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A Hundred Years of Andrei Platonov, vol. 1.

A Hundred Years of Andrei Platonov. Vol. 1. Ed. by ANGELA LIVINGSTONE. (Essays in Poetics, 26 (Autumn, 2001), Platonov Special Issue in Two Volumes) Keele: Keele Students Union Press. 2001. v+167 pp. 20 [pounds sterling]. ISBN 0-9509080-5-3.

1999 was not only the year of Pushkin and Nabokov, but also of Platonov. This and his undoubted, but oft-disputed, significance in Soviet literature have led to a considerable number of publications over recent years. Scholarly editions of his works are at last being published in Russia, albeit fitfully, and Harvill is to be commended for its commitment to a series of English translations. Books and collections of essays appear with reasonable regularity in Moscow and St Petersburg, and occasionally in provincial cities. Outside Russia, a number of books have been published in various languages, and Platonov is the subject of several important journal articles. A Hundred Years of Andrei Platonov contains eleven papers delivered at a conference held in Oxford in 2000, and deals largely with the close study of four texts, Chevengur, The Foundation Pit, Dzhan, and Happy Moscow. With contributions from some of the world's leading Platonov scholars, the volume contains many fascinating insights into Platonov's writing: Valerii Vuigin reflects on riddles and enigma; Robert Chandler shares some of his thoughts as a translator; Thomas Seifrid opens up ways of thinking about time and the novel; and Marina Koch-Lubouchkine traces concepts of emptiness through Dzhan and the play Fourteen Little Red Huts.

Five essays are particularly fine. Inverting Shkolvskii's famous notion of defamiliarization, Olga Meerson argues that a key feature of Platonov's prose is 'automatization, non-estrangement, or re-familiarization' (p. 22). This is not just a quasi-formalist conceit; it implicates the reader ethically in the world inhabited by the characters. Meerson's book 'Svobodnaia veshch': poetika neostraneniia u Andreia Platonova (Berkeley: Berkeley Slavic Specialties, 1997) treats this topic at greater length, but it is good to have a clear account of her ideas in English. Angela Livingstone sensitively traces instances of music as a primal sound which expresses the nature of the better world after which so many of Platonov's heroes strive. Hamid Ismailov's account of Su. themes in Dzhan is a lucid and stimulating piece, which illustrates the profundity of Platonov's involvement with Turkmenistan. Bringing together the themes of collectivity and scatology, Eric Naiman's typically punning analysis of 'lexical heroes' in Happy Moscow is one of the few pieces of Platonov scholarship which entertains as much as it enlightens. Finally, Clint Walker offers a dense and involving presentation of Happy Moscow in the light of Stalinist ideology, Lunarcharskii's contribution to Soviet culture, and Platonov's dialogue with Pushkin's Bronze Horseman.

These, the strongest articles in the collection, all suggest approaches and topics for further research, but are also complete in their own right, with adequate citations, references, and argument. Other pieces too obviously suggest their origin as presentations and it is a shame that little attempt appears to have been made either to include material not delivered at the time or to reconsider arguments in the light of the often interesting discussions which were held at the conference. Consequently, these rather brief contributions contain insufficient exegesis, and contextualization to satisfy or stimulate either specialists or general readers. Still, there are riches to be found in this volume by the attentive and determined reader, and after all, attentiveness and determination are qualities that any lover of Platonov's works must possess.

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Author:Bullock, Philip Ross
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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