sciences" are bound virtually by their own phylogenetic principles to undermine and supersede their predecessors rather than disinterestedly, patiently, build on them. A prior school has to be razed and then a new one erected on the same spot, with the "school board" quickly forgetting the attractions and the still usable space of the now nonexistent...

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Lotman: The Code and Its Relation to Literary Biography

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pp. 118-133

Perhaps no two thinkers in the latter decades of the twentieth century have changed more our ability to conceptualize Russian literature, the Russian literary context, and ultimately verbal reality regardless of national origins, than Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) and Yuri Lotman (1922-93). Yet, once outside the orbit of Russian literature specialists...

PART II: Pushkin, Derzhavin, and the Life of the Poet

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pp. 135

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Why Derzhavin?

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pp. 137-153

Perhaps the greatest mystery of Pushkin's life was, as I argued in the preceding section, his death, or at least the manner in which he set the terms of his potential demise. In a matter of months after penning the Stone Island cycle, a series of lyrics that in their internal progression put the poet's life and legacy in perspective with great valedictory power and restrained...

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pp. 154-172

Given the temporal limitations of any biography, there are just three stances or orienting attitudes that a poet can have toward a predecessorP If a poet is beginning a career, he can experience the model as a point from which to commence his "creative path" (tvorcheskii put); here the future is maximally open, to the extent that the younger poet himself...

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pp. 173-188

Pushkin's subsequent "encounters" with Derzhavin, now no longer in the flesh, fall neatly into three temporal clusters, each one important for his development as writer and thinker: 1825-26, 1830-31, and 1836. The first of these clusters, played out against the background of the poet's northern exile and the Decembrist uprising, is associated with Delvig and Kiichelbecker...

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pp. 189-198

The Boldino autumn of 1830 marks the next important encounter with the ghost of Derzhavin. These weeks of unprecedented creative activity were for Pushkin deeply and eerily transitional: preoccupied by, among other things, his "descent to prose," the poet was pursued by anxieties about his coming marriage, fearful for the safety of his fiancee (the epidemic of "cholera...

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pp. 199-234

In the last part of this study, I will compare three works of 1836 in the context of Nashchokin's recollection: "My Hero's Genealogy" (Rodoslovnaia moego geroia, pub. 1836), The Captain's Daughter (Kapitanskaia dochka, wr. 1832-36, pub. 1836); and "Exegi monumentum" (wr. 1836).141 The compositional history of these works and others closely related to them stretches back...


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pp. 237-244

E-ISBN-13: 9780299159733
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299159740

Publication Year: 1998