Railway Dystopian Motifs in Late Soviet and Post-Soviet Russian and Ukrainian Literature

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal 23 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Larisa FIALKOVA, The University of Haifa, Israel
The representations of railways in fiction are overloaded with utopian and dystopian motifs. In the 19th-beginning of the 20thcentury, although some greeted this technical invention (e.g. I.Franko, N.Garin-Mikhailovsky), the dominant literary reflection of the new means of transportation was negative. When the focus was on the rail road, they were perceived as a road of death as a result of bad working conditions of many serfs (e.g. N.Nekrasov). As far as a train was concerned, a typical metaphor was of a fire-spitting dragon, a snake, an iron horse or just a monster (S.Stepniak-Kravchinsky, G.Grebenshchikov, S.Esenin). Trains were associated with accidents, chaos, suicides and separations (L.Tolstoy, F.Dostoyevsky, A.Blok). Later literature reflected also on other means of rail based transportation, namely metro and a tram. In the inter-war literature the building of rail road for some authors was connected to romantic self-sacrificing heroic deeds (N.Ostrovsky), and the locomotive was meant to fly into happy socialist future, which turned to be just Utopia. This view promoted by the Communist propaganda, was reflected in many songs about railways (e.g. Baikal-Amur Mainline, which was partially constructed by the forced labor). Other authors wrote about trams, strayed (N.Gumilev), beheading (M.Bulgakov) or suffocating (B.Pasternak) and about metro as allegoric Moscow’s guts and as crippling hell (A.Platonov). Yet, train could be also a way for escape (B.Pasternak). A new phase in dealing with motif of rail transport started in 1970s with V. Erofeev, whose hero Venechka involuntary returned to the hell of Moscow after failed attempt to get to Paradise-like Petushki.

The paper will focus on railways, metro and trams as contemporary anti-Utopia in the fiction by V.Pelevin, D.Bykov, A.Volos, A.Lazarchuk and M.Uspenskii, Yu.Andrukhovych, S.Zhadan, L.Lusina.