A Fallen Idol Is Still a God: Lermontov and the Quandaries of Cultural Transition

A Fallen Idol Is Still a God: Lermontov and the Quandaries of Cultural Transition

A Fallen Idol Is Still a God: Lermontov and the Quandaries of Cultural Transition

A Fallen Idol Is Still a God: Lermontov and the Quandaries of Cultural Transition

Synopsis

A Fallen Idol Is Still a Godelucidates the historical distinctiveness and significance of the seminal nineteenth-century Russian poet, playwright, and novelist Mikhail Iurevich Lermontov (1814-1841). It does so by demonstrating that Lermontov's works illustrate the condition of living in an epoch of transition. Lermontov's particular epoch was that of post-Romanticism, a time when the twilight of Romanticism was dimming but the dawn of Realism had yet to appear. Through close and comparative readings, the book explores the singular metaphysical, psychological, ethical, and aesthetic ambiguities and ambivalences that mark Lermontov's works, and tellingly reflect the transition out of Romanticism and the nature of post-Romanticism. Overall, the book reveals that, although confined to his transitional epoch, Lermontov did not succumb to it; instead, he probed its character and evoked its historical import. And the book concludes that Lermontov's works have resonance for our transitional era in the early twenty-first century as well.

Excerpt

In 1837, the twenty-three-year-old Russian author Mikhail Lermontov wrote an untitled two-quatrain lyric poem now familiar to most students of Rus sian literature:

We have parted, but I treasure
Your portrait in my heart.
Like a pale phantom of better times
It delights my soul.

And though devoted to new passions,
I could not cease to love it,
For an abandoned church is still a church,
A fallen idol is still a god.

Расстались мы; но твой портрет
Я на груди своей храню:
Как бледный призрак лучших лет,
Он душу радует мою.

И новым преданный страстям,
Я разлюбить его не мог:
Так храм оставленный – всё храм,
Кумир поверженный – всё бог! (1: 382)

Although this poem expresses a lover's feelings for his beloved, it con tains a metaphor that more generally captures Lermontov's relation to the cultural movement with which he is most often identified: Romanticism. For his works consistently express an attitude toward Romanticism as a ”fallen idol” that to Lermontov was nevertheless “still a god.” In other words, Romanticism might have lost its authority to command unques tioned allegiance, but it still merited a certain reverence and respect. Those . . .

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