Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

The Shortest Path to the Truth: Indirection in Fazil' Iskander

Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

The Shortest Path to the Truth: Indirection in Fazil' Iskander

Article excerpt


This essay was completed by Marina Kanevskaya a few weeks before her tragic death at the age of forty-seven. She was hit by a truck on a dark street of Missoula, Montana, where she lived and worked as professor of Russian at the State University. Marina's life was full of rapid turns, but a passion for Russian literature was the true engine that supplied her with joy and ardour despite all the odds of two emigrations, changes of career, job searches, etc. She emigrated from the USSR to Israel at the age of twenty-five; eight years later she moved to the United States. There she continued her lifelong studies of Russian literature at the University of Indiana, where she defended her dissertation on Dostoevskii's Pushkin speech in 1992. The focus on Dostoevskii remained in her monograph The Cruel Critic: N. K. Mikhailovsky's Criticism on Dostoevsky, published by Edwin Mellen Press in 2001. In this book she did not only restore the political and literary circumstances of Mikhailovskii's 'war' against Dostoevskii, but also argued that this famous opponent of Dostoevskii, in his vindications, actually foreshadowed Bakhtin's theory of dialogism and polyphony of Dostoevskii's novel. What Mikhailovskii was blaming Dostoevskii for, Bakhtin put into the foundation of his new aesthetics. The paradoxality of thought and the ability to discover something new in the texts well read and the road well walked distinguished Marina's approach to literature. No wonder that she could not limit herself to nineteenth-century works. Among the subjects of her numerous essays, published both in English and in Russian, are Nabokov and Evgenii Popov, Nikolai Erdman and Nikolai Antsiferov, the conceptualists and the 'new Russians'. Fazil' Iskander was one of Marina's latest interests. She was commissioned to write a biographical article on him for The Dictionary of Literary Biography (expected to be published in 2004), but got involved more than the biographical sketch required. That was her nature--she could not work otherwise. She met Iskander in Moscow, interviewed him, and wrote two articles incorporating her observations on his poetics that did not fit into the strict format of the Dictionary. It is one of these that is printed below. I believe Marina offers a completely new approach to this writer, who was traditionally treated as a social satirist, as for example in Natal'ia Ivanova's 1990 book on him, Smekh protiv strakha ('Laughter vs. Fear'). Marina rediscovers Iskander as a daring modernist investigating the limits of the language and manifestations of logos through focusing on gestures, the expressivity of animals, and children's pre-intellectual reasoning. One can hear Marina's vivid voice, her temper, and her irony in this work, belonging to the vast list of first-rate texts written by her during her unbearably short life.


Marina Kanevskaya submitted this article for publication in MLR in November 2002, when I met her at AAASS in Pittsburgh. Sadly, she did not live to see it accepted and printed, for her death occurred less than a month after the conference. I should like to thank Mike and Masha Levin for their kind permission to publish the article, and Marina's colleague Stewart Just-man for his editorial assistance.--BIRGIT BEUMERS.

Realizing that the shortest path to the truth would be the one most perilous for him, Uncle Sandro decided not to give in, but to force his own path to the truth on the prince. (Fazil' Iskander) (1)

Non-Linear Discourse

Fazil' Iskander explores through Uncle Sandro the idea that the shortest path to the truth, besides being the most dangerous, may not be the most apt. Taking this metaphor a bit further, we might suggest that a short and straight path to the truth fragments in Iskander's own work, reflecting both his particular creativity and the expectations of his readers. Herein we find a pattern of serpentine byways, detours, and cul-de-sacs, with but a few straight stretches in the form of aphorisms or didactic maxims. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.