We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Beyond the Flesh

Alexander Blok, Zinaida Gippius, and the Symbolist Sublimation of Sex

Jenifer Presto

Publication Year: 2008

Though the Russian Symbolist movement was dominated by a concern with transcending sex, many of the writers associated with the movement exhibited an intense preoccupation with matters of the flesh. Drawing on poetry, plays, short stories, essays, memoirs, and letters, as well as feminist and psychoanalytic theory, Beyond the Flesh documents the often unexpected form that this obsession with gender and the body took in the life and art of two of the most important Russian Symbolists.
            Jenifer Presto argues that the difficulties encountered in reading Alexander Blok and Zinaida Gippius within either a feminist or a traditional, binary gendered framework derive not only from the peculiarities of their creative personalities but also from the specific Russian cultural context. Although these two poets engaged in gendered practices that, at times, appeared to be highly idiosyncratic and even incited gossip among their contemporaries, they were not operating in a vacuum. Instead, they were responding to philosophical concepts that were central to Russian Symbolism and that would continue to shape modernism in Russia.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Introductory quote

pdf iconDownload PDF (149.4 KB)
pp. i-viii


pdf iconDownload PDF (65.8 KB)
pp. ix-x


pdf iconDownload PDF (41.7 KB)
pp. xi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (85.7 KB)
pp. xiii-xv

This book on gender and Russian symbolism began as a doctoral dissertation on Zinaida Gippius, written under the direction of James Bailey and Clare Cavanagh at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. I am extremely grateful to my dissertation co- chairs, as well as to David Bethea, Judith Kornblatt, Gary Rosenshield, and Yuri Shcheglov, for the advice...

A Note on Transliteration and Abbreviations

pdf iconDownload PDF (97.8 KB)
pp. xvii-xviii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (274.3 KB)
pp. 3-17

Until recently, scholars have been resistant to acknowledge the importance of the role of gender and the body in Russian modernism.1 To some extent, this reluctance to make the body part of the corpus of Slavic criticism can be attributed to the fact that many of the early Russian modernists, influenced by the antiprocreative theories of the...

I. Poetry against Progeny: Blok and the Problem of Poetic Reproduction

read more

1. Unbearable Burdens: Blok and the Modernist Resistance to Progeny

pdf iconDownload PDF (484.6 KB)
pp. 21-40

Among the many definitions of modernism is Edward W. Said’s idea of it as an “aesthetic and ideological phenomenon” that radically questioned traditional notions of generational and historical continuity. “Modernism,” Said claims, “was a response to the crisis of what could be called filiation—a linear, biologically grounded process, that which...

read more

2. Recurring Nightmares: Blok, Freud, and the Specter of Die Ahnfrau

pdf iconDownload PDF (780.1 KB)
pp. 41-69

Although Alexander Blok adopted a filicidal model of poetic creation rather early on in his poetic career, he demonstrated a certain amount of resistance to openly expressing infanticidal themes in his artistic works. In the period immediately following his poetic debut, he refrained from publicly articulating this strife- ridden vision of history and of poetic creativity...

read more

3. Reproductive Fantasies: Blok and the Creation of The Italian Verses

pdf iconDownload PDF (741.5 KB)
pp. 70-105

Although his essay on Gogol was overflowing with reproductive metaphors, Alexander Blok did not find the period immediately following the completion of this essay to be particularly productive. Not only did he fail to produce any new poems about Russia for his important Motherland (Rodina) cycle (1907–16) in the six- month period following the completion of the Gogol essay...

read more

4. A Time of Troubles: Blok and the Disruption of Poetic Succession

pdf iconDownload PDF (750.4 KB)
pp. 106-132

Blok’s Italian cycle would appear to represent his most direct attempt to work out the tensions between poetic production and human reproduction. Nevertheless, he continued to be preoccupied by family problems and to address them in his works—although now in a somewhat different way. In spite of the fact that he persisted in asserting that he was better...

II. Writing against the Body: Gippius and the Problem of Lyric Embodiment

read more

5. Style “Femme”: Gippius and the Resistance to Feminine Writing

pdf iconDownload PDF (608.0 KB)
pp. 135-159

Zinaida Gippius certainly shared with her younger contemporary, Alexander Blok, a resistance to traditional marriage and procreation.1 In her correspondence with the longtime object of her affections and member of the Merezhkovsky ménage, Dmitry Filosofov, she claimed that “the ancestral instinct [was] not in [her]” (rodovogo chuvstva vo mne...

read more

6. The Dandy’s Gaze: Gippius and Disdainful Desire for the Feminine

pdf iconDownload PDF (693.9 KB)
pp. 160-189

Zinaida Gippius was by no means the only Russian modernist to call attention to the performative nature of femininity. Nadezhda Teffi, the younger sister of the intensely popular turn- of- the- century poet Mirra Lokhvitskaia, made the fashionable woman of literary Bohemia the subject of her parodic sketch “The Demonic Woman.” Early...

read more

7. Eternal Feminine Problems: Gippius, Blok, and the Incarnation of the Ideal

pdf iconDownload PDF (651.9 KB)
pp. 190-216

Despite the fact that Zinaida Gippius was ambivalent about her own femininity, she devoted a fair number of works to a consideration of the feminine ideal and thus can be profitably discussed within the context of the second- generation Russian symbolists and their cult of the eternal feminine.1 Nearly a decade before Alexander Blok made his debut as...

read more

8. Body Trouble: Gippius and the Staging of an Anatomy of Criticism

pdf iconDownload PDF (729.8 KB)
pp. 217-239

The surprise that Virginia Woolf’s fictional biographer experiences in reading the body of the poet in Orlando: A Biography is in many ways similar to that experienced by Zinaida Gippius’s critics and contemporaries. Though Gippius never appeared as a new female Adam the way that Orlando does halfway through Woolf’s fictional biography, she did...

read more

Afterword-The Return of the Repressed: Illegitimate Babies and an Unwieldy Body

pdf iconDownload PDF (367.9 KB)
pp. 241-250

Alexander Blok and Zinaida Gippius suffered very different fates as individuals and as writers: Blok died in Petrograd in August 1921 and was consecrated by Soviet and


pdf iconDownload PDF (1.2 MB)
pp. 251-315


pdf iconDownload PDF (554.7 KB)
pp. 317-334

E-ISBN-13: 9780299229535
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299229504

Publication Year: 2008