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Envy as an Object of Artistic Representation in Russian Modernist Prose

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posted on 21.06.2016, 00:00 by Yelena Zotova
The present study explores envy as an object of artistic representation in the works of three Russian Modernist authors – Iurii Olesha (1899-1960), Konstantin Vaginov (1899-1934), and Aleksandr Grin (1880-1932) – through the prism of Mikhail Bakhtin’s aesthetic and philosophical theory of authorship developed in “The Author and the Hero in the Aesthetic Activity” (1924?). Based on Bakhtin’s idea that a word and a thought are ethical deeds, Envy as an Object of Artistic Representation argues for a possibility to extend the aesthetic notion of authorship to the realm of ethics, by drawing a parallel between conscience as an ethical phenomenon and taste as an aesthetic one. Writing at the time of the radical social, political and cultural change in the newly forming egalitarian society, the Russian Modernist authors repeatedly employ the notion of bad taste as a means to portray conscience corrupt by envy. The dual nature of authorship, reflected in Bakhtin’s ideas of “live-entering [vzhivanie]” and “outsidedness [vnenakhodimost’]” as of two complementary processes required of the author in the aesthetic act, corresponds to the marked ambiguity inherent in the phenomenon of envy, which paradoxically combines one’s existential desire to assume the identity of the Other with the diametrically opposite impulse to “narrate” the Other, to become, as it were, the Other’s author. The study reveals Bakhtin’s idea of the author’s responsibility, or “answerability [otvetstvennost’],” towards the hero as the key factor distinguishing successful authorship from envy. The current work treats the latter as a form of “incompetent,” or “inept [neumeloe]” authorship. Thus, rather than creating a binary opposition between envy and authorship, this study offers an innovative view on envy as on authorship in embryo and measures the success of authorship on a sliding scale. To the extent envy is strong, authorship is weak, and vice versa: strong authorship absorbs one’s envy as a raw material and converts it into art or an ethical deed. Although it is difficult to establish the threshold, beyond which authorship prevails and envy gives in, conscience and taste may serve as indicators: the former on the ethical, and the latter, on the aesthetic plane.



Vaingurt, Julia


Slavic and Baltic

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

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Committee Member

McQuillen, Colleen Markowski, Michal P. Gardiner, Judith Huntington, John

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