NABOKV-L post 0000419, Sat, 7 Jan 1995 12:00:41 -0800

VNabstr:von Hirsch
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following abstract of Marina von Hirsch's paper at
AATSEEL deals with the relationship between Andrei Bitov, perhaps the
finest novelist writing in present Russia, and Vladimir Nabokov.--- DBJ
From: Marina von Hirsch <>

Literary Intertext in Bitov's PUSHKIN HOUSE: Major Influences
by Marina von Hirsch

Andrei Bitov's novel Pushkin House provides an example of a
contemporary novel in which intertextuality plays the major role. The
novel is so heavily laden with literary allusions and cross reference that
it causes an ambivalent and controversial reaction on the part of readers
as well as critics both in Russia and in the West.
According to the brilliant analysis of Ellen Chances given in her
recent book Andrei Bitov: The Ecology of Inspiration, the answer to the
question of why Bitov carries on his duel with the previous authorities of
Russian literature lies in the appendix to the novel entitled Achilles and
Tortoise which deals with the Greek philosopher Zeno's paradox, as well as
in the scholarly article Latecomer Geniuses incorporated in the novel. In
this article Bitov's protagonist argues that Tutchev could never catch up
with Pushkin just because Pushkin had come first. Chances therefore
argues that "this situation also describes the position of Bitov vis-a-vis
Pushkin and all of Russian literature through Nabokov because they had
come first." Thus Pushkin House is the story of Bitov's rebellion against
"fathers," as the only way to solve Zeno's paradox is to break away from
the authorities.
However the best answer to this question is given by Bitov himself in
the Commentary to his novel. Here Bitov admits the striking affinity
between himself and Nabokov, although he argues that he had not read read
Nabokov before he began to write Pushkin House. According to Bitov,
reading Nabokov was such a blow and a revelation that he was silenced for
six months.
The affinity between Bitov and Nabokov in their art as well as their
lives is striking indeed. The creative process in itself is the subject
of both writers. Both are literary critics, scholars and professors of
literature, both are extremely interested in Pushkin and have dealt with
Pushkin in their creative as well as scholarly works. Insofar as their
approaches to style and form are concerned, both are particularly fond of
Forewords, Appendices, and Commentaries, and their novels are filled with
what Baktin called "microdialogues," i.e., self-conscious asides to the
reader. Both display interest in fatidic numbers, and if Nabokov's
lifetime preocupation alongside with literature was lepideptory, Bitov's
is zoology and ecology. Moreover, they both admit the influence on their
art of the same writers -- Proust and Bely, for example, and this list of
affinities can certainly be extended.
It is due to this extraordinary affinity that Bitov devotes so much
attention to Nabokov in his critical essays. Always accurate, discreet,
and respectful, they were praised by Nabokov's wife and son during one of
the interviews.
According to Bitov, Nabokov's significance for Russian literature is
enormous as he represents a missing link that restores continuity between
Russian classical and contemporary literatures.
Bitov resumed writing Pushkin House after six months of silence
because he felt that he had to validate his own literary significance by
writing an original work. His complex intertextual practices constitute a
device with the help of which he managed to create a unique work of modern
prose that, if I may paraphrase Brodsky, has its own "pedigree, its own
dynamics, its own laws, and its own logic." It should be remembered
however that Bitov, who usually denies influences, never intended to deny
Nabokov's. On the contrary, he seems to be proud of it.