Петербург Read Ë 2


Петербург

Review Петербург

After enlisting in a revolutionary terrorist organization the university student Nikolai Apollonovich Ableukhov is entrusted with a highly dangerous mission to plant a bomb and assassinate a major. The twin spires of Time and Light stand out for me on the busy skyline of this phenomenal book Time counts down the narrative while Light provides the special effects that rhythm the ebb and flow of the truly idiosyncratic counting down process Yes 'ebb and flow' is appropriate to mention here We expect Time to move only in one direction and always at the same pace according to the age old rules but Bely's Time strikes right through the rule book It doubles back and when it's not busy reversing it suddenly speeds up in a thunderous wave or even bizarrely slows down to a complete stop The exclamation mark at the end of that sentence is there for than exclamatory purposes Bely uses exclamation marks as if they'd just been invented; sometimes they even mark pauses especially when the narrative has gone into one of its fast forward modes and the reader is at risk of collapsing from the exhaustion of keeping up Then Bely drops an exclamation mark onto the page followed by an ellipsis or two and some blank space and our hearts return to normal rhythm and we take time to rethink what we've just read realising that it may only have been an hallucination on the part of a character—or even a hallucination of our own When the blank space becomes print again we invariably find the clock has been wound back once so that we are being shown the same scene from a different point of view and what seemed utterly phantasmagorical a few moments before becomes just an ordinary Petersburg night with a few trees tossing about on the city's main thoroughfare the Nevsky Prospect But even a regular windy night can seem bizarre when Bely gives it his Light treatment The sky is often greenish or pewter coloured; the Nevsky Prospect is enveloped in a fiery murk; street lights are blood red pinpoints; the roofs of houses give off a phosphorescent sheen; passersby are reduced to shadows while shadows suddenly form themselves into passersby Alongside the oddly ticking Time this playing around with Light leaves us uncertain about what we've just read Does the crimson sky indicate morning or is it actually evening Is that building really adorned with black lace or is it only the shadow of the trees Did the statue of the famous Bronze Horseman just thunder down from its giant plinth to chase a character through the city as in Pushkin's poem of the same name Or was it a trick of the Light—in collusion with some phantom Sound engineer Yes Sound works closely with Light to make us very wary of Petersburg's grey and foggy streets They seem to echo all the time with a ghostly 'ooo' and even when we stop reading we think we can still hear it ooo ooo oooOf course the year is 1905 when 'revoloootion' was in the air and that backdrop is partly responsible for some of the sounds we think we hear as we read such as the whoosh of gravel thrown at a window by a mob or the clicking sound in the corner of a room that could simply be a cockroach or a mouse but could also be something much menacing Then there's the constant whistle of steamboats out on the Neva and the 'i' sound that the wind carries from across Russia the sound of public ire of strikes of picket lines of every Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov marching marching marching Footsteps rhythm the story tatam tam tamtatatam tam tam perhaps while a character thinks about the music of Tchaikovsky's ueen of Spades or on a different page a different character plucks the strings of a guitar bam bam bam strumming out what could be the line of the narrative but then breaking offmid lineThe line of the narrative if it could be traced on paper might follow this odd pattern That graphic representation of a narrative arc was made by Laurence Sterne nearly 200 years before Bely wrote this book but if I've paused to recall Sterne's Tristram Shandy it's with a dual purpose Both authors play around with Time in their novels pulling it out to an extraordinary degree and both authors also love digressions—in Sterne's novel the digressions simply amuse whereas in Bely's they heighten the suspense in a major way and increasingly as the pages turn And while we're talking digressions let me mention another author who plays with Time Dostoyevsky in Crime and Punishment Coincidentally the time span of that novel is the same as Bely's ten days or so Dostoyevsky makes us very aware of Time passing although he specialises not in jumping about in time but in slowing it down recording each second of his character's ten day existence And as I read Bely's Petersburg I was reminded of Dostoyevsky's novel for other reasons besides the treatment of Time Dostoyevsky's main character Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov constantly roams the Nevsky Prospect just as Bely's characters do and Raskolnikov himself possesses traits that mirror those of Bely's two main characters Nicolai Apollonovich Ableukhov and Alexandr Ivanovich Dudkin Like Raskolnikov Ableukhov's intensive course of philosophical studies has confused his mind so much that he finds himself involved in a crime while Bely's second hero Dudkin suffers from hallucinations just as Raskolnikov does Both Dudkin and Raskolnikov live in tiny cupboard like rooms with yellowed wallpaper through which they imagine they are being spied on by malevolent eyes and both eventually commit violent acts one with an axe one with ascissors It's also interesting that in both novels there's an agent provocateur who plays psychological games with the main characters and drives them to a state approaching delirium Had my panic stricken hero been able to take a look at himself from the side at that moment he would have been horrified; in the greenish moonlit little cupboard of a room he would have seen himself clutching at his stomach and bawling with effort into the absolute emptiness in front of him; his head was thrown right back and the enormous opening of his yelling mouth would have seemed to him a black abyss of non existence; but Aleksandr Ivanovich could not jump out of himself and he did not see himselfBut to return to the themes of Time and Light that dominated Bely's book for me perhaps the image I will take with me from the reading experience is not Munch's Scream but the following word picture the Nevsky Prospect is bathed in a fiery crimson glow that might be dawn or might be dusk; it is thronging with bowler hats moustaches noses and shoulders; noses flowed past in large numbers; the auiline nose and the cockerel nose; the duck like nose the hen's nose; and so on and so on; the nose was turned to one side; or the nose was not at all turned; greenish green pale white and redand shoulders shoulders shoulders flowed past; all the shoulders formed a thick mass as black as coal; all the shoulders formed a highly viscous and slowly flowing mass This viscous mass snakes along the Prospect day in day out while high above the city the Bronze Horseman leaps forward eternallyAnd now of course I'm reading Gogol's Nevsky Prospect in a volume that includes The Nose

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Government figure But the real central character of the novel is the city of Petersburg at the beginning of the twentieth century caught in the grip of political agitation and social unrest Inter. In his later years when Andrei Bely was slowly going mad he hacked his original text of Petersburg making it twice shorter and endlessly dryer in order to make it readable for proles I doubt that any proletarian had ever read the novel but somehow this bastardly version had found its way to English translation And only lately the adeuate modern translation of the novel has been published in English “Solitary street lamps were metamorphosed into sea creatures with prismatic spines”Andrei Bely virtually turns Petersburg into a tenebrous undersea realm and populates it with all sorts of revolutionary reactionary anarchistic deranged regressive and renegade monsters“And now as he looked pensively into that boundlessness of mists the man of state suddenly expanded out of the black cube in all directions and soared above it; and he desired that the carriage should fly forward that the prospects should fly towards him—prospect after prospect that the whole spherical surface of the planet should be gripped by the blackish grey cubes of the houses as by serpentine coils; that the whole of the earth sueezed by prospects should intersect the immensity in linear cosmic flight with rectilinear law”The book is written in the magnificently burlesue language and it is a kaleidoscope of human whims caprices fixations phobias and ideas Tout sur le chocolat : Le guide de l'épicurien novel is the city of Petersburg at the beginning of the twentieth century caught in the grip of political agitation and social unrest Inter. In his later years when Andrei Bely was slowly going mad he hacked his original text of Petersburg making it twice shorter and endlessly dryer in order to make it readable for proles I doubt that any proletarian had ever read the Cuisiner avec de la pâte à tartiner maison c’est simplissime novel but somehow this bastardly version had found its way to English translation And only lately the adeuate modern translation of the 99 + 1 (bonnes) raisons de croquer du chocolat novel has been published in English “Solitary street lamps were metamorphosed into sea creatures with prismatic spines”Andrei Bely virtually turns Petersburg into a tenebrous undersea realm and populates it with all sorts of revolutionary reactionary anarchistic deranged regressive and renegade monsters“And Chocolat now as he looked pensively into that boundlessness of mists the man of state suddenly expanded out of the black cube in all directions and soared above it; and he desired that the carriage should fly forward that the prospects should fly towards him—prospect after prospect that the whole spherical surface of the planet should be gripped by the blackish grey cubes of the houses as by serpentine coils; that the whole of the earth sueezed by prospects should intersect the immensity in linear cosmic flight with rectilinear law”The book is written in the magnificently burlesue language and it is a kaleidoscope of human whims caprices fixations phobias and ideas

Andrei Bely æ 2 Download

Twining the worlds of history and myth and parading a cast of unforgettable characters Petersburg is a story of apocalypse and redemption played out through family dysfunction conspiracy and murde. In which a story is told of a certain worthy personage his intellectual games and the ephemerality of existence Although it starts in a classical satirical tone the story of the Ableukhov family in the revolutionary year 1905 in Sankt Petersburg becomes very uickly an intimate exploration of the human psyche The events of the outside real world the very existence of the imperial capital become lost in the mists of confusion and inner turmoil that Bely's characters go throughI struggled myself to get a grip on the story I've been reading this novel on and off for the last six months Only after I gave up on my attempts to build a coherent structure of events I was able to fully appreciate the scope and the artistry of the author's effort Cerebral play is only a mask; behind this mask the invasion of the brain by forces unknown to us is accomplished Andrei Bely is not the Dickensian fellow novelist I suspected after the first pages of the story he is first of all a poet that builds his novel out of symbols sounds colors repetitions of key phrases and allegory themes and moods that follow closely the human heart instead of the brain And we all know from Dostoyevsky et co how tumultuous those Russian souls can get 'They're just some kind of Hamlets Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov and his son Nikolai Apollonovich are unlikely protagonists at least in the beginning of the journey The elder a high official in the Tzarist governemnt is a strait laced conformist and authoritarian figure mostly comical and anachronic The youngster is a timid scatterbrained student chasing married skirts and reading German philosophers In comes a third personage Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin a professional revolutionaryterrorist to throw a monkey wrench in the works There's also a time bomb that drives the plot forward but tends to get lost or misplaced 'yes only ten days in ten days everything had changed; Russia had changed' The actual story spans a short interval in October 1905 and there are echoes of outside events that resonate in the inner struggle of the Ableukhovs but the real tour de force here is Bely bringing to life a whole city as a character in the story weaving his symbols a red domino at a masked ball a bronze horseman a tin of sardines etc into the dream life of his heroes – a veritable nightmare that gets and disconnected from reality as the story progressesEach of the three main characters experiences waking nightmares hallucinatory trips into the subconscious where they try to reconcile the old order of things with the need for change and with the role they have been asked to play view spoiler Nikolai is supossed to kill his father Apollon at the reuest of his revolutionary friend Dudkin; Dudkin himself is rebelling against his supervisor hide spoiler


10 thoughts on “Петербург

  1. says:

    ”Nikolai Apollonovich raised curious eyes toward the immense outline of the Horseman a shadow had covered him; but now the metal lips were parted in an enigmatic smileThe storm clouds were rent asunder and in the moonlight clouds swirled like the green vapor from melted bronze For a moment everything flared waters roofs granite The face of the Horseman and the bronze laurel wreath flared And a many tonned arm extended imperiously It seemed that the arm was about to move and that metallic hooves at any moment would come crashing down upon the crag and through all of Petersburg would resound” The Bronze Horseman that Andrei Bely is referring to in this novel is of course the statue of Peter the Great which is the most recognizable structure that people will identify with St Petersburg I had a postcard of the Bronze Horseman that someone gave me when I was a kid When I discovered that St Petersburg was the center of cultural achievement I knew it was the place I most wanted to visit in Russia They’ve changed the name several times to Petrograd in 1914 and to Leningrad in 1924; as if you can change the soul of a city by changing the name In 1991 it was changed back to Saint Petersburg although the name had never changed for me Whenever I see a picture of Tsar Peter on his frisky horse I get a jolt that connects the middle aged me to the child me and I dream again of seeing Russia Pushkin wrote a narrative poem about the statue and the influence of Pushkin on Bely is evident in the text He runs and hears as if there wereJust behind him the peals of thunderOf the hard ringing hoofs’ reminders –A race the empty suare acrossUpon the pavement fiercely tossed;And by the moon that palled lighterHaving stretched his hand over roofsThe Brazen Horseman rides him after –On his steed of the ringing hoofsAnd all the night the madman poorWhere’er he might direct his stepsAft him the Bronze Horseman for sureKeeps on the heavy treading raceAlexander Pushkin image error


  2. says:

    The twin spires of Time and Light stand out for me on the busy skyline of this phenomenal book Time counts down the narrative while Light provides the special effects that rhythm the ebb and flow of the truly idiosyncratic counting down process Yes 'ebb and flow' is appropriate to mention here We expect Time to move only in one direction and always at the same pace according to the age old rules but Bely's Time strikes right through the rule book It doubles back and when it's not busy reversing it suddenly speeds up in a thunderous wave or even bizarrely slows down to a complete stop The exclamation mark at the end of that sentence is there for than exclamatory purposes Bely uses exclamation marks as if they'd just been invented; sometimes they even mark pauses especially when the narrative has gone into one of its fast forward modes and the reader is at risk of collapsing from the exhaustion of keeping up Then Bely drops an exclamation mark onto the page followed by an ellipsis or two and some blank space and our hearts return to normal rhythm and we take time to rethink what we've just read realising that it may only have been an hallucination on the part of a character—or even a hallucination of our own When the blank space becomes print again we invariably find the clock has been wound back once so that we are being shown the same scene from a different point of view and what seemed utterly phantasmagorical a few moments before becomes just an ordinary Petersburg night with a few trees tossing about on the city's main thoroughfare the Nevsky Prospect But even a regular windy night can seem bizarre when Bely gives it his Light treatment The sky is often greenish or pewter coloured; the Nevsky Prospect is enveloped in a fiery murk; street lights are blood red pinpoints; the roofs of houses give off a phosphorescent sheen; passersby are reduced to shadows while shadows suddenly form themselves into passersby Alongside the oddly ticking Time this playing around with Light leaves us uncertain about what we've just read Does the crimson sky indicate morning or is it actually evening? Is that building really adorned with black lace or is it only the shadow of the trees? Did the statue of the famous Bronze Horseman just thunder down from its giant plinth to chase a character through the city as in Pushkin's poem of the same name? Or was it a trick of the Light—in collusion with some phantom Sound engineer? Yes Sound works closely with Light to make us very wary of Petersburg's grey and foggy streets They seem to echo all the time with a ghostly 'ooo' and even when we stop reading we think we can still hear it ooo ooo oooOf course the year is 1905 when 'revoloootion' was in the air and that backdrop is partly responsible for some of the sounds we think we hear as we read such as the whoosh of gravel thrown at a window by a mob or the clicking sound in the corner of a room that could simply be a cockroach or a mouse but could also be something much menacing Then there's the constant whistle of steamboats out on the Neva and the 'i' sound that the wind carries from across Russia the sound of public ire of strikes of picket lines of every Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov marching marching marching Footsteps rhythm the story tatam tam tamtatatam tam tam perhaps while a character thinks about the music of Tchaikovsky's ueen of Spades or on a different page a different character plucks the strings of a guitar bam bam bam strumming out what could be the line of the narrative but then breaking offmid lineThe line of the narrative if it could be traced on paper might follow this odd pattern That graphic representation of a narrative arc was made by Laurence Sterne nearly 200 years before Bely wrote this book but if I've paused to recall Sterne's Tristram Shandy it's with a dual purpose Both authors play around with Time in their novels pulling it out to an extraordinary degree and both authors also love digressions—in Sterne's novel the digressions simply amuse whereas in Bely's they heighten the suspense in a major way and increasingly as the pages turn And while we're talking digressions let me mention another author who plays with Time Dostoyevsky in Crime and Punishment Coincidentally the time span of that novel is the same as Bely's ten days or so Dostoyevsky makes us very aware of Time passing although he specialises not in jumping about in time but in slowing it down recording each second of his character's ten day existence And as I read Bely's Petersburg I was reminded of Dostoyevsky's novel for other reasons besides the treatment of Time Dostoyevsky's main character Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov constantly roams the Nevsky Prospect just as Bely's characters do and Raskolnikov himself possesses traits that mirror those of Bely's two main characters Nicolai Apollonovich Ableukhov and Alexandr Ivanovich Dudkin Like Raskolnikov Ableukhov's intensive course of philosophical studies has confused his mind so much that he finds himself involved in a crime while Bely's second hero Dudkin suffers from hallucinations just as Raskolnikov does Both Dudkin and Raskolnikov live in tiny cupboard like rooms with yellowed wallpaper through which they imagine they are being spied on by malevolent eyes and both eventually commit violent acts one with an axe one with ascissors It's also interesting that in both novels there's an agent provocateur who plays psychological games with the main characters and drives them to a state approaching delirium Had my panic stricken hero been able to take a look at himself from the side at that moment he would have been horrified; in the greenish moonlit little cupboard of a room he would have seen himself clutching at his stomach and bawling with effort into the absolute emptiness in front of him; his head was thrown right back and the enormous opening of his yelling mouth would have seemed to him a black abyss of non existence; but Aleksandr Ivanovich could not jump out of himself and he did not see himselfBut to return to the themes of Time and Light that dominated Bely's book for me perhaps the image I will take with me from the reading experience is not Munch's Scream but the following word picture the Nevsky Prospect is bathed in a fiery crimson glow that might be dawn or might be dusk; it is thronging with bowler hats moustaches noses and shoulders; noses flowed past in large numbers; the auiline nose and the cockerel nose; the duck like nose the hen's nose; and so on and so on; the nose was turned to one side; or the nose was not at all turned; greenish green pale white and redand shoulders shoulders shoulders flowed past; all the shoulders formed a thick mass as black as coal; all the shoulders formed a highly viscous and slowly flowing mass This viscous mass snakes along the Prospect day in day out while high above the city the Bronze Horseman leaps forward eternallyAnd now of course I'm reading Gogol's Nevsky Prospect in a volume that includes The Nose


  3. says:

    A uick note on the four available translations The first point is that there are two versions of this novel – the original of 1916 and a later version from 1922 The 1922 version was heavily edited by the author with significant portions of the text removed mainly to make it easier to read He removed many of the experimental sections and added clearer structure at the expense of some of his flights of fancy The shorter version is about 380 pages in the Maguire the longer is 570 in the Pushkin and 600 in the Penguin and both have similar size type For that reason alone I would not recommend reading the 1922 version Here is what someone else has said “ Peterburg was first published serially in 1913 14 and in book form in 1916 Bely revised it largely by making or less random drastic cuts for its republication in Berlin in 1922 The novel was reprinted in Soviet Russia with further changes in 1928 and 1935 Several reprintings of different versions have since appeared outside Russia While the cuts of the 1916 version may have improved the novel structurally they resulted in dangling loose ends and unpursued hints This in turn incidentally has had a negative effect on translations giving rise to passages which make little senseThe Elsworth and McDuff translations are from the 1916 edition and should therefore be preferred Of the two translations it should be noted that the Elsworth is the most recent he is a respected scholar of Bely’s work and has written books in English on him and it won the Rossica Translation prize in 2012 Comparison of translations The first line in Russian is Аполлон Аполлонович Аблеухов был весьма почтенного рода он имел своим предком Адама Google translate gives me Apollo Apollonovich Ableukhov was very respectable kind he had his ancestor Adam 1 Elsworth Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov was of exceedingly venerable stock he had Adam for his ancestor2 Maguire Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov came of most respected stock he had Adam as his ancestor3 McDuff Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov came of most respected stock he had Adam as his ancestor4 Cournos Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov came of very good stock Adam was his ancestor I think the Elsworth is much better certainly “exceedingly venerable” is much funnier This is a dialectic novel EastWestFatherSon interesting similarity to Ulysses in that respect though this came first ChaosOrderApolloDionysus the Citythe islands geometric formsmist and fogcreationdestruction etc etc etc An excerpt if this does not make you want to read this novel please make an appointment with your doctorBeards moustaches chins that abundance comprised the upper extremities of human torsosShoulders flowed by shoulders and shoulders; all together the shoulders formed a pitch black porridge; all the shoulders formed a slow flowing porridge of extreme viscosity; and Alexandr Ivanovich’s shoulder immediately became attached to that porridge; stuck to it you might say; and Alexandr Ivanovich Dudkin followed that self willed shoulder in accordance with the law of the indivisible wholeness of bodies; thus he was disgorged on to Nevskii Prospect; and there he was compressed like a single grain into the porridge that flowed with blacknessWhat is a grain? It is both a world and an object of consumption; as an object of consumption a grain—of caviar say—does not represent in itself a satisfactory wholeness; that wholeness—is caviar the aggregate of grains; the consumer is not aware of grains of caviar; but he is aware of caviar; that is the porridge of grains of caviar Spread on a proffered sandwich In just the same way the bodies of individuals who emerge on to the pavement are transformed on Nevskii Prospect into the organs of a communal body into the grains of the caviar the Nevskii pavements are a field of sandwiches Exactly the same happened to the body of Dudkin as he emerged here exactly the same happened to his persistent thought—to the thought of a huge many legged creature that ran along the NevskiiThey left the pavement; multitudinous legs were running there; and they stared speechlessly at the multitudinous legs of the dark porridge of people as it ran past the porridge incidentally was not flowing but creeping creeping and shuffling—creeping and shuffling on a tide of legs; the porridge was composed of many thousands of tiny constituents; every tiny constituent was a torso and the torsos ran on legsThere were no people on Nevskii Prospect; what was there was a creeping clamouring myriapod; a miscellany of voices—a miscellany of words—was pouring out into a single moisture laden space; coherent sentences clashed against each other and broke; and words flew apart there senselessly and terribly like the shards of empty bottles all broken in a single spot all of them mixed at random were woven together again into a sentence that flew for all infinity without beginning or end; this sentence seemed senseless and woven from fantasy the unalleviated senselessness of the sentence thus composed hung like black soot over the Nevskii; the black smoke of fantastic tales enveloped all its spaceAnd the Neva swelling now and then roared at those fantastic tales and beat against the massive granite wallsThe creeping myriapod is terrible Here along the Nevskii it has been running for centuries But higher up above the Nevskii—it’s the seasons that do the running springs autumns winters There the seuence is changeable; but here—the seuence is unchanging in its springs summers and winters;; through springs summers winters the seuence is the same And as we know a limit is set to periods of time; and—period follows upon period; after spring comes summer; autumn follows upon summer and passes over into winter; and in spring everything thaws There is no such limit to the human myriapod; nothing takes its place; its segments may change but it—is forever the same; somewhere over there beyond the railway station its head bends round; its tail protrudes into Morskaia; but along the Nevskii its segments the legs that are its members shuffle by—with no head no tail no consciousness no thought; the myriapod creeps past as it has always crept; and as it has crept so it will go on creepingpages 342 344 Petersburg by Andrei Bely Pushkin Press 2009 translation by John Elsworth


  4. says:

    In his later years when Andrei Bely was slowly going mad he hacked his original text of Petersburg making it twice shorter and endlessly dryer in order to make it readable for proles I doubt that any proletarian had ever read the novel but somehow this bastardly version had found its way to English translation And only lately the adeuate modern translation of the novel has been published in English “Solitary street lamps were metamorphosed into sea creatures with prismatic spines”Andrei Bely virtually turns Petersburg into a tenebrous undersea realm and populates it with all sorts of revolutionary reactionary anarchistic deranged regressive and renegade monsters“And now as he looked pensively into that boundlessness of mists the man of state suddenly expanded out of the black cube in all directions and soared above it; and he desired that the carriage should fly forward that the prospects should fly towards him—prospect after prospect that the whole spherical surface of the planet should be gripped by the blackish grey cubes of the houses as by serpentine coils; that the whole of the earth sueezed by prospects should intersect the immensity in linear cosmic flight with rectilinear law”The book is written in the magnificently burlesue language and it is a kaleidoscope of human whims caprices fixations phobias and ideas


  5. says:

    The Bronze Horseman descends from his pedestal and goes visiting at night it turns out that he smokes a pipe view spoiler and indeed generally appears to have calmed down since the days of Pushkin's poem hide spoiler


  6. says:

    A curious work Something definitely out of the common groove But it is a novel and there is a story that does get told albeit in a rather uirky way When the pace is strong it's good and fun to read; while at other times when the pace is slow the author becomes somewhat self indulgent entertaining himself with mists and shadows and other unsubstantial things Not bad not great; 35 stars we'll call it 4


  7. says:

    It is a cliché that all drunk people think that they are wonderful company that in the moment they see in their rambling slurred and often nonsensical conversation the brilliant holding forth of a world class orator Unfortunately for me I have never suffered from this delusion Whenever I get drunk I am fully aware of myself fully conscious of the torrents of bullshit pouring from my mouth I just don’t seem to be able to stop the flow Something happens when I drink some kind of mechanism in my brain gives way; and so the writhing mass of thoughts that harangue me when sober the near unbearable seemingly limitless and constantly overlapping multitude of thoughts that I liken to a big tub of live eels are given expression I sharein the most baffling manner possible Can you imagine what it is like to be on the receiving end of that? Well you don’t have to You can read Andrei Bely’s Petersburg instead“Petersburg does not exist It merely seems to exist”It is often noted that Bely’s novel has not achieved the status that it deserves that it is to use a vulgar popular phrase criminally underrated There are of course numerous reasons for that First of all it is said that until very recently the book suffered in English from less than stellar translations although that doesn’t appear to have done Dostoevsky’s reputation any harm It is also the case and I think this is far pertinent that it lacks a kind of universality; it is at least in part a paean to the city of Petersburg itself and if you have never been or have no real interest in the place then a good part of the book’s charm will be lost on you Likewise there are references to historical events that are particular to Russia and references and allusions are made sometimes without any explanation to famous Russian writers Pushkin for example and works of literature However than any of these things the most alienating aspect of the work is the authorial voiceMuch like me when I’ve had too many cocktails the narrator appears to be trying to talk about six subjects all at once; he is mentally unsettled starting sentences and not finishing them randomly throwing out jokes and puns which are never very funny repeating himself and lapsing into poetic uotations and often complex but largely unintelligible philosophy and spiritualism While many make comparisons to Gogol’s epically silly characters I would say that if the authorial voice has a literary forebear it would be Rogozhin from The Idiot a man suffering from a nervous ailment; indeed it is as though he has seized control of Crime Punishment and tried to rewrite it as a comedy Of course this voice and by extension Petersburg itself is occasionally tiresome Sometimes the story just will not proceed; and I don’t I must admit exhibit a lot of tolerance where puns and wordplay are concerned Yet these minor uibbles aside it’s a strangely beautiful and engrossing book and certainly rewarding for a patient readerI don’t want to give the impression that Petersburg is a mess not even a beautiful and engrossing mess because there was obviously a precise method to Bely’s apparent madness indeed after the book’s first publication in 1913 he continued to revise it – so it is clear that he took it very seriously Take the repetition it is not the recourse of an inarticulate writer but rather it is freuently used for poetic effect Bely was I believe a poet and his circular prose and the emphasis placed upon certain phrases reminded me very much of Homer“O Russian people Russian people Do not let the the crowds of slippery shadows come over from the islands” p30“O Russian people Russian peopleDo not let the crowds of fitful shadows come over from the island” p36Sometimes these phrases have a comic purpose like when it is repeatedly said of Sergei Likhutin that “he was in charge of provisions somewhere out there” Here Bely emphasises Sergei’s unimportance to his wife with the vague somewhere as though it is Sofia rather than the author who doesn’t know nor care where he goes; at other times these phrases stress certain personal characteristics or states of mind I mentioned Homer previously but I was also strongly reminded despite Bely writing much earlier than both of Thomas Bernhard and Imre Kertesz who I had previously thought of as being primarily influenced by Dostoevsky and Kafka and various philosophers including Wittgenstein Bernhard and Kertesz wereare uite open about their favourite writers and books and I don’t recall either ever mentioning Bely but the similarities are clear especially in relation to Kertesz’s Fiasco and Kaddish for an Unborn Child and Bernhard’s Correction In all of these novels there is a process of refining or correcting of thought and idea taking place whereby an idea or phrase is altered slightly with each subseuent appearance in the text as the O Russian people uote above shows and an obsessive attention to seemingly banal detailFurther the chaotic unstable authorial voice is I’m sure meant to reflect to mirror both the mind set of his characters and the nature of the times The plot of the novel at the most basic level is that a young philosophy student Nikolai Abluekhov has been given a ticking bomb and is tasked with assassinating a senior government official who turns out to be his father So there is on a local level so to speak obviously much emotional turmoil Moreover the novel is set in the year 1905 a time following the defeat in the Russo Japanese war and just before the Russian revolution It was historians tell me a time of social and political unrest; for example on the 9th of January 1905 a peaceful workers demonstration was fired upon by Cossack units and the police The spooked and unhinged narrator is then in perfect harmony with his subject the times and his characters; in fact he acts almost as another character himself Make no mistake Petersburg is an almost unfathomably layered complex piece of work – seemingly a mess but actually perfectly orderedPetersburg in the early 1900’sMost reviewers of Bely’s novel tend to refer to its reputation as a symbolist masterpiece often throwing out this term symbolist and uickly moving on Ah I know your game people Don’t get me wrong I’m not sneering at anyone; I get you I feel your pain Symbolism is hard enough to decipher at the best of times but when one is concerned with a Russian novel written 100 years ago the task will be particularly difficult As great as I undoubtedly am even I cannot possibly pick up on or explain everything There are however certain symbols that are prominent than others and some that suggest obvious interpretations For example I’ve already written about how chaos and order are important themes and the text is strewn with references to zigzags and spheres; to my mind the zigzags are disorder and the spheres it doesn’t seem a stretch to suppose are order amongst other things I might add There are also repeated mentions of certain colours particularly yellow red and grey I’m not too sure about yellow and grey although they may represent illness perhaps but red seems fairly clear it being a colour that is popularly associated with Russia itself the Russian word for red красный means beautiful by the way and is of course also the colour of bloodIt ought to be clear by now that there isn’t a great deal to get your teeth into on a human level Certainly the characters aren’t alive in the way that Dostoevsky’s and Tolstoy’s are; I just cannot envisage anyone coming away from the book feeling as though they have made some kind of personal connection with say Nikolai or his father Apollon It would uite frankly be absurd However there is some human interest The father son dynamic the intellectual and emotional clashes between different generations is one that the great Russians appeared to be particularly fond of it having been explored for example in than one of Dostoevsky’s novels and Turgenev’s Father Sons I don’t think Bely brings much to the table in this regard certainly nothing that hadn’t been dealt with successfully elsewhere but it’s nice to have it and in any case one gets the feeling that he was deliberately winking at those other novels anyway; it was I think all part of his extraordinary game


  8. says:

    In which a story is told of a certain worthy personage his intellectual games and the ephemerality of existence Although it starts in a classical satirical tone the story of the Ableukhov family in the revolutionary year 1905 in Sankt Petersburg becomes very uickly an intimate exploration of the human psyche The events of the outside real world the very existence of the imperial capital become lost in the mists of confusion and inner turmoil that Bely's characters go throughI struggled myself to get a grip on the story I've been reading this novel on and off for the last six months Only after I gave up on my attempts to build a coherent structure of events I was able to fully appreciate the scope and the artistry of the author's effort Cerebral play is only a mask; behind this mask the invasion of the brain by forces unknown to us is accomplished Andrei Bely is not the Dickensian fellow novelist I suspected after the first pages of the story he is first of all a poet that builds his novel out of symbols sounds colors repetitions of key phrases and allegory themes and moods that follow closely the human heart instead of the brain And we all know from Dostoyevsky et co how tumultuous those Russian souls can get 'They're just some kind of Hamlets Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov and his son Nikolai Apollonovich are unlikely protagonists at least in the beginning of the journey The elder a high official in the Tzarist governemnt is a strait laced conformist and authoritarian figure mostly comical and anachronic The youngster is a timid scatterbrained student chasing married skirts and reading German philosophers In comes a third personage Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin a professional revolutionaryterrorist to throw a monkey wrench in the works There's also a time bomb that drives the plot forward but tends to get lost or misplaced 'yes only ten days in ten days everything had changed; Russia had changed' The actual story spans a short interval in October 1905 and there are echoes of outside events that resonate in the inner struggle of the Ableukhovs but the real tour de force here is Bely bringing to life a whole city as a character in the story weaving his symbols a red domino at a masked ball a bronze horseman a tin of sardines etc into the dream life of his heroes – a veritable nightmare that gets and disconnected from reality as the story progressesEach of the three main characters experiences waking nightmares hallucinatory trips into the subconscious where they try to reconcile the old order of things with the need for change and with the role they have been asked to play view spoiler Nikolai is supossed to kill his father Apollon at the reuest of his revolutionary friend Dudkin; Dudkin himself is rebelling against his supervisor hide spoiler


  9. says:

    As a result in part of it's history going many years without publication outside of the USSR Andrei Bely's Petersburg first written in 1913 and not translated to English until 1959 is woefully under read It is perhaps most often read nowadays for the praise it received of Vladimir Nabokov who ranked it among Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu Joyce's Ulysses and Kafka's Metamorphosis as the twentieth century's greatest novels It is deserving of significant praise though it's ranking of top four for the century bears it tough competition from Woolf James Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Nabokov's own Lolita Despite this considerable competition it belongs on far Top 100 lists than I have seen it on none and for that reason I feel compelled to review it on here to perhaps win over some unbeknownst to themselves Bely fans Perambulatory fiction a tradition which symmetrically begins with Homer's Odyssey and comes to fruition in Joyce's Ulysses and Dubliners and Woolf's Mrs Dalloway has become almost a characteristic of modernist literature though of course it is uite timeless Through literary walks cities unfold Joyce's Dublin Dickins's London Balzac's Paris and Proust's Combray though partially fictional but among these literary vistas ranks the superb portrayal of Bely's Petersburg Petersburg PetersburgSediment of mist you have pursued me too with idle cerebral play you are a cruel hearted tormenter; you are a restless ghost; for years you used to assail me; I would run along your terrible Prospects and my impetus would carry me up on to that cast iron bridge which starts from the edge of the world and leads to the limitless distance; beyond the Neva in the green distance of the other world—the ghosts of islands and houses rose seducing me with the vain hope that that land was real and not—a howling endlessness that drives the pale smoke of clouds out on to the Petersburg streets Hearkening back to epic poets Bely often invokes his muse the very Petersburg of which he writes but she is a shadowy muse the penumbral underside of Enlightenment the sinister apparition of revolution and dischord Also like The Odyssey and other Greek and Roman epics Petersburg utilizes repetitions and distinguishing personal epithets to both set the recursive staging of daily routine in the city and also to establish the unconcern of the city Petersburg with the goings on of its characters and drama Through even the greatest of human follies the city remains immutably remote while also disturbingly human chillingly reactive In addition to the literal characterization of Petersburg there is another remote actor upon the proscenium of Petersburg which is Bely himself or an authorial fiction unto himself Often the story is interjected with an almost post modern self awareness as a novel one which follows the tradition of Thackeray's Vanity Fair which both assures us of the veracity of the story but also draws our attention to its existence as an artifice or work of artWhat might surprise many a reader of modernist fiction is that the story is uite plotted the pace is uite uick We follow the guilt tormented revolutionary Nikolai Apollonovich Ableukov a senator's son in his mad walks along the Neva in his masuerading as a red domino to terrorize his abandoned love Sofya in his sub rosa dealings with shadowy spectors Dudkin and Lippanchenko The tick tock tick of the sardine can bomb which he has agreed to set in his father's room a patricide promise which he is loath to keep but feels he cannot escape But throughout this political intrigue and near parody of Crime and Punishment we are gifted with the little cerebral plays of particularly the father and son Ableukovs the father ever musing on the limits of his mental geometry and the son ever thinking about his hero Kant The novel reads as a intermingling of the creative consciousnesses of father son and authorial ghost This shadow arose by chance in Senator Ableukhov’s consciousness receiving there its ephemeral existence; but Apollon Apollonovisch’s consciousness is a shadow consciousness because he too is possessed of ephemeral existence being the product of the author’s imagination needless idle cerebral play And Petersburg is no too serious text the parallels between Bely and Dostoyevsky's respective novels are done so to parodic effect While Raskolnikov is a thinker his crime is only vaguely planned and the the murder of Lizaveta surprises even himself; Nikolai's crime is yet to be committed he has killed no one but is burdened with an almost absurd guilt a guilt for uncommitted crime which remains avoidable by simple inaction Further parody is drawn from the too obvious parody on Freud's Oedipus Complex Frued a contemporary of Bely published his Three Essays on Sexuality wherein he laid down much of the foundation for his Oedipal theory in 1905 curiously the same year which begins Petersburg The geographically distant mother whom Nikolai seems to worship the emotionally distant father whom Nikolai seems to hate and Nikolai's apparent love aversion and coy distancing tactics in his relationship with Sofya are laughable and make our guilt racked protagonist the very red domino clown as which he disguises himselfThe language in Petersburg is painted with a Joycean ardor a mélange of the unrestrained logophilia and wordplay of Ulysses and the aesthetic precision and accessibility of Dubliners There is a rhythmic cadence to Bely's novel which is pleasant to the ear and has a distinctly auricular pleasure to it of which I draw no comparison but to poetry a sound distinctly of it's own The novel strikes the perfect tempo both fast paced but also solemn in its comedy and insightful in its absurdity Despite the wordplay and the punning jokes of Senator Apollon Apollonovich we are warned early on that cerebral play is only a mask; beneath this mask proceeds the invasion of the brain by forces unknown to us what on the surface may appear to be farce is a mask for something deeper something serious something worth read truth which is a force unknown which covertly invades our brains when we participate in literatureIt was easy to get lost in Petersburg not confused but lost in the very prospects and alley ways diffused into the very city into the very text Bely's is a powerful text which utilizes the over said or obvious as a medium of almost extreme subtlety What does it mean to be included? Included in a group in a family in one's own thoughts or in the thoughts of another? Nikolai is torn between the desperate need for inclusion but his methods his feverish acceptance of a revolutionary patricide could only achieve him one tenuous inclusion while exiling him from the possibility of many others His relationship with his father is distant and though it manifests itself in apparent disdain there is an element of suppressed tenderness of a desire for love which Nikolai and Apollon cannot verbalize and instead retreat into their idle cerebral play That love which reconciles them is the mutual love for Nikolai's absent mother Anna Petrovna who returns and with her return an unnatural staging of familial happiness Though this contentment remains only a semblance it serves as a final straw for Nikolai who feverishly relents his acceptance of the bomb but no matter the extent of his rummaging search for it he cannot find it Does love conuer all? That is neither here nor there in the novel as love is noted mostly by its absence What can be said is that the lack thereof disrupts all denatures the mind and brings reality tumbling through the chaotic abyss of the absurd


  10. says:

    Yes yes Andrei Bely I shall plunge into your world of candy coated crayons supertzar Slavs and sardine can ordinance of a père et fil in merry go round pursuit to discover and detonate the bomb Lauded by Nabo compressed and expanded a slyly singsong cavalcade of daydream dalliance mythomnemonic mayhem and prancing prickliness all coated with allusion and fired until the melancholic gloss shimmers like a midnight sun—I am firm in my faith in Davey Boy clan McClan clan McDuff to light the way with interpretive candles sufficient to reveal the aerated beauty of Bely in Anglo candescence


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