Russian Literature and Vladimir Sorokin  Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Through an illogical narration, the postmodern Russian writers, including Sorokin,

emerged out of the "underground," shaped a world out of nonsense, where the never ceasing sequence of parodies, arranged in progression, projects man's knowledge of the world at the limit of "reason" and language. This new "absurd" model of conceptualization of the world offers the means for analyzing the many breaks and discontinuities which characterize Sorokin's literary texts.

Socialist realism was the official state art style in Russia as late as 1991. (Socialist realism, 2009) Therefore, censorship was a fact of life for artists since the purpose of Socialist realism was to elevate the common worker by presenting his or her work as admirable.(Socialist realism, 2009) the Next Item on the Agenda utilizes this style to the extreme by using Piskunov as the "common worker" and how he overcomes the attacks from the committee which is clearly not the real purpose of Socialist realism. Sorokin's "revolutionary" technique of wiping out the "cult" value of the Russian "realist" canon has a well-established structure. A precise, careful and creative organization of information through the narration first lures the reader into a comfort zone of an established horizon of expectation. As the narrative develops, a point is reached where it fails to fulfill this expectation in a radical fashion, throwing the reader into deep bewilderment, and robbing him of the ability to interpret the text. Ultimately, this technique produces a consequential detachment or alienation from the text, rather than an involvement with it.

Sorokin has faced numerous efforts at censorship by the Russian government and according to Rogal the censorship served no purpose because Sorokin is so unpopular in Russia

and his sickening works are themselves an "insurance policy" against success. (Rogal) Public

literary works under Communism in the Soviet Union have been subjected to censorship from the beginning. (Matthews) of significant interest is a quote from Sorokin in the Washington Post in which he calls literature a narcotic. (Hoffman, 2002) in that article, Sorokin goes on to say that without literature we cannot survive, as without art in general. (Hoffman, 2002) "If it's a drug and I am a person producing a narcotic, then my main task is to make it strong enough and clean. How they take it, how they distribute it, how they sell it and how it works-this is not my business." (Hoffman, 2002) Faced with such a potent statement it is obvious where the two novels Four Stout Hearts and Next Item on the Agenda stand relative to being strong enough to feed an addiction. Sorokin has made it clear that he never viewed himself as the conscience of society. (Hoffman, 2002) With this kind of information one can be certain that Sorokin's novels are meant to be interpreted by the reader without the author giving explicit directions as to motive. The paradox of post modernism relies specifically on the fact that it affirms what it denies:promoting uncertainty, it does nothing more than creating another paradigm of interpretation; in destroying traditional structures, it does nothing more than replace them with new ones, less secure for the human subject, yet valid and applicable. The expected structures in both novels are utterly destroyed when Sorokin replaces them with unusual turns and horrifying occurrences, leaving the reader stunned and shaken until the next page. Sorokin is irreverent and this alone offends the Russian state.

Sorokin also has his own opinions regarding censorship and expressed those in 2007. (Spiegel, 2007) According to Sorokin, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 did not result in a purifying revolution and that lack of revolution has resulted in a real lack of understanding. (Spiegel, 2007) the power of the Soviet Union was ingrained in people over a period of seventy years and the disinterest of students and sleepy people since the collapse needs to be replaced with awakening the citizen himself. (Spiegel, 2007) Sorokin does not believe that Russia is headed in the direction of democracy and would like the West to be more "vocal" in demanding the Russians protect human rights. (Spiegel, 2007) the prospects for the future, according to Sorokin, are that Russia is slipping slowly back into authoritarianism. (Spiegel, 2007)

These two novel excerpts fit into the arms of censorship since both attack standards that the Russian conservatives seek to maintain. Any sense of reality is missing because there is so great a divide between the actual events that appear normal and those that shock the reader into disbelief. How such works escape censorship are commonly due to eventual international distribution. This is demonstrated in an article by Yuri Zarakhovich in which he views the attempts to ban Sorokin's works as having made them international bestsellers. ( Zarakhovich, 2002)

Opponents to censorship have accused the conservatives with being dictators ("This stinks of Comrade Stalin," Sorokin has said) and with having their priorities wrong. (Wilson, 2005) "If the deputy cared as much about Russia's true children… Russia could be a paradise" one liberal reporter has printed. However, there is much about this situation that is unlike most across the globe. First of all, when the Soviet Union fell, so did the considerable censorship power of the state. (Wilson, 2005) the well-known unofficial motto of "there is no sex in Russia" was suddenly replaced by frontal nudity on billboards and pornography openly displayed on newsstands. (Wilson, 2005) it was and, although it has abated some, is still a shock to the former Soviet culture. It is historically commonplace for a sudden, shocking change to any culture to be followed by a backlash. Also, since "freedom of expression" is still a very new concept to Russia, some evolution in its legal definition should be expected. The question most Russians will argue, then, is: "How far back should the pendulum swing?" (Wilson, 2005)

"Our future is becoming our past," the well-known novelist Vladimir Sorokin told Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times. (Kimmelman, 2007). His books, a few years ago, were destroyed and stuffed into a big papier-mache toilet bowl devised by some ultra-nationalist youth groups. (Kimmelman, 2007) Sorokin also told Kimmelman that, "we are returning to Ivan the Terrible's era," he predicted, speaking about the church and the general inward-turning, anti-Western-ism afoot. So the extreme perceptions of the conservative Russians and those of the literary community are clearly separated by an ocean of opinion.

The goals of postmodern Russian authors such as Sorokin range from pure shock value to exposure of the nature of Communist repression. While Sorokin claims to only shed light on why humans require violence, his two novels, in this case, seem more indicative of something greater. Repeated references, whether veiled or not, to moral standards, control of citizens and extreme indifference, direct the reader's focus to more than violence. One might walk away with the impression that the works are simply grotesque, however, such a simplistic viewpoint is premature. The works have a deeper meaning and deserve at least a frustrated attempt at understanding. The extensive imagery, while at times horrific, creates a picture in the reader's mind which is a goal every author hopes to achieve. Memorable events, stunning death and displays of inhumanity, regardless of the method, are some sample ingredients to literary achievement. All authors want to be memorable and will write, in their genre, to reach those heights.

Based on the research and even selected quotes of Vladimir Sorokin, censorship and banning literary works creates an opportunity for the author to achieve international acclaim that may never have been possible without the censorship. Of course, freedom of the press in the United States is considered a given, however even in this country there have been book burnings, banning and public outcry -- and that is purely recent to be sure, since most people are surprised to learn that such backward activities occur. It is to our credit that, usually, our literary works are free from censorship, banning and criminalization. While our own rights should not be abandoned or forgotten, one who pursues reading should be mindful of other places and authors who are unable to experience such luxury. Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are facets of democracy and unless Russia stretches out of its' lethargic state and reaches for democracy, the Russian artists and authors will continue to be subject to censorship.

The democracies in the world should always seek to publish and distribute those banned works and give the authors voice to the world.


Hoffman, David (2002, July 11) in Russia, a Literary Spring; After Decade of Uncertainty,

Writers Are Again Popular -- and Controversial, the Washington Post; Jul 12, 2002;


Kimmelman, Michael (2007, December1) Putin's Last Realm to Conquer:Russian Culture, the New York Times, Dec 1, 2007 Retrieved February 26, 2010 from

Matthews, Mervyn (1989) Party, state, and citizen in the Soviet Union: a collection of document. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe

Menzel, Birgit, (2007) the Occult…

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