Friday, December 9, 2016
What does the tribe in Soul signify?
Surprisingly, Chagataev leads the band of 40 or so people from the Soul "nation" to a safe place, concluding their trek across the desert to re-settle in or near their homeland. He settles the tribe, then sets of on what looks to be a 3-day hike to the nearest village for supplies (he figures hec an make the journey w/ no food - it's only 3 days!), but he comes back sooner than expected: a group of vehicles that the Soviet government had dispatched to find the wandering tribe and help them settle cross paths with Chagataev - so he returns with food, medicine, building materials, tools, etc. Putting aside all of the improbabilities here - the likelihood that the Soviets would care about or even be aware of a group of 40 people wandering in the desert and the likelihood of them coming across these wanderers in the vast expanse of the central desert - it looks as if Platonov's novel, Soul, his heading toward some kind of peaceful resolution. But, no, this is a tale of suffering. They - which is to say almost entirely Chagataev and the young girl, Aydim, make bricks from clay and build 4 shelters, and as winter sets in the entire tribe sleep huddled together in one of the buildings. At one point, the tribe sleeps for 2 days and nights straight - we're seeing a little foreshadowing of magic realism here - and one night Ch's elderly mother dies. He sleeps in one of the outbuildings, and then makes plans to bury his mother - when Aydim discovers, from a vantage point, that the entire tribe has left the settlement, heading off in different directions across the desert landscape. There's really no way to explain this except symbolically or allegorically: Platonov is not writing realism (though the novel is narrated in a realistic manner - with spirits, ghosts, supernatural creatures, sci fi - compare this with the far more fantastical Master and Margarita, for ex.) - but what exactly does the Soul nation represent or signify? The failure of the Soviet vision for collectivism, perhaps. Or, on a more cosmic level, perhaps the need for personal connection to overcome the vast sense of loneliness and emptiness in modern life. Any reader will be struck by the frequent references to physical contact throughout the novel: people huddled together like sheep, keeping warm, touching; even in the most dire conditions, people having sex, sometimes furtively, sometimes not. And then there's the incredible, irrepressible drive toward life and survival - doing anything for water and nourishment. Still think it might make a good movie - though a painful one - and still wondering if Ch. will connect back to his life in Moscow in any way - he's learned that his wife has died, and her daughter from an earlier marriage, on whom he had a crush, seems to endure.