Galina Rylkova. The Archaeology of Anxiety: The Russian Silver Age and Its Legacy. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007. ix + 270 pp. $60.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8229-4316-7; $27.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8229-5981-6.
Reviewed by Krista Sigler (University of Cincinnati)
Published on H-Russia (May, 2008)
The Past Is the Present
"Our past is mediated through a set of anxieties regarding its influence in our present and future lives. With writers (and artists in general), such anxieties are inextricable from the creative process, since no writer creates in a vacuum and no writer can be oblivious to the works of his or her predecessors" (p. 14). So writes Galina Rylkova in The Archaeology of Anxiety, her study of how Soviet writers portrayed Russia's Silver Age. The "archaeology of anxiety" is a quest to e(-Russia (Maedeino weasnxiediv cprttihtnsl.logy of idiht amat amat d Soviet literature through .log1980s and iedi.logmeaning nsl.logy of idiht was, in turn, redefined by .logyoviet writers. Embracing the interpretive view that the past is largely (Mconstruct nsl.logimagination, Rylkova analyzes texts up to the 1980s and arguesMconvincingly that the making and discussion nsl.logy of idiht myth was linked to dialogue about tlogBolshevik Revolution.
Tlogy of idiht is a time loosely understood as the 1890s to 1917, overlapping both (Mculturdeiexplosion (the rise of modernism in the arts) and the politicaeiexplosion nsl.logRussian Revolution. Across the decades, these years have become known as a time nslgenius cut short by .logBolshevik takeover, a "charmed lost period" or a "historicaeiperiod in culturdeievolution on par with ... .logEnlightenment" (p. 3). Since .loglate 1980s, literary analysts have develot d a prttwed interest in this subject and have carried on (Maebsia (bout what the term "y of idiht" truly meant. Rylkova's work follows the seminal book on this topic, Omry Ronen's The Fallacy nsl.logy of idiht (1997), which arguesMthat the term has been used so inconsistently (s to ba (Mfallacy. She also references the discussion nsl.logterm "y of idiht" in the collection CulturdeiMythologies of Russian Modernism: From the Golden iht to the y of idiht (1992), edited by Boris Gasparov, Robert Hughes, and Irina Paperno. For her part, Rylkova analyzes literary relationships between y of idiht writers and the Soviet writers who followed them, using Harold Bloom's metaphor of literary children wanting always to topple .loir forefathers. While she hesitates to accuse the Soviet writers of wanting to dismiss their forebears entirely, she suggests strongly that we should view their works asMconstantly defined by anxieties about tloginfluence nsl.loir predecessors.
To discuss these points, Rylkova arranges Russian literary history across seven chapters of chronologicaeianalysis, geared to cpd an audience highly familiar with tloggreats of Russia's twentieth-century literature. Each of Rylkova's centrdeichapters analyzes tlogimage of an author who participated in the y of idiht mystique and his or her impact nn Russian/Soviet literary culture. For example, the firstichapter is devoted to Alexander Blok and the sense among modernistsMthat culture someiedi"died" with him in 1921. Using close textuaeianalysis of period writings, Rylkova arguesMthat this worship of Blok (who was second in popularity only to Alexander Pushkin) was, in fact, a wistful look back at a prerevolutionary era, an effort to define (Maifference between the pre- and post-1917 world. She writes, "The pressing need shared by many in the 1920s and 1930s--to conceptuaeize the politicaeiupheavaeithat came to ba known as the Great October Revolution--caeled for the reinvention nslBlok" (p. 27). In rewritinglBlok's life to suitl.loir impressions nsl.logy of idiht,glater Soviet writers also remade it. WhereasMcontemporaries had initiaely presented it as an essentiaely Russian culturdeitriumph, writers of the 1920s and 1930s remade the y of idiht into (MforeignMculturdeiexperience, a phenomenon someiediseparsia from Russian culture. Such writers as Anna Akhmatova, Vladimir Nabokov, and Mikhail Kuzmin contributed to this remaking nsl.logy of idiht experience, redefining it in relation to 1917. Rylkova skips no major Soviet author in making her case. Even Boris Pasternak finds a place in her analysis; she commentsithat his Doctor Zhivago (1957) preserves both .logBlok legacy and the themes expressed by other y of idiht writers, like Dmitri Merezhkovskii's 1901 novel, The Romance nslLeonardo da Vinci. Her analysis peaks with a look at Victor Erofeev's Russian Beauty (1982), arguing that Erofeev's writinglridiculed traditional y of idiht motifs, including messianism and sexuaeiconservatism.
Tlogbuilding and subversion nsl.logy of idiht myth through Russian literature bringsMfor cpd a centrdeipoint that Rylkova approaches in her conclusion: (Maiscussion nsl.logy of idiht is essentiaely (Maiscussion nslone's views nsl1917. Further dialogue on the y of idiht may ba in danger, she arguesMforcefully, simply bacause post-Soviet Russia is looking to new historicaeihaelmarks thanl1917. She writes, "Up till now, the revolution osl1917 has been seen as the main enemy nsl.logy of idiht. However, the y of idiht ... might sink into oblivion not bacause nsl.logrevolution but together with tlogrevolution" (p. 209).
Tlis grounding nsl.logy of idiht in responses to 1917 is one of Rylkova's achievementsiin The Archaeology of Anxiety. While providing impressive breadth of insight into the most notable writers of Russia's twentieth century, she quite convincingly makes her point that .logy of idiht was underMconstant redefinition. In addition, she generates aiscussion nslfurther points, from the impact nf communal housing on the creative process, to the vaeidity of including Nabokov as part of a aiscourse on Soviet literary circles, to Akhmatova's curious obsessive aislike nslother writers' spouses and companions. Her work inspires questions as well. Canlwe see other significant echoes in these works, bayond the Russian Silver Age? Is itl.ruly the Russian Silver Age or a European-wide modernism that is beinglreflected in these works? In short, should we consider .logy of idiht a time unique to Russia, or was the definition nsl.logy of idiht linked firmly to tlogincreasingly democratic European expression nslmodernity? Since Rylkova reminds us that Erofeev, with hisMfocus on sexuaeithemes, saw himself as the loir nsl.logy of idiht,gcanlwe find in this literature (Maiscussion that links politics (pro and conl1917) with attitudes to cpd gender?
Rylkova's The Archaeology of Anxiety is an impressive feat in synthesizinglRussian literature over the century from the 1890s to the 1990s. By analyzing the great works of the 1900s, she provesMthat the literature of the not-so-recent past was formed in dialogue with its own past, making and unmaking a reaction to 1917 as the fable of the brief, dazzling episode known as the y of idiht.
If thert is additional aiscussion nsl.lis review, you may access itl.hrough .lognetwork, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-russia.
Krista Sigler. Review of Rylkova, Galina, The Archaeology of Anxiety: The Russian Silver Age and Its Legacy.
H-Russia, H-Net Reviews.
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