The essay played a vital role in the career of Andrei Siniavskii in each of his identities—that of a scholar, writing academic pieces under his own name, and as a belletrist, employing the pseudonym Abram Tertz. The latter pieces, in particular, are intimately connected with his fiction, providing insights about both the technique and the thematic concerns that predominate in his prose.
The critical pieces Siniavskii produced under his own name prior to his 1965 arrest lack the stylistic inventiveness of his stories, but they already reveal him as a probing and sensitive critic, most notably in the long introduction he wrote for a major 1965 collection of Boris Pasternak’s poetry. Siniavskii’s sensitivity to Pasternak’s use of language, as evidenced by his incisive comments on the stylistic and tonal aspects of the poetry, as well as his emphasis on Pasternak’s imagery and philosophical concerns, can,
in retrospect, be seen as signaling his own interests as a writer. Perhaps surprisingly, much of his early writing was on a stalwart of socialist realism, Maksim Gor’kii, whose final, unfinished novel was the subject of his dissertation, part of which appeared as “O khudozhestvennoi strukture romana Zhizn’ Klima Samgina” (1958; On the artistic structure of The Life of Klim Samgin).
Siniavskii’s political sympathies during the early 1960s show up more clearly in the attitude he displays to the then current literature. Thus, besides his enthusiastic piece on Pasternak, he offers a warm appreciation of Anna Akhmatova’s more recent poetry on the occasion of her 75th birthday (“Raskovannyi golos” [1964; “The Unfettered Voice”]).
Conversely, when writing on those who strongly supported the repressive aspects of Soviet literary life, he could be merciless. “O novom sbornike Anatoliia Sofronova” (1959; “On a Collection of Verses by Anatoly Sofronov”) concludes with an excerpt from Vladimir Maiakovskii’s original and powerful poetry of the 1920s to highlight the imitative and pallid nature of Sofronov’s verse.
One of the earliest works to be signed Abram Tertz is the programmatic essay “Chto takoe sotsialisticheskii realizm” (1959; On Socialist Realism). Here his lively and witty manner partly masks a very serious purpose: to undermine the dogma that had by then ruled Soviet literature for a quarter of a century. In part he objects to the deadening effect of the realistic manner that was imposed on Soviet writers so that their works would be accessible to the masses, but more broadly he points to logical inconsistencies in the very terminology: why should “realism” necessarily be “socialist”? In fact, he goes on to point out that Marxism (and, by extension, communism) is not unlike a religious movement in its efforts to direct belief, and that by trying to make writing portray a future ideal society its advocates are calling for something that is closer to Romanticism than realism.
Further, by forcing writers into a mode that is not of their own making, socialist realism results in simplistic, static, and ultimately uninteresting literature.
Mysli vrasplokh (1965; Unguarded Thoughts), also by “Abram Tertz” in the pre-arrest period, at first resembles a seemingly random collection of ideas and aphorisms, but upon closer inspection turns out to focus on a handful of themes—most notably, the nature of sexuality, which is not treated positively, and belief in God, which is. The work is thus important for treating two topics of concern to Siniavskii/Tertz elsewhere as well, while in both form and content it also signals his interest in the turn-of-the-century philosopher Vasilii Rozanov, later the subject of Siniavskii’s study, “Opavshie list’ia” V.V.Rozanova (1982; Rozanov’s “Fallen Leaves”). Furthermore, the fragmentary structure serves as a precursor of Golos iz khora (1973; A Voice from the Chorus), a much longer work constructed from the material in letters that Siniavskii sent to his wife while in prison. Voice, seen by some critics as a kind of autobiography, contains material
based on his prison experience along with his views on literature, the nature of art, and a host of other themes. Siniavskii thus develops what might be termed an “anti-narrative” essay, which freely mingles a variety of forms and jumps seemingly arbitrarily from topic to topic; it requires the reader’s active participation to derive the broader themes and a sense of coherence.
Two other essays published after his emigration to France in 1973, and under the name Abram Tertz, have proved to be Siniavskii’s most controversial: Progulki s Pushkinym (1975; Strolls with Pushkin) and V teni Gogolia (1975; In Gogol’s shadow). The former in particular led to sharp protests by émigré figures in the West when it was first published, and then by Soviet critics when it finally appeared in the Soviet Union during
the period of glasnost. Siniavskii’s detractors were disturbed by his iconoclastic treatment of Russia’s greatest writer; what they seemed to miss, or refused to accept, is that a“demythologizing” of Pushkin was precisely the point of the essay: only in this way could Siniavskii discover the essence of Pushkin’s true significance for subsequent literature (and for himself).
The remainder of Siniavskii’s work from his period abroad can be roughly divided into two categories: 1) sociopolitical commentary on the Soviet Union and on current developments in Russian political and intellectual life, and 2) a renewal of his earlier career as literary critic. The latter includes, besides his essay on Rozanov, articles on a wide range of figures in 20th-century Russian literature: Zoshchenko, Remizov, and, once again, Gor’kii, who is now, understandably, treated less reverently than before (cf. “Roman M.Gor’kogo Mat’ kak rannii obrazets sotsialisticheskogo realizma” [1988; Gor’kii’s novel Mother as an early model of socialist realism]). The first group opens with his “Literaturnyi protsess v Rossii” (1974; “The Literary Process in Russia”), in which he notes that the Soviet state’s very efforts to control writers had the perverse effect of heightening their influence, often against the state’s interests. He has also written about his own experiences as a dissident and about the resurgence of Russian nationalism; several essays in which he attempts to define the essential features of Bolshevism form the basis of his book Soviet Civilization (1990), to date published only in translation.
While on the surface Siniavskii had two identities as an essayist—the relatively straightforward commentary that he signed under his own name and the more literary type of essay that appeared under the pseudonym Abram Tertz—his concerns were similar in both guises: to examine the ideals and strivings of the artist, to explore issues of freedom and oppression, and to understand the nature of the creative urge.
Andrei Donatovich Siniavskii. Born 8 October 1925 in Moscow. Studied at Moscow University, literature degree, 1949, doctorate, 1952. Married Maria Rozanova- Kruglikova: one son. Senior research follow, Gor’kii Literary Institute, Moscow, until 1965; lecturer in Russian literature, Moscow University, until 1960, and at the Theater Studio, Moscow Art Theater, until 1965. Reviewer for Novyi Mir, early 19605. Arrested for supposed anti-Soviet writings published abroad, 1965: sentenced to seven years’ hard
labor, 1966; released, 1971, and allowed to emigrate to France, 1973. Professor of Russian, the Sorbonne, Paris, 1973–94. Cofounder and coeditor, Sintakis (Syntax) literary journal and publishing house. Russian citizenship restored, 1990. Died in Paris, 25 February 1997.
Essays and Related Prose
“Chto takoe sotsialisticheski realizm,” 1959; as On Socialist Realism, translated by George Dennis, 1961
“Thought Unaware,” 1965; as Mysli vrasplokh, 1966; as Unguarded Thoughts, translated by Manya Harari, 1971
For Freedom of Imagination, translated by Laszlo Tikos and Murray Peppard, 1971
Golos iz khora, 1973; as A Voice from the Chorus, translated by Kyril FitzLyon and Max Hayward, 1976
Progulki s Pushkinym, 1975; as Strolls with Pushkin, translated by Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy and Slava I.Yastremski, 1993
V teni Gogolia, 1975
Soviet Civilization: A Cultural History, translated by Joanne Turnbull, 1990
Other writings: three novels (Sud idet [The Trial Begins], 1960; Liubimov [The Makepeace Experiment], 1963; Spokoinoi nochi [Goodnight!], 1984), a collection of short stories, and a study of Vasilii Rozanov (1982).
Collected works edition: Sobranie sochinenii, 2 vols., 1992.
Aucoutourier, Michel, “Writer and Text in the Works of Abram Terc (An Ontology of Writing and a Poetics of Prose),” in Fiction and Drama in Eastern and Southeastern Europe: Evolution and Experiment in the Postwar Period, edited by Henrik Birnbaum and Thomas Eekman, Columbus, Ohio: Slavica, 1980
Dalton, Margaret, Andrei Siniavskii and Julii Daniel’: Two Soviet “Heretical” Writers, Würzburg: Jal, 1973
“A Discussion of Abram Tertz’s Book Strolls with Pushkin,” Russian Studies in Literature 28, no. 1 (1991–92): 63–88
Fanger, Donald, “Conflicting Imperatives in the Model of the Russian Writer: The Case of Tertz/Sinyavsky,” in Literature and History: Theoretical Problems and Russian
Case Studies, edited by Gary Saul Morson, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1986:111–24
Hayward, Max, Introduction to A Voice from tbe Chorus by Tertz, New Haven, Connecticut and London: Yale University Press, 1995 (original edition, 1976)
Holmgren, Beth, “The Transfiguring of Context in the Work of Abram Terts,” Slavic Review 50 (1991):965–77
Kolonosky, Walter F., “Andrei Siniavskii: The Chorus and the Critic,” Canadian- American Slavic Studies 9 (1975): 352–60
Levitt, Marcus C, “Siniavskii’s Alternative Autobiography: A Voice from the Chorus,” Canadian Slavonic Papers 33, no. 1 (1991): 46–61
Lourie, Richard, Letters to the Future: An Approach to SinyavskyTertz, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1975
Murav, Harriet, “The Case Against Andrei Siniavskii: The Letter and the Law,” Russian Review 53 (1994):549–60
Nepomnyashchy, Catharine Theimer, Introduction to Strolls with Pushkin by Siniavskii
(Abram Tertz), New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1993
Nepomnyashchy, Catharine Theimer, Abram Tertz cmd the Poetics of Crime, New Haven, Connecticut and London: Yale University Press, 1995
Nussbaum, Andrew J., “Literary Selves: The Tertz-Sinyavsky Dialogue,” in
Autobiographical Statements in Twentieth-Century Russian Literature, edited by Jane Gary Harris, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1990:238–59
Pomerants, G., “Urok medlennogo chteniia,” Oktiabr’ 6 (1993): 178–83
Rozanova, Mariia, “On the History and Geography of This Book [Strolls with Pusbkin],”
Russian Studies in Literature 28, no. 1 (1991–92):89–98
Rubinshtein, Natalia, “Abram Terts i Aleksandr Pushkin,” Vremia i My 9 (1976):118–33
Sandler, Stephanie, “Sex, Death and Nation in the Strolls with Pushkin Controversy,” Slavic Review 51 (1992):294–308
Shafarevich, Igor’, “The Emigration Phenomenon,” Russian Studies in Literature 28, no. 1 (1991–92): 45–55
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr, “…Koleblet tvoi trenozhnik,” Vestnik Russkogo Khristianskogo
Dvizheniia 142 (1984): 133–52
Tikos, Laszlo, and Murray Peppard, Introduction to For Freedom of Imagination by Siniavskii, New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1971
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