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Mandelstam, Blok, and the Boundaries of Mythopoetic Symbolism

Stuart Goldberg

Publication Year: 2011

“Mandelstam had no teacher,” marveled Anna Akhmatova, reflecting on his early maturity and singularity. But Mandelstam himself spoke of the need and even duty to study a poet’s literary roots. So how did this consummately complex, compelling, multi-resonant poet navigate and exploit the burden of the Russian Symbolist movement from which he emerged? How did this process change and augment his poetry? Through a series of illuminating readings, Stuart Goldberg explores the ongoing role that the poetry of Russian Symbolism played in Osip Mandelstam’s creative life, laying bare the poet’s productive play with distance and immediacy in his assimilation of the Symbolist heritage. At the same time, Mandelstam, Blok, and the Boundaries of Mythopoetic Symbolism presents the first coherent narrative of the poet’s fraught relationship with Alexander Blok, the most powerful poetic voice among the Symbolists. This dialogue, which was largely one-sided, extended beyond poetic intertext into the realms of poetics, charisma, and personality. Goldberg’s study pushes theoretical boundaries, exploring the juncture between pragmatics and intertext, adapting and challenging Bloom’s anxiety of influence theory, and, ultimately, tracing a shift in the nature of sincerity and authenticity that divided poetic generations.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

...This book has been a long time in coming, and there are many who have helped me along the way. First among them is David Bethea, my dissertation advisor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, who has been stalwart supporter, wise mentor, critic, and friend, and to whom I turned for advice at every stage of this project...

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Note on Transliteration

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pp. xiii-xiv

...Russian quotations and bibliographic citations, as well as the names transliterated according to the simplified U.S. Library of Congress system. Names of Russian cultural icons, as well as those of Russian scholars broadly publishing or well recognized in the West, are given in the text in commonly used forms (e.g., Mandelstam, Gogol, ...

Part I

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1. Introduction

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pp. 3-20

...Osip Mandelstam was a poet renowned for the breadth of his culture and the seeming ease with which he navigated this self-designated “blessed inheritance, / The wandering dreams of other bards.” But he was also, through no choice or fault of his own, a younger contemporary of Russian Symbolism. Transplanted as a small child from Warsaw to St. Petersburg, one of two centers of Russian Symbolism ...

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2. Prescient Evasions of Bloom

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pp. 21-32

...What happens when, rather than testing the applicability of Harold Bloom’s theories of poetic influence to Mandelstam’s poetry, one instead uses the works of Mandelstam and other turn-of-the- twentieth-century Russian poets to test Bloom himself, to put to question the inevitability of what Bloom represents as universal mechanisms of authorship and literary evolution?...

Part II

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3. Departure

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pp. 35-48

...The various editions of Mandelstam’s first book, Stone, represent artistic visions of the poet’s development, not divorced from his actual trajectory, but rather shaped by his creative will in each new period. The 1913 edition of Stone takes the formed poet as a “given.” “A body is given me, what shall I do with it” [Dano mne telo, chto mne delat’ s nim], the collection begins, and later in the same poem, Mandelstam intones...

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4. The Pendulum at the Heart of Stone

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pp. 49-55

...In histories of early-twentieth-century Russian literature, particularly those focusing on the Acmeists, the year 1912 has taken on almost legendary dimensions. On New Year’s Eve 1912, the illustrious Stray Dog cabaret—home away from home for bohemian Petersburg—opened its doors. This was the year that Ivanov and Bely retreated to the isolated bastion of the journal ...

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5. Struggling with the Faith

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pp. 56-82

...In this chapter, I will more closely examine four poems falling on the Symbolist pole of Mandelstam’s pendulum. Not surprisingly, given that “Symbolism is unthinkable without its religious pretensions,” those of Mandelstam’s poems that demonstrate an active overcoming of Symbolism reflect religious thematics in a variety of ways. In these poems, metaphysics is often intimately tied to narrative structures...

Part III

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6. Bedside with the Symbolist Hero

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pp. 85-99

...“[ . . . ] Futurism should have directed its attack [ostrie] not against the paper fortress of Symbolism, but against the living and truly dangerous Blok” (II, 348), wrote Mandelstam. It is tempting, in interpreting this statement, to echo the oft-repeated truism that Mandelstam’s critical prose speaks as much of the poet as of his professed subject. But Mandelstam did direct his poetic rapier, his Acmeist point, against Blok in a series of poems from 1912...

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7. The Superficial and the Profound

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pp. 100-129

...In the first two sections of this chapter, I examine the influence of Symbolism and Blok on Mandelstam after his conversion to Acmeism, but before his intense re-examination of Blok beginning in 1920. On the one hand, Blok provides material for parody; on the other, Blok’s metaphorical poetics and embodiment in poetry of anachronistic modernist time structures are of the first importance in Mandelstam’s renewal...

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8. Blok’s Theater Poems

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pp. 130-146

...Mandelstam’s ongoing interest in theater has been well noted. Clearly, not in every instance in which the theater appears in Mandelstam’s poetry is there a link to Blok. However, in the final portion of Tristia, it seems that almost everywhere that the poet openly appeals to Blok, it is in the context of theater and the theatrical. This connection is well founded. The great avant-garde director Vsevolod Meyerhold...

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9. Boundaries Erected, Boundaries Effaced

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pp. 147-164

...Poetry and life in the 15th century are two independent, antagonistic dimensions. It is hard to believe that Maistre Alain Chartier suffered real persecution and life troubles, having stirred up contemporary public opinion through his too severe sentencing of the Cruel Lady, whom he drowned in a well of tears after a spectacular trial honoring every nuance of medieval judicial process...


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10. “To Anaxagoras” in the Velvet Night

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pp. 167-184

...Having banished the Symbolist lyric hero from his poetry during the earliest wave of Acmeism, Mandelstam, as we have seen, found himself in an enviable state of freedom in relation to the Symbolist heritage and to Blok in particular. However, three poems, all raising questions of theater and theatricality, bearing deep traces of Blok’s influence, and borrowing the characteristic meter of “Steps of the Knight Commander,” attest to the intensity of Mandelstam’s re-evaluation of Blok in 1920...

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11. From Theatricality to Tragedy

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pp. 185-196

...Mandelstam’s struggle, not with Blok’s ideas or with Blok as a person, but with Blok as a poet, is most fundamentally an attempt to evaluate him on the axis that stretches from theatricality to tragedy. Put another way, Mandelstam’s poems seem, on one level, to problematize and wrestle with the ontological status of the tragic drama represented in Blok’s poetry...

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12. Of Badgers and Barstvennost

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pp. 197-210

...In the earlier version, it ends with recognition of his “service to Russian culture and revolution,” the latter understood as “the highest musical tension and catastrophic essence of culture” (II, 275). In its shorter, later version, it ends with Mandelstam’s praise for “Steps of the Knight Commander” as the “acme” [vershina] of Blok’s “historical poetics.” Blok’s achievements in this poem are described in terms that represent the highest praise...

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13. Conclusion: Whence (and Whither) Authenticity?

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pp. 211-216

...As we have seen, the young Mandelstam’s jettisoning of the Symbolist lyric hero, so powerfully realized in Blok’s poetry, was integral to his adaptation of the myth-creation exercised by the younger Symbolists to a post-Symbolist poetics. After this first “triumph” in diffusing the source of Blok’s charismatic power, Mandelstam’s poetry betrayed not only parodic applications of Blok’s imagery...


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pp. 217-220


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pp. 221-276

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 277-290

Index of Works by Mandelstam and Blok

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pp. 291-296

Subject Index

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pp. 297-306

E-ISBN-13: 9780814270578
E-ISBN-10: 0814270573
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814211595
Print-ISBN-10: 0814211593

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2011