Writing as Exorcism: The Personal Codes of Pushkin, Lermontov, and Gogol

By Ilya Kutik | Go to book overview

Gary Saul Morson


Introduction: Reading the Extra

Sometimes it takes a poet to read a poet.

In this inspired, idiosyncratic study, Ilya Kutik offers exemplary interpretations of three Russian writers, of the lessons of fatalism, and of the complexities of reading. Interestingly enough, though Kutik focuses on literary texts, examines them almost atomistically, and discovers important but missed intertextual references, he professes to contribute nothing to the understanding of literature. More accurately, such contributions—and there are many—emerge as mere by-products of what really interests him: the [extra.] Once one grasps what he means by this term, one may well imagine other possible extras. In order to see where Kutik's ideas might lead, it would be helpful to situate them in critical history.

When twentieth-century criticism is assessed, historians may decide that its greatest contribution was theories of readers and reading. As far back as the 1910s, the Russian Formalists defined literature (or [literariness]) as verbal work that [bestranges]: if a work makes you see the world as if for the first time—things as they are immediately felt, not as they are habitualized and [known]—then it is art for you. But once a given kind of bestrangement itself becomes routine, then, though called art by habit, it ceases to function as such. Those for whom the technique is still new experience such works as art, while older hands hold literary historical documents. The readership doubles.

Russian thinkers of the 1910s and 1920s, as well as European and American ones decades later, focused on the reader's response (or was it the readers' response?) as somehow essential to literature. Literature ceased to be a thing and became a transaction. It was only one step from here to performance art or, let us say, to J. S. G. Boggs's use of drawings of money, along with receipts and merchandise purchased for it by astute merchants, as artworks in themselves.1 But how are we to understand the reader's activity? What exactly does the reader do, and what is his or her role in a literary transaction? How much like buying and selling are writing and reading? Or

-vii-

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Writing as Exorcism: The Personal Codes of Pushkin, Lermontov, and Gogol
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Praise for Ilya Kutik's Hieroglyphs of Another World A
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction: Reading the Extra vii
  • Chapter One - Exorcism and [The Extra] in the Text 3
  • Chapter Two - Two Superstitious Men 14
  • Chapter Three - Gogol's Nausea and Nossea 53
  • Chapter Four - Rome Before Rome 84
  • Conclusion: Musings on Modifications of Exorcism 118
  • Notes 131
  • Works Cited 141
  • Index 145
  • About the Author 153
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