Wednesday, 9 October 2013

An Astral Novel: A. Bely's Novel Peterburg

Peterburg no longer exists. The life of this city was a bureaucratic life predominantly, and its end was a bureaucratic end. What has arisen is the unfamiliar and to our ears still strange sounding Petrograd. There has ended not only an old word and in its place arisen a new word, there has ended an entire historical period, and we find ourselves entering upon a new and unknown period. There was something strange and terrible in the rise of Peterburg, in its fate, in its relationship to the whole of enormous Russia, in its being torn off from the life of the people, something at once both powerfully enervating and phantasmic. By the magic volition of Peter, Peterburg rose up from out of nothing, from the marshy mists. Pushkin gave us a feel of the life of this Peterburg in his 'Bronze Horseman'. Peterburg no longer exists. The life of this city was a bureaucratic life predominantly, and its end was a bureaucratic end. What has arisen is the unfamiliar and to our ears still strange sounding Petrograd. There has ended not only an old word and in its place arisen a new word, there has ended an entire historical period, and we find ourselves entering upon a new and unknown period. There was something strange and terrible in the rise of Peterburg, in its fate, in its relationship to the whole of enormous Russia, in its being torn off from the life of the people, something at once both powerfully enervating and phantasmic. By the magic volition of Peter, Peterburg rose up from out of nothing, from the marshy mists. Pushkin gave us a feel of the life of this Peterburg in his 'Bronze Horseman'.The earthy Slavophil Dostoevsky was a peculiar example connected with Peterburg, far moreso than with Moscow, and he revealed in it the irrational Russian element. The heroes of Dostoevsky were primarily Peterburg heroes, connected with the Peterburg damp and mist. It is possible to find in him remarkable pages about Peterburg, about its phantasmic quality. Raskol'nikov strolled about Sadova and the Senna haymarket, plotting his crime. Rogozhin committed his crime at Gorokhova. The earthy Dostoevsky loved groundlessly unstable heroes, and only in the atmosphere of Peterburg could they exist. Peterburg, in contrast to Moscow, -- is a catastrophic city. Characteristic likewise are the tales of Gogol, -- in them is a Peterburg horror. To the Moscow Slavophils Peterburg seemed a foreign and alien city, and they were afraid of Peterburg. There was a large reason for this, since Peterburg -- was the eternal threat to the Moscow Slavophil well-being. But that Peterburg should seem an altogether non-Russian city, this was due to their provincial lack of insight, their limitedness. Dostoevsky made up for this lack of insight.
N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)

Andrei Bely’s ‘Petersburg’ finds an English voice in the form of a new translation by John Elsworth.

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