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  • The Recurrence of Fate: Studies in Theatre History and Culture
  • Julia Listengarten
The Recurrence of Fate: Studies in Theatre History and Culture. By Spencer Golub. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1994; pp. x + 277. $14.95 paper.

Both the antagonistic and “collaborative” relationships between the state and the self-martyred intelligentsia in twentieth-century Russia are special emphases of Spencer Golub’s The Recurrence of Fate: Studies in Theatre History and Culture. “The state and the intelligentsia,” Golub asserts, “have congealed the theme of imminent revolutionary change into the iconography of unchanging appearance and inevitable return” (9). Underlining the main theme of the book—“Russian theatrical memory in the period circa 1900–1980” (1)—Golub argues that “by creating rather than simply retrieving memory, the Russian state and intelligentsia directed history to conform to the recurring patterns and tragic conventions of fate” (1). He demonstrates the tragic role of Russian artist-intellectuals in iconizing and idolizing themselves and society, thus imprisoning themselves within the dangerous process of creating memory, a process that was mostly directed by the state.

In his analysis of the intelligentsia’s “iconic self-entrapment,” Golub employs two strategies: in some chapters, he bases his argument upon considering “the intersection of theatre and life,” the model derived from Yuri Lotman’s notion of theatricality as a coded social text expressed through “performative motives, masks, and norms” (1); in others, he discerns the tendency on the part of both the state and intelligentsia towards “theatricalization of their social roles in their courtship of people” (3). [End Page 395]

There is an ironic parallel in “Arrivals and Departures” between Chekhov’s parodying and Lenin’s mythologizing of the spatio-temporal greatness of Russia. Lenin’s arrival in St. Petersburg from his forced exile to lead the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 subverts one of Chekhov’s leitmotifs about people’s incapacity to conquer great distances and create their own history and future. The notion of culture’s intersection with life is further developed in the following chapter, “Artists and Models.” Here, Golub stresses the fascination of the self-fetishizing Russian artists of the Silver Age (between 1905 and 1917) with feminine iconicity as a result of “their social disempowerment” and disillusionment at the time of the 1905 Revolution. In Blok’s The Little Showbooth and its staging by Meyerhold in 1906, Golub sees the reflection “of the confusion of the historical moment [in which] the self-mirroring intelligentsia . . . could do no more than leap from one stage onto another, without hope of exiting, save through death” (66).

In “The Sleeping Idol” and “The Hamlet Gulag,” Golub continues searching for the cross-connections between Russian culture—theatrical production in particular—and life, focusing now on the Soviet period. Meyerhold’s mise-en-scène in his productions of Gogol’s The Inspector General (1926) and Griboedov’s Woe from Wit (1928), and Tairov’s staging of Racine’s Phaedra (1922), perhaps unwittingly exposes the soulless nature of the Stalinist system in its continuous urge to subdue people’s integrity and create social “icons” and “idols” out of everyday realities such as fear, surveillance, falsity, and falsification. In his 1971 production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, based on the translation of poet-martyr Boris Pasternak, the director Yuri Lyubimov incarnates, in Golub’s words, “the nightmare of Soviet imprisonment and historical erasure, of chaos masquerading as cultural order” (196). At the same time, the figure of Hamlet, portrayed by Vladimir Vysotsky—the actor-martyr—embodies onstage the hopes and longings of the post-Stalin era for the revival of spiritual life and cultural memory.

The second strategy of the book—“the state’s and the intelligentsia’s theatricalization of their role”—is applied by Golub to “Revolutionizing Galatea,” “The Masking Machine,” and “The Procrustean Bed.” This strategy, more effectively than the first, unfolds the book’s main argument about the creation, if not the imposition, of cultural memory by the state and the intelligentsia in twentieth-century Russian history. The tendency in Soviet post-revolutionary theatre to “defeminize” and degender women, which corresponds to the state’s concern to produce a new Soviet “gynoid,” is a main issue of “Revolutionizing...

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pp. 395-396
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