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

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Monday, May 8, 2017

A novel that challenged Soviet socialist-realism

I'm not sure what possibly can account for the popularity in Europe of Baron von Munchausen, apparently a real-life German aristocratic from the 18th century who became the subject of a series of books and tales based on stories of his entirely fictitious, somewhat antic deeds: e.g., he rides his horse through a snowstorm, sees a pole sticking up from the snow, ties up his horse and beds down for the night, wakes up and the snow has melted and the horse is dangling from a church steeple. Hah. Must be something that doesn't translate well - similar to the European obsession w/ Faust stories and themes, though those on a tragic and serious nature as opposed to Munchausen's comic mishaps. Always drawn to the books from the NYBR press, I'm reading the short (100-page) novel The Return of Munchausen - in which the Count makes an appearance as age 100+ in 1920s Europe -by the Ukrainian-born, Russian-language writer - ready for this? - Szigismund Krzhizhanovsky (from memory - I bet he had to spell that out a few times in his life!). SK wrote this novel in the late 1920s, but it didn't see publication for decades, only recently in English. I guess it's more of a curiosity than a great work of literature: we meet Munchausen in Berlin in the 1920 on the day of a military revolt (later quashed of course) against Lenin; M engages in a long conversation of a philosophic nature w/ a German poet. The M gets swooped off to London where he rides through the streets and has various encounters and provides his insight or wisdom at various London clubs. And then he heads to Moscow. I really have no idea what the purpose of these visits or travels; what's mainly striking is the surrealist prose and the fractured narrative, somewhat like an early avant-garde film, a Dali landscape, and maybe precursor suppressed Soviet novels like The Master and Margharita. Its very inaccessibility was a surreptitious strike against the Soviet state; SK was obviously in defiance of the socialist-realism that was the only acceptable form of narrative in the USSR. To write such an unconventional narrative showed, perhaps, that writers can defy and smash literary dicta, which had broader implications for defiance of the state as a whole. SK lost - in the short run - but his work has outlived his censors and the state itself; whether Return of Munchausen is still readable, however, is another question. I'll read further before deciding.

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