By Maria Rubins
This booklet reassesses the position of Russian Montparnasse writers within the articulation of transnational modernism generated through exile. studying their creation from a comparative point of view, it demonstrates that their reaction to city modernity transcended the Russian grasp narrative and resonated with broader aesthetic traits in interwar Europe.
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Extra info for Russian Montparnasse: Transnational Writing in Interwar Paris
38 Narrating the Self This rather brief survey of the most characteristic features of the Russian Montparnasse human document as conceived by émigrés reveals that this genre was defined both by writers and their critics in rather arbitrary fashion, mostly by pointing out certain aspects of style and recurrent themes. Various definitions focus on elements that label this type of self-writing as “non-literary,” a term that generally implied a narrative of the confessional/testimonial variety, purged of such attributes of belles-lettres as elegance of expression, tropes, well-balanced composition, plot, and, most importantly, fictionality.
As we have seen, Freud’s name resurfaced periodically in émigré discussions of Russian Montparnasse. In particular, Otsup and Veidlé, despite their opposing views, refer to psychoanalysis to explain the remarkable appeal of confessional writing. Freud demonstrated the instability, fluidity, and multiplicity of the self, its fragmentary and infantile nature, and the inadequacy of any rational forms of self-knowledge (by revealing the distorting effect of the subconscious on memory), and this led to the radical revision of autobiography.
Zola’s and Goncourt’s meta-declarations and their imaginative writing inaugurated an important trend in nineteenth-century French literature, reinforcing the principles of the human document. One remarkable example of this trend was the Journal of Maria Bashkirtseva (1858/60–1884), a young Russian woman who spent most of her short life in France, where she died of consumption. From an early age, Bashkirtseva dreamed of fame, The Human Document and Strategies of Self-Representation 21 tried to make a career as a singer, and afterwards, when due to illness she first lost her voice and then her hearing, she turned to painting.