The Spiritual Geography of Modern Writing: Essays on Dehumanization, Human Isolation and Transcendence

By Ingram, Susan | Canadian Slavonic Papers, March-June 1998 | Go to article overview

The Spiritual Geography of Modern Writing: Essays on Dehumanization, Human Isolation and Transcendence


Ingram, Susan, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Constantin V. Ponomareff. The Spiritual Geography of Modern Writing: Essays on Dehumanization, Human Isolation and Transcendence. Internationale Forschungen zur Allgemeinen und Vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft, 22. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1997. 132 pp. Hfl. 50/ $31.00, paper.

As if on schedule, another collection of essays by Constantin Ponomareff has appeared. In 1979, there was The Silenced Vision, which attempted to get a sense of the European literary response to totalitarianism by analysing the works of Hans Erich Nossack, Boris Pasternak, Wolfgang Borchert, Chingiz Aitmatov and Gunter Grass. In 1987, there was On the Dark Side of Russian Literature, 1710-1910, which surveyed the "moral discomfort and spiritual unease among the major Russian writers" (p. 235), showing the way humanity became increasingly superfluous in the Russian creative imagination from Kantemir and Lomonosov to Bely and Blok. Now we have the present collection of twelve essays which, as indicated by its subtitle, addresses the problems underlying or belying humanity as evidenced in selected texts of modem literature.

The collection is divided into three parts. The first consists of two essays devoted to Russian authors. "The Hole in Humankind: Inner and Outer Space in Russian Literature" and "The Impoverished Self in Modern Russian literature: From Pushkin to Bunin" both document the "increasing impoverishment of life on the part of Russian literary characters" (p. 18). The first essay takes Pushkin's Little Tragedies, Gogol's Dead Souls, Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground, and Bely's Petersburg and collection of poems Ashes as examples that demonstrate a general withdrawal from Russian life precipitated by increasing contact with European rationalist culture. In the second essay, characters from Pushkin's Little Tragedies are again mobilized and followed by Gogol's Akaky Akakievich, Lermontov's Pechorin, Dostoevsky's underground man, Turgenev's Bazarov, Dostoevsky's Raskol'nikov, characters from Chekov's short stories, Tolstoy's Ivan Ilych, and Bunin's gentleman from San Francisco. This depressing parade is aimed at exposing the inner poverty manifest in the modern age. Ponomareff concludes this presentation with citations from the American existential philosopher William Barrett.

The second section is devoted to Nietzsche. In the first essay, "Nietzsche: Self as History in the Genealogy of Morals," Ponomareff suggests that "Nietzsche may have been reliving in more intellectual terms the physical and physiological ravages of his own disease within" (p. …

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