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Ineffectual Ideas, Violent Consequences: Vladimir Makanin's Portrait of the Intelligentsia

Author(s): Sally Dalton-Brown

Source: The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 72, No. 2 (Apr., 1994), pp. 218-232
Published by: the Modern Humanities Research Association and University College London,
School of Slavonic and East European Studies
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SEER, Vol. 72, No. 2, April I994

Ineffectual Ideas, Violent

Consequences: Vladimir
Makanin's Portrait of the

THE topic of the intelligentsia's role in Russia during and since the
Stalin years is understandably a sensitive one for writers. Authors who
trod the difficult and narrow line between conformism and caution
during the post-Thaw era have chiefly expressed their thoughts on this
theme through the intense preoccupation since the I96os with the
urban anti-hero, or morally compromised man. Trifonov, Tendriakov,
Zalygin, Dudintsev, Granin and lesser writers have all dealt with the
theme of the intelligentsia's Oblomovism, writing what critic Anatolii
Bocharov has called 'ispovedal'naia proza', in which characters
express their moral laxity, responsibility for the compromises they have
made, and guilt.' Tat'iana Tolstaia and Liudmila Petrushevskaia have
taken up this theme in different ways in their recent work, as has
Vladimir Makanin, whose series of texts depicting the ineffectuality of
the intelligentsia are a striking contribution to this topic in terms of
both style and theme.
His recent texts, such as Utrata and Otstavshii (both published in
i987), have an almost Gogolian quality. Makanin possesses a great
stylistic flexibility, being able to combine a cold, prosaic tone with
forays into myth, parable, the surreal and dystopia; his prose is
hypnotically compelling and strangely powerful.2 Time and place are
significant components of his texts; his characters live not only in
dreary urban landscapes but also in tunnels and wildernesses, places
where the dividing lines between time present and past seem thin and
distorted, as do the boundaries between man's sophistication and his

Sally Dalton-Brown is a Lecturer in the Department of Russian at the University of Exeter.

1 See A. Bocharov, Literatura i vremia, Moscow, I988, pp. 260-go (269).

2 Karen Stepanian, missing the point, has called Makanin's prose lacking in beauty,
arguing that it seems almost to be non-literary writing. See the article by T. Tolstaia and K.
Stepanian, '. . . Golos, letiashchii v kupol', Voprosy literatury, I988, 2, pp. 78-I06 (p. 8o).

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brutality.3 Makanin's texts are powerful analyses of man's innate

capacity for violence, as well of his ability to accept evil passively.
Combining the theme of the intelligent's inability to act with an interest
in man's savagery, Makanin has showed that he can depict ineffec-
tuality not only in 'literary' and intellectual terms, but in raw and
powerful ways. Although critics have been hesitant in defining
Makanin's thematics, writing somewhat vaguely of the atmosphere of
'the terror of everyday life' to be sensed in his texts, it is clear that
Makanin is conceirned with both Russia's past and its future.4 Plumb-
ing the moral - and not so moral - depths of man, Makanin analyses
the guilt of the intelligent, dating it from the I950S and I960s, when the
liberal intelligentsia had the opportunity to take a stand during the
Khrushchev years, but did not. In Makanin's view, ineffectuality is
ultimately as destructive as brutality; between the savage and the
intellectual there is only a fine line, and both will find themselves
inhabiting a world of darkness and chaos, of the type depicted by
Makanin in his futuristic works Dolog nash put' and Laz (i 99 i).
Makanin's prose has not always been considered to be of particularly
high quality.5 Initially, he was seen as a second-rank writer belonging

Like Trifonov, Makanin is particularly interested in place. His texts, however, encom-
pass a greater variety of locales than Trifonov's non-historical works, which are usually set
in cramped Moscow flats. As Lev Anninskii has stated, Makanin's world is also that of the
'poselok' and the 'barak', where people who live under such conditions 'become accustomed
to anything'. Lev Anninskii, 'Struktura labirinta' in V. Makanin, Izbrannoe, Moscow, I987,
pp.3-I8 (p. I7) (a republication of an article in Znamia, I986, I2, pp.2I8-26, also
republished in Lokti i kryl'ia, Moscow, I 989, pp. 238-58). This point has been disputed. Irina
Rodianskaia argues that Makanin's Moscow is not Trifonov's 'little rodina of the Muscovite,
but a "bol'shoi gorod", in its laws brutally opposing the worldly and ethical experience of
the envoy from the Russia of the barrack and housing estate'. See I. Rodianskaia,
'Neznakomye neznakomtsy. K sporam o geroiakh Vladimira Makanina' (hereafter 'Nez-
nakomye neznakomtsy'), Novyi mir, I986, 8, pp. 230-48 (233). Makanin is also interested in
tunnels, as his texts Utrata and Laz show; and in 'empty places', as in the story 'Pustynnoe
mesto', in which Makanin states: 'a deserted place calls and entices; inviting, it promises us
something' (Izbrannoe, p. 152).
4 See the dialogue between T. Tolstaia and K. Stepanian (p. 82). Tolstaia also speaks of
the feeling of existential loneliness of man (p. 84), before suggesting that Makanin's theme is
the opposition between the individual and the collective (p. 88). V. Kamianov in a recent
article claimed rather cryptically that Makanin is interested in 'the event of dark enlight-
ment'. See V. Kamianov, 'V tesnote i obide, ili novyi chelovek na zemle i pod zemlei', Novyi
mir, I99I, 12, pp. 2I9-30 (226). I. Zhukov, in 'Mera otvetstvennosti' in V. Makanin, Mesto
pod solntsem, Moscow, I984, pp. 3-7, claimed that there is one motif which runs throughout
Makanin's work; that of 'personal responsibility' (p. 3). This is the nearest critics have come
to noting Makanin's interest in guilt, although Rodianskaia has noted a little vaguely that
'[Makanin] lives under the sign of integral guilt [integral'noi viny], the source of which is at
times unclear to himself', 'Neznakomye neznakomtsy', p. 240.
5 Critics often divide Makanin's work into two periods: I967-79, and 1979 to present, his
pre-i979 texts being regarded as of lower quality. For articles on Makanin's work, see
A. Ageev, 'Istina i svoboda. Vladimir Makanin: vzgliad iz I 990 goda', Literaturnoe obozrenie,
I990, 9, pp. 25-33; A. Bocharov, 'Rozhdeno sovremennost'iu', Novyi mir, 1981, 8, pp. 227-47
(242-43), and also his Chem zhiva literatura?, Moscow, I986, pp. 209-33; V. Bondarenko,
'Vremia nadezhd', Zvezda, I986, 8, pp. 114-23; A. Dedkov, 'Ironiia vmesto analiza' and
V. Kamianov, 'Tselebnost' edkogo slova', both in Literaturnaiagazeta, i i August I982, p. 4-
N. Ivanova, 'Ochen' predvaritel'nye itogi: Vladimir Makanin', Literaturnaia ucheba, 1980, I,

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to a literary group around whom there has been some contention,

namely the so-called 'Moscow school' of writers. This group, all ofwhom
began writing, like Makanin, in the I96os (Makanin's first major work
was a povest', Priamaia liniia, which appeared in I967) or early I970s, has
a diverse membership. Critics have included in the group, which also has
been called the 'pokolenie sorokaletnikh', writers as dissimilar as Bitov
and Kim, Orlov, Kurchatkin, Kireev, Krupin, Lichutin, Prokhanov
and Petrushevskaia,6 and have been as divided on the question of the
central concerns of the group as they have been on the name by which it
may be known.7 One fairly broad definition of the Moscow school,
however, is that it 'typically engages in moderate formal experi-
mentation largely with time, space and narrative, and focuses primarily
on the average man newly transplanted to the metropolis'.8
The Moscow school has also been called the 'school of Trifonov', as
the work of these writers is usually distinguished by the authorial
ambivalence for which Iurii Trifonov was strongly criticized during the
I970s; the 'hero' to be found in these texts is frequently the typical
Trifonovian 'neudachnik', and the urban locale frequently used is
strongly reminiscent of Trifonov's claustrophobic cityscapes.9

pp. 31-36; A. Karpov, 'Preodolenie ochevidnosti, ili real'noe v irreal'nom (o novykh

proizvedeniiakh Evdokimova, Zhitinskogo, Kuraeva, Makanina', Literaturnaia gazeta,
I 8 November 1987, p. 4; A. Kazintsev, 'Igra na pokolenie', Literaturnoe obozrenie, 1983, 10
pp.29-3?; P. Kile, 'O "paradoksal'nykh" geroiakh i o taine ironii', Neva, I984, II,
pp. 153-60; V. Kovskii, 'V mashtabe tselogo', Voprosy literatury, I982, 10, pp. 70-I IO; M.
Lipovetskii, 'Protiv techeniia. Avtorskaia pozitsiia v proze Vladimira Makanina', Ural,
1985, 12, pp. 148-59; S. Piskunova and V. Piskunov, 'Vse prochee - literatura', Voprosy
literatury, I988, I2, pp. 38-78; E. Sergeev, 'Po okruzhnoi doroge', Znamia, I986, 12, pp. 21 1-
22 (2 17-18); I. Solov'eva, 'Natiurmort s knigoi i zerkalom. 0 proze Vladima Makanina' in
V. Makanin, Povesti, Moscow, 1988, pp. 329-35.
6 Critics have also included Bazhenov, Afanas'ev, Mirnev, Gusev, Rybas, Anar and
Pulatov amongst the sorokaletnie. For information on this group, see V. Bondarenko,
'Stolknoveniia dukha s materiei', Literaturnaia gazeta, 5 November I980, p.4; also his
'Avtoportret pokoleniia', Voprosy literatury, I985, II, pp. 79-114; I. Dedkov, 'Kogda rasseial-
sia liricheskii tuman', Literaturnoe obozrenie, I98I, 8, pp. 2I-33; also his 'Skol'ko budet
dvazhdy dva?', Literaturnoe obozrenie, I986, I, pp. 38-45; A. Bocharov, 'Kak slovo nashe
otzovetsia?', Voprosy literatury, 1985, I I, pp. I I5-54; A. Klitko, 'Litso, kharakter, sud'ba',
Literaturnoe obozrenie, I983, 2, pp. 21-26; A. Lanshchikov, 'Trevogi nashikh dnei', Litera-
turnaia gazeta, I3 May I98I, p. 4; I. Zolotusskii, 'Oglianis' s liubov'iu', Literaturnoe obozrenie,
I980, I2, pp. 3o-34. An interesting article is P. Roll'berg's 'Proza "sorokaletnikh"
izobretenie kritiki ili iavlenie literaturnogo protsessa?', Zeitschrift fur Slawistik, 35, 1990,
Pp. 388-94.
As well as being called the 'forty-year-olds' and the 'Moscow school', these writers are
often labelled 'urban prose' writers. Anatolii Bocharov has suggested another label, that of
the 'sidelined generation'; see 'Rozhdeno sovremennost'iu', p. 246.
8 Glasnost': An Anthology of Literature Under Gorbachev, ed. H. Goscilo and B. Lindsey, Ann
Arbor, Michigan, 1990, p. 46 I. This definition does not fit Makanin's more recent work, and
it has been suggested that he is now a 'sui generis writer belonging to no identified literary
movement or circle' (ibid.).
9 There is of course no single type of hero to be found in all the work of all these writers. For
example, V. Gusev called his own type of hero in two articles in Literaturnaia gazeta,
17 September I 980, p. 4 and I I April I 984, p. 6, the 'normal' man ('normal'nyi chelovek'),
by which he means the type of person we call 'a harmoniously developed individual'.

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Makanin's early reputation was not enhanced by being labelled part of

this school, as several of his texts from the I96os and 1970s did in fact
show a strong resemblance to Trifonov's work. There is a character,
Belov, in Makanin's Priamaia liniia, who may be taken from Trifonov's
Studenty (I950) in which the hero is called Vadim Belov. Makanin's
'Polosa obmenov' (1976) was thematically a response to Trifonov's
Obmen (I969), while his 'Chelovek svity' (I982) still bears many
hallmarks of Trifonov's style and concerns.10 In the latter, Makanin
describes Vika and Rodiontsev, two characters who have become part
of a favoured 'inner circle' under the patronage of Aglaia Andreevna,
secretary to the director of their institute. But then they are replaced by
a younger pair; Rodiontsev, at first devastated by this loss of privilege,
eventually realizes that he is 'free'; there is no longer a need to pay court
to Aglaia (p. 2 I6). The Trifonovian theme of compromise and flattery
as the path to success (a theme he most clearly portrayed in Dom na
naberezhnoi) is the core of a pleasant but unremarkable text. Makanin
has also used other Trifonovian motifs, such as that of the 'ubeg', found
in many of Trifonov's texts (i.e. Obmen, Predvaritel'nye itogi, Drugaia
zhizn'). Makanin's characters in his early texts travel, like Trifonov's
neudachniki, in order to escape themselves, fleeing the knowledge of their
own weakness and immorality. I His focus on depicting weak men and
women engaged in dreary lives filled with trivial moral dilemmas
indicates that Makanin had apprenticed himself, perhaps uncon-
sciously, to the master of byt prose.
From the mid-i 980s, however, Makanin has begun to develop a
more original style and stronger thematics, and consequently has
attracted more favourable critical attention. The translation of
Otstavshii, which appeared in a I990 anthology of major glasnost'
writing, promoted his name;12 the shortlisting of Laz for the I992
Russian Booker Prize (which he was strongly tipped, together with
Petrushevskaia, to win) also undoubtedly helped to bring his work to
the attention of the West. His being awarded the prize in 1993 for the

10 A. Bocharov likens 'Chelovek svity' to Trifonov's Dom na naberezhnoi, and also, oddly, to
Rasputin's Pozhar, in Literatura i vremia, p. 336. In a recent article I. Murav'eva has argued
interestingly for Makanin's likeness to Leskov; see 'Sloistyi pirog vremeni', Kontinent, 6I,
I 989, pp. 353-66 (355).
11 As his narrator states in 'Grazhdanin ubegaiushchii': 'People never have searched for
something and aren't searching now - they are simply running away from their own traces,
from their own previous acts of destruction', Izbrannoe, p. 21.
12 Otstavshii appeared in translation as Left Behind in Glasnost': An Anthology ofLiterature Under
Gorbachev. A translation of Makanin's Kliucharev i Alimushkin has- appeared in the latest
edition of Glas; two works have been translated into French, appearing as La ou' le ciel rejoignait
les collines ( I 988) and La breche ( i 99 I ). Since I 983, seven of Makanin's books have appeared
in German translation, issued by Neuer Malik: Stimme, Romancollage (1983), Der Wunderheiler
(1984), Menschenbilder( (987), Der Verlust (i 989), Moskau 1985 (a collection of texts, i99i), Das
Schlupftoch (1992), and Der Nachzigler (1992).

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povest' Stol, pokrytyi suknom i

reputation as a major writer, one whom the critics Vail' and Genis
recently placed on a par with the better-known writers Iskander and
Bitov. 14
Similarities with Trifonov can still be noted in Makanin's work, but
the overall tone and thrust of the texts is very different. Makanin's
major theme, that of guilt, on which his work has focused since his 1978
Portret i vokrug, reminds one again of Trifonov. However, although
Makanin's characters are ineffectual intelligenty, like Trifonov's, or, to
take a more recent example, like many of Tat'iana Tolstaia's protagon-
ists,15 he has of late described their passivity in less 'ordinary', that is,
byt-dominated, contexts. Similar to the characters created by Liudmila
Petrushevskaia, whose men and women are fascinated by power,
Makanin's wrestle with the brutal strength of their own natures, onl
lose. The narrative itself shows the struggle for power; Petrushevskaia's
protagonists, like Makanin's, attempt to control life, reality, words; her
men and women find themselves swept away in their own stream-of-
consciousness,16 while Makanin's characters find their matter-of-fact
narration slipping inexorably into less realistic genres, into myth,
parable, into modes of consciousness associated with grimmer and
more ancient times. Like Iskander, Makanin places man in the context
of his animal past, turning his texts into modern-day fables.
The work of Makanin and Petrushevskaia can be categorized as
'zhestokii realizm'17 and the 'cruelty' of their texts derives from the
two writers' unflinching depiction both of man's desire to conquer an
survive, no matter at what cost, and of man's realization that control
always finite. Power is something lost rather than held (as
Petrushevskaia suggests),18 or something greater than man himsel

13 This text appeared in Znamia, '993, ", pp. 9-53.

14 In an article in I 989, P. Vail and A. Genis stated that 'in answer to the questio
contemporary literature today, one could turn to the well-known list of names: I
certain derevenshchiki, Bitov, Makanin'. See their 'Novaia proza: ta zhe ili "drugaia
mir, 1989, 10, pp. 247-50 (248).
15 S. Zalygin, 'Trifonov, Shukshin i my', Novyi mir, I99 1, II, pp. 221-30, comments on
Trifonov's portrayal of the intelligentsia, comparing it with the way in which Tolstaia and
Petrushevskaia treat their intelligenty.
16 Petrushevskaia's recent Vremia noch', Novyi mir, I99I, 2, pp. 65-I 10, provides the best
illustration of this; the text breaks down into fragmented, almost incoherent paragraphs,
written without initial capitalization.
17 Petrushevskaia's work has been described thus by A. Zorin, 'Kruche, kruche, kruche...'.
Znamia, I 992, I 0, pp. I 98-204. Aleksandr Ageev, 'Prevratnosti dialoga', Znamia, I 990, 2,
pp. 213-22, discusses the interaction between reader and author with specific reference to
Evgenii Popov's work, but also devotes a brief section to discussion of the concepts of
'bednaia' and 'zhestokaia' prose.
18 In her 'Smotrovaia ploshchadka' Petrushevskaia's narrator discusses the fact that
'victories may only be temporary phenomena'; in more recent work, such as the dialogue
'Izolirovannyi boks', Svoi krug and Vremia noch', her characters experience the gradual
erosion of all control over their lives, careers and family; even their graves will not remain as
testaments to their lives and existence: 'They only give you thirty years in the cemetery, then
they liquidate you', 'Izolirovannyi boks', Novyi mir, I988, 12, pp. I 16-20 ( 117).

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matter how hard he tries to control his innate violence, as Makanin

realizes. In the group of three stories published under the heading Siur v
proletarskom raione (1 99 I) Makanin depicts violence and blood as inevit-
able, even natural elements of his characters' grotesque existence. In
the first of the stories ('Siur v proletarskom raione') power is given a
fantastic shape external to the characters; the hero, Kolia, is chased by
a gigantic hand, which finally seizes its prey and, as we are told in
rather gruesome fashion, squeezes him so that 'from poor Kolia
splashed his brains and in general all his bodily liquid, whatever it was
blood, brains, lymph, urine, sweat'.19 In the two other stories
published with 'Siur', 'Jeroglif' and 'Neshumnye', violence is also
present; the latter contains four murders and a scene of necrophilia.
Makanin's view of man's nature is a pessimistic one, and his
depictions of love and harmonious interrelationships lack the power of
his descriptions of man's inhumanity to man (or to beast). He is most
ease describing love linked to violence, as in Goluboe i krasnoe (I983),
which describes how two grandmothers battle for the love of their
young grandson Kliucharev,20 who is 'unused to love' a phrase
which perhaps could be used to describe many of Makanin's heroes.2'
The love which Makanin's heroes advocate is a tough, universal and
unselfish love, as typified by the healer Iakushkin with his philosophy
of brotherly love in Predtecha (i 982). It is love for one's family and kin,
love for one's people, birthplace, for Russia, love which has a basis in
conscience, which interests Makanin, which means that his characters,
unlike Trifonov's 'flabby' protagonists, are seekers after truth, not the
comfort of relationships dominated by nostalgia or by habit. Makanin's
more recent characters are individuals driven from complacency or
passivity to the dark places of their own minds - places symbolized by
Makanin's nocturnal and ill-lit streets, the tunnels and wildernesses in
which he has most frequently placed his characters with their burden of
guilt for their own brutality or passivity. Guilt in the context of violence
is the theme of this overview of Makanin's work, which will look in most
detail at the following texts in which the theme of guilt is central: Portret
ivokrug (I 978), Odin iodna (i 987), Otstavshii (i 987) 'leroglif' (i 99i), Laz
(i99i), Dolog nash put' (I991 ) and 'Siuzhet usredneniia' (I 992).22

19 'Siur v proletarskom raione', Novyi mir, I991, 9, pp. I 1 1-29 (1 20).

20 Makanin has two characters who appear in several stories; Kliucharev appears in four
texts - Krasnoe i goluboe, Povest' o Starom Poselke, Kliucharev i Alimushkin, Laz. There is also the
character Igor' Petrovich, a writer, who appears in Portret i vokrug, Odin i odna, 'leroglif' and
'Skuchaiushchie shofera'.
21 Izbrannoe, p. 262.
22 Another text by Makanin has appeared since this article was prepared for publication;
Kvazi, Novyi mir, I 993, 7, pp. 124-47. Neither this text nor the Booker prize-nominated Stol,
pokrytyi suknom i s grafinom posredine have been analysed for the purposes of this article.

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In the first of these two works Makanin can be seen still groping
towards - and failing to find - an individual approach to the subject
of the intelligentsia. In his I978 Portret i vokrug he pinpoints a major
problem for the intelligent; namely, his inability to recognize his guilt.
Portret i vokrug revolves around a 'man of the sixties', Starokhatov, a
man who abuses his position as a well-known scriptwriter and producer
to sign his name to scripts written by novice authors. Starokhatov is no
monster (he is capable of generous, even noble acts), but his ability to
create a false, successful self-image through his plagiarism points not
only to his lack of ethics, but to his lack of identity. Identity is a major
problem for the main character in this novel, Igor' Petrovich, who
becomes involved in the Starokhatov case when a friend asks him to
help create a 'portrait' of the man. Igor' uncovers evidence of Staro-
khatov's theft of scripts but finds himself unable to take any action
against the man. This is not only due to an intelligent's ineffectuality;
Starokhatov tells Igor' that he 'sees himself' in Starokhatov, whose
criminality he has exposed. Starokhatov suggests one possible motiva-
tion for Igor"s inability to act; for Igor', laying charges against this
man would be like indicting himself; and he cannot accept his own
In this early work Makanin has little that is particularly new to offer
in his depiction of moral laxity and the difficulties of facing the truth
about oneself. Nine years later, however, he published a text in which
the character of Igor' Petrovich appeared for the second time. The
theme in this, the I987 text Odin i odna, is again that of the guilt of the
shestidesiatniki, that generation capable of doing good, and yet somehow
unable to do so. Whether one accepts the argument of Natal'ia Ivanova
that this story is a 'dethroning' of the generation of the shestidesiatniki, or
that of Alla Latynina, who has claimed it is an apologia for them,23 it is
clear that Makanin has moved on in fact from discussing passivity and
guilt. He is now concerned primarily with the theme of punishment,
producing thus a far starker, even chilling, text. For the intelligenty who
were unable to act on their liberal principles, isolation is the punish-
ment. They are cut off from the collective, doomed to a lonely old age,
as Makanin describes with a laconic lack of sentimentality.
In Odin i odna Makanin's shestidesiatniki are Gennadii Goloshchekov
and Ninel', two idealistic people who were involved in student politics
during the I 950s, and who could never bring themselves to kow-tow to
the regime ('prosit' silnykh', p. I55), people who realized that 'the
intellect and conformism are two incompatible things, Salieri' (p. 76).
They are depicted as innately honourable, but the harsh spotlight of
Makanin's prose shows them also to be pathetic and even farcical.
23 N. Ivanova, 'Ochen' predvaritel'nye itogi' (n. 5 above), p. 33; A. Latynina, 'Fo
paradoksal'nogo', Literaturnoe obozrenie, I 983, 1 0, pp . 3 2-36.

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Ninel' is always bathetically tormented by a

usually involving her co-workers. Gennadii i
out of bed late at night to rescue a stranger whom his own drinking
companion, Daev, confessed he had abandoned in a snowdrift.
Gennadii the knight-errant then finds himself in the snowdrift -
pushed in by an ungrateful rescuee who then co-opts Gennadii's taxi.
In such incidents Makanin's Gennadii is rather like an intellectual
version of some of the characters created in the texts of Evgenii Popov
people whom, despite their fundamental goodness, life treats
unkindly according to its own rather black sense of humour.
Obliteration is the fate that lies in wait for these two people. The
description of Ninel"s dream, in which she walks naked through a
succession of empty rooms with tables laid for meals and looks for the
'race of her time' ('vyvodok svoego vremeni', p. 69), suggests that
Makanin's text is about a generation which has disappeared, leaving
no trace, like the victims of the purges. Ninel"s dream also suggests the
desire that she has to 'belong', to be part of a collective, a desire which
Makanin had examined in his earlier work 'Chelovek svity', and in
Gde skhodilos' nebo s kholmami (i 984). In the latter Makanin tells us of the
composer Bashilov, who as an orphan is sent by his barak to music
school. Bashilov feels 'guilty ['vinovat'] before his community',24
before the people to whom he owes his education, because his success
isolates him from them.
Gennadii, like Ninel', wants to belong to the brotherhood of man. He
is obsessed with the idea of the 'roi' (the 'swarm'), of collective life, an
idea which he himself, a man who is utterly alone, negates simply by his
existence. The two are unable to find common ground with the narod, or
even with other members of the intelligentsia; and, most damningly,
they are unable even to recognize each other as members of that lost
tribe of the shestidesiatniki. Attempts by Igor' Petrovich and his wife to
draw the two together fail utterly, and Makanin suggests that even after
death Ninel' and Gennadii would be unable to find a common tie. They
will remain, as the text's title indicates, alone.
Nineteen eighty-seven was the year in which, as well as providing a
harsher reworking of the theme of the shestidesiatniki, Makanin showed
that he was now dealing seriously with the theme of violence. This had
appeared as a theme in his work before, being central to 'Antilider'
(I983), in which Makanin produced the striking character of the
pugnacious Kurenkov, a man driven by an inner demon of violence
over which he appears to have little control. The theme remains
undeveloped in this text, which is really a psychological study of
Kurenkov and of his wife who struggles to come to terms with her

24 Izbrannoe, p. 292.

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enigmatic husband. In Utrata and Otstavshii, violence is more than an

aspect of the protagonist's character; violence and the desire to exploit
others become part of the myth which Makanin weaves into the fabric
of the text. Utrata provides us with a story which attains universal
symbolic significance. The tale of the blind men who, hired and
exploited by a man obsessed with digging a tunnel, spend their days
excavating, not knowing where they are going or why, is a powerful
parable of the human condition, of inhumane treatment, of madness
and futility. Another such parable forms part of Otstavshii, a text in
which Makanin returns to the theme of responsibility, now achieving a
mature synthesis of the two themes of guilt and of violence.
Otstavshii is Makanin's best work to date. In this text Makanin moves
the reader between the two modes in which the book is written - the
mythic and the prosaic - from the story of the iurodivyi Lesha to that of
the writer Serezha - with ease and resonance.25 Serezha's life, seen
against the background of the tale of violence, cruelty and, strangely,
serendipity that is Lesha's tale, shows itself to be a mediocre existence.
Yet Serezha's life gains significance from being juxtaposed with the
greater story of universal cruelty which is Lesha's. With its inclusion of
a strong mythic element, Otstavshii far outstrips Trifonov's texts about
passive writers, such as Vremia i mesto (i 98 I), Tendriakov's texts about
his writer-figure Tenkov, or Tolstaia's elegantly 'magical' depictions of
eunuchs, cynics and fakes, such as Peters, Denisov ('Somnambula v
tumane') or Filin ('Fakir'). Makanin's co-member of the Moscow
school, Anatolii Kim, is perhaps similar in his treatment of the topic in
his fantastic text Belka; but Makanin's use of myth and parable is most
reminiscent of Gogol', his intent a Gogolian desire to show mankind's
moral vacuity through the medium of non-realistic narrative.
The title, Otstavshii, holds the key to an understanding of this
complex text. References to alienation from one's time, to 'lagging
behind', are numerous. The narrator, Serezha, a writer, hurries to
finish his script, aware that there may not 'be much time'. Indeed, there
is not; for when he finally brings it to Novyi mir he is too late; Tvardovskii
has gone, the era of enlightened publishing is over.26 Serezha should
have known; but he has shut himself off from events (p. 55) in the
manner of the typical, isolationist intelligent. The motif of 'falling
behind' is probably taken from the character of Trigorin in Chekhov's
Chaika, who felt that he had 'missed the train', that is, had missed the
chance to become a real writer. This Chekhovian subtext to Makanin's

25 Critics have as yet paid little attention to Otstavshii. See, however, the comments of
Tolstaia and Stepanian in '... Golos letiashchi'ii v kupol', pp. 87-89, 9I; and A. Karpov,
'Preodolenie ochevidnosti' (n. 5 above), p. 4.
26 V. Makanin, Otstavshii, Znamia, 1987, pp. 6-59 (9). All further references to the text are
taken from this edition; page numbers will appear in parentheses after the quotation.

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tale sets an apologetic tone in certain sections and links the text to
Trifonov's Obmen (I969), in which the main character, Dmitriev, also
feels he has 'missed the train' in failing to take advantage of
Makanin takes the motif of falling behind on to a philosophical level.
'Falling behind' is part of the author's interest in how man interacts
with time, and the themes of death, eternity, of disappearance and of
leaving a 'trace' all appear in the text. Man can 'combine' various time
lines. Serezha realizes that he is the 'point of contact' between two
generations, those of his father and his daughter; he becomes 'a simple
point of contact between these two mutually opposite signals from the
past and the future' (p. 7). This theme again shows the strong link
between Makanin's work and that of Trifonov's; the latter dealt with
the idea of 'inheriting' morality from one's ancestors, as if through the
genes, in Drugaia zhizn'. For Trifonov's hero, Sergei, 'combining time'
is primarily an ethical concept; for Makanin it is something more.
When Makanin deals with the concept of 'genetic time', that is, racial
memory, he suggests that Serezha is linked to his distant ancestors and
to his entire culture, part of which is, presumably, the story of Lesha, a
sequence of events which has become a cultural myth.
The story of the boy Lesha, a iurodivyi with childlike blue eyes,
naivete, white hair and scarred, crooked hands, is a paradoxical tale.
Lesha has a rare and dangerous ability; he can find gold, a talent which
comes into play whenever he 'falls behind'. Constantly battling to keep
up with the group of prospectors who abuse him and his talent
unmercifully, and who deliberately outstrip him, so that he will lag,
Lesha's path is sure to coincide with a lode. Attempting to belong -yet
failing to do so - is for Makanin a situation which is both terrible, yet
serendipitous. To Serezha, battling with his own feelings of falling
behind, the story has considerable significance. He, like Lesha, 'fell
behind' during liberal, less cruel times. Now that the times are more
brutal, perhaps his continuing to 'fall behind' is a more fortunate mode
of existence?
The meaning of the title, 'otstavshii', centres on this paradox.
Serezha blames himself for his dilatoriness, yet finds comfort in the fact
that desiring to keep up with one's time is indicative of a desire to
conform. What else motivates Lesha, but a desire to belong to a group,
a desire which is exploited for monetary gaiii? The desire to 'combine
one's own time with the time of one's society' (p. 55) is a dangerous
desire, one which places ideological certainty higher than honest
doubt. Serezha states:
The spiritual aspect of every kind of 'falling behind' probably suggests a
norm; it suggests that somewhere there is defined and there exists a norm
which doesn't allow any doubts, that the essence and meaning lie in that

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norm and nowhere else ... But to c

else - is this what appeals and att

The desire to belong is shared by the narrator's father, who has

terrifying dreams in which he sees a truck, laden with people, driving
off - leaving him behind (p. 6). Serezha's father is referred to as an
'honest builder', one of those who 'kept building, having apparently
lost both the purpose and corresponding significance of building'
(p. 36). Makanin hints here at the guilt of one of the 'builders of
socialism' in his depiction of a man who is now tormented like his writer
son with the thought that he 'fell behind'. Father and son wish to belong
to different periods; yet father and son are linked in that temporal
structure called 'combined time' which also connects them to Lesha, as
well as to the universe and to all those who are dead, having ultimately
'fallen behind' time. Makanin hints at a complex unity which tran-
scends time and indeed space (for Lesha's story is one of ceaseless
travel) and which unites all of mankind; and the desire to be a part of
something, to be part of this universality, or to be part of a 'race' (as
depicted in Odin i odna), is both good and bad. Isolation is a terrible
thing for Serezha, his father, and for Lesha; but perhaps it is better than
the torments of belonging to a group of brutes; and it is in isolation that
Lesha, unlike Ninel' and Gennadii, makes his 'finds' of precious metal.
The theme of finding appears in one of the four short stories
published by Makanin four years later, in IggI, 'Ieroglif', which dea
with the theme of the guilt of the intelligentsia in a rather bizarre
manner.27 The idea that intelligenty should be punished (by isolation),
that they should be objects of hatred (an idea briefly mentioned in
another story from I99I, 'Tam byla para'),28 is developed in this story
about the inescapable burden of guilt. The intelligentsia must now face
the fact that its liberalism, or its love for the narod, has been a useless
emotion. It has not encouraged the halting of violent acts perpetrated
against the people. The intelligentsia, by reason of its passivity, is as
guilty as the actual perpetrators of brutality.
The plot of the story is improbable. The narrator of this text, the by
now familiar figure of Igor' Petrovich, sees a man hiding something in a
snowy street, and discovers it to be a huge, bloody haunch of meat.
Makanin's hero is detemined to move it, imagining rather fantastically
the rioting and lynching of food-sellers that will occur if this plenitude
of meat is discovered by the hungry masses. Struggling with his sense of
responsibility and with the unwieldy mass of frozen meat, the hero sees
himself as a 'hieroglyph'. He explains what he means at some length;
the hieroglyph is

27 V. Makanin, 'leroglif', Novyi mir, 1991, 9, pp. 1224.

28 'Tam byla para', Novyi mir, I99I, 5, pp. 82-83 (88-89).

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the shape of a man frightened (and at the sa

himself). A hieroglyph of fear, if not of pain. .
pain, then it could be taken for a hieroglyph of love ... Of love towards
them, that is, again, not personal love ... The working mass ... is ready to
spit on the intelligentsia, which as it were does nothing, but somehow the
love of the Russian intelligentsia for the people is both beautiful and
fruitful ... And therefore, however absurd and silly the man carrying and
almost dropping a frozen haunch of beef may be, the hieroglyph of this
carrying and dropping is not absurd and not at all funny. . . There is no time
for the Russian intelligentsia... to hide this haunch, and it cannot be
thrown away. There is no getting rid of it, as people cannot in their everyday
lives (or even in their dreams) get rid of feelings of melancholy dog-like guil
(p. I23).

It appears that the guilt of the intelligentsia for the parlous state of
Russia is symbolized by the hero carrying the bloody corpse of a dead
animal through a wintry street. He cannot rid himself of this bloody, icy
burden of guilt; from this stems his fear, and at the same time, his love.
The story 'Jeroglif' can be defined as an apologia, something in the
manner of Iurii Trifonov's much more personal admission of his failure
to speak out against Stalin which was expressed in the story 'Koshki ili
zaitsy?' (i 98I) .29 In the latter it is dead cats, not a frozen cow, which for
Trifonov symbolize the Stalinist atrocities about which he, as a writer,
should have spoken out. Makanin's story, although it uses the same
motif of dead meat, is more powerful, and more comic, than Trifonov's.
The farcical depictiQn of Igor' Petrovich's dismay when he discovers
this strange find, and his dithering as he tries to decide what to do,
remind the reader of Gogol"s creation of characters who are not really
human, but merely comic moments created to offer insights into man's
bestial nature.
The theme of the beast appeared in Makanin's two dystopian texts
also published in I 99 I. In Dolog nash put' Makanin used the image of a
carcass to suggest that men are driven by their survival instinct to prey
on one another, or on animals, which they require for food. The image
of the swarm, or 'roi', was chosen by Makanin in Odin i odna (and used
again in Laz) intentionally, to indicate to the reader that man is
inherently an animal and a pack member. Dolog nash put' focuses
strongly on the idea of eating flesh and drinking blood, describing a
supposedly perfect future world without war, disease, famine; a world
in which no species preys on the other: 'For a hundred years already no
bird, fish or anything alive has been turned into food, what humanism!'
(p. 5) .30 Or so the idealistic, unnamed and rather one-dimensional

29 See Iu. Trifonov, 'Koshki i1i zaitsy?', Novyi mir, I 98 I, 7, pp. 58-87 (58-64).
30 V. Makanin, Dolog nash put', Znamia, I99I, 4, pp. 3-47 (5). Further page references from
this edition will appear in the text.

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protagonist believes, until, on a visit to a synthetic food combine to test

out a new technological device, he discovers that cows are still being
slaughtered. Protesting, he is told that there is nothing to feed people
with, and the slaughter is shrugged off; in the words of one character,
'we have always killed and we continue to kill' (p. 20).
Makanin dwells on descriptions of cows being slaughtered, fasci-
nated and horrified by this image of savagery, the full symbolic value of
which can best be understood by reference to 'leroglif'. Meat becomes
a symbol of the guilt of the intelligentsia, of all those who, as in the
supposedly enlightened new world of Dolog nash put', realize that to kill
is wrong, and yet who will kill and eat of the carcass if that is what it
takes to survive. Survival is also the theme of Laz, in which Makanin
describes a future world in which people struggle to survive; Moscow
has become a city much like Sarajevo, a place of anarchy where bandits
roam and few services work. The city is inhabited also by a mob, which
Makanin's narrator, Kliucharev, describes with a certain amount of
fear and incomprehension as a dark mass of people with 'cruel and
grim' faces, a crowd capable of sudden violence in which faces could
instantly flare 'white with rage, with spite, hardened fists ready and the
jabs of those fists fierce, directly into the eyes'.31 This is a harsh image of
people depersonalized and brutalized by their collective 'identity' and
continues Makanin's theme of the dangers of belonging to a group.
Kliucharev is a homeless person, unable to feel safe in the city, yet
equally not an inhabitant of the underground world inhabited by the
intelligentsia, who sit in their well-lit, well-stocked subterranean world
discussing Dostoevskii and drinking, their 'elevated words' echoing in
the ears of Kliucharev as he makes one of his trips into this underworld
in search of much needed supplies. A man alienated from both the
people and the intelligentsia, Kliucharev is primarily concerned with
the safety of his wife and son, and realizes that the intelligentsia will not
help him, just as they cannot - or will not - help anybody else on the
surface. Kliucharev is not bitter - the inhabitants of this comfortable
underground world will die anyway, despite their comparative
security. One inhabitant, Georgii N., referring to the unity of narod and
intelligentsia, states: 'We are like bees, joined in the swarm. And like
bees, we will perish all at once, if we perish. Wherever we are - on the
surface or below - it's all the same!' (p. I23).
In Laz Makanin shows a society devastatingly seamed through its
middle, divided into two isolated segments, unable to function, each
equally doomed, not only by circumstances, but also by an inability to
work together, to help one another, an inability occasioned by fear and
ineffectuality on the part of the intelligentsia, who perhaps truly see the

31 V. Makanin, Laz, Novyi mir, 1991, 5, pp. 92-133 ( ii 6- i 8). Future quotations refer to this

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people as a dark mass. Makanin points to the only way out of this
dilemma. The text ends with an episode of brotherhood, of mutual
assistance, suggesting that civilized feelings are not completely dead;
men must, however, conquer their desire to exploit one another, to feed
off one another, in order to create a brave new world. Belonging to the
brotherhood of man is again a concern which absorbs Makanin, and
which he uses as the background to his theme of man's difficult and
violent interrelationships, particularly the relationship of the intelligenty
to their time and place, and to the people.
'Belonging' is also the theme of four texts which appeared in Znamia
in 1992 under the general heading of Siuzhet usredneniia. These four short
pieces are meditations on literature and on the theme of the Russian's
desire to 'rastvorit'sia v liudiakh', to dissolve into, become one with, the
crowd or narod.32 We meet Igor' Petrovich again; standing in one of the
eternal Moscow food queues, he admits to fear: fear that others in the
queue will 'recognize him' - more specifically, will 'identify' ('opoz-
naiut') him (p. I 3). Igor' is reticent on the point of whether it is to be
identified as a writer, an intelligent, or simply to be 'singled out', which
he fears. There is comfort in 'usrednenie', and Makanin makes the
point that man desires to lose his individuality even without the
pressure of the regime ('bez usilii sistemy', p. I I 2). To lose oneself, to
abnegate individual responsibility, to be unnoticed in the crowd, this is
Igor"s desire. The theme of belonging crops up again as Makanin hints
at the intelligentsia's desire to be one with the people, tojoin with them.
Do his protagonists desire to join with their time, or their people, from
motives of expiation, to eradicate their guilt 'before the people' ('Sku-
chaiushchie shofera', p. i I8), or do they wish comfort, and to hide? If
they do learn how to belong, will they in fact achieve anything, or
continue to be ineffectual intelligenty? In 'Jeroglif' Igor' picks up the
haunch of meat, the bloody symbol of collective guilt, and attempts to
take it somewhere. However, the story ends with him dropping the
haunch; he falls into a snowdrift. Lying there, he mutters:
'I'm getting up ... I'm already getting up', I humbly vindicated myself,
pitifully and eagerly reporting before someone who was sternly watching
me from the side. (p. I 24)

Guilt, it seems, does not lead to meaningful action, but to half-hearted

self-justification before that 'stern judge' who Igor' Petrovich thinks is
watching him. Guilt must be recognized; the bloody corpse is there
before him. Makanin's recent works yoke blood and ineffectuality
together in a way which creates a dissonant picture, which in itself
bears witness to the alienated state of the intelligentsia, dissociated

32 'Skuchaiushchie shofera', Siuzhet usredneniia, Znamia, 1992, I, pp. 107-13 (0og). Further
references to the four stories published under this general title are taken from this edition.

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from the people, from the collective. Makanin's career, it seems, has
entered a new phase since I987, in which his vision of man's ability to
act inhumanely has been expressed in various stylistic ways - the
dystopia, the surreal, the myth, parable, and in stark urban prose. The
texts Otstavshii, Odin i odna, Utrata and Laz are major achievements in
which Makanin has worried at that symbolic haunch of frozen meat,
attempting to exorcize, painfully and bloodily, the ghost of the past -
the guilt of the intelligentsia. His short stories are undoubtedly of less
merit, for in them Makanin allows message to mangle form, but they
have value as accompanying pieces to the major works.
Makanin has now explored the guilt of the intelligentsia in many
ways, depicting the inability to recognize guilt (Portret i vokrug), the
punishment that follows from apathy (Odin i odna), the desire to belong
and the panic engendered by a feeling of falling behind (Otstavshii,
Siuzhet usredneniia), and the withdrawal to an underground, privileged,
yet doomed world (Laz). In 'Jeroglif' he provides us with a succinct
image; the intelligent, Igor' Petrovich, is not a man, but an hieroglyph of
fear, love and pain. Only when he has excised his guilt will he find his
identity as a person. Makanin's future texts may offer more visions of
man's cruelty and bestiality, or may introduce new characters. The
breadth of his style suggests an endless creative possibility which has
barely been exploited and which will ensure that Makanin will con-
tinue to be well to the fore amongst contemporary Russian prose

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