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Colloquium by Fedor B. Poljakov, University of Vienna: Archaic Cultural Memory in the Literary Text



Fedor B. Poljakov, University of Vienna


Wednesday, October 9, 2013 - 5:15pm - 7:00pm


Building 260, Room 252



Colloquium by Fedor B. Poljakov, University of Vienna: Archaic Cultural Memory in the Literary Text

            This talk discusses different notions of the archaic in the history of modern Russian culture and the way they change over time. The talk takes as its material literary works and the debates that surround literary language -- what it should or should not be like. This controversy, which flared up in the 18th century and shows no signs of abating to this day, touches not only upon the purely technical questions of literary studies, but also upon ideological questions. Since the 18th century these debates have revolved around the place of Old Church Slavonic. Over the course of these debates the Russian literary language founded by Mikhail Lomonosov in the 18th century became firmly established. But towards the beginning of the Pushkin era this language underwent substantial reform in the works of Karamzin, who in his struggle against archaic Old-Church-Slavonicisms turned to Western European models and argued for replacing archaic expressions with calques and Gallicisms. Karamzin and his followers (including the young Pushkin) gained the upper hand over their archaist opponents, and for the remainder of the 19th century the term “arkhaizm” was anathema. The 19th century had rejected the 18th century’s legacy of archaism. 

          All the more unexpected, as a result, was the emphatic and widespread use of the archaic in the work of Viacheslav Ivanov, one of the leading figures of early 20th century Russian modernism. His literary adversaries ridiculed his poetic style, which was known for its wide use of high Old-Church-Slavonicisms. Ivanov’s conception of Russian literary culture was based on a comparison (by analogy) with the antique world, and he understood Old Church Slavonic to be the language of culture, similar in function to Greek or Latin.

            The archaic tradition met another fate in the work of other major emigre writers -- of Aleksei Remizov and of his younger contemporary, Lev Gomolitskii. Remizov called for a return to the spoken language of the pre-Petrine era rather than cultivating an elevated style and the solemn Old-Church-Slavonic lexicon. In contrast to Remizov, Gomolitsky believed that it was precisely the category of “high archaic” that was indispensable in the attempt to give modern poetry a heroic cast. The modern era, in his opinion, necessitated a return to the lofty style of the 18th century. Gomolitsky became the most extreme expression of this revival of the 18th century in the modernist era.

            Lecture in Russian