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Lidiia Ginzburg: Images of the Intelligentsia
LIDIIA IAKOVLEVNA GINZBURG, recognized today as one of the most prominent scholars, distinguished writers, and reliable witnesses of the Leningrad intelligentsia, is best known outside Russia for her theoretical writings and scholarly studies of nineteenth- and twentieth-century narrative prose and lyric poetry. From the very beginning of her career, however, Ginzburg chose to identify herself broadly as a "litterateur" or "literary professional": "Literary science cannot develop out of itself alone, external stimuli and association with other realms of thought are required ... For those of us who do not view ourselves primarily as literary historians or literary theorists, but as having broader interests-who see ourselves rather as littérateurs, as literary professionals-that lack of nourishment is fatal." Public recognition of this remarkable personality and her literary accomplishments came only in the last decade of her life, in the 1980s, when she herself was in her eighties. Only then was Ginzburg able to reveal herself as a creative writer, a master practitioner of the genres of "life writing," for which she established new principles of analysis and which she practiced as new forms of contemporary prose. In a 1988 interview, she explained her interest in life writing as part of the "evolving literary process": "In contemporary prose the sense of the author's presence is developing space.... You take up a pen for a conversation about life-not to write an autobiography, but to express directly your own life experience, your views on reality.... This is one of the paths of future literary development ... the path I prefer" (emphasis added).
Indeed, Ginzburg's lifelong contemplation of the correlations between reality or "lived experience" and literary creation provides the key to all her writing, above all, to her own wide-ranging art of the zapis' (journal entry), which included the vast range of genres of self-expression, from poignant self-analyses, simple anecdotes, recorded conversations, to lengthy philosophical and memoiristic essays, among other things. Major literary influences on her writing include Michel Montaigne, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Lev Tolstoy, Petr Viazemskii, Osip Mandelstam, and Marcel Proust, uniquely complex practitioners of self-reflexive and self-critical analytical prose.
Lidiia Ginzburg was born into a middle-class assimilated Jewish family of the Odessa intelligentsia on March 5 (18), 1902, and died in her beloved adopted city of Leningrad on July 15, 1990. She summarizes her own biography against the background of Soviet intellectual and cultural life in a decade-by-decade assessment of the Russian intelligentsia in its twentieth-century incarnation in two linked cultural memoirs or memoiristic essays dating from 1979 to 1980: "Pokolenie na povorote" ("The Turning Point of a Generation," 1979) and "'I zaodno s pravo-poriadkom'" ("'At One with the Prevailing Order,'" 1980). These cultural memoirs of 1979 to 1980 are the subject of this chapter. Here Ginzburg fills out her skeletal biography by interrogating it in the context of the behavior of the postrevolutionary intelligentsia. She bases her analyses both on the experience of her own thinking as typical of her generation and on the social, historical, psychological, and aesthetic conditions that she perceived as exerting pressure on that thinking, among which are the literary and cultural formations inherited from the nineteenth-century Russian intelligentsia. Thus, this reading theorizes the memoirs of 1979 to 1980 as a unique effort to examine a life, not as conventional autobiography or memoir, but as a semiotic model of the social and psychological behavior of the intelligentsia during the various phases of Soviet Russian intellectual and cultural history from the 1920s to the Thaw. In the process Ginzburg provides a cultural and philosophical assessment of the behavior of the Soviet intelligentsia, her own life serving as a "variant" on that model. The writing of these memoirs is highly significant for Ginzburg's own self-cognition and self-representation, standing as a major effort on her part to connect with the younger, post-Stalinist generation, her addressee. Indeed, at the conclusion of the second memoir, she problematizes biography with reference to her own experience, questioning how much of life is consciously self-willed, and how much is conditioned by forces beyond one's control.
The memoirs of 1979 to 1980 were selected for analysis for several reasons. In addition to summing up Ginzburg's biography in her own words, they culminate earlier efforts at cultural memoirs of friends and colleagues begun in the 1960s as a means to repudiate the official version of reality condemning them to pariah status. Moreover, the form, content, and genre of these memoirs are unique in that they seek to combine and integrate Ginzburg's two favorite modes of expression-literary theory and the journal entry. Hence, they reflect her psychological, philosophical, and literary search for genres adequate to meet her ever broadening need for self-expression. To create these memoirs Ginzburg invokes experience grounded in her own documented history of her self-her lifelong journal. Theoretically, this textual performance echoes and develops Ginzburg's critiques of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century examples of life writing examined in her seminal theoretical works, On Psychological Prose and The Literary Hero. Thus, the memoirs of 1979 to 1980, although not designated as such, appear to be among the first in a long line of memoirs which, according to Marina Balina (see her chapter in this volume), seek to promote "life writing" as a new genre. They serve as a practicum in Ginzburg's ongoing experiments in life writing, and are pivotal for her creative writing, in that they were preceded by preliminary "memoirs of contemporaries" and succeeded by her better known and lengthier quasi memoir and prose masterpiece, "Zapiski blokadnogo cheloveka" ("Notes from the Leningrad Blockade," published in two parts in 1984 and 1991, respectively). Instead of narrating the story of her life as an example of individual or personal behavior, Ginzburg inscribes herself into Soviet history. She does this by interrogating her "self," her own recorded microhistory, contextualized in the macrohistory of the behavior of her generation's intelligentsia. Hence, these memoirs represent the creative endeavor of a member of the older generation-an experienced literary theorist and critic as well as a practitioner of life writing-to connect with the younger, post-Stalinist generation by reframing her individual life experience, her identity, as a semiotic representation of the thinking of her generation of the Russian-Soviet intelligentsia.
This chapter will first summarize Lidiia Ginzburg's biography with special reference to the decade-by-decade semiotic schema of Soviet cultural history she devises in the memoirs of 1979 to 1980. Then, before examining the memoirs in some detail, I will consider how Ginzburg came to construct the memoirs by discussing their sources and the impetus behind their style and structure, including the pivotal role of these memoirs in the context of Ginzburg's later journal entries that explore and promote life writing as the "contemporary literary genre."
Ginzburg's semiotic biography begins in 1917 at age fifteen, when, according to the memoirs of 1979 to 1980, Ginzburg points out how she and her schoolmates were caught up in the revolution's intellectual and emotional fervor. She captures the power of those feelings: "there was acceptance, no looking back, no questions asked. That may be cause for surprise, but I am not surprised. We were all like that-at age 15. And something remains with us from our youth." Equally significant, she observes how her generation's welcoming of the revolution reflected contemporary intellectual currents: "Revolution attracted the entire Russian avant-garde. The Symbolists as early as 1905 ... [As for the] post-Symbolists ... Osip Mandelstam's essays of the 1920s are incomprehensible without noting what he said in Noise of Time about reading the Erfurt Program at school, or the in- fluence of the Narodnik movement on his best friend's family ... And Boris Pasternak in 'The Year 1905' ... and even Anna Akhmatova ..." ("Turning Point of a Generation").
Two years after her gymnasium graduation in 1920, Ginzburg set off for Leningrad (then Petrograd), where she enrolled in the State Institute of History of the Arts (Gosudarstvennyi Institut Istorii Iskusstv, better known as GIII). Her teachers included the most formidable minds of the literary intelligentsia-Eikhenbaum, Tynianov, Tomashevskii, Zhirmunskii, and Vinogradov, among others. The result, Ginzburg claims, was that the 1920s taught her circle, the "young formalists," that they were "part of history in the making." Indeed, here she defines her generation in terms of the epoch's literary and cultural alignments as part of the "innocent opposition" of the independent-minded formalists. "It seemed to us-and so it was for a short time-that we were the principal actors in a segment of culture which had just begun. On the other hand, in the 1930s and 1940s, we became the passive property of the Stalinist epoch and the war years, with all that followed." ("'At One with the Prevailing Order,'" 1980). After graduating in 1926, Ginzburg worked at GIII as a research fellow (nauchnyi sotrudnik) and taught seminars in nineteenth-century Russian poetry. It was during this time that she broadly defined herself as a "litterateur," and initiated her private journal modeled at first on that of the nineteenth-century poet and litterateur, Petr Viazemskii, the subject of her first scholarly publication, "Viazemskii-literator" ("Viazemskii-Man of Letters"). This was how her double life, as published literary scholar and unpublished writer and witness, began.
With the closing of GIII by the hostile authorities in 1930, Ginzburg found herself leading a truly marginalized existence, effectively banned from teaching in institutions of higher education. Forced to find new employment, she worked for a time at the Childrens' Publishing House [Detgiz], along with the Oberiu poets Nikolai Oleinikov and Nikolai Zabolotsky, producing a detective novel for adolescents, The Pinkerton Agency. She dedicated that work to her then lover, Rina Zelenaia, but as she stated in her journal, "it was not the novel" she would have chosen to write. Lesbianism, another source of her marginality, was the subject of a few journal essays; none, however, were published during her lifetime. Ginzburg also found temporary positions teaching adult education classes in language and literature at workers' schools (rabfak). In contrast to journal entries from the 1920s recording intense intellectual involvement and the taking of principled stands on a broad range of issues, entries from the 1930s express a complex, often ambivalent vision of that period, including personal bouts of severe depression, confusion, and moral anxiety, contemplation of class "privilege," of remorse and "penance," and recognition of the impossibility of publishing her major article on Proust. For example, a journal entry dated 1930 expresses ambivalence toward her students, emphasizing feelings of class consciousness and her sense of moral duty toward righting the wrongs of the masses:
Right now my students at rabfak and I somehow balance each other out. That they are studying and generally feel fulfilled as people correlates with some part of my life being empty; that they are reading Oblomov (why precisely Oblomov?) correlates with my not being able to publish my article on Proust. I harbor no hard feelings; I feel only kindness and sympathy ...
From a critical perspective, I sense in myself certain pure vestiges of the intelligentsia's self-abasement. Social self-abnegation is our penance for privilege. The penitent gentry expiated the sin of power; now the penitent intelligentsia is expiating the sin of education. No poverty, no experience, no mental freeze can ever eradicate such vestiges of class privilege.
Paradoxically, according to the memoirs of 1979 to 1980, the 1940s appeared "simpler" and more comprehensible, and offered psychological relief because of "the wartime convergence of private values with those of the state." Nevertheless, Ginzburg's powers of endurance were severely tested as she remained in Leningrad throughout World War II, caring for her sick mother who died during the first winter of the blockade, and working as an editor at the state radio, "quietly correcting the broadcasts of other writers' war literature" (Journal, 1987). The winter of 1942 she took up residence at the radio station to which she attributes her survival. "Zapiski blokadnogo cheloveka" ("Notes from the Leningrad Blockade"), Ginzburg's highly acclaimed existential narrative concerning the experience and behavior of a human being living under conditions of war, derived in part from her journal recording of conversations overheard in bomb shelters, on bread lines, and at work. "Notes from the Leningrad Blockade" could not be published until decades later: part 1, predominantly narrative, appeared in the Leningrad magazine, Neva (1984); part 2, comprised mainly of "Conversations from the Leningrad Blockade," appeared only posthumously in Pretvorenie opyta (Transformation of Experience, 1991).
The immediate postwar years (1946-53), Ginzburg wrote in her memoirs of 1979 to 1980, were the most traumatic for her personally because the moral and psychological "variant" invoked by the "creative intelligentsia" in the 1930s "no longer worked." During that era of vicious anti-intellectual and anti-Semitic attacks Ginzburg taught at Petrozavodsk University (1947-50); it was considered safer for Jewish intellectuals to be employed outside the major cities. Subsequently, she described in her journal the intelligentsia's incredulous naïveté before the horror of what had been taking place around them ("The Kochetov Complex," 1962) and repudiated as repulsive her work of those years, including her doctoral dissertation on Alexander Herzen defended only in 1958. She had defended her candidate's dissertation on Mikhail Lermontov twenty years earlier.
Ginzburg's second encounter with state security also occurred at the close of 1952. Unsuccessfully recruited in a frightening endeavor to develop a case against her teacher and mentor, Boris Eikhenbaum, she was saved by Stalin's death. Her first encounter with state security had been in 1933 in a botched effort to develop a case against Viktor Zhirmunskii ("Two Encounters").
Excerpted from The Russian Memoir
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