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The Crisis of the Russian Avant-Garde in Iurii Olesha's "Envy"

Marina Kanevskaya
Canadian Slavonic Papers / Revue Canadienne des Slavistes
Vol. 43, No. 4 (DECEMBER 2001), pp. 475-493
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40870385
Page Count: 19
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The Crisis of the Russian Avant-Garde in Iurii Olesha's "Envy"
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Abstract

In this essay I will analyze Iurii Olesha's novel Envy (1927) as a reflex of the crisis within the Russian avant-garde. I will argue that Olesha's work can be viewed as the author's perception of the destruction of the avant-garde in the mid-twenties and its replacement by a radically different aesthetic system, i. e., Socialist Realism. In Envy, the fatal clash between the pragmatic productivism and the earlier constructivism finds its representation in the struggle of the three machines (or constructions—postroeniia—to use the avant-garde term). These constructions are: the communal kitchen Chetvertak; a mysterious machine, Ophelia; and Anechka Prokopovich's bed. I argue that all the power struggles among the main characters of the novel are connected to these three machines. The main feature common to these three machines and their design is control over human life. However, if the first two—Chetvertak and Ophelia—are involved in the active struggle for power, the third—the bed—epitomizes passive aggression. The bed mocks their struggle and lies in waiting and finally devours the future discourse, because it is in the bed that the action of Envy comes to its end. Thus, I suggest that Chetvertak be seen as a later productionist creation, while Ophelia represents an earlier constructivist avant-garde conception. In relation to the first two machines, the bed represents socialist realism as a stagnating aesthetic vision and the dystopian pretense of paradise attained.

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