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Andrei Bely in the 30’s: Андрей Белый в 30-е годы (следственное дело антропософов, последние дневники писателя)



Monika Spivak (Andrey Bely Museum, Moscow)


Wednesday, November 5, 2014 - 5:15pm


Pigott Hall (Building 260), Room 216


Andrei Bely in the 30’s: Андрей Белый в 30-е годы (следственное дело антропософов, последние дневники писателя)

Among the events that shaped the literary and public behavior of the “late” Bely, the most important was the arrest (in spring 1931) of a group of Moscow anthroposophists, for whom he served as a spiritual leader. Bely himself was not arrested, but his diaries and other archival materials were confiscated by the OGPU and used to convict his anthroposophist friends of counter-revolutionary activity. Bely had already demonstrated his loyalty to the Soviet regime, but fear for his fate and the fate of his wife (who was also arrested but released shortly afterwards thanks to Bely’s intercession) led him to seek to demonstrate that he was not only not an enemy, nor a “fellow traveler,” but an ardent supporter of the regime. This attempt culminated in an episode in a vestibule at the first Congress of Soviet Writers: Bely wanted to join the main stream of Soviet literature. Bely’s lectures and articles of the 1930’s, as well as the series of proclamations and articles that he wrote at the time, followed from this. However, Bely’s attempt to “align himself” with the Soviet party line were not crowned with success. The foreword to his memoir “Nachalo veka” [The Beginning of the Age”], written by the prominent party figure Lev Kamenev, stated that Bely’s work was a reflection of bourgeois ideology and not something young Soviet readers needed to be reading. Bely saw this foreword as the passing of a sentence closing off his path to literature. Friends supposed that Kamenev’s foreword was one of the reasons for Bely’s premature death. Andrei Bely’s death became a highly significant socio-literary event. However, the tone struck by the official party organs was broken by an unexpected obituary appearing in the newspaper Izvestiia (on January 9th, 1934) written by Boris Pasternak, Boris Pilniak, and Grigori Sannikov. The words of praise addressed to the dead writer and symbolist appeared to the leadership of the Union of Writers to be inappropriate and contradictory to the official party line. To be sure, the Izvestiia obituary repudiated many of the theses put forward by Kamenev in his foreword. Scandal flared up during Bely’s funeral, of all places, and there arose a fierce debate over who, exactly, Bely was — a counterrevolutionary mystic or a genuine Soviet writer. The debate lasted for several months and dominated the pages of periodicals both in Moscow and the provinces. It’s worth considering what was written in the Soviet Union alongside the response to Bely’s death in the Russian émigré press. Among the many reactions to Bely’s death one of the most mysterious was Osip Mandelstam’s cycle of poems, which included the poems “Меня преследуют две-три случайных фразы…,” “Откуда привезли?…” and others. This talk examines them in the context of the reality of the time and the debate that was unfolding in the press over Bely’s creative work.