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Pelevin and Unfreedom: Poetics, Politics, Metaphysics
by Sofya Khagi
Northwestern University Press
Paper: 978-0-8101-4302-9 | Cloth: 978-0-8101-4303-6 | eISBN: 978-0-8101-4304-3


Sofya Khagi’s Pelevin and Unfreedom: Poetics, Politics, Metaphysics is the first book-length English-language study of Victor Pelevin, one of the most significant and popular Russian authors of the post-Soviet era. The text explores Pelevin’s sustained Dostoevskian reflections on the philosophical question of freedom and his complex oeuvre and worldview, shaped by the idea that contemporary social conditions pervert that very notion.

Khagi shows that Pelevin uses provocative and imaginative prose to model different systems of unfreedom, vividly illustrating how the present world deploys hyper-commodification and technological manipulation to promote human degradation and social deadlock. Rather than rehearse Cold War–era platitudes about totalitarianism, Pelevin holds up a mirror to show how social control (now covert, yet far more efficient) masquerades as freedom and how eagerly we accept, even welcome, control under the techno-consumer system. He reflects on how commonplace discursive markers of freedom (like the free market) are in fact misleading and disempowering. Under this comfortably self-occluding bondage, the subject loses all power of self-determination, free will, and ethical judgment. In his work, Pelevin highlights the unprecedented subversion of human society by the techno-consumer machine. Yet, Khagi argues, however circumscribed and ironically qualified, he holds onto the emancipatory potential of ethics and even an emancipatory humanism.

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