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The Literary Foundation Pit

This article appeared in Novaia Gazeta on a rather fascinating topic: the hypothesis (and alleged proof) of the complete and utter fraudulence of this author's work.  As the article states on numerous occasions, most controversies hinge on the authorship of this large novel (a thick dull slab that, I must say, I could not bring myself to read in its entirety), but Zeev Bar-Sella thinks the whole construct of Sholokhov the writer is a sham, hence the title : “Sholokhov was not a writer at all: On the intelligence agency project that won a Nobel prize."

Twice before the subject of a Novaia Gazeta article, a long-awaited book is finally out: Zeev Bar-Sella’s groundbreaking monograph, The Literary Foundation Pit: The “Sholokhov the Writer” Project, published by the Russian State University for the Humanities press.  

309px-Sholochov_Monument_Rostov-on-Don.jpgIts publication may signal the beginning of genuinely scientific Sholokhov studies.  It is not a dig at Sholokhov, nor a polemic attack.  Whenever the words “studies” or “logic” are attached to a thing or person, the connotation is a desire for scientificity.  But this project has more specific goals: objectivity, impartiality, and obedience to the facts, not to emotions or market demands.  Yet the overwhelming majority of the texts that have been published under the rubric of “Sholokhov studies” have been distinguished precisely by extreme partiality, an unwillingness to adhere strictly to the facts, the ignoring of opponents (sprinkled with, more often than not, some primitive barbs towards those parties) and frank apologetics well outside the bounds of science.  The same can be said of anti-Sholokhov literature, which features the same emotions, the same absence of strict methodology, and the same recycling of private ideas.

Besides, all the polemics around Sholokhov inevitably lead to the discussion of one narrow problem: the authorship of Quietly flows the Don.  But as Bar-Sella so rightly notes: “There cannot be a scientific discipline concerned with only one individual object, even if this object is Quietly flows the Don.”  That is why “basic conscientiousness forces us to consider the attribution of other texts.”  To this subject Bar-Sella devotes 460 pages in A4 format, sixty-five of which compose a scientific-linguistic apparatus.  On these pages he develops a rather harmonious concept of the appearance, progression and function of the “Sholokhov the Writer” project in which Sholokhov is accorded the role of a sort of placeholder or locum, or, more precisely, of a trademark, a label of an extremely  successful literary project.

The author worked for 20 years and came to certain conclusions; he has stated them and given justifications for their existence.  And from now on we can’t get off cheap with our usual spate of viral abuse such as the terms “Satanic dances,” “slander,” and “literary assassins.”  Now both official Sholokhov scholars and anti-Sholokhov scholars will be forced to sit down together at a table and begin conversations on this book’s core arguments.  It’d be good if the table turned out to be round.   

Not so long ago in Literaturnaia Gazeta, Felix Kuznetsov and A. Ushakov wrote that you were a recent student at Moscow State University.  So tell us a bit about your life before you became a mythological figure in Sholokhovian circles.
If "recent" means 38 years ago,  then one could say the same about my opponents.  I was indeed once a student at Moscow State University, but I finished my studies in Jerusalem.  My first book, however, was published in the USSR, in Makhachkala in 1974.  It was called Investigations into the field of  historical morphology of the East Caucasian languages.  Unfortunately it was a short printing run, owing to the fact that I was already living in Jerusalem at the time.  Friends of mine were able to send me only a few copies.  My second book came out in the U.S. ten years later, although the place of publication listed is Tel Aviv.  It’s called Master Gambs and Margarita, and was written jointly with Maia Kaganskaia.  You’ll find references to it in any subsequent study on the novels of Bulgakov or Ilf and Petrov.  Moreover, a large part of the book was incorporated into a reader for Russian schoolchildren.  Last year in Moscow my third book was published: Yesterday’s tomorrow.  It is a collection of the work of three authors (myself, Maia Kaganskaia, and Ilana Gomel) devoted to science fiction, mostly from the Soviet era.  Excerpts from my following book  Quietly flows the Don: against Sholokhov. Textual criticism of a crime  were published starting in 1988 in the Israeli press, and from 1990 on in the Soviet, then the Russian press.  I was very happy to find out that Solzhenitsyn had a high opinion of this work.

Now to your name.  Ms. Kotovchikhina from the Moscow State Open Pedagogical Institute stated that you are hiding behind your mother’s maiden name...

This would be logical if my mother’s name were Ivanova, and my father’s Rabinovich.  As it were, it’s just the reverse.  Officially, I am Vladimir Petrovich Nazarov.  And my present name, with which I have been living for the last quarter of a century, is nothing more than its Hebrew translation.  Zeev Bar-Sella, is simply Vladimir Petrovich, that is Wolf Son of Rock (in Greek, petros).  

I take it that, of all your visits to Moscow, this is the most pleasant?   
And how!  And that’s because I get to present my fourth book, The Literary Foundation Pit: The “Sholokhov the Writer” Project.  I am infinitely grateful to the people at Russian State University for the Humanities press which has taken on a very heavy workload for the preparation and release of  such a technically complex book.  I am no less grateful to the editorial and publishing council of the University consisting of the most outstanding scientists (but most of all to academician Mikhail Gasparov), who recognized not only my work, but also that the problem itself was worthy of genuinely scientific investigation.

And yet more recently (at a session of the presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences on May 13th) Felix Kuznetsov  correspondent and member of this same Academy  said that, “the scandalous question regarding the authenticity of his (Sholokhov's) authorship is secondary.  [Foremost] is the imposed and unscientific subject.”  And the presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences agreed with him …       
At one point, the French Academy declared the problem of meteorites unscientific.  And they keep falling and falling.  The very fact that there have been questions for 70 years regarding Sholokhov's authorship says that the matter requires scientific resolution, which is exactly what I try to do in my book.  And my method is just as academic Yuri Osipov has said: “by not taking a great interest in emotions.”

But the problem of authorship concerns Quietly flows the Don.  More precisely, its first two volumes.  And yet in your book, not a word about Quietly flows the Don.  How come?
Because I understood that it was necessary to divide two problems cleanly from one another: authorship of Quietly flows the Don and the “Sholokhov question” as a whole.  There cannot be a science of one literary work.  Therefore it is impossible to answer the first question without having answered the second.  At the current time it is not important who the author of Quietly flows the Don really was.  Whoever it was, it was undoubtedly a writer.  And today, it is absolutely clear to me: Sholokhov was not a writer of any kind, and my book is devoted to proving this statement.  Therefore, up till now I have not had any need for Quietly flows the Don.  But only up till now.  There will be a second part to my investigation.  My impatient readers will simply have to consult the works mentioned from the series Quietly flows the Don: against Sholokhov.
What do you see then as the central thrust of your most recent book?
It is well-known that a researched and academic biography of Sholokhov does not exist.  Even the writer himself  as always, not quite competently  declared: “My autobiography (!) is in my books.”  It is abundantly clear, however, that neither the description of the First World War (when Sholokhov was 9 years old), nor the description of the Civil War (Sholokhov was still only 14) cannot possibly have anything to do with this “autobiography.”  And then a surprising biography is revealed: “He had no ... did not participate ... was not...”  Instead, "he was exposed ... and was part of.”  What is passed off to us as “The Life of Mikhail” has been repeatedly refuted by Sholokhov himself.  This concerns his childhood, his youth, his adolescence, his tenure in the Komsomol, his tenure in the special purpose detachments, his time in court, his military service, the funeral of his mother, etc.  All this is illuminated in the book and supplied by extremely detailed references to sources.  So no emotions.

So what does all of this yield?
All of this yields the fact that Sholokhov's biography was written by backdating according to the compositions published under his name.  This is not a life of a real person, but a politico-ideological project.  We even managed to find the initiator of this project: the information department of the Joint State Political Directorate.  To put it more simply, the information department of the special services of that time specifically supervised the intellectual life of a whole country.

But you worked nonetheless with manuscripts of Quietly flows the Don?
The history of finding (and, simultaneously, of concealing) manuscripts of Quietly flows the Don explains why The literary foundation pit has already come out, and the completion of Quietly flows the Don: against Sholokhov keeps getting postponed.  As is well–known, we first learned about the existence of these manuscripts from Lev Kolodny in the early 1990s.  First there were a few facsimile reproductions in the newspapers, then more than one hundred pages of the manuscript in Kolodny’s book.  Finally, already around the time of the centennial celebration of Sholokhov’s birth, Kuznetsov reproduced several dozen pages of the manuscript.  At one point, nineteen of them were actually available on the internet.  Now, as Literaturnaia Gazeta announced, the complete manuscript has been published but ... in Kiev, with money from the Leonid Kuchma fund.  One thousand numbered copies in leather bindings and cases under lock and key.  In the Institute of World Literature at the Russian Academy of Sciences, I was informed that the book would not be sold, although the Academy’s name and symbol are printed on the book.   In other words, despite its wooden box  or rather its box of Koscheis  this edition is obviously not intended for researchers.  But as soon as I find a key to this lock, the book about the authorship of Quietly flows the Don will immediately be finished.

Our newspaper has written about your book twice before.  Naturally, before your study came out. What would you be able to say about the reaction to your ideas, even if only expressed in brief newspaper form?
To my work on Sholokhov starting in 1988 there have been about 120 responses.  And to the two articles mentioned  your articles, by the way  no fewer than thirty.  And yet, except for two or three, all of them contain nothing but abuse: “Slander is the revenge of cowards ” (whom are we avenging, I wonder, and what are we are afraid of?).  “Troubled waters,” which for some reason “do not die down,” “Satanic dances,” “a witches’ Sabbath,” and others in the same vein.  And the funny thing is that you state my ideas, but it is you who is generally the target of these insults.  I am simply “a certain Israeli” (true enough, with “limited intelligence”), but you are the “accommodating interpreter” and even a “hairy mongrel.”  But Anatoly Kalinin stated it powerfully and especially well: “an old reptile who crawled out of Novaia Gazeta.”

That’s both funny and annoying.  But there is a label  for the two of us: “literary assassins,” like some kind of  brigade or something.  But I would like to make one circumstance clear to our readers.  Some critics have directly hinted that somehow I am either bribed or recruited by you as some sort of literary Mossad.  In fact, you and I have known each other for almost forty years.
Yes, we became friends during that  recent  university period of mine.  I was in the philosophy department at Moscow State University, you were in the historical archives, and for a time we worked together at the Russian Language Institute of the Academy of Sciences in the USSR.  And did you notice then how I was sweet-talking you?

But let’s get back to our topic.  I wanted to ask how this bibliographical battle is reflected in the book published by the Institute of World Literature for the anniversary of Sholokhov’s thousand-page bibliography.     
To my great amazement, there are fewer than ten names given in the bibliography, much fewer than even those known to Kuznetsov who is thanked by the compilers.  One gets the impression that the overall objective of the bibliography is to hide the international significance of studying a problem of authorship.  The same purpose is served by the recently published Dictionary of the language of Sholokhov, edited by Professor E. Dibrovaia.  Being a linguist, I could not assume that it was possible to forge the dictionary.  It turns out that if very necessary, it is possible.  This question is too specialized for newspapers, so any interested parties should consult the review by L. Katsis in Knizhnoe obozrenie, issue no. 22 of this year.

Well then, let’s wish the bibliography much success and be done with it. What was the main substance of the responses? 
Clearly, it’s not Sholokhov's name which has gotten the public all wound up.  Everyone is used to hearing about plagiarism, and the problem of authorship of the first two books is even accepted as a topic of eternal debate.  Which explains the shock value of claiming that one of the authors of the novel They fought for their country was really the great Russian writer Andrei Platonov.  Unexpected support has been rendered to me by a member of the committee for the celebration of Sholokhov’s anniversary, correspondent N. Kornienko, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  This bit of assistance allowed us to find textual affinities in the novel not only to Platonov’s prose on war and military matters, but also to the classic pre-war story Fro.  I should say right away, however, that this is but one example of fruitful interaction between the representatives of two opposing camps so as to carry out a scientific investigation of Sholokhov.

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