Lunacharsky: Pushkin as Critic

Translator: Irving D. W. Talmudge; Source: Pushkin: Homage by Marxist Critics ed. Irving D. W. Talmudge, Critics Group, New York, 1937; Transcribed: Sally Ryan for, January 2000.

Pushkin was not what one might call a theoretician of the arts. He had no systematized body of principles underlying his evaluations. In the long evolution of his aesthetic concepts he never attempted to express in writing any theoretical ideas relating to the different stages of this evolution. Pushkin passionately loved art and especially literature. The significance of literature in social relations is a question which he never pondered. Nor did he ever consider for whom the artist should write. He envisioned before him a hazy collective face--the 'reader' and in that alluring, sympathetic countenance Pushkin discerned his friends, members of his own social group; beyond that--dimly-perceived contemporaries, and a posterity who would accept with delight the gifts of his muse. Actually, the face of Pushkin's reader changed during the span of his life. At first his reading public consisted mainly of the genteel salon stratum. As time went on it became more and more representative of the Russian educated classes; it was gradually augmented by democratic elements until at the close of his life Pushkin was read by tens of thousands of persons, the majority of whom were new readers--in other words, the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois intelligentsia, including even a thin section of the peasantry. To put it more generally, it may be said that at first Pushkin actually wrote for the aristocratic reader and saw before him a genteel audience, while toward the close of his life his reading public consisted chiefly of the "bourgeoisie" (to use the term in its wider connotation);and he realized that he was writing for this social group specifically. Correspondingly, Pushkin's concepts of the poet in general, and of himself as a poet in particular, underwent a process of evolution. At first the word poet implied an assured person, a man of the world, who, without compulsion, motivated by the loftiest calling, surrenders himself from time to time to the inspired mission of poesy, finding in it a luxurious complement to his human, or, to be more exact, his lordly existence. Even though subjectively the poet does not feel that riding Pegasus is the most important and the most satisfying experience in life, it is at best a fine form of dilettantism. More and more frequently one finds, in the later works of Pushkin, lines breathing recognition of the fact that what is perhaps most important in him is not the lord, nor the squire, nor the gentleman of the Emperor's bed-chamber, but, specifically, the writer. Pushkin does not attempt to conceal the fact that the principal role in this deduction is played by the economic factor. Writing becomes the occupation which feeds him and his family. He sells the product of his labor. He is a professional--a special type of craftsman. Who, then, pays for his labor? His labor is paid for by a vague but numerous public which extends beyond the limits of the genteel salon. ... Lunacharsky essay on Pushkin as Critic


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