Russian Minimalism: From the Prose Poem to the Anti-Story

Russian Minimalism: From the Prose Poem to the Anti-Story

Russian Minimalism: From the Prose Poem to the Anti-Story

Russian Minimalism: From the Prose Poem to the Anti-Story

Synopsis

Challenging traditional concepts of poetry and narrative prose, the prose poem is by nature a "subversive" form-and as such has drawn extensive interest in literature and criticism during the past two decades. Russian Minimalism is the first book to apply the theoretical debate on the nature of the prose poem to the history of Russian literature. In it Adrian Wanner uses the notion of minimalism, borrowed from the realm of American visual arts, as a critical tool for a historical investigation of the genesis and development of the Russian prose miniature, going back to the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
The paradoxical genre of the prose poem, developed by the French poet Charles Baudelaire, provides Wanner with an overarching theoretical rubric for a variety of works of Russian literature, ranging from Ivan Turgenev's "Poems in Prose" to a host of decadent, symbolist, realist, and futurist miniatures, including Fedor Sologub's "Little Fairy Tales," Aleksei Remizov's dreams, Vasilii Kandinskii's prose poems, and Daniil Kharms' absurdist ministories. His book demonstrates how the negativity inherent in the form of the prose poem transformed the overwrought lyricism of fin de sicle prose into the ascetic starkness of the twentieth-century minimalist anti-story.

Excerpt

The oxymoronic genre of the prose poem, a marginal form of literature by definition and par excellence, has begun to galvanize the interest of critics and theoreticians in recent years. the past decade has witnessed a flurry of articles, monographs, anthologies, and special journal issues devoted to this genre in French, German, English, and American literature. This book is the first study of the Russian prose poem. It addresses the extent to which the genre of the stikhotvorenie v proze in Russia is rooted in the French tradition of the poème en prose, and traces the trajectory leading from Ivan Turgenev’s “Poems in Prose” (1882) to Daniil Kharms’ minimalist antistories of the 1930s. Turgenev and Kharms form the opposite poles in a wide chronological and typological spectrum of Russian prose miniatures, encompassing realist, symbolist, and futurist texts. in this sense, the book could be called a study of Turgenev’s prose poems and their descendants, or, conversely, of Kharms’ mini-stories and their antecedents. the implied link is less of a directly genealogical than of a typological nature. As I will show, the various prose miniatures discussed in this book raise related theoretical issues that concern the nature of literary minimalism.

At first sight, Turgenev and Kharms may seem an unlikely couple. the development of their careers and reputations make them almost antipodes. Turgenev (1818–83), the first Russian writer to win international fame in his lifetime, has lost some of his former exalted status. His prose poems in particular, perhaps because of the fact that some of them were imposed on generations of Soviet schoolchildren as mandatory reading, have a reputation for being rather dated and dull. By contrast, Daniil Kharms (1905– 42), a virtual unknown in his time except for his children’s stories, has emerged half a century after his death in a Stalinist prison as “a true giant of the new Russian literature” with a growing popular and academic cult following.

Reading Turgenev after Kharms can be an illuminating experience, if only to open our eyes to some features in Turgenev’s work of which in all . . .

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