My Petersburg/Myself: Mental Architecture, and Imaginative Space in Modern Russian Letters

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9780893573133: My Petersburg/Myself: Mental Architecture, and Imaginative Space in Modern Russian Letters

My Petersburg/Myself is a study of the peculiar identification between Petersburg writers and urban space at the end of the imperial Petersburg tradition in Russian letters, a phenomenon unique in its complexity and intensity. Be it a private room, an imperial square or street, or an architectural monument, Petersburg writers from the beginning of the twentieth century and beyond expressed their biographical and creative selfhoods as intimately and dynamically bound up with the spaces of their often beleaguered city. This book presents a virtual typology of imaginative structures (of spatial poetics). Writers including Merezhkovskii, Blok, Annenskii, Akhmatova, Mandel'shtam, Nabokov, and Brodskii present the individual's existential/biographical experience in spatial, visual terms, each thereby constructing 'my Petersburg.' At the same time, the unique inner world of each poet humanizes the space, opening the way for a dialogic interaction between self and city. Crone and Day argue that such identification of self with space is based in the mode of the elegy; the Petersburg elegy in its twentieth-century variety, however, has unexpected similarities to the idyll. Using generic theory as well as Bachelardian and Bakhtinian concepts of literary space-time, the authors demonstrate how the dark, destructive Petersburg of nineteenth-century tradition becomes russified and beloved in the twentieth century.

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Review:

In his book, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley, CA, 1984), Michel de Certeau demonstrates how the tactical use of cultural forms enables individuals to elude and resist the power of social determination. The creation of various counter-hegemonic rituals and stylistic practices makes possible the articulation of a playful element in the deterministic social space. In My Petersburg/Myself, Anna Lisa Crone and Jennifer Day explore, in terms similar to de Certeau, Petersburg writers' identification of their self with urban spaces and their poetic dialogues with the Petersburg tradition. They discuss Russian 20th-century poets and writers, including Andrei Belyi, Vassili Rozanov, Vladimir Nabokov, Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandel'shtam, and Joseph Brodsky, who were 'othered into or unto urban space' (p. 2). The book investigates the metapoetic function that 'entails the equation by poets of their artistic works (poems) with Petersburg buildings and statues' (p. 17). Crone and Day's discussion of Mandel'shtam's vision of the Admiralty, Benedict Lifshits's image of the Kazan' cathedral, and Alexander Blok's elegiac identifications with Petersburg landscapes are especially rewarding....
Crone and Day's study comprises 4 chapters. The first chapter, 'Towards a Theory of Identification with Petersburg Space' brings together Fedor Dostoevskii, Akhmatova, Mandel'shtam, Vladimir Maiakovskii, and Lifshits. Crone and Day offer close reading of various texts. They provocatively say that 'to present the besieged Petersburg and the Petersburg writer as stable and indestructible, writers take the unexpected tack of resorting to urban Petersburg idyll and the closely related urban elegy' (pp. 9-10). Crone and Day suggest modernist representations of tragedy-ridden Petersburg be an unusual manifestation of Mikhail Bakhtin's idyllic chronotope (p. 10).... The other chapters are ''Historical' Treatments of Petersburg Space'; 'Petersburg and the Idyllic Chronotope: Ahistorical Treatments of Space' and 'Mixed Models of Petersburg Space and Self,' and there is an index.
The study offers thought-provoking readings of several famous texts, including Belyi's novel 'Petersburg,' Akhmatova's narrative poems and Nabokov's autobiographical writing. There are illuminating observations on lesser known works such as Nabokov's 1929 poem 'For night-time wandering I need neither ships nor train': Nabokov is labeled a controlling elegist and the poem's theme 'is more than a Proustian return in art; it is a return-memory which depends upon the reciprocal action of a prescient self in the past who anticipates this moment long before it actually happens' (p. 201).
[Crone and Day] believe [their] approach can unravel the modes of elegiac identification with Petersburg landscapes and imaginative spaces that continue to shape the construction of a new Russian self in post-Soviet times. This conclusion serves as an invitation to other scholars to reconsider further literary examples of post-Soviet construction and deconstruction of the Petersburg myth. Certainly, Crone's and Day's innovative study is inspiring and enjoyable to anyone interested in Russian cultural history and poetry. --Alexandra Smith, The Slavonic and East European Review

Published in an attractive paperback format, 'My Petersburg/Myself' is a book that Russian literature specialists will want to own, for their own pleasure and enlightenment and for use as a valuable teaching resource. Anna Lisa Crone and Jennifer Day propose a 'typology of imaginative structures in which Petersburg writers present their own existential/biolographical experience in spatial, visual terms' (2), beginning with the early twentieth century and extending through emigration and the Soviet 1970s. --Sonia I. Ketchian, The Harvard Review

This seamless collaboration treats the Petersburg myth, engendered in Aleksandr Pushkin's poem "The Bronze Horseman," in such a way as to elucidate the interaction of "mental architecture and imaginative space" in subsequent writers on the same topic. The authors believe that Petersburg writers' complex and intense identification of their "selves" with the "space" of their beautiful city may be unique in world literature. Unlike older cities of myth, such as Rome and the traditionally Russian Moscow, Petersburg's foundation on swampland by the decree of Peter the Great in 1703 and its construction on Westernized models by foreign architects rendered it alien to the local populace. Peter's thought, elevating the state over nature and the individual, becomes incarnate in the created space of Petersburg.
In literature, history avenges itself on "artificial" Westernized Petersburg and nature reclaims its territory through deluges and other elemental threats, resulting in a characteristic elegiac mode. Nikolai Gogol and Fedor Dostoevsky compounded the dark mystique and myth of this "non-Russian" city in the 19th century. In Andrei Bely's 20th-century novel, "Petersburg," the revolutionaries bring the exterior spaces, symbolic of the impending Revolution, into their inner spaces, a treatment of space which influenced many writers, including Osip Mandelshtam. The 20th-century writers of Russia's Silver Age, through their self-identification with Petersburg as well as their fervent love and suffering for it, "Russify" the city, producing the urban idyll and urban elegy. And in Russian Modernism, Petersburg elegies assume an "urban landscape, unlike nature," in which the "Romantic elegy was grounded."
The 20th century ushered in the destruction and disruption of the "stormy Petersburg cityscape," along with changes in the city's name, from Petrograd to Leningrad to Petersburg. Yet Mandelshtam, Vladimir Nabokov, and Joseph Brodsky still succeeded in creating a Petersburg idyll. Crone and Day detail the fascinating journey that writers have undertaken to return to their Petersburg of choice. For the emigre Nabokov, the impossibility of a return to his childhood Petersburg braced him to internalize space and time through obsessive remembering in "Speak, Memory" and elsewhere. Brodsky attempted to reverse time by imagining his return to Petersburg, and his strongest de-idyllization occurs in the poem "From the Outskirts to the Center." Mandelshtam's poem "The Admiralty" takes the architectural details of that magnificent edifice as a surrogate for the city as Peter's ship of state. And Anna Akhmatova, who rejected emigration, composed her invective poem, "Requiem," as a "mourning elegy" for Russia under Soviet tyranny that, in its decades-long existence as an oral poem, approaches the status of a 20th-century version of the city's myth. On the other hand, Akhmatova's "sanguine, curative elegy," "Poem without a Hero, which Crone and Day proclaim the greatest modern work of the Petersburg tradition, stops and retards the "destructive movement of time" beginning in 1940.
A taut work in 4 parts, this superb study delights with a richness of material and sophisticated original thinking. Crone and Day's analysis engrosses the reader throughout this thought-provoking addition to the Petersburg tradition in literature. --Sonia I. Ketchian, The Harvard Review

In his book, "The Practice of Everyday Life" (Berkeley, CA, 1984), Michel de Certeau demonstrates how the tactical use of cultural forms enables individuals to elude and resist the power of social determination. The creation of various counter-hegemonic rituals and stylistic practices makes possible the articulation of a playful element in the deterministic social space. In "My Petersburg/Myself" Anna Lisa Crone and Jennifer Day explore, in terms similar to de Certeau, Petersburg writers' identification of their self with urban spaces and their poetic dialogues with the Petersburg tradition. They discuss Russian 20th-century poets and writers, including Andrei Belyi, Vassili Rozanov, Vladimir Nabokov, Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandel'shtam, and Joseph Brodsky, who were "othered into or unto urban space" (p. 2). The book investigates the metapoetic function that "entails the equation by poets of their artistic works (poems) with Petersburg buildings and statues" (p. 17). Crone and Day's discussion of Mandel'shtam's vision of the Admiralty, Benedict Lifshits's image of the Kazan' cathedral, and Alexander Blok's elegiac identifications with Petersburg landscapes are especially rewarding....
Crone and Day's study comprises 4 chapters. The first chapter, "Towards a Theory of Identification with Petersburg Space" brings together Fedor Dostoevskii, Akhmatova, Mandel'shtam, Vladimir Maiakovskii, and Lifshits. Crone and Day offer close reading of various texts. They provocatively say that "to present the besieged Petersburg and the Petersburg writer as stable and indestructible, writers take the unexpected tack of resorting to urban Petersburg idyll and the closely related urban elegy" (pp. 9-10). Crone and Day suggest modernist representations of tragedy-ridden Petersburg be an unusual manifestation of Mikhail Bakhtin's idyllic chronotope (p. 10).... The other chapters are "'Historical' Treatments of Petersburg Space"; "Petersburg and the Idyllic Chronotope: Ahistorical Treatments of Space" and "Mixed Models of Petersburg Space and Self," and there is an index.
The study offers thought-provoking readings of several famous texts, including Belyi's novel "Petersburg," Akhmatova's narrative poems and Nabokov's autobiographical writing. There are illuminating observations on lesser known works such as Nabokov's 1929 poem "For night-time wandering I need neither ships nor train": Nabokov is labeled a controling elegist and the poem's theme "is more than a Proustian return in art; it is a return-memory which depends upon the reciprocal action of a prescient self in the past who anticipates this moment long before it actually happens" (p. 201).
[Crone and Day] believe [their] approach can unravel the modes of elegiac identification with Petersburg landscapes and imaginative spaces that continue to shape the construction of a new Russian self in post-Soviet times. This conclusion serves as an invitation to other scholars to reconsider further literary examples of post-Soviet construction and deconstruction of the Petersburg myth. Certainly, Crone's and Day's innovative study is inspiring and enjoyable to anyone interested in Russian cultural history and poetry. --Alexandra Smith, The Slavonic and East European Review

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