Since its founding three hundred years ago, the city of Saint Petersburg has captured the imaginations of the most celebrated Russian writers, whose characters map the city by navigating its streets from the aristocratic center to the gritty outskirts. While Tsar Peter the Great planned the streetscapes of Russia’s northern capital as a contrast to the muddy and crooked streets of Moscow, Andrei Bely’s novel Petersburg (1916), a cornerstone of Russian modernism and the culmination of the “Petersburg myth” in Russian culture, takes issue with the city’s premeditated and supposedly rational character in the early twentieth century. “Petersburg”/Petersburg studies the book and the city against and through each other. It begins with new readings of the novel—as a detective story inspired by bomb-throwing terrorists, as a representation of the aversive emotion of disgust, and as a painterly avant-garde text—stressing the novel’s phantasmagoric and apocalyptic vision of the city. Taking a cue from Petersburg’s narrator, the rest of this volume (and the companion Web site, stpetersburg.berkeley.edu/) explores the city from vantage points that have not been considered before—from its streetcars and iconic art-nouveau office buildings to the slaughterhouse on the city fringes. From poetry and terrorist memoirs, photographs and artwork, maps and guidebooks of that period, the city emerges as a living organism, a dreamworld in flux, and a junction of modernity and modernism.
Andrei Bely's 1913 masterwork Petersburg is widely regarded as the most important Russian novel of the twentieth century. Vladimir Nabokov ranked it with James Joyce's Ulysses, Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis, and Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. Few artistic works created before the First World War encapsulate and articulate the sensibility, ideas, phobias, and aspirations of Russian and transnational modernism as comprehensively.
Bely expected his audience to participate in unraveling the work's many meanings, narrative strains, and patterns of details. In their essays, the contributors clarify these complexities, summarize the intellectual and artistic contexts that informed Petersburg's creation and reception, and review the interpretive possibilities contained in the novel. This volume will aid a broad audience of Anglophone readers in understanding and appreciating Petersburg.
Widely considered the greatest Russian modernist novel, Andrei Bely's Petersburg has until now eluded the critical attention that a book of its caliber merits. In The Stony Dance, Timothy Langen offers readers a study of Bely's masterpiece unparalleled in its comprehensiveness, clarity, and inclusion of detail--a critical study that is at the same time a meditation on the nature of literary art.
Thoroughly versed in Russian and European modernism, in Bely's biography and writings, and in twentieth-century literary theory, Langen constructs an original analytic scheme for reading Petersburg. Guided by Bely's fertile but challenging notions of art and philosophy, he analyzes the novel first as an object embodying intentions and essences, then as a pattern of signification and events, and finally as a dance of gestures that coordinate body and meaning, regularity and surprise, self and other, and author, novel, and reader. The terms are derived from Bely's own writings, but they are nuanced with reference to Russian and European contexts and clarified with reference to philosophy and literary theory. Langen shows how Bely invariably challenges his own concepts and patterns, thereby creating an unusually demanding and dynamic text. In finding an approach to these enriching difficulties, this book at long last shows readers a welcoming way into Bely's thought, and his masterwork, and their place in the complex world of early twentieth-century literature.