The subject of this dissertation is the poetic phenomenon of Nikolai Zabolotsky (1903-1958). One of its basic premises is that Stolbtsy, the poet's earliest and best known collection of poems, is the most suitable point of departure for the study of this phenomenon. Zabolotsky started to work on Stolbtsy in 1926 and completed the final variant in 1958, some days before his death.
This study is based on the three published variants of Stolbtsy: Stolbtsy (1929), Korrektura (1933) and the first part of Svod (1958), Stolbtsy i poemy. These three variants reflect different stages in the poet's oeuvre but they are linked by a single overarching artistic conception. One of the tasks of this study is to examine the logic underlying the delimitation of part of the poet's work as the early Zabolotsky, although it paradoxically includes elements of later Zabolotsky.
The methodology favored in this dissertation may be defined as the phenomenological approach, which takes account of not two, but "three possible positions of consciousness: (1) the position of the observed, (2) the position of the observer, and (3) a position which, although assumed by the observer, is understood by the latter to be more general than either (1) or (2), and which encompasses both of them as particular cases of itself" (Pjatigorskij 1996, 48).
In Zabolotsky's work we see a neomythological image of the world (Mints 1979). Yet Zabolotsky's neomythologism, which is based on "an accumulation of mythological and ethnographic materials for the creation of new myths" (Baran 1993: 194), is fundamentally different from Symbolist myth creation. In the early Zabolotsky, myth comes into being within the triangle of author (poet) - character (lyrical subject) - reader. Zabolotsky's poetry may be characterized as fundamentally sur-aesthetic, and it is related above all to ritual. The central mythologeme is the odinic myth of imperfect knowledge (Pjatigorskij 1996, 16). It is concretized in images derived from three systems of mythological thought which were known to the Futurist and the OBERIU poets. The first is the Kabbala, the second is the myth of the wisdom of Atlantis preserved after its destruction in the divinatory Tarot cards, and the last is the European myth of Alchemy, which includes the search for the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life, the transrflutation of metals, and the genesis of the homunculus.
The author, as demiurge of the collection's micro-universe, possesses perfect knowledge, and he offers the reader mythical knowledge encoded in combinations of stolbtsy, or columns. The author offers the vacant role of the mythical hero, and thus the possibility of access to mythical wisdom, to the reader who is willing to attempt to unravel the poet's intentions.
Between author and reader we find the sacrificial figure of the lyrical subject. In the context of the alchemical myth, the lyrical subject of Stolbtsy is related to the image of the homunculus - the artificial man created by the alchemist in a symbolic marriage with the esoteric science, without the direct participation of a woman. The story of the conception, birth, life, death, and resurrection of this character in 20th century Leningrad is one of the "plots" concealed in Zabolotsky's collection.
In the context of the Tarot, the movement of the central image of Stolbtsy is related to initiation, and particularly to the climactic moment of initiation, symbolized in the image of the Great Arcanum. Two of the cards in the magical deck are interchangeable: the 12-th, the Hanged Man, and the 21-th (or O-th), the Fool. Zabolotsky uses the devices of thaumaturgic art to articulate mythical plots in the genre of the poetic cycle. Zabolotsky's esoterics are related to the specific literary situation of the twenties, which did not stand for any kind of mysticism, as well as from a general understanding of poetry as a phenomenon arising from deep within the self, whose exoteric side is the actual text.
When he published Stolbtsy as a separate book in 1929 and as he worked on the compilations of later variants, Zabolotsky divided his readership into two unequal groups (Lotman I, 161-166). Most readers will assume that this is an ordinary collection of satirical poems, while very few - those who are familiar with thaumaturgic practices and have mastered the occult code - will be able to perceive the structure of myth and ritual. The 1929 collection, based on the compositional principle of solitaire, does not permit the reader to reconstruct the occult themes of the book. Beginning with the 1933 variant Zabolotsky extends the spherical conception of the poetic word to the whole book, and it is possible for the reader, perceiving the concentricity of the composition, to reconstruct these themes. The 1929 collection appeals to the reader's concrete experience and knowledge of the present as well as thaumaturgic knowledge, whereas later variants draw in cultural memory and pre-memory. The concentrical (palindromic) structure returns the cyclicity of myth to the plot, which corresponds to the mythical logic of birth/death and conception/resurrection of the lyrical hero.
Although in the later versions strict correspondence to Tarot images is lost, the symbolics of the magical deck are nevertheless still present, especially with respect to the image of The Hanged Man, Head Down, the 12th card. This image is associated in Zabolotsky's thought with certain realia of Greek and Scandinavian mythology (Prometheus and Odin), as well as with Christian messianism. In making this one of the central images of the collection Zabolotsky is following the mythology of Russian Futurism. In this connection an analysis of V. Khlebnikov's poem Iz meshka (1908) is undertaken, as this work may be seen as a semantic reinforcement of Stolbtsy.
The spherical word of Zabolotsky, as well as the primordial sphericity of the First Being, stand in opposition to the vertical passing through the latter, the idea of which is marked in the term stolbets, and in one of the early variants of the collection's title - Ararat, the mountain range. Zabolotsky's word, conceivable as spherical in its ideal mode of being, in its physical mode of being appears in the form of a series of lines printed in columns. The image of being-spheres, like certain other important mythologemes used by Zabolotsky (Atlantis, the androgyne) may be traced back to Plato's work, a source for Symbolist myth creation as well.
Another important element of Zabolotsky's myth is the androgyne. At the height of the path of initiation, the lyrical subject is reunited with his own inner energy, the nature of which is feminine. This energy is personified in the image of the girl, situated in transcendental space. Conditionally, this image may be related to the Soul - Anima - Psyche. In the stolbets "Samovar", the last to be written, the lyrical subject enters into an androgynous state similar to death, and mythically "remembers" his own conception. In the Stolbtsy corresponding to this one in the symmetry of Gorodskie Stolbtsy, the relatively central "Fokstrot" .and "Ofort", the lyrical subject is resurrected as the tsar, which is analogous to the creation of gold in the contest of the alchemical myth. Yet the collection is put together in such a way that the reader does not notice climactic moments in the development of the plot, perceiving the text instead as a sequence of poetic utterances not linked by any plot. Novoe delo opens itself to the reader who realizes that, reading Stolbtsy, he has unwittingly been drawn into the process of myth creation and the author's mythopoetics. The last chapter treats the relation of Zabolotsky's work to the basic principles of modernist drama, where it is possible for the reader "not to notice" the presence of the main character. One source of the high level of focalization is the aesthetics of the monodrama, which in the Russian tradition originated in the theatrical innovations of N. Evreinov. Here the role of the observer is identical to the position of the main character; thus the main character remains unnoticed, just as we do not see our own ears. The theatrical origin concealed in Stolbtsy is developed in Zabolotsky's longer poems, which contain elements of dramatization and which, in principle, lend themselves to being acted out on stage.
The theatrical code opens up possibilities for rethinking the traditional approach to the metamorphoses which appear in the late poetics of Zabolotsky. According to V. Papernyj, in the late 20's - early 30's Soviet culture underwent a reorientation away from the horizontality and avoidance of centers which characterized the twenties towards the strict hierarchism, verticality, and centralization typical of "high totalitarianism". This reorientation forced the poet who desired to preserve his "working space" in the new context to change "masks". The voice heard by the reader of the later Zabolotsky is as distanced from the poet as the voice of the invisible "hero" of Stolbtsy. It is significant that the later Zabolotsky continued working on the text and the general composition of Stolbtsy i poemy concurrently with his work in search of a new mask. The "later Zabolotsky" should not be viewed as evidencing a degradation of poetic thought but rather as the result of dramatic interaction and attempted mediation between the refined mythopoetical picture of the world composed in the context of culture 1 and the progressively "hardening" picture created in culture 2 (Papernyj 1996).