Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 3.4 (2002) 611-630
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Literature and Revolution:
The Case of Aleksandr Blok*
Galina S. Rylkova
One could be exhausted and die like a dog, without a ripple. We keep talking about history, but history is a petty and illusory wave, which has as little authenticity as the current recognition of Blok by everyone.
- Nikolai Nikolaevich Punin, 28 January 1922 1
In 1980, Soviet people celebrated the centennial of Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Blok. The jubilee turned into a large forum at which literary scholars and writers were invited to pass their comments as to the influence of Blok on Russian culture in general and on their personal development in particular. In response to the questionnaire put together by Voprosy literatury, the poet and literary critic Stanislav Iur'evich Kuniaev compared Blok to a sapper whose job had been to build bridges between different epochs:
After the majority of the old, pre-revolutionary intelligentsia had betrayed Russia and the majority of the new intelligentsia was doing its utmost to dissociate themselves from the traditions of the Russian classical arts, it suddenly transpired that it was impossible for them to do so because Blok, as the workman and engineer [kak chernorabochii, kak [End Page 611] saper]- not "the tragic tenor" - of the epoch, had already built bridges between the two historical periods.
In the 1920s and 1930s, when the vulgarizers were distorting our great history and vandals were destroying the invaluable monuments of culture and architecture, attempts were made to supplement this destruction by annihilating Pushkin, Nekrasov, Dostoevskii, and Tiutchev. However, Blok had already constructed barricades that blocked this road to destruction. 2
Although nobody expressed this point of view quite as forcefully as Kuniaev, 3 he was not alone in his celebration of Blok as the perfect cultural intermediary. The bridge imagery featured prominently both in scholarly works and private estimations and recollections. Many respondents spoke of Blok as the "golden bridge" or the "everlasting rainbow arching over Russia's past, present, and future." 4 However, responses to the second question of how an individual would estimate Blok's influence on his or her writing career proved difficult to formulate. Most poets answered vaguely that it was Blok's heroic life rather than his poetic technique that they were really striving to emulate, or insisted that the specifics of Blokian poetry were resistant to imitation. Likewise, Mstislav Borisovich Koz'min (the editor-in-chief of Voprosy literatury), in his article "Velikii poet Rossii," appreciatively concluded that "with the passing of time the importance of Blok in the development of Soviet poetry has become more and more pronounced," but he refrained from buttressing his statement with any concrete examples. 5 [End Page 612]
The purpose of this article is, on the one hand, to problematize Blok's status within the Soviet aesthetic hierarchy. Blok assumed the status of a loner and yet, at the same time, an almighty mediator who in the eyes of many beholders (such as Kuniaev) single-handedly changed the course of literary evolution as well as the outcome of political developments, almost at whim. On the other hand, it seeks to account for the (at times) astounding interest in Blok on the part of numerous critics and authorities. This seemingly inexplicable level of interest used to puzzle even such insightful interpreters as the famous art historian and critic Nikolai Nikolaevich Punin (1888-1953). Punin's private notes betray his lifelong preoccupation with the making of cultural icons and, more specifically, the definition of artistic genius. In 1923 he recorded in his diary: "No, I do not agree with the existing appraisal of Blok.... The understanding of the revolution in 'The Twelve,' for instance, is so untrue and superficial. It is also an incomprehensible distortion of his contemporaries. I am not saying that he was not a great man, but his role was not the one they are trying to foist on him now - he is the end, the past, and the despair." 6 Like Punin's, my fascination...