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«Copyright by Seungdo Ra The Dissertation Committee for Seungdo Ra certifies that this is the approved version of the following dissertation: ...»

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Seungdo Ra

The Dissertation Committee for Seungdo Ra certifies that this is the approved

version of the following dissertation:

Waterworks: Andrei Platonov’s Fluid Anti-Utopia



Keith A. Livers, Supervisor


Leslie C. O’Bell


Adam Z. Newton


Edward Manouelian


Sidney Monas Waterworks: Andrei Platonov’s Fluid Anti-Utopia by Seungdo Ra, B.A., M.A.

Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Texas at Austin in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy The University of Texas at Austin August 2004 In Memory of My Mother


I specially thank my advisor, Keith Livers, for his advice and help. I also thank Sidney Monas and Leslie O’Bell for their encouragement and support. I am equally grateful to Edward Manouelian and Adam Zachary Newton.

v Waterworks: Andrei Platonov’s Fluid Anti-Utopia Publication No.______________

Seungdo Ra, Ph.D.

The University of Texas at Austin, 2004 Supervisor: Keith A. Livers This dissertation aims to reconsider the work of the Soviet Russian writer Andrei Platonov in light of his conscious preoccupation with water over the entire course of his careers. Platonov’s close contact and fundamental affinity with water began with his experience as a hydrologist. From early 1921 until late 1926, he worked with enthusiasm as a hydrologist in his native province. At the same time, he produced numerous essays on land reclamation as a young publicist, emphasizing the enormous importance of water for nature and human life alike. He also dramatized his hydrological experience in a number of stories during this period. Platonov continued to reveal his deep interest in water and further elevated to the prevailing imagery in his mature prose of the late 1920s and the 1930s. Whereas previous interpretations of Platonov’s water imagery have concentrated mainly on his major works, the present study encompasses a wide range of his writings and investigates a great variety of water images as depicted in them. The dissertation begins by examining Platonov’s great concern

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proceeds to explore the evolution of water imagery as elaborated into literary images in his prose pieces of the 1920s and the 1930s. While establishing the continuity and consistency of Platonov’s deep interest in water as a hydrologist and a writer, the dissertation seeks to show his full appreciation of the universality and profundity of water imagery throughout his oeuvre. Navigating Platonov’s literary “watercourse,” it also attempts to thoroughly fathom the extraordinary depth and breadth of water imagery as a dominant theme represented in his two anti-utopian works, Chevengur and Kotlovan.

–  –  –

Chapter 2. The Evolution of Water Imagery 32 Chapter 3.

The Poetics of Water in Chevengur 70 Chapter 4. The Semantics of Water in Kotlovan 125

–  –  –

For the last decade of the twentieth century, there have been numerous critical efforts to “excavate” Andrei Platonov (1899-1951), the “buried treasure” of Soviet Russian literature.2 And the enthusiastic scholarly “excavation” of the thematic treasures of Platonov reached an apogee in the year 1999, the centenary of the writer’s birth. At that time, vast international conferences on Platonov were held both at home and abroad. The range and ambition of current interpretative work on Platonov is well revealed in the resulting conference papers published in book form.3 They demonstrate the “swiftness of Platonov’s assimilation into Russian intellectual history,” in particular.4 As Natal’ia Kornienko once predicted, it is now no exaggeration to say that the Russian Nathaniel Altman, Sacred Water: The Spiritual Source of Life (Mahwah, NJ: HiddenSpring, 2002), 2.

Edward J. Brown, Russian Literature Since the Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982), 233.

In September 19-22, 1999, the fourth international conference on Platonov was held in Moscow, while the two-day ‘Neo-Formalist’ conference on the work of Platonov was held in Oxford, in September 2000, in celebration of the writer’s birth-centenary the previous year. The papers presented at the Moscow conference on Platonov were published in the book «Strana filosofov»

Andreia Platonova: Problemy tvorchestva. Vypusk 4 (Moscow: Nasledie, 2000). And the papers delivered at the ‘Neo-Formalist’ conference on the writer were published with some additional papers in the British journal Essays in Poetics, vol. 26 (2001) and vol. 27 (2002), under the title “A Hundred Years of Andrei Platonov.” Rachel Polonsky, “Utopia in the Here and Now,” Times Literary Supplement 5153 (2002), 10.

1920s and 30s have begun to be remembered “not as the age of Lenin and Stalin, but as the age of Platonov.”5 Nonetheless, the “final excavation of the writer’s ore”6 has not yet been completed. A prodigious body of so-called platonovedenie is still flourishing both in Russia and the West to further the reclamation of the writer’s literary legacy.

One theme that looms large in the “excavation” and “reclamation” of Platonov’s legacy is “water” which he explored, first as a hydrologist and then as a writer in the course of his careers. Water in its various forms is the most pervasive image found in nearly every work of Platonov. Just as in nature, so in his literary landscape water appears as “the only substance that can be found in liquid, solid, and gaseous form.”7 As Altman notes, in addition to seas, rivers, lakes, brooks, and other obvious natural forms such as ponds, swamps, pools, and puddles, water is found in liquid form in wells, springs, and underground streams.

It is also found in solid form in snow and ice as well as in gaseous form in clouds, mist and fog. As an essential part of the human body, in particular, water is also found in the form of bodily fluids, such as blood, sweat and tears. Platonov’s works, including his essays, poems, and prose pieces, are replete with all these forms of water. And many of his works contain rich water imagery in their very titles.

Natal’ia Kornienko, “Nevozvrashchenie Andreia Platonova,” Literaturnaia gazeta 35, 5755 (1999), 11.

A. Platonov, “trud est’ sovest’: Iz zapisnykh knizhek raznykh let,” in Gosudarstvennyi zhitel’, (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1988), 581.

Altman, 4.

Since water is essential to Platonov’s life and art, it should not be surprising that it is an important component of his writing. Yet it is surprising how little attention water receives in critical accounts of the writer’s legacy.

Western scholars seem to have been less concerned with the “watery” Platonov and his “liquid” literary texts than with his other themes and works. Eric Naiman and Thomas Seifrid, among others, have dealt with water in Platonov’s literary work, but only in part.8 In addition, the British scholar Marilyn Minto has briefly treated water as a vehicle for cleansing and purification in Platonov’s short story “The River Potudan’” (“Reka Potudan’”).9 Other Western scholars have paid little attention to “water” itself as a theme in his works, even where it appears as the aesthetic dominant and the central theme in his imaginative prose.

Russian literary critics, on the other hand, have been more concerned with water and its related image-motifs in their prominence throughout the entire work of Platonov. For Leonid Karasev, for instance, Platonov’s preoccupation with water is one of the most important aspects of his literary writings.10 Drawing particular attention to Platonov’s “mythology of water,” he claims that the writer is wholly immersed in the water imagery that nourishes his plot. Mariia Dmitrovskaia describes water as lying at the core of Platonov’s “cosmological See Eric Naiman, “Andrei Platonov and the Inadmissibility of Desire,” Russian Literature XXIII (1988), 331-52; Thomas Seifrid, Andrei Platonov: Uncertainties of Spirit (Cambridge: Cambridge university Press, 1992), 67-68.

See Marilyn Minto, “Introduction” to Andrei Platonov, “The River Potudan’” (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1995), xxii-xxiii.

Especially, Leonid Karasev has written a series of articles with regards to water and its great significance in the work of Platonov. His articles on the “watery” Platonov were brought together

in his recently published book Dvizhenie po sklonu: O sochineniiakh A. Platonova (Moscow:

Rossiiskii gos. gumanitarnyi universitet, 2002).

conception,” through combination with other elements of nature, i.e, fire, earth, and air.11 Besides Karasev and Dmitrovskaia, Konstantin Barsht and Evgenii Iablokov also pay attention to water as the “substance of existence” for Platonov.12 Most recently, A. Lysov has presented a short review of the “elemental force of water” in the work of Platonov.13 Nevertheless, even Russian scholars do not thoroughly fathom the breadth and complexity of Platonov’s water mind-set as reflected in his writings.

For the most part, Russian and Western literary scholars have concentrated on the major works of Platonov, such as Chevengur (Chevengur, 1928), Kotlovan (Kotlovan, 1929-30) and The Sea of Youth (Iuvenil’noe more, 1934). Leonid Karasev, for example, places a great emphasis on those works, defining them as Platonov’s water trilogy.14 For this reason, Platonov’s key texts of the 1930s, such as Happy Moscow (Schastlivaia Moskva, 1933-36) and “The River Potudan’” (“Reka Potudan’,” 1937), which are also full of water images, has been relatively less explored. Moreover, previous scholars have not fully examined water imagery in its entirety as described in Platonov’s early essays, poems and stories.

See Mariia Dmitrovskaia, Makrokosm i mikrokosm v khudozhestvennom mire A. Platonova (Kaliningrad: Kaliningradskii gos. universitet, 1998).

See Konstantin Barsht, Poetika prozy Andreia Platonova (St. Petersburg: Filfak St.

Peterburgskogo gos. universiteta, 2000), 120-27 and Evgenii Iablokov, Na beregu neba (Roman Andreia Platonova «Chevengur» (St. Petersburg: Dmitrii Bulanin, 2001), 190-95.

See A. Lysov, ““O natsional’noi kharakterologii i kul’turno-prirodnykh atributsiakh v rasskaze Andreia Platonova «Reka Potudan’»,” in A. A. Dyrdin, ed., Voprosy filologii: Sbornik nauchnykh trudov (Ul’ianovsk: UlGTU, 2002), 92-106.

See L. Karasev, “Dvizhenie po sklonu: Veshchestvo i pustota v mire A. Platonova,” in Dvizhenie po sklonu, 54-61.

While “excavating” this thematic treasure of Platonov’s, I examine the universal significance and depth of water, as well as its more particular aspects as represented in his writing. In myths and legends water is often depicted, first and foremost, as “the primary life-principle, or the fons and orgio (fountain and origin) of all life on Earth.”15 Indeed, it permeates the entire living environment and further provides sustenance to life, including human life. In this regard, water is a primordial element of life, abundance, fertility, energy and strength. Of course, it is this universal aspect of water that Platonov makes prominent consciously and consistently in his writing as a whole. For him, water is not only the earth’s vital substance, but also the essential substance of human existence.

As Philip Ball observes, “water is life’s true and unique medium. Without water, life simply cannot be sustained.”16 Likewise, Platonov resonantly echoes such a view of water, precisely because it has the unique ability to bestow and sustain life on all living things.

Water is equally essential to any social or civilized existence. As well known in history, humans have generally settled near convenient sources of water. Among others, rivers became a particular source of water and laid the foundations to most of the great ancient civilizations.17 Egyptian civilization was Altman, 14.

Philip Ball, Life’s Matrix: A Biography of Water (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1999), 222.

For a classic Russian work of environmental history concerning the great rivers, see Lev Mechnikov, Tsivilizatsiia i velikie istoricheskie reki (Moscow: Pangeia, 1995), 340-60. For a thorough study of “hydraulic agriculture” and society in human history, refer to Karl A. Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power (New Have: Yale University Press, 1957).

built on the Nile. Mesopotamia was centered on The Tigris and the Euphrates.

Chinese civilization was located in the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers. Early civilizations developed irrigation system, as well as water transport and storage technologies. According to Altman, this led to the growth of markets, the founding of towns, the opening of trade routes, and the birth of complex and sophisticated human societies.18 Especially, along the rivers were borne “some of the most intense of our social … passions: the mysterious transmutations of blood and water; the vitality and mortality of heroes, empires, nations, and gods.”19 Similarly, Altman claims that “the way humans utilized precious water supplies in early civilizations has determined prosperity or poverty, abundance or drought.”20 This is exactly what Platonov emphasizes in a series of essays devoted to irrigation and land reclamation. According to him, the “rise and fall of a nation” or a civilization depends on the “natural economy of water.”21 He further illustrates this inseparable relationship between water and civilization in his novel Chevengur, describing people constructing a utopian community close to water.

The need for water dominates practical human life and implants itself in the human unconscious as well. Humans have always been highly dependent on water. People need water in almost every aspect of their lives. As Altman Altman, 62-63.

Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), 247.

Altman, 63.

Anderi Platonov, “Chelovek i pustynia,” in Vozvrashchenie (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1989), 51.

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