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The Stony Dance

Unity and Gesture in Andrey Bely's Petersburg

Langen, Timothy

Publication Year: 2005

Widely considered the greatest Russian modernist novel, Andrei Bely's Petersburg has until now eluded the critical attention that a book of its caliber merits. In The Stony Dance, Timothy Langen offers readers a study of Bely's masterpiece unparalleled in its comprehensiveness, clarity, and inclusion of detail a critical study that is at the same time a meditation on the nature of literary art.

Published by: Northwestern University Press

Series: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory

front matter

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

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,...

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pp. xi-xiv

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...

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pp. 3-6

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,...

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Chapter One

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pp. 7-23

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,...

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Chapter Two

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pp. 24-36

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...

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Chapter Three

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pp. 37-52

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...

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Chapter Four

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pp. 53-66

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...

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pp. 67-70

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...

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Chapter Five

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pp. 71-79

“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...

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Chapter Six

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pp. 80-95

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...

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Chapter Seven

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pp. 96-110

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...

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pp. 111-114

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...

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Chapter Eight

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pp. 115-127

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...

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Chapter Nine

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pp. 128-147

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...

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Chapter Ten

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pp. 148-160

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...


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pp. 161-174


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pp. 175-183


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pp. 185-192

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About the Author

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pp. 193

Timothy Langen is an assistant professor in the Department of German and Russian Studies at the University of Missouri....

E-ISBN-13: 9780810165878
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810122246

Page Count: 274
Publication Year: 2005

Edition: 1
Series Title: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory