Thursday, April 6, 2017

Igor Vishnevetsky's Leningrad

St. Petersburg has a magnificent mythology, with plenty of gods and monsters roaming about.  Igor Vishnevetsky's short novel, Leningrad, seems to be well-versed in this fantastical landscape.  In his short tale, we see the appearance, however fleeting, of several different layers of deities.  After all, before Zeus and his crew ascended to Mount Olympus, Titans ruled the world.  And before that, there were other gods, including Chaos and Gaia.  Vishnevetsky's god groupings include Finns, Baltics, Slavs, Vikings, Germans, Huns, Tartars, Mongolians, Hanseatic League members, nomads, Orthodox Russians, and Novgorod Russians. But of course he is primarily concerned with the gods of St. Petersburg and their perhaps continuing attempt to resist the age of Leningrad, or even the age of the Nazis which threatens to make all other gods irrelevant.

Vishnevetsky's city is symbolized by dozens of different holy sites, including the Bronze Horseman, St. Issacs, Kazan Cathedral, the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Hermitage, Krondstadt, the Neva, the Collegia Buildings, the Admiralty, the Tauride Gardens, Vasilievsky Island, Smolny, Anichkov Bridge, and October 25th Street.  His heroes include Genghis Khan, Block, Sologub, Hippius, Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Khlebnikov, Tchaikovsky, Kirov, and dozens of other intellectuals and statesman.  Some of Vishnevetsky's heroes do evil things, like Stalin or Peter the Great, but we recall that even Hercules killed his own family in a fit of madness.  

Vishnevetsky's socialist city is modern in some respects but always in touch with the primordial conditions that gave rise to the first gods.  For Leningrad during the siege was often without water, electricity, transportation, heat, or, most importantly, food.  It was beset by bombs, and "pockmocked all over from the dancing of elephants or rhinoceroses."  The siege was a return to an age of primitive sacrifice, or illiteracy (books were burned for heat), of cannibalism even.  But even in the midst of chaos, Leningrad resisted total destruction.  Mythical history is cyclical after all. It has no beginning and no end.  Thus atheist Russia re-encounters religious Russia in the midst of its agony.  "Well, then, what does God 'advise us' us?" The answer:  "That no winter of crushing hunger will ever smear us into snowy Nothingness."  

No comments:

Post a Comment