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DEVIN FORE.

It says a lot about Andrey Platonov's The Foundation Pit (Vintage Classics) that the novel has been translated into English four times since the 1970s, twice by the same translator. Anyone who has read Platonov can tell you that an encounter with his writing is unlikely to end in interpretive certainty. While earlier efforts to render The Foundation Pit in English made perhaps too much sense of Platonov's classic, the new translation by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler with Olga Meerson, which was first published by the visionaries at New York Review Books, preserves all the ambiguities and woodenness of Platonov's Russian prose. Written in 1929-30, in response to the industrial projects of the First Five-Year Plan, Platonov's production novel depicts the construction of a gigantic collective home for the working class. But the proletariat never shows up to claim its inheritance, and the construction efforts never get beyond the massive crater in the earth that is carved out as a foundation. A reverse image of the era's vertical Prometheanism, this pit is an unresolved symbol, both a clearing for future generations and a mass grave for the present. Such ambivalence finds its affective counterpart in the ambivalence of the characters themselves, who are, overwhelmingly, bored. When, in the mid-'20s, Viktor Shklovsky toured rural Soviet villages with Platonov, who was then working as a land reclamation specialist, the famous literary critic observed that the countryside "is suffering from bed sores." Everyone in The Foundation Pit too is waiting, in traction. This eventless temporality was an invention of Stalin, whose policy of "revolution in one country" closed the borders in the late '20s and put the Bolshevik project on hold, turning a moment of revolutionary transition into a perpetual state of inertia. In The Foundation Pit, an old society has been razed but a new one has not yet been permitted to emerge. The hermeneutical openness of the text's symbols reflects not so much an uncertainty about how things will end but the foreclosure of the very possibility of an end. This was the suspended temporality in which the Soviet subject would pass its years. It was the obverse condition of our own hasty modernity, as the East German playwright Heiner Muller suggested after the fall of the wall: "Stalin was the last one to apply the brakes, and Hitler was the great accelerator."

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DEVIN FORE IS AN ASSISTANT PROFESSOR AT PRINCETON UNIVERSITY, WHERE HE TEACHES IN THE GERMAN AND SLAVIC DEPARTMENTS.
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Publication:Artforum International
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2010
Words:412
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