Date of Degree

5-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Comparative Literature

Advisor

Elizabeth Beaujour

Committee Members

John Brenkman

Boris Gasparov

Nico Israel

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature | English Language and Literature | Russian Literature

Keywords

Joseph Brodsky, Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, Olga Sedakova, poetry, impersonality, religion

Abstract

The goal of this study is to demonstrate how the reception of T. S. Eliot, one of the leading proponents of Anglo-American modernism, shaped the aesthetics of Russian poetry in the second half of the twentieth century. In the twentieth century, Russian culture found itself in a unique situation of separation from the Western world, with which it had largely identified in the previous century. The official change of the cultural paradigm that took place in the aftermath of the October Revolution led to the advancement of the literary theory and practices of Socialist Realism, shutting off modernist tendencies and the dialogue with Western modernism. Despite the policy of the Iron Curtain, the Cold War period proved to be different. This study demonstrates that, in the second half of the twentieth century, the Russian poetry of the Soviet underground renewed the dialogue with Western modernism, engaging with it in terms of learning and influence, polemic and debates, recognition and a sense of affinity.

This study inscribes theories of poetics into the political context of the Cold War culture. Eliot’s theory formed under the influence of Charles Maurras and T. E. Hulme, critics of the French Revolution, was in epistemological opposition to the values of the Soviet, also post-revolutionary, society and its literary ideals. The period of the Russian poetry that I explore, the late 1950s-the early 1990s, falls into the period of the Cold War broadly understood (1946-1991). Attention to Eliot’s works, occurring in the poetry of the Soviet underground, was a search for alternative poetics, fueled by his hindered availability in the USSR and enormous fame in the West. Gravitating to Eliotic poetic theory, that was built on premises radically different from the Russian literary tradition nourished on humanism, Russian lyric poetry in the second half of the twentieth century absorbed the peculiar features of Western modernism and emerging postmodernism, stepping into the terrain of posthumanism.

I focus on how three seminal Russian poets—Joseph Brodsky, Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, and Olga Sedakova—engage with T. S. Eliot’s poetry and poetic theory. The Russian poets responded to two trends initiated by Eliot: his reconsideration of lyric subjectivity manifested in the depersonalization theory on the one hand and a possibility of modern liturgical poetry, on the other. Joseph Brodsky’s multifaceted engagement with Eliot followed both lines. The first chapter of this dissertation discusses how Eliot’s theory and practice of depersonalization left traces in Brodsky’s essays and his mature poetics that avoids expressivity and follows the principles of the poetics of observation. The second chapter focuses on Brodsky’s intense poetical polemic with Eliot’s later career, when he aimed to merge poetry with religion. The third and fourth chapters discuss the elaboration of these two Eliotic lines in the works of two later Russian poets. The third chapter argues that Eliot’s poetic theory became part of Dragomoshchenko’s focus on poetic impersonality, merging with poststructuralist theory. The fourth chapter demonstrates how Olga Sedakova overturns Brodsky’s polemic regarding the later Eliot and addresses the Anglo-American poet’s later criticism and poetry in order to invent a Russian version of modernist liturgical poetry.

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