NABOKV-L post 0006153, Mon, 10 Sep 2001 11:51:06 -0700

Subject
Re: St. Petersburg and Speak, Memory in the NYT (fwd)
Date
Body
of Testimony, the controversial Shostakovich book that is supposed to be
the composer's account of his disenchantment with the Soviet Union and the
elements of anti-Soviet parody embedded in his music. The debate around
the authenticity of Testimony (published in 1979) provides a "real" example
of some of the textual and biographical mysteries Nabokov offers up in Pale
Fire and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight. For instance, some of Volkov's
supporters claim that he was very close to Shostakovich while some of his
detractors claim that the men barely knew each other, and it is still
unclear how much of the book accurately records statements that
Shostakovich made directly to Volkov. I have to warn anyone who is
interested in this debate, however, that it's almost unbelievably heated
and passionate, with the Volkovists and anti-Volkovists hurling violent
denunciations at each other. (A recent pro-Volkov text, Shostakovich
Reconsidered, written and edited by Allan B. Ho and Dmitry Feofanov, comes
in at 787 pages and seems to have done little to bring everyone closer to
seeing eye-to-eye.)

Volkov's more recent cultural history of St. Petersburg talks a great deal
about Nabokov and would be of obvious interest to most of this list's readers.

Kevin Frazier
Helsinki, Finland

At 09:52 7.9.2001 -0700, you wrote:

> >From Friday's NYT:
>
>
>A City Indebted to Its Emigres
>
>By SOLOMON VOLKOV
>
>
>Ten years ago this week, when the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet
>of Russia returned the historic name of St. Petersburg to
>Leningrad, the city's citizens did not feel universal delight. A
>referendum had found only 54 percent of voters in favor of the
>change. The still-powerful Communist Party had asked that "there be
>no mockery of the name of glorious Leningrad, hero-city, warrior-
>and laborer-city." The newspaper Sovest (Conscience) demanded
>hysterically: "Why rename our city? So that dead tsarism can
>breathe on us again?" In reply, liberals organized a noisy
>demonstration under the slogan "Lenin's name shames a great city!"
>
> Everyone understood that at issue was not simply the city's name
>but an important ideological symbol. But there might have been no
>impetus to restore the name at all if the memory of the old,
>artistically and intellectually rich St. Petersburg had not been
>kept alive in the United States.
>
> In 1703, when Peter the Great founded his city on the Baltic Sea
>and named it Sankt-Peterburg, following his admiration for things
>Dutch, he stressed the break he was making with the backward ways
>and traditions of old Russia. St. Petersburg became one of Europe's
>great centers of culture and ideas. The transformation to Leningrad
>in 1924, shortly after the death of Lenin, was supposed to
>demonstrate the solidity of Soviet power, even though,
>paradoxically, Lenin had not liked the city and had even stripped
>it of the status Peter had given it, restoring Moscow as the
>capital in 1918.
>
> Stalin had an even greater antipathy for the city, which he saw as
>a center of opposition. The Great Terror was felt particularly hard
>in Leningrad. Subsequent Kremlin leaders held the same arm's-length
>view, and Leningrad, which had once had unparalleled cultural and
>industrial potential, became a city of regional, more than
>national, importance. Peter's capital slowly faded, and its old
>glamorous aura had to be preserved in exile.
>
> The first influential elegaic portrait of St. Petersburg came in
>the early 1950's, in Vladimir Nabokov's autobiography, "Speak,
>Memory." In a Proustian array of nostalgic details, he made the
>city real to his Western readers. Then, in 1962, Igor Stravinsky
>confessed in his book of dialogues with his amanuensis Robert Craft
>that St. Petersburg — which he saw as the fount of his creativity —
>"is dearer to my heart than any other city in the world."
>
> But the greatest contributor to the late 20th century's
>consciousness of St. Petersburg was George Balanchine. In his
>neoclassicist ballets, the legend of imperial Petersburg played a
>substantial role. When Balanchine took his ballets to Leningrad
>itself in 1962, under the aegis of the State Department, the
>reception was revolutionary. I was there, and I remember the
>overwhelming impression created by the tour. Older people rejected
>it: "The Americans aren't dancing; they're solving algebra problems
>with their feet." But the young saw in Balanchine's productions the
>heights that the Petersburg cultural avant garde could have reached
>if it had not been crushed by the Soviet authorities. Leningrad's
>aspiring musicians, writers and dancers were inspired.
>
> Mikhail Baryshnikov took the second Balanchine tour in Leningrad,
>in 1972, so much to heart that soon afterward, hoping to work under
>the master's direction, he defected to the West. In New York he
>became friends with another recent emigre from St. Petersburg, the
>poet Joseph Brodsky.
>
> Brodsky's life became an important symbol of the new Petersburg
>idea. Officially sentenced in Leningrad and exiled to the Arctic in
>1964 for "parasitism," he was released and eventually expelled from
>the Soviet Union. In 1987, after several years in New York, he
>received the Nobel Prize for Literature. This triumph was, for the
>city's artists and intellectuals, a realization of their hidden
>dream — the return of St. Petersburg's cultural glory.
>
> Now St. Petersburg's seminal spirit has regenerated itself and
>taken a surprising turn: Petersburg has seen a burst of political
>energy. Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, who appears determined
>to lead Russia toward a place as a modern European power, and his
>closest associates are all Petersburgers. Their influence has
>raised the fortunes of the city as it continues to strive for a
>wider renaissance. More and more St. Petersburg is now called the
>"second capital."
>
> In Stalin's day, talk like that could have gotten you shot.
>
>Solomon Volkov is the author of "St. Petersburg: A Cultural
>History." This article was translated by Antonina W. Bouis.
>
>Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company