Fashioning a Like-Minded Reader: Russian Symbolists and the Imitative Imperative of Modernism
With a substantial corpus of modernist works written in Europe from the 1860s on, Russian readers of the late nineteenth century had been somewhat vaguely exposed to the movement’s aesthetic underpinnings. Among the first impulses of Russian poets aspiring to become Symbolists was the desire to publish their own translations and imitations of its western models. The print culture of early Russian Symbolism can be understood as the attempt to strike a balance between innovation and imitation. I present the story of the three Russian Symbolists booklets (1894-95). This example of conceptual transplantation emphasizes the significance of new print technologies and venues of publication. They created a Russian audience for Symbolism. By blending translations, imitations, and original works, these poets established Symbolism in Russia as a tangible phenomenon. Russian readers could find native Symbolist publications. Russian Symbolists reconsidered how literature could be presented to a reader – in terms of both the structure of the poems on the page and the interpretive strategies it required. They illustrate how Symbolism can migrate across literary cultures and are a significant contribution to the transnational identity of modernism.
Non-Canonical Modernism: How Russian Symbolism was Fashioned
This work addresses two interconnected processes that served to marginalize certain people and fundamentally chang the presentations of the history of the period. The first occurred as the challenges and fissures that marked the crisis of Symbolism were underway. At this point, Symbolism’s dominance in the literary sphere waned and its practitioners began to reevaluate their careers. This prompted a move away from remembering the collaborative elements of early Russian modernist culture, and shifting the focus onto their individual achievements. By inscribing their literary accomplishments onto their lives, works create what I have termed “biographical Symbolism,” a mode of conceptualizing Symbolist writings that I have written about previously. Among the consequences of this rearrangement of the way Russian Symbolism was presented was the erasure of numerous significant contributors and contributions. Parts of the narrative that did not fit into this biographical template were relegated to peripheral status and removed from the histories of the era that began appearing around 1910. They were squeezed out of the new editions of Symbolist poetry that replaced the original publications with which they were integrally involved. The changes instituted by figures who would make themselves canonical were aimed at clarifying and simplifying the presentation of Symbolism’s origins. But they also eliminated writers who revealed the more diverse, complex, and polyphonic nature of early Russian modernism. The legacy of these narratives was a critical and scholarly tradition to reduce the writings of the Symbolists to the collected works and biographies of individual authors and to frame the period through analyses of single poems. This is the second process that I will unravel and the other distorting element I will correct. The authors’ own mythologization of the period became the bedrock of most scholarly accounts of Symbolism. The preferred model of discussing the movement was that of literary evolution – moving from one singular achievement to another. This is an outgrowth of biographical Symbolism that contributed to the ignoring of certain writers. By falling back on notions of major authors and peripheral authors, scholars of early Russian modernism obscured the work of many critical figures and failed to acknowledge sufficiently numerous women who were part of the fabric of the era. I frame my discussion of individual figures in a general recasting of the history of the period. This is how I propose to disentangle its subsequent representation from the myths and misperceptions that have come to dominate its popular and scholarly understanding.