Mikhail Zoshchenko was born in Poltava, Ukraine, on 29th July, 1895. He studied law at the University of Petersburg, but did not graduate.
During the First World War Zoshchenko served in the Russian Army. A supporter of the October Revolution, Zoshchenko joined the Red Army and fought against the Whites in the Civil War.
In 1922 Zoshchenko joined the literary group, the Serapion Brothers. Inspired by the work of Yevgeni Zamyatin, the group took their name from the story by Ernst T. Hoffmann, the Serapion Brothers, about an individualist who vows to devote himself to a free, imaginative and non-conformist art. Other members included Nickolai Tikhonov, Mikhail Slonimski, Victor Shklovsky, Vsevolod Ivanov and Konstantin Fedin. Russia's most important writer of the period, Maxim Gorky, also sympathized with the group's views.
Zoshchenko's early stories dealt with his experiences in the First World War and the Russian Civil War. He gradually developed a new style that relied heavily on humour. This was reflected in his stories that appeared in Tales (1923), Esteemed Citizens (1926), What the Nightingale Sang (1927) and Nervous People (1927). Zoshchenko satires were popular with the Russian people and he was one of the country's most widely read writers in the 1920s. Although Zoshchenko never directly attacked the Soviet system, he was not afraid to highlight the problems of bureaucracy, corruption, poor housing and food shortages.
In the 1930s Zoshchenko came under increasing pressure to conform to the idea of socialist realism. As a satirist, Zoshchenko found this difficult, and attempts such as the Story of One Life were not successful. Zoshchenko increasing got into trouble with the Soviet authorities. His autobiographical, Before Sunrise, was banned in 1943.
During the Second World War Zoshchenko was expelled to Tashkent with the poet, Anna Akhmatova. However, his exile had made him very ill and when Isaiah Berlin met him in 1945, he described him as "yellow of complexion, withdrawn, incoherent, pale, weak and emaciated", shook his hand but did not have the heart to engage him in conversation.
In 1946 Zoshchenk's literary career was brought to an end when he was expelled from the Soviet Writers' Union after the publication of The Adventures of a Monkey in the literary magazine, Zvezda .
Mikhail Zoshchenko died in Leningrad on 22nd July, 1958.
Mikhail Zoshchenko - History
Mikhail Zoshchenko. akg-images, London / RIA Nowosti
Mikhail Zoshchenko is relatively unknown outside of Russian literature, but he was the most popular satirist in the Soviet Union from the early 1920s until 1946, when he was expelled from the Union of Russian Writers and his works banned. Zoshchenko incisively examined the cultural confusion that followed the Bolshevik Revolution, using a traditional Russian literary technique known as skaz, which establishes a comic narrator distinct from the author. Central to Zoshchenko’s satire was the singular language his skaz narrators employed, blending slang, Marxist jargon, and humorous distortions of common usage.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Privileged Upbringing . Mikhail Mikhailovich Zoshchenko was born on July 28, 1895, in Poltava, Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire. His father, Mikhail Ivanovich Zoshchenko, was a painter and landowner, while his mother had been an actress and had published a few short stories. He was drawn to writing at a young age, composing poetry by 1902 at the age of seven and attempting his first prose in 1907, the year his father died. At seventeen, he began studying law at the University of St. Petersburg.
A Soldier during World War I . When World War I began, Zoshchenko abandoned his studies and joined the Imperial Army. World War I began when the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated by a terrorist in Sarajevo, Serbia, in June 1914. Austria-Hungary soon declared war on Serbia and its allies. Entangling alliances brought nearly every European country into the conflict. Austria-Hungary allied with Germany, Turkey, and, until 1915, Italy, against France, Russia, Great Britain, and, after 1917, the United States. Zoshchenko became a lieutenant in the grenadiers and was decorated twice for bravery. During the war, he suffered gas poisoning, which left him in chronic ill health.
As World War I was being fought, Russia was facing internal challenges. During the reign of Tsar Nicholas II, which began in 1894, numerous opposition groups formed that opposed the autocratic nature of his rule. Such groups gained power when the tsar’s forces were defeated in the 1905 Russo-Japanese War. While Nicholas tried to hold on to power by allowing elected Dumas (legislatures), he allowed only limited reforms while retaining control of the government. Further defeats in World War I to the Germans led to the end of Nicholas’s reign. He was forced to abdicate in March 1917, leading to another conflict over who would run the country. The Bolsheviks (Communists), led by Vladimir Lenin, ultimately emerged victorious in 1918, and Lenin immediately agreed to a peace treaty with Germany.
Soviet Russia’s Best-Selling Humorist . After the Russian Revolution, Zoshchenko held a number of different jobs, from bootmaker to patrolman. He briefly joined the Red Army, though he never joined the Communist Party and in fact remained politically uncommitted throughout his life. He settled down in St. Petersburg (then called Petrograd), married and had a child, and began his first serious efforts at writing. He helped found a group called the Serapion Brothers, who were mostly socialists but opposed restrictions on artistic expression. His first skaz sketches assumed the voice of a poor soldier named Sinebriukhov, who narrates his mishaps in a nonsensical mishmash of slang, dialect, and bureaucratic jargon. The first collection of Zoshchenko’s stories, The Stories of Nazar Ilich, Mister Sinebriukhov (1922), was an instant success. Twenty more followed over the next four years, selling millions of copies and quickly establishing him as the most popular humorist of the time.
The Sinebriukhov stories gave Zoshchenko his signature style. His narrators took on various pseudonyms, but his work was instantly recognizable by its uniquely zany diction and its tragicomic portrait of Soviet society. Satirizing the everyday hardships facing the Soviet citizen, he avoided the romantic or grandiose tone of many of his peers. To him the new society was nothing heroic or inspiring but instead a series of petty frustrations and defeats.
Reflection of Changes in Society . Zoshchenko’s humor captured the social chaos in Russia after 1917. The collapse of the monarchy and aristocracy brought acute disruption and dislocation. Public discourse was suddenly full of a strange Marxist vocabulary—language itself had undergone a revolution. Massive literacy campaigns produced millions of newly educated readers. Zoshchenko spoke to them, ironically contrasting revolutionary ideals with the reality of Soviet life, in prose that replicated oral storytelling. In &lsquo&lsquoThe Woman Who Could Not Read,’’ for example, a woman fails to respond to the party’s literacy drive—until she finds a scented letter in her husband’s pocket.
Some of Zoshchenko’s stories underscore the deprivation and hardship of contemporary life. The much lauded introduction of electric light, in the story &lsquo&lsquoPoverty’’ (1924), only reveals how poorly the people truly live. Zoshchenko’s narrators typically live in collective apartments, divided among several families who share the kitchen and bathroom. In &lsquo&lsquoThe Crisis’’ (1925), a man and his wife live in a bathroom, giving their newborn a bath every day, while their thirty-two roommates also want to use the facilities. A series of longer, darker stories, collected as What the Nightingale Sang: Sentimental Tales (1927), plays on literary conventions as well as motifs from classic Russian works, such as those of Nikolai Gogol and Aleksandr Pushkin.
Youth Restored . Zoshchenko, as well as Soviet society as a whole, faced challenges in the mid-1920s. After the death of Lenin in 1924, a power struggle ensued for control of the Communist Party. By 1928, Joseph Stalin had eliminated all his rivals and achieved full power. His rule was harsh and included forced industrialization and collectivization of agriculture. During Stalin’s so-called Cultural Revolution on the establishment, Zoshchenko felt pressure to bring his work into line with more orthodox Soviet literature. The gray area in which uncommitted artists could work was closing. At the same time, Zoshchenko had a personal impulse to clarify his writing. His health had become an obsession that soon overshadowed his work. Zoshchenko was a hypochondriac and chronically depressed. At the end of one severe bout of ennui in the early 1930s, he felt he had found the secret to health and longevity, which he set out to share with his readers. The result, a novella called Youth Restored (1933), became Zoshchenko’s most controversial work.
What Zoshchenko envisioned as a straightforward, didactic work came out as something quite the opposite. The story of Youth Restored concerns an aging, depressed professor who embarks on a rigorous program of self-help, which succeeds to the point where he courts and marries his neighbor’s nineteen-year-old daughter. In the margins of this ludicrous skaz narrative, however, one hundred pages of footnotes present Zoshchenko’s newfound views on wellness. The juxtaposition creates an unsettling experience for the reader: Is this a sophisticated satire, an earnest self-help treatise, or could it conceivably be both?
Survival without Ambiguity . The intentions of his next work, The Blue Book (1935), were similarly opaque. It also blends fiction and documentary, parody and ideological correctness. The Blue Book surveys human history, with dramatized historical episodes or concise bulletins of facts linked by a common theme. Confounding critics, the work could be seen as either a simplistic historical romp or a clownish mockery.
Producing such unorthodox literature was risky under Stalin. In the later 1930s, after socialist realism had become the official doctrine for Soviet literature, Zoshchenko modifed his style. In his short pieces, the language is demonstrably clearer, and the narrator has a clear grasp of the story and the lesson to be drawn from it. Several documentary works seemed to demonstrate his ability to write without irony or ambiguity. If the world Zoshchenko created in the 1920s was chaotic and frustrating, now it was relatively efficient and welcoming. Because of the manifest changes in his work, Zoshchenko’s official standing reversed itself. Stalin’s purges claimed the lives of millions and devastated the ranks of experimental writers, but Zoshchenko was not subject to persecution nor was his work suppressed.
Wrote Before Sunrise . During World War II (a global military conflict involving sixty-one countries that ultimately left 55 million people dead), Zoshchenko contributed antifascist propaganda work, as did nearly all Soviet writers. He also completed his most ambitious and autobiographical work, Before Sunrise (1943).
Denounced and Silenced . Zoschenko’s message was too idiosyncratic and egocentric for Stalin’s Soviet Union. Publication of Before Sunrise was interrupted after the first half appeared in the journal October. The second half would not see print until 1972, long after Zoshchenko’s death. The censorship of Before Sunrise crushed Zoshchenko.
Two years later came a worse blow. In 1946, one of Zoshchenko’s stories for children was republished in an adult periodical, and out of context it seemed provocative and politically suspicious. Andrei Zhdanov, the leading literary hatchet man of the Stalinist era, heaped devastating criticism on Zoshchenko, calling his writings &lsquo&lsquorotten, vulgar, and empty.’’ Zoshchenko was kicked out of the Writers’ Union, deprived of his ration card, and even forced to return to shoemaking. His career as a satirist was essentially over, his long contribution to Soviet literature dismissed. The cultural thaw following Stalin’s death did not restore his reputation. His health deteriorated, and he died in Leningrad in 1958.
LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES
Zoshchenko's famous contemporaries include:
Mikhail Sholokhov (1905-1984): This Soviet novelist wrote And Quiet Flows the Don (1928-1940). He was the winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Isaac Babel (1894-1984): This Jewish Soviet journalist, playwright, and short-story writer published such books as the short-fiction collection The Odessa Tales (1927) and the play Zakat.
Nathanael West (1903-1940): This American author, screenwriter, and satirist was best known for his darkly humorous The Day of the Locust (1939).
Robert Benchley (1889-1945): This American humorist was known for his work as a newspaper columnist, film actor, and member of the Algonquin Round Table.
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963): This English novelist, essayist, poet, and short-story writer is best known for his 1932 classic Brave New World.
Zoshchenko was one of the first to satirize life in the new Soviet society. Here are some other works sending up Soviet socialism:
Heart of a Dog (1925), a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov. In this banned Soviet novel, a professor implants human organs into a dog, who grows into a version of the ''New Soviet man.''
The Twelve Chairs (1928), a novel by Ilia Il'f and Evgenii Petrov. In this book, a confidence man and a dispossessed aristocrat pursue some contraband jewelry hidden in a dining room chair.
Ninotchka (1939), a film directed by Ernst Lubitsch. This comedy starring Greta Garbo contrasted the dull gray of Soviet life with the romantic decadence of Paris.
Animal Farm (1945), a novella by George Orwell. The most famous allegorical satire of the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin.
Moscow2042 (1986), a novel by Vladimir Voinovich. Time travel reveals the bleak future of the Soviet Union, in a dystopian parody written during the glasnost (openness) period.
Works in Literary Context
Zoshchenko’s satirical prose is often compared with that of the nineteenth-century Russian master Nikolai Gogol. Zoshchenko shares with Gogol a highly inventive verbal expressiveness and a similar trajectory from ironic humor and absurdism to attempts to write highly didactic texts. Some critics also believe that Zoshchenko’s humor was influenced by two other Russian writers, Nikolai Leskov and Anton Chekhov. In addition, Zoshchenko’s writings were affected by the challenges of day-to-day existence in the Soviet Union.
Skaz . Gogol was also one of the most notable practitioners of the skaz technique, whose most recognizable feature is the oral quality that the written text exhibits. A skaz author seems to have turned over the storytelling to a newcomer, often a barely literate one. Zoshchenko exploited the comic potential of this device, often to absurd effect, thereby increasing the ambiguity inherent in any skaz text. Since the author openly passes responsibility to a fictional narrator, the question is always open as to whether the narrator’s comments reflect the character’s ideas or those of the author. Thus, Zoshchenko’s use of skaz created a certain anonymity, which vexed those Soviet critics who judged literature purely on ideological grounds. The technique won him a notable degree of free expression.
Class Conflict and the Party Line . In terms of content, Zoshchenko’s stories belonged to a rich satirical tradition that played up the petty foibles of daily life in Soviet society. His fresh, modern subject matter seemed in tune with the revolutionary spirit of the times. He adopted the viewpoint of the newly triumphant proletariat, yet often mocked notions of class conflict. In &lsquo&lsquoPhilistines’’ (1926), the narrator is outraged when a fellow worker is tossed off a tram for improper attire, when in truth, the worker had entered the tram covered in wet paint. His protagonist usually aspires to cultural sophistication while behaving in ways that undermine his pretensions. His satire extends to Communist Party doctrine. Typically his narrator would faithfully express the party line but in an ignorant or farcical way. No subversive views would appear in the text, but astute readers could enjoy the parody.
A Hornet’s Nest of Language . Zoshchenko’s narrators speak in an unforgettable jumble of slang, working- class idiom, Bolshevik lingo, and sheer nuttiness. The brilliance of this verbal humor is difficult to capture in translation. Passages take dizzying, unexpected twists as language escapes the narrator’s control. Tangled in a snarl of words, the moral of the story eludes the narrator or gets turned on end, delightfully frustrating the reader’s expectations for a clear-cut, didactic tale.
Influential Comic Master . Despite Zoshchenko’s detours into the self-help genre, and his subsequent trouble with the regime, his popularity with readers has ensured his lasting influence. His contributions to Russian literature, in terms of humor, language, narrative persona, and the genre of the short story, cannot be denied.
Works in Critical Context
Zoshchenko wrote for the &lsquo&lsquomass reader’’ with great success. By virtue of his popularity, he could be considered among the most democratic writers in Soviet history. Furthermore, his appeal bridged normally distinct readerships, since it could be read and appreciated at different levels. The virtuosity of his comic language, and the humanity that shines through his work, have won many admirers.
Shifting Reception . His critical reception in the Soviet Union, however, was politically fraught. As his popularity peaked in the 1920s, the critical establishment viewed him suspiciously: some found his work too grim and pessimistic, even anti-Soviet. In the 1930s, as he trimmed the ambiguity from his stories and clarified their edifying intent, he gained more critical acceptance. At the same time, critics reevaluated his earlier work, reaching consensus that Zoshchenko should be seen as distinct from the proletarian narrators he created. The critics, in effect, had finally caught up to the readers in their judgment.
Before 1946, Zoshchenko’s name was generally unrecognized outside the Soviet Union. Upon his persecution, Western scholars promoted him as anti-Soviet, placing him in the canon of dissidents who bravely told the bitter truth of Soviet life. Ironically, a contrary process took place in the Soviet Union after his death. He was rehabilitated, and collections of his stories were republished, though carefully edited on ideological grounds. In the 1970s, three critical books resurrected his standing as a pro-Soviet satirist, generally on the same terms he enjoyed in the 1930s. With the fall of the Soviet Union, he came to be seen as a martyr, and his works gained still further attention and appreciation.
The Blue Book . Zoschenko’s largest work The Blue Book received a mixed response from critics from its first serial publication in Krasniaia nov’. This story features a tour through human history that focuses on four constants— money, love, treachery, and misfortune—balanced by a section titled &lsquo&lsquoAmazing Events,’’ which highlights revolutionaries and the achievements of the Soviet Union. Depending on which section or narrative voice a critic focused on, The Blue Book could be seen either as an optimistic, albeit simplified, survey of history or a ludicrous, clownish mockery. In Pravda, Aron Gurshtein dismissed the book as a cheap vulgarization that suffered from the very present authorial &lsquo&lsquosmirk’’ whether topics were tragic or uplifting. Alternately, Aleksandr Dymshits in the proletarian journal Rezets praised Zoshchenko for producing a book which was strong and optimistic.
1. Write an essay comparing Zoshchenko’s use of skaz narrative with the comic writings of Nikolai Gogol.
2. In a presentation, address how the skaz technique allowed Zoshchenko an expanded freedom of expression.
3. Write a research paper on how Zoshchenko’s lifelong health concerns affected his literary career.
4. Make a careful study of the types of verbal humor in Zoshchenko’s stories and in a detailed essay describe as precisely as you can the elements that make his work funny.
5. Based on his short fiction, how would you summarize Zoshchenko’s attitude toward the Soviet revolution? Was he pro-Soviet, anti-Soviet, or does neither label apply? Share your opinions in a small group setting.
Carleton, Gregory. The Politics of Reception: Critical Constructions of Mikhail Zoshchenko. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1998.
Chudakova, Marietta Omarovna. The Poetics of Mikhail Zoshchenko. Moscow: Nauka, 1979.
Harris, Jane Gary, ed. Autobiographical Statements in Twentieth-Century Russian Literature. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990.
Hicks, Jeremy. Mikhail Zoshchenko and the Poetics of Skaz. Nottingham, U.K.: Astra, 2000.
Popkin, Cathy. The Pragmatics of Insignificance: Chekhov, Zoshchenko and Gogol. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993.
Scatton, Linda Hart. Mikhail Zoshchenko: Evolution of a Writer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Simmons, Edward, ed. Through the Glass of Soviet Literature: Views of Russian Society. New York: Columbia University Press, 1953.
Dymshits, Aleksandr. Review of Blue Book. Rezets (1936).
Gurshtein, Aron. Review of Blue Book. Pravda, May 9, 1936.
Hodge, Thomas P. &lsquo&lsquoFreudian Elements in Zoshchenko’s Pered voskhodom solntse [BA1] (1943).’’ Slavonic and East European Review 1 (1989): 1-28.
Titunik, Irwin. &lsquo&lsquoMikhail Zoshchenko and the Problem of Skaz.’’ California Slavic Studies 6 (1971): 83-96.
Von Wiren, Vera. &lsquo&lsquoZoshchenko in Retrospect.’’ Russian Review 4 (1962): 348-61.
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“The Lady Aristocrat”
One of the author’s most well-known stories presents a case of a much more subtly intended and communicated form of irony, while it also comes equipped with a little bonus of irony. The story opens with the narrator saying, “Fellows, I don’t like dames who wear hats” and then ends with him saying “I don’t like lady aristocrats.” From this beginning to this end, it might seem as thought he story is pursuing a simple vein of ironic reversal. In fact, it is through the language that the irony is conveyed that this man with distinct set of likes and dislikes is merely expressing a preference for or against certain things about on an uncritically engaged inculcation into socialist propaganda. As for the actual events taking place, he is subsumed into the brainwash that he completely misreads everything and as a result fails to realize the lesson he might learn.
Summary and Labov’s Narrative Structure of Mikhail Zoshchenko’s “PELAGEYA”
It was in Russia, while and after the Revolution of the country that Pelageya lived with Ivan Nikolaevich, her husband. Pelageya is an illiterate woman who couldn’t even write her name, while Ivan was a responsible Soviet official.
As an illiterate woman, Pelageya refused to learn how to read and write even though her husband insisted to teach her by himself. She never feels sorry that she couldn’t read until she found a perfumed letter from her husband’s jacket. She was afraid that it was a love letter. She even imagined that her husband had affairs with a well-educated ladies and made fun of her. Being anxious to find out about what the letter about, she started studying to read.
In the third month of studying, Pelageya finally mastered the art of reading. Hardly, she read the small handwriting on what she thought a perfumed love letter. She read it through twice and found out that the letter was from Maria Blokhina, her husband’s friend who supported him to liquidate illiteracy, and of course, his wife as the closest person should be free from illiteracy too.
The story tells us that there is no such thing as “too late” in learning about anything. Also, Pelageya gives a good example of not to judge something before we know the truth.
They say, citizens, that the public baths in America are excellent. There, for instance, a citizen goes to the bathhouse, takes off his clothes, puts them in a special box land goes happily off to wash. He has nothing to worry about–there’ll be no loss or theft, be won’t even take a check for his things.
Perhaps some uneasy American will say to the bath “Attendant, “Gutbye, please look after my things.”
This American will wash, then return to the dressing room and his clean underclothes are handed to him washed and ironed. His undershirt, believe me, is whiter than snow. His drawers are repaired and patched! What a life!
Our baths aren’t so bad, either. But worse. However, you can get washed in them.
The only trouble with our baths is the checks. I went bathhouse last Saturday (after all, I can’t go to a for a bath). They handed me two checks. One underwear, the other for my coat and hat. Where is a naked man to put those checks? Honestly there’s no place for them. You have no pockets. All you have is a belly and legs. What a nuisance those checks are! You can’t tie them to your beard. Well, I tied a check to each leg so as not to lose them and went into the bath. Now the checks flop around my feet. It’s uncomfortable to walk with them. But walk you must. Then you must find yourself a bucket. How can you wash without a bucket? Can’t be done.
I look for a pail. I notice a citizen who’s washing himself in three buckets. He stands in one, soaps his head in another, and holds onto the third with his left hand so no one will swipe it.
I pulled the third pail toward me, trying to appropriate it, but the citizen wouldn’t let go of it.
“What’s the idea,” he said, “stealing other people’s buckets? If I smack you between the eyes with this bucket you won’t like it.”
I said, “This isn’t the czarist regime, that you can go around bashing people with buckets. What selfishness!”
I said. “Other people want to get washed, too. This isn’t a theater.”
But he turned his back to me and went on washing.
What’s the use of standing over his soul? I thought. He’ll be washing for three days on purpose.
An hour later I noticed a gaffer who had looked away and taken his band off his bucket. Maybe he had bent down for his soap, or just gone off into a daydream, I don’t know. Only I got his bucket.
Now I bad a pail, but there was no place to sit down. And to wash standing up, what kind of a wash is that? It’s no good at all.
Well, all right, I had to stand there and wash, holding my bucket in my hand.
And all around me-Heaven help us-there was a regular laundry. One fellow was washing his pants, another scrubbing his drawers, a third wringing out something else. And there was such a din from all that laundering that you don’t feel like washing. You can’t even hear where you’re rubbing the soap! It’s a mess!
To hell with them! I thought. I’ll finish washing at home.
I went back to the dressing room. They handed me my clothes in exchange for the check. Everything is mine, I see, except the pants.
“Citizens,” I said, “mine had a hole right here, and look where it is on these.”
“We’re not here to watch over holes. This isn’t a theater,” the attendant replied.
Well, all right. I put on the trousers and go to get my coat. They give me the coat … they demand the check. And I’ve left the check on my leg. Have to undress again. I take off the trousers … look for the check … it’s gone. The string is there on my leg, but the paper is gone. Washed away.
I offer the string to the attendant. He won’t take it.
“I can’t hand out coats for string,” he says. “Any citizen can cut up string. There wouldn’t be enough coats to go around. Wait until the customers have gone,” he says. “I’ll give you what’s left.”
“My dear friend,” I say, “what if they leave me a piece of junk? This isn’t a theater,” I say. “‘Give me the coat that fits this description. One pocket is torn, the other is missing. As for buttons, the upper one is there, and no one expects any lower ones to be left.”
He gave it to me after all. Didn’t even take the string. Suddenly I remembered: I bad forgotten my soap.
I went back in. They wouldn’t let me enter the washroom in my coat.
“Citizens, I can’t undress a third time. This isn’t a theater. At least let me have the price of the soap.
All right, they won’t. I leave without the soap.
The reader, perhaps, may be wondering what sort of bathhouse I am describing. Where is it? What’s the address?
What bathhouse? The usual sort, where the price of admission is ten kopecks.
Source: Mikhail Zoshchenko, Nervous People (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963), pp. 131-134.
W. B. Yeats. Sailing to Byzantium
W. B. Yeats. Sailing to Byzantium
Read by Doug Barron
Music by Hammock
William Butler Yeats was a Nobel Prize winning Irish writer, widely considered to be one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.
"Sailing to Byzantium" is Yeats' definitive statement about the agony of old age and the imaginative and spiritual work required to remain a healthy individual even when the heart is "fastened to a dying animal" (the body).
Yeats's solution is to leave the country of the young and travel to Byzantium, where the sages in the city's famous gold mosaics could become the "singing-masters" of his soul. He hopes the sages will appear in fire and take him away from his body into an existence outside time, where, like a great work of art, he could exist in "the artifice of eternity."
In the final stanza of the poem, he declares that once he is out of his body he will never again appear in the form of a natural thing rather, he will become a golden bird, sitting on a golden tree, singing of the past, the present, and the future.
The relationship between English and Russian literature - before the emergence of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov - was strictly one way (west to east). Russia's greatest poets, Pushkin and Lermontov, both in their youth imitated Byron, but when the author of Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev, told William Thackeray that the Russians had a writer just as good (Gogol), the Englishman laughed. Later, Turgenev would write that "the author of Vanity Fair is himself infected with the vice he so mocks".
I fear that the name of one of the most famous successors to the Gogolian tradition in Soviet literature, Mikhail Zoshchenko (1894-1958), is not too well know to the English.
He wrote most of his best stories in the 1920s when the ideals of the revolution were replaced by petit bourgeois values. Zoshchenko's stories resemble vignettes or anecdotes: short, in simple language, often paradoxical and always very funny.
He peopled his "Soviet universe" with amusing puppets, as in Gogol. These puppets lack an internal world thus allowing Zoshchenko to make fun of them without feeling compassion.
Although if we had seen in them beings like ourselves, we would have been horrified: all of their energies go into struggling for at least some semblance of a normal (petit bourgeois) existence. But they always lose and never despair: the Soviet absurd is the natural order of things.
The totalitarian world of Zoshchenko could not be further from Orwell's world, where love rises up against the power of slogans and critical thinking encroaches on total control. Zoshchenko's world is devoid of slogans, love and critical thinking. His heroes come together and part owing to primitive everyday circumstances, while the slogans in their speech come through only as parody. In this world there is no room for ideology, for it is dominated by a single total power - the power of a crust of bread and a roof over one's head. If history plays any part - the Pushkin Jubilee, say - it affects the inhabitants of this world in only one way: they are evicted from their miraculously obtained cubbyhole, which, it turns out, the poet himself once "graced with his insufferable genius".
Even so Zoshchenko was almost a favourite of the Soviet elite who viewed his satire in ideological terms - as a denunciation of "Philistinism" and the "birthmarks of the old world". By the end of the war, however, Stalin saw in Zoshchenko's fiction not only the rank-and-file "positive heroes", but even that most human of human beings, Lenin, assumed the features of an amusing marionette. Stalin signalled a crackdown.
In 1946, Zoshchenko was labelled a vulgar and loathsome proponent of rotten non-progressive, trivial and apolitical ideas. Zoshchenko (with poet Anna Akhmatova) was expelled by special decree from literature and deprived of his "worker's" ration card. Publishers, journals and theatres began cancelling their contracts and demanding that advances be returned.
The writer was making ends meet with translations he sold all his things and even tried to earn money working for a shoemaker. In an effort to absolve himself, Zoshchenko wrote a letter to Stalin that is painful reading:
Dear Iosif Vissarionovich!
I have never been an anti-Soviet person. In 1918 I volunteered for the Red Army and spent six months fighting against the White Guard forces.
I have never been satisfied with my satirical position in literature. I have always tried to portray the positive sides of life. This wasn't easy to do, however it was as hard for me as it is for a comic actor to play heroic roles.
Please believe me when I say that I am not looking for any improvement in my fate. And if I am writing to you, then it is solely for the purpose of somewhat easing my pain. I was never a literary scoundrel or a base man, or a man who worked for the good of landowners and bankers. That is an error. I assure you.
But Stalin never thought Zoshchenko was working for the good of landowners and bankers. It was enough that the writer's attitude did not coincide not only with the Communist one, but with any other spirit: "Life in my negligible view is constructed more simply, it is offensive and not for cultivated people." And where Byron scorns people from the height of certain ideals, in Zoshchenko's world the idealists are the first to be broken, turning into boors at best, and at worst outright troglodytes. Zoshchenko insults not so much the power of tyrants as the overall power of matter over spirit, an "anatomical dependence".
After Stalin's death in 1953 Zoshchenko's situation very slightly improved. But then in May 1954 a group of English students asked to meet him and Akhmatova. They naively asked if they agreed with the Central Committee's inquisitional resolution against them. Akhmatova proudly said "yes" (her son was then a prisoner in the Gulag), while Zoshchenko said that he disagreed with certain things.
A new wave of persecution threw him into a deep depression which, in essence, drove him into his grave.
Analysis of Mikhail Zoshchenko’s PELAGEYA by using Kennedy’s Elements of Fiction
Pelageya is an awesome short story about eliminating illiteracy. Before reading the analysis, you can read the summary of it on my another post:
And here is the analysis of Pelageya by using Kennedy’s Elements of Fiction:
Russia, while and after the revolution of the country (around 1917).
– Pelageya, an illiterate woman who couldn’t even write her name.
– Ivan Nikolaevich, Pelageya’s husband, a responsible Soviet official who taught Pelageya how to read.
Antagonist : Pelageya’s illiteracy.
Minor Character : Maria Blokhina.
a. Exposition : Pelageya is an illiterate woman who couldn’t even write her name.
b. Conflict : Pelageya didn’t regret being an illiterate and she didn’t want to learn reading and writing.
c. Rising Action : Ivan, Pelageya’s husband, asked her to learn about how to write, at least her name, but Pelageya was not interested in it.
d. Climax : One day, Pelageya found a perfumed letter in her husband’s jacket. She was worried about it. She thought that it was a love letter from a well educated lady for her husband. It was the first time that she then regrets not being able to read.
e. Falling Action : Pelageya started learning to read.
f. Resolution : In the third month of studying, Pelagea was finally able to read the letter.
g. Conclusion : It was not a love letter, but one which was sent by Maria Blokhina, Ivan’s friend, and talked about liquidating illiterates. She supported Ivan in freeing Pelageya from her illiteracy.
h. Epilogue : Pelagea was sad and feeling insulted by reading the letter but she was glad that it wasn’t love letter as she assumed before.
5. Point of View
Third person, all-knowing (omniscient).
– Illiteracy has to be liquidated.
Pelageya’s problem of illiteracy is just a simple example. There are many problems may be occurred by illiteracy.
– There is no such thing as too late to learn something
Pelageya thought that it was too late for her to learn about how to read and write. Yet, she then mastered it in about three months.
– Don’t judge, find the truth instead!
Pelageya could be angry with her husband when she found the letter, but she was not since she couldn’t be sure about her assumption. Later she found out that she was wrong after knowing the truth.
In the first novel describes the complexity of the shop manager Gorbushkin living in Soviet times, the end of the 1920s on unearned income. Being called to the investigator, he thoroughly believes that this will not bring anything good. These thoughts go to his wife and brother-in-law. Anna Vasilyevna, who, in order to prevent the inevitable confiscations of property urgently sell everything that was acquired by «back-breaking» labor. In addition, Anna V. hastily divorces with the main character and marries a neighbor, Vitaly Borisovich. And Gorbushkin, who is only called as a witness (a week before he still got arrested), returns in a good mood back home.
- — Gorbushkin, store manager — Anna Vasilyevna, Gorbushkin's wife — Gorbushkin's brother-in-law, beer seller — Vitaly Borisovich Bananov, Gorbushkin's neighbour — militiaman
- Lev Polyakov — investigator — buyer of paintings — Lyolik, buyer of paintings' husband
- Georgy Svetlani — beer lover
- Viktor Uralsky — little man with a pig — the one-eyed furniture buyer
- Eduard Bredun — assistant buyer of furniture
The following short story of the film shows the intricacies of extramarital relations. Heading into the weekend supposedly to work, but in reality to his mistress, and sometimes hard to imagine that her husband's mistress could be lover lover friend, neighbor, friend and lover in the communal - a lover of your own wife. In the end, all six characters is purely coincidental, with interesting circumstances intersect together and gathered around the table, trying to find a way out of this situation, but in the end did not need and did not come. In any case, such a conclusion can be drawn from rolling in extreme caricature dispute sixes at the table.
- — Anatoly (a.k.a. Anatole) Barygin-Amurskiy — Zinaida (a.k.a. Zinulya), Nicholas's wife — Sophia's neighbor — Tatiana (a.k.a. Tanya) Barygin-Amurskya, Anatoly's wife — Nicholas (a.k.a. Coca), Zinaida's husband — Sophia (a.k.a. Sofochka), Zinaida's girlfriend and «former ballerina of noblewomen»
- Zoya Isayeva — Sophia's neighbor, wash clothes in the basin
- Elena Volskaya — flower-girl — passer-by with a bulldog
In the final novel by the young man, Vladimir Zavitushkin, fails to offer a hand and heart, he comes to his own wedding, where he can not find a bride - before they met only on the street, and he memorized her in winter clothes. Attempts to discreetly find out who of the women present is his future wife, lead to unpredictable consequences - the bridegroom takes the bride (and she does have a daughter (and not one) - very little) for her mother.
Zoshchenko’s Unstable We: The Tension of Collective Plurals in Soviet Fiction
Mikhail Zoshchenko was born in Poltava, in present-day Ukraine, to a Ukrianian father and a Russian mother. He wrote primarily in Russian. His short story collection, The Galosh and Other Stories (London: Angel Books, 2000), has kept me company during the estrangement of Trumplandic pandemic. At the heart of Zoshchenko’s work is the role of satire and its relation to political dissent, or rather, the precise point at which satirizing a society becomes a critique of the state itself. Because I am deeply interested in satire as critique of current American culture and governance, I want to provide context for Zoshchenko’s brilliance and his stakes in the skin of the Soviet game.
In the 1920’s, the USSR was a country between gernes. Bolsheviks won the battle over governance, but no one knew what that meant yet. It was a middling time, easier to describe in retrospect. Lenin’s New Economic Policy acknowledged the need for gradualism in order to create a proper Soviet proletariat. A simulacra of liberalism and market exchange was permitted while official decrees and statements criticized the culture of bourgeois materialism. NEP was a practical strategy, both pedagogic and economic, buying time for the institutionalization of drastic social change. Poets like Vladimir Mayakovsky became literal poster-boys for the mocking of petty-bourgeois socialization Mayakovsky’s popular posters scoffed at mechchenstvo, or lack of devotion to revolutionary ideals.
The role that writers would play was being negotiated. Tracing the history of satire through the early Soviet period gives us a sense of how language implicates–and is implicated by–constructions of power. Under NEP, satire was permitted and not censored.
Entertainment included laughter, mockery, and served as a unifying force and release valve for social pressure. But there were rumblings from Soviet critics even then. Those critics insisted that satire wasn’t necessary after 1923, since the establishment of the Soviet Union addressed social ills legally and correctly. What “correctly” meant would be an ongoing dispute throughout the Soviet period.
The concept of kulturnost, translated by Jeremy Hicks as “living properly,” referred to civilized behavior, social norms, hygiene, and manners. But what does it mean to behave correctly in a revolutionary time when the scriptures of Marx do not apply to the situation on the ground? Like fundamentalist pastors, Soviet leaders and theorists became divining rods for unquestionable dicta, interpreting textual scripture from a position of expertise and authority, thus turning alternate interpretations into secular forms of heresy and crimes against the state. The line between propaganda and literature or entertainment does not exist for those who rely on texts as avenues to revelation.
In Zoshchenko’s stories, the characters consistently trespass a blurry, evolving kulturnost that consists of technical, uncertain words increasingly used at Party meetings and in media. To the extent that they attempt kulturnost by use of new language, they wear it awkwardly, extraneously, like a cheap, one-size-fits-all costume.
Although his work was seen as satire, Zoshchenko insisted that it was didactic, and the humor was a side-effect rather than the intention. Zoshchenko considered himself a rationalist, and the question remains: what was his satire teaching? In 1927, he described what he did as a “parodying,” adding that he was standing-in for the proletariat writer who didn’t yet exist. The proletarian writer question was eventually resolved by the formulation of Socialist Realism, but the 1920’s remained marked by an open space where new terminology coexisted with economic shortages.
The feuilleton, an elaboration of topical factual material, had emerged as a popular genre, facilitated by the rise of the printing press. Zoshchenko transformed the feuilleton by localizing with the Russian storytelling mode known as skaz, in which the narrator is another character. As a narrative style, skaz was popularized by Nikolai Gogol and Nikolai Lesvov. Using satire to make ideology the locus of conflict in community life revealed the existential nature of early Soviet life. A generalized utopia which exists in both future and present tense–a temporality never quited resolved by Soviet theorists–is tested in the actual banality of human lives, where abstractions don’t map the characters’ experience of the world. The question of trust and loyalty enters at the level of individual experience: should one trust what one knows by experience or what one believes according to official experts? In a sense, Zoshchenko gets away with satire because the characters always defer to the ideology, which makes it hard to call it a social critique.
Svetlana Boym notes that “authoritarian and totalitarian regimes favor a resacralization of the public realm.” In this new sacred space, literature and arts are means of propaganda or socialization into the sacred ideal of revolutionary spirit. Rival discourses and “unsanctioned performances” are seen as competitors for truth, a threat to the sanctity of the state in its new positioning as vanguard of the global communist revolution. The disappearance of private life, the sense in which surveillance turns even the intimate into public space, foregrounds spectacle. Stalin’s emphasis on enforced attendance mass festivals as galvanizing events is inseparable from the development of what Boym calls “the secret spaces of fear” internalized by Soviet citizens.
The new binary of “sanctioned” vs. “unsanctioned” art guides writers and artists during this time when state sanction begins to determine publication, membership in the Writer’s Union, and ideological correctness. The state destroys the Church in order to replace it as the primary vehicle of moral correctness, the authority on good behavior, the seat of judgement before the tribunal of Hegelian History. By 1930, political needs led to the shutting down of satirical presses. Comedy became suspicious mockery became dangerous as reverence for the regime took precedence. Zoshchenko’s writing voice lost official sanction.
And so the end of ambiguity arrived, as it often does, with war. As World War II unwound, Stalin came to believe that ambiguous satires were dangerous for Soviet readers. Like many silenced writers, Zoshchenko turned to children’s stories to escape the censors, and even wrote a youth-directed series about Lenin. But when his satirical short story, “The Adventures of a Monkey” was published in a 1946 literary journal, it led to harsh. Andrei
Zhdanov, the Communist Party spokesman on cultural matters, read the story as a satire of Soviet life which suggested it was better to live in a zoo cage rather than the city. Zhdanov attacked it in his own literary mode, by using the new genre of party resolutions (I swear Party Resolutions are a genre that deserves more attention). In the Party Resolution of 1946, he called the story slanderous and deviant. Zoshchenko was attacked alongside Akhmatova in bitter, hyperbolic language.
As a result, Zoshchenko was expelled from the Writer’s Union. Public ostracism and persecution broke his will to write, since he believed that his task as a satirist and proponent of rationalism was to educate Soviet readers. Zoshchenko found it nearly impossible to publish anything until after Stalin’s death in 1953, when he underwent a slight, informal rehabilitation.
This informal rehabilitation enabled a soft return to the public scene. In May 1954, a group of English students met with him and Akhmatova. The students asked if they agreed with the Party Resolution condemning their word. Akhmatova managed a yes – her son was a prisoner in a gulag at the time – while Zoshchenko announced that he did not. As a veteran soldier, Zoshchenko took special issue with the accusation of cowardice which suggested he had avoided the Leningrad blockade.
When Soviet officials ordered Zoshchenko to retract his public objection to the Resolution, he refused. This ended his life as a writer in the USSR. He died four years later, problematic to the end.
Here is a dry table of the events in my life: Arrested – 6 times, sentenced to death – 1 time, wounded – 3 times, committed suicide – 2 times, got beaten up – 3 times.
In this short bio, we can see how Zoshchenko’s satire mobilizes Orwellian doublespeak to encode, for example, his double condemnation by Soviet officials as forms of suicide, the writer killing himself.
I want to look closely at Zoshchenko’s early short stories in order to understand how satire becomes threatening to totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. Each of these stories runs from one to three pages, using brevity and compression in ways that are instructive for flash fiction writers.
In flash, the title does a lot of work in setting tone and insinuating conflict. Zoshchenko’s short titles often set up a sort of intimate, conversational banality that feels contemporary. Using newspapers for themes and content, Zoshchenko estimated that thirty to forty percent of his stories were based on news articles and letters to the editor about social problems, including the housing shortage and fights breaking out over lack of personal space. The titles tell the reader what conflict to expect by framing each tale in light of its new vocabulary. “Economy Measures,” for example, evokes a new economic drive announced by the Communist Party. His use of titling is a stunning expansion of intertextuality, including official speeches, party meetings, new party directives, and ordinary letters from citizens. And “Does A Man Need Much?” brings Russian history to bear on the contemporary in referencing Lev Tolstoy’s didactic essay, “How Much Land Does A Man Need?” (first published in Intimate Tales for the People, 1886).
The skaz narration technique, where characters and narrator tell the story in conversation, deploys rich language, common expletives, and a collective we. While Lestov’s We tends to be the We of the village or peasant folk-life, Zoshchenko’s We includes the new urban pre-proletariat population. It is a shaky We, an unstable We, and a fascinating one. One could argue that Soviet readers were being introduced to the language of revolution through these stories. Zoshchenko centers the emerging class-conscious verbiage through constant reference to these words in such compressed space.
Individual characters are not always given proper names. Instead, we meet a five-man commission, a timekeeper, a Housing Manager, a Hero of Labor, Nepman, proletarians, an efficiency manager, various specialists, minorities, parasites, militiamen, thieves, emancipated workers, lecturers, citizens, witnesses, relatives, and victims. The use of these words which determine class status reveal the tension of the Soviet We, best represented in the consistent, mandatory use of Comrade as address. The brevity and sharp syntax creates a snappy, brisk pace made comfortable by occasional colloquialisms and street talk.
The sense in which these stories are conversant with–and reflective of–current events makes them accessible while putting the author in an increasingly vulnerable position as censorship is institutionalized. Insults borrow directly from official Soviet directives describing the proper citizen. The average asshole is now the “bourgeois bastard” the transient man is automatically a thief the unemployed is a “a parasite” the disabled is an “invalid” the thinker is an “obscurantist.” Zoshchenko’s fiction internalizes these new hierarchies of status by allowing characters to use them as common insults. (It is interesting to note the large role that exorbitant hyperbolic language played in official Soviet communications, since Zoshchenko borrows this effect in his stories. As does Trump for his stadium narrations.)
“Monkey Language” reports a dialogue between two men employing foreign words like quorum and plenary overheard at political meetings, but their inability to understand the words they are using becomes a feature of alienation from language rather than shared community.
“A Speech About Bribery” makes fun of the foreign, hyperbolic words of an Engineer Line Manager announcing to railway workers that the incredible “evil” known as bribery “has been reduced by fifty percent.” And then pontificating his belief that it should be executable, a crime just after murder. These moral pronouncements at party meetings combine with statistics and percentages, calculations that demonstrate how the Soviet state is accomplishing and measuring its results on the ground. Zoshchenko’s use of the “Speech” as a form for short fiction was satirical until it became the actual social script for CP unity and loyalty. I think of Trump’s Republicans and their blindered loyalism. I think also of corporate culture’s constant measuring and how this has combined with evangelical numeration of souls saved, etc. I think there are so many ways to learn from Zoshchenko’s narrative style in the present.
At a time when ideology attempted to do away with petty bourgeois habits of materialism and status-seeking, we see how those very habits become all the more important and pivotal, institutionalized in the new form of government. Even love is aromantic, concerned with material things, with the theft of coat or galoshes, as we see in the story of a lover walking his girl home at night, where the trope of romantic revelation is subverted by a street robber. In “Love,” the lover’s dejection is not over saying goodbye to the lover:
“I walk her home, and I lose my property. So that’s how it is.”
This foregrounding of property as a both a word and an identity undermines the sentimental context. Throughout his stories, one discovers repetitive objects, most of them marked by scarcity, creating a new economy of value, including fur coat, galoshes, rubbish, matchbox, partition, communal apartment, lamp, property, overcoat, sheepskin hat, napkins. As objects grow more difficult to procure, conflict develops between friends and family. The objects seem more important than people, an ironic turn for a People’s Republic. In this, Zoschenko seems prophetic, laying the cognitive groundwork for a society in which citizens eventually offer their brothers’ lives to secret police in return for a summer vacation. The market for misinformation and gossip flourished in the Soviet Union. And because it was legal and normalized, citizens learned to adapt and participate in ways that suited their personal self-interest.
In “A Dogged Sense of Smell,” published in 1924, Zoshchenko creates a tapestry of social guilts and recriminations. It begins with a narrator and a conversation:
“Comrades, you know they can do amazing things with science these days, incredible!”
The science here refers to how dogs can be trained to detect robbers and criminals. The narrator marvels over these new “militia-sniffer dogs,” and then recounts how a friend sought help from police who then used one of these dogs to find a coat thief. Instead of finding the thief, the dog focused on an old lady, hounding her until she confessed to stealing five buckets of yeast and a vodka-still. The dog then hounds the Citizen Chairman of the House Committee, who surrenders, saying: “Kind people, class-conscious citizens…Tie me up.” The dog begins grabbing people at random, and all confess to various crimes like losing funds at gambling or hitting their wives with an iron.
Citizens profess their own guilt in a symphony of petty bourgeois self-loathing, a performance of mass self-flagellation that resembles much of what occurred under
Stalinism during show trials, and what became characteristic of Party meetings across the Iron Bloc.
In a criminal system run by dogs, everyone is guilty. Everyone must stick to the script of self-denunciation in order to survive. And what feels more relevant, somehow, than the last sentence, the way Zoshchenko ends this 3 page story with the narrator locking himself in his room, considering what he might have said or confessed, finally concluding:
“Comrades,” I would have said, “I am the worst criminal of all: though I didn’t touch the fur coat, I take advances from magazines, publish the same story twice, and all the rest of it. Beat me, wretch that I am.”
We see a similar theme in “A Hasty Business,” where a character says:
“As yet, we don’t know what my husband’s got caught for. But one things for certain, they’ll find something or other. Everyone’s done something, and we’re all skating on thin ice. But can they really give you capital punishment for that?”
Note how Zoschenko’s sentences are not connected by logical sequence so much as “and” or “but.” Nothing makes sense and yet there is an order to it. His syntax shifts between long-winded speechification and staccato-like phrases or exclamations which lack a verb. In using the wrong words, characters heighten an atmosphere of absurdity that distorts speech and twists it to fit the lexicon.
What is the difference between piety, loyalty, and devotion? The performance of loyalty requires this piety, these rituals, which became verbal. As Soviet citizens, writers were expected to use revolutionary language which often felt (and was) foreign. Zoshchenko references these new forms continuously in the intertextual engagement of party directives and propaganda. Does he do this intentionally to estrange Soviets from their language? I’m not equipped to answer that. But I can note these new forms include criminal reports, court summons, speeches, legal redress, “economy measures,” foreign telegrams, cultural reports, and legal words, among others.
Zoschenko interrogates agency by making it seem random, unpredictable, and absurd. The word “accident” is often used to describe an event while destabilizing its veracity. Holidays include “an ex-saint’s day,” revealing how characters internalize censorship of religion. The word “respectable” feels meaningless and silly in the context of its descriptor (i.e. “respectable tray”). “Social status” is referenced by characters as both a threat and a concern, creating a seam of obscurity in which Soviet citizens flounder, sink, swim, drown. When looking to explain things, characters don’t actually do the work of thinking through an explanation instead they defer to official statements, labeling something as “a question of culture.” One gets a sense of how discussion and thinking ceased in the USSR.
Zoshchenko’s careful attention to language included using expressions and idioms that suggested irony of circumstance (see a little bit of an incident, slight mistake, achievement) and/or created tension through defamiliarization by foregrounding the collective We. Reading “unanimous shouts” and “chorused” gives us the performance of We-ness without the emotional or other-regarding content.
The danger of satire is that it makes the sacred vulnerable it profanes the pedestal of power. If writers exist to create a script for statecraft, then mockery is unacceptable, especially when the country’s ego is conflated with that of the leader. In an essay exploring Bertolt Brech’s reliance on satire, Walter Benjamin said something which demonstrates the inherent risk of satire for writers:
The satirist confines himself to the nakedness that confronts him in the mirror. Beyond this his duty does not go.
When the distance between the self in the mirror and the social collective collapses, when human rights play second fiddle to the interests of the state, the satirist’s mirrored gaze is untenable.
Notes & Sources: Much of the information about Zoshchenko’s life came from Jeremy Hick’s excellent introduction to this translation of the short stories, see The Galosh and Other Stories. Translated by Jeremy Hicks. Overlook Press, 2009. For more on Zoshchenko’s stylistic innovations, see emotions that are subverted or turned: jealousy as a petty bourgeois state, generosity, conscious, honesty, abstract state, etc. For Benjamin on Brecht, see Benjamin, Walter., et al. Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, Mariner Books, 2019, particularly “Brecht’s Threepenny Novel,” where Benjamin also theorizes that Marx set the tone for this distance between writer and subject. For references to Boym, see Boym, Svetlana. Another Freedom: the Alternative History of an
Idea. University of Chicago Press, 2012. (pp. 68-72). For short biography authored by Zoshschenko, see Russiapedia, “Mikhail Zoshchenko”