27 February 2009

Solovyov's Bakery & M.M. Bakhtin

In my days of attempting to explore the ins and outs of Dostoevsky’s Orthodoxy, somehow or another I wound up ordering one book—among many others—by Marina Kostalevsky (identified within as ‘assistant professor in the division of languages and literature at Bard College’) called Dostoevsky and Soloviev: The Art of Integral Vision (New Haven, CT: Yale U, 1997). Among the many interesting things in Kostalevsky’s book, perhaps the most interesting to me is the ‘Preface’. I give it to you in full (pp. ix-x):

The theme of this book crossed my mind in Moscow, toward the end of the years when official Soviet criticism still used the word reactionary to describe both Dostoevsky and Soloviev. At the same time, however, there also existed an unofficial or semiofficial critical school, with which I had the good fortune to come into contact. Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin was one of the remarkable members of this school who made this experience unforgettable. The frequency of my meetings with Bakhtin was in a way determined by his reading list. I had connections with an underground network of Moscow bookdealers, a singular group of people who exhibited a fantastic blend of intellectualism, bohemianism, thirst for profit, and generosity. Through them one could buy or borrow (sometimes just for a night) any kind of literature: books published in Russia before or shortly after the Revolution, books published in the West, and certain recent Soviet editions that one never saw in bookshops. Bakhtin was mainly interested in the second category. I remember bringing him books by Berdiaev, Mikhail Chekhov, Evreinov (Bakhtin was then meditating on theater), and Nabokov. He naturally made me stay for tea, and the two of us would talk.

One morning Mikhail Mikhailovich remarked, ‘I had a curious dream last night.’ And he told me of how he had dreamed that he had left his apartment and set off down the street toward the subway station. (I should mention that he could do this only in a dream—he was virtually confined to his armchair.) Suddenly he saw Viacheslav Ivanov coming toward him carrying a loaf of fresh bread. The bread was golden brown and airy, with a wonderful aroma. Bakhtin asked, ‘Viacheslav Ivanovich, wherever did you buy such a marvelous loaf of bread?’ And Ivanov replied, ‘Didn’t you know? Vladimir Soloviev opened a bakery on the corner.’

For those who do not know, M.M. Bakhtin is a fascinating charactre, and certainly, granted the restrictions of his time, an heir in many ways to Solovyov and Ivanov. Someday I’d like to get around to posting more about him on this blog. For now, it suffices to note that he wrote an indispensable book on Dostoevsky, published in English as Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, ed. and trans. Caryl Emerson (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1994). I first encountered him in a Books & Culture article by Alan Jacobs back on 1996 I think (now buried in a box somewhere), followed quickly by Fr Anthony Ugolnik’s The Illuminating Icon (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), pp. 158-72. It is interesting to note that while they obviously came to have different views, Bakhtin had contact with members of and was accused by the Soviets of belonging to the ‘Brotherhood of St Seraphim of Sarov’ (Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist, Mikhail Bakhtin [Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1984], pp. 132-3), with which Ivan Andreyev was once affiliated (Fr Seraphim [Rose], ‘Ivan Michailovich Andreyev: True Orthodox Convert from the Russian Intelligentsia’, Orthodox Apologetic Theology, by I.M. Andreyev, trans. Hieromonk Seraphim [Rose] [Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1995], pp. 24-5). Of course, Clark and Holquist’s account of the connection between Bakhtin and St Seraphim himself ought to be supplemented by Ruth Coates’s in-depth article on this subject, ‘Bakhtin and Hesychasm’ (Religion & Literature 37.3 [Autumn 2005], pp. 59-80), which I’ve had occasion to mention before and which demonstrates a much more thorough understanding of Orthodoxy than the former.

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