On Psychological Prose

On Psychological Prose

On Psychological Prose

On Psychological Prose

Synopsis

Comparable in importance to Mikhail Bakhtin, Lydia Ginzburg distinguished herself among Soviet literary critics through her investigation of the social and historical elements that relate verbal art to life in a particular culture. Her work speaks directly to those Western critics who may find that deconstructionist and psychoanalytical strategies by themselves are incapable of addressing the full meaning of literature. Here, in her first book to be translated into English, Ginzburg examines the reciprocal relationship between literature and life by exploring the development of the image of personality as both an aesthetic and social phenomenon. Showing that the boundary between traditional literary genres and other kinds of writing is a historically variable one, Ginzburg discusses a wide range of Western texts from the eighteenth century onward--including familiar letters and other historical and social documents, autobiographies such as the Memoires of Saint-Simon, Rousseau's Confessions, and Herzen's My Past and Thoughts, and the novels of Stendhal, Flaubert, Turgenev, and Tolstoi. A major portion of the study is devoted to Tolstoi's contribution to the literary investigation of personality, especially in his epic panorama of Russian life, War and Peace, and in Anna Karenina.

Excerpt

LYDIA GINZBURG is one of the most distinguished and original minds to have worked on the nature of verbal art, its processes, and its position within a particular culture. Such a statement will come as no surprise in the contemporary Russian intellectual world, where her contribution to modern literary theory is regarded, justly in my opinion, as quite comparable to that of Bakhtin and as a healthy complement and correction of poststructuralist tendencies in the West. The appearance of Judson Rosengrant's English translation now guarantees that Ginzburg's unique contribution will have its proper measure of recognition among us also.

On Psychological Prose is an investigation of the methods used, both in historical genres and in fiction, to portray the human consciousness. It illuminates the presence of an aesthetic component in all such writing, and thus is a prime contribution to the contemporary discussion of the “poetics” of historical and even scientific writing. Ginzburg was a student of the formalist theoretician Iurii Tynianov, whose important contribution was the idea that the boundary between literature and nonliterature, and therefore the distinction between so-called literary and other kinds of language, is not a fixed and stable one. Kinds of writing that for one generation had only historical interest, another may elevate to the level of verbal art. The ancient Russian chronicles were prime examples, as were letters and memoirs at a later period.

Ginzburg deals in the main with the evidence of Russian literary and historical writing, evidence located precisely in the nondefined area on the borderline between historical and poetic creation. Thus the letters of Belinskii, in their conscious effort to give direct verbal evidence of the human drama in which the writer felt himself to be a participant, and immersed as they are in the language and the concerns of contemporary literature, provide a psychological portrait of his generation that, as Ginzburg puts it, leads directly to the analytic method of Tolstoi. The products of Russian literature, in Ginzburg's hands, seem particularly suited to address the important questions about the relationship between literature and history. And she deals brilliantly also with similar texts from other literatures, particularly the Mémoires of Saint-Simon and the psychological method of Marcel Proust.

This book deals systematically with the idea of the aesthetic in its widest application to historical and other kinds of writing. Ginzburg demon-

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