Visions of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Fifteenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts

By Allienne R. Becker | Go to book overview

9
Hard To Be a God: The Political Antiworlds of Voznesensky, Sokolov, and the Brothers Strugatsky

Jesse T. Airaudi

Andrei Voznesensky's debt to Pasternak is well known, and what the master said in Dr. Zhivago about "the great misfortune" of "the loss of faith in the value of personal opinions," and the rise of "the power of the glittering phrase" that was "crammed down everyone's throat" was reiterated by the disciple. And like so many other dissident writers of Eastern Europe, he paid a price. But Voznesensky's writing goes far beyond national and historical labels and provides a rationale for the study of fantastic writing not only as a social and political vehicle but a more universal, philosophical one as well.

Voznesensky lashed out at agit-prop critics, calling "the keenest of them . . . a perfect anti-head," chiding them: "Experts, what a distance You are from life!" Yet he was (again, in his own words) as "elusive" as "the Abominable Snowman." "among avalanches," disdaining to carry on debate merely at the historical level. Even his most famous poem, "I Am Goya," does more than merely sandwich the horrors of Goya's war and the war of 1941; it is "the tongue of war" itself, it is the universal protest that unrelentingly will not let humanity forget what it can fabricate in the name of civilization ( Antiworlds3). The best of his writing asks the same question: how can anyone be so heartless as to take away the lives of his brothers and sisters in the name of a mere idea, or (as Pasternak wrote) for a "glittering phrase"? As he writes in another of his elusively subtle protest poems, it's all the same "Old Song" ( An Arrow in the Wall119).

The use of fantasy to elude detection is common among Russian writers and goes back a good way: there is common saying among them; "we all come from Gogol's 'overcoat,' referring to his fantastic story "The Overcoat" in which Gogol reminds writers that "there is nothing more touchy than . . . any kind of official body" (233), and fantasy is a safe place to hide. Voznesensky admits this common source in several early and late poems, especially in "The Nose," a reference to Gogol's satirical fantasy of the same name: "Gogol, that mystical uneasy soul," as the poem refers to the master

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