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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Why Soul was never publised in Platonov's lifetime

It's informative to compare the two endings of Platonov's novel from the 1930s (first published in Russian in the 1990!), Soul: in one, the 40 or so people in the "nation," better word might be tribe, that Chagataev is trying to lead back to their homeland, scatter in all directions, leaving their small settlement in the middle of the night. Chagataev realizes they have left and he goes, with the one remaining member of the tribe, the young girl Aydim, to Moscow where he seems ready to settle into a new life for himself, perhaps establishing a relationship with the daughter (by another marriage) of his late wife (much is left amibiguous at the end, and throughout). In the other ending, apparently revisions Platonov made in the 30s, perhaps with the aim of giving his novel a better chance at publication, Chagataev sets out into the desert to find the members of the tribe, leaving Aydim alone - for months, as it turns out! - to maintain the small settlement. He endures further adventures, including buying a young woman and having sex w/ her and then paying for her to live in a small apartment for a few weeks as he continues his travels, which end up extending for months (throughout, he is blase about the fate of others, especially the women he leaves behind, even though his treatment of them when he's with them is tender and affectionate). Eventually, he comes back to the settlement and finds that most of the tribe has returned and, under Aydim's leadership, they are thriving. He then returns to Moscow (picking up the last chapter from the original ending). So the 2nd, revised version is more optimistic - particularly about the Soviet values of collective labor. This more uplifting ending is also more satisfying to the contemporary reader, as it brings the main course of the narrative to a conclusion - though neither ending is exactly credible in a realistic sense: Why would the members scatter in the middle of the night? And if they did, why would they all return? Platonov is not a realistic writer, nor does he mean to be: this narrative is a miniature epic of a journey to salvation, in the religious and spiritual sense, which may of course be why Stalin called Platonov's writing "scum" and why Soul was never published in P's lifetime.

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