Henry W. Pickford - Allusion and Elision. Observations on Language and Exile in Loseff's Early Poetry

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Теги: Henry W. Pickford. Научная статья. Литературоведение. Лев Лосев. Lev Loseff
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Allusion and Elision: Observations on Language and Exile in Loseff’s Чудесный десант
Henry W. Pickford
In memory of Lev Loseff, teacher and friend
The relationship between an exiled writer and his or her native language constitutes one, if not the fundamental condition of literary exile and suggests an initial approach to the poetry of Lev Loseff. By ‘exile’ I mean the condition in which a writer finds himself residing abroad, in a foreign culture and language, and where that residence is potentially life-long, not a mere sojourn. This definition therefore covers both writers banished from their homeland, like Joseph Brodsky, and writers who are what could be called ‘one-way expats,’ émigrés like Loseff, who left the Soviet Union on the ‘Third Wave’ of emigration (roughly from the mid-seventies until the advent of perestroika under Gorbachev). As he says in his poem “Письмо на родину”: “We’re not some sailors in a port of call here / this is for good” (“Мы тут не моряки в загране, / а навсегда.”). My essay falls into three parts. Part one takes Martin Heidegger’s reflections on the being of language as an initial point of departure for outlining a typology of literary exile, for the relationship an exiled writer adopts to his native language depends on how he conceives of the nature of language, which in turn informs the metaphors and tropes by which he understands his language and its loss or estrangement. I briefly present four different conceptions of language and sketch out several potential relations between an exiled writer and his language in order to then to show how Loseff most often ironically subverts those various relations. Part two pursues the relationship between Loseff and language by considering his use of allusion, specifically in comparison with Joseph Brodsky’s use of allusion in his poems of exile. Finally, in Part three I present a positive account of Loseff’s main relationship to language and exile as a way to justify Loseff’s lyric persona against some critics’ remarks. My examples are chiefly drawn from Loseff’s first collection of verse, The Wondrous Raid (Чудесный десант), though they are not uncharacteristic of his general poetics.
I. Language and Exile
The attitude an exiled writer takes to his native language rests on his conception of the nature of language. In §34 of Sein und Zeit Heidegger poses the following questions regarding the being of language:
Ultimately philosophical research must decide to ask what kind of being in general language has. Is it an innerworldly pragmatic tool, or does language have the mode of being of Dasein, or neither of the two? What sort of being is that of language, that it can be ‘dead’? What does it mean ontologically that a language grows or decays? We possess a science of language, and the being of beings, which takes it as its topic, is obscure; even the horizon is obscured for the inquiring question of it.
In this passage we can discern three different ways of conceiving the being of language. On the first view, language is Zuhandenheit (“presence-to-hand,” sometimes translated “availableness”), the being characteristic of an innerworldly pragmatic tool; that is, language is a web of intimate, familiar significances with which we do things in the world. On the second view, language has the being of physis, of natural organisms; it bears within it the potentiality for growth, reproduction, decay, etc. Lastly, on the third view language has the same being as Dasein (Heidegger’s term for human “being-in-the-world”); for Heidegger this means that language discloses or reveals worldly significance from the horizon of human cares, concerns, and projects. There is a fourth view of language that, I shall argue, more closely underwrites Loseff’s poetics. This fourth view, what can be called the Wittgensteinian view, takes language to be praxis, second nature or a “form of life,” that is, essentially collective practices, which Wittgenstein likens to games. These different views on the being of language, I suggest, provide an initial orientation for exploring the typical tropes by which exiled writers conceive of their relationship to their lost native language.
If one takes language to have the being of Zuhandenheit, then one imagines language as the writer’s ownmost possession, what is proper to him, and hence the exile’s fate is one of dispropriation or alienation. Language is cast as an entity possessed by the self, allowing self-possession, as it were; to be exiled is to be bereft of oneself, one’s familiar world of significances. At least two strategies for the exiled writer are discernible here. In the first strategy, the poet preserves his lost “word culture” in the words of his native language and culture; his language becomes a remainder and reminder of the lost intimacy, the forsaken world of what was present-to-hand. The Acmeist Mandelshtam serves as a touchstone for later poets of this persuasion when he describes:
... внутренний эллинизм, адекватный духу русского языка, так сказать, домашний эллинизм. Эллинизм – это печной горшок, ухват, крынка с молоком, это домашняя утварь, посуда, все окружение тела; эллинизим – это тепло очага, ощущаемое, как священное, всякая собственность, приобщающая часть внешнего мира и человеку ... Элленизм – это сознательное окружение человека утварью, вместо безразличных предметов, превращение этих предметов в утварь, очеловечение окружающего мира, согревание его тончайшим телеологическим теплом. Эллинизм – это всякая печка, около которой сидит человек и ценит ее тепло, как родственное его внутреннему теплу. Наконец, эллинизм – это могильная ладья египетских покойников, в которую кладется все нужное для продолжения земного странствия человека, вплоть до ароматического кувшина, зеркальца и гребня.
… an inner Hellenism, domestic Hellenism as it were, that which is suitable to the spirit of the Russian language. Hellenism is an earthenware pot, oven tongs, a milk jug, kitchen utensils, dishes; it is anything which surrounds the body. Hellenism is the warmth of the hearth experienced as something sacred; it is anything which imparts some of the external world to man… Hellenism is the conscious surrounding of man with domestic utensils instead of impersonal objects; the transformation of impersonal objects into domestic utensils, and the humanizing and warming of the surrounding world with the most delicate teleological warmth. Hellenism is any kind of stove near which a man sits, treasuring its heat as something akin to his own internal body heat. And finally, Hellenism is the Egyptian funerary ship in which the dead are carried, into which everything required for the continuation of man’s earthly wanderings is put, down to perfume phials, mirrors, and combs.
Language here is present-to-hand (zuhanden), to speak with Heidegger, revealing an immediate pragmatic familiarity and utility that becomes elegiac when the utility of such linguistic facility fails for the poet in his exile, and his native language becomes merely vorhanden (“present-at-hand” or occurent), pragmatically inert nostalgic reminders of the world lost that nonetheless can be described from a “theoretical perspective,” that is, from a neutral standpoint of an observer who is not – or no longer – embedded and engaged in the pragmatic use of the words in the way of Zuhandenheit.
There are lines from Loseff’s poems that bear this relation to language and evoke the lost intimacies conveyed by certain words and locutions. When asked by an interviewer about the central role in many of his poems played by “objects, tokens of a very concrete world. With particular fondness you often describe, for instance, an onion, a piece of bread, a candle, and so on,” Loseff adverts to the influence of Acmeism upon his literary development in his appreciation of painting. Moreover, he goes on to characterize the Acmeist influence in terms that will be important in the third section of this essay, as “this [Acmeist] tradition, which as far as possible shuns philosophizing [философствование] as such in verse, which rather restricts direct expressions of emotionality. For me this is almost a question of good tone.” We therefore have identified one way in which language and exile function in Loseff’s poetry: the invocation of the familiar, intimate objects from his lost home, from simple foods to the suburbs and landmarks of Leningrad. Like Mandelshtam’s inner Hellenism, Loseff’s poems name, describe, and otherwise invoke the intimate familiar world that has now slipped into memory. Examples from The Wondrous Raid include: the mention of Belomor filterless cigarettes (“Нелетная погода”); Kolkhoz Gazik trucks (“Памяти Пскова”); “Mishka the bear” chocolates (“Продленный день,” part VII); listening to “Radio Liberty” and reading the broadside “За культурный быт” (“Разговор”); “Tambovsky Wolf” vodka (“В гроссбух,” Тайный советник). An especially witty example of this strategy is:
В гальванической ванне кремлевский кадавр
потребляет на завтрак дефицитный кавьяр,
растворимую печень.
In a galvanic bath the Kremlin cadaver
demands for breakfast rationed caviar
and instant liver.
(from “Памяти Москвы”)
where “растворимую печень” is a paronomastic combination of two deficit goods in Soviet everyday life: instant coffee and canned cod-liver. And of course this exilic strategy, of invoking the intimate and pragmatically significant signs of the lost native world, can be extended to encompass Loseff’s frequently naming specific landmarks, suburbs, streets, canals, tram lines and metro stations of Leningrad in his poems.
The second discernible strategy within this conception of language as pragmatically familiar Zuhandenheit, is that of the poet who, rather than preserving the formerly pragmatically significant linguistic expressions now in the form of occurrent linguistic reminders, instead knowingly and compensatorily recreates an artificial simulacrum, as it were, by creating a comparatively private, aesthetic sphere of language use. Nabokov comes to mind here, as a writer who recuperates the experienced losses of exile as an aesthetic gain such that in Speak Memory he asserts: “The break in my own destiny affords me in retrospect a syncopal kick that I would not have missed for worlds” and he describes how he first devoted himself to the Russian language when at Cambridge:
At a bookstall in the Market Place, I unexpectedly came upon a Russian work, a secondhand copy of Dahl’s Interpretative Dictionary of the Living Russian Language in four volumes. I bought it and resolved to read at least ten pages per day, jotting down such words and expressions as might especially please me, and I kept this up for a considerable time. My fear of losing or corrupting, through alien influence, the only thing I had salvaged from Russia – her language – became positively morbid and considerably more harassing than the fear I was to experience two decades later of my never being able to bring my English prose anywhere close to the level of my Russian. I used to sit up far into the night, surrounded by an almost Quixotic accumulation of unwieldy volumes, and make polished and rather sterile Russian poems not so much out of the live cells of some compelling emotion as around a vivid term or a verbal image that I wanted to use for its own sake.
Nabokov later speaks of “the careful reconstruction of my artificial but beautifully exact Russian world” (270) he had completed during his time at Cambridge, and the scholar Elizabeth Klosty Beaujour surmises that Nabokov continued to write poems in Russian throughout his life (translating only a handful of them into English) “as a kind of double holiday” from his writing prose in English and as a means “to protect his cherished Russian language from interference and decay.” This impulse towards the creation of an aesthetic world – pragmatically, and hence ethically, inert – to compensate for the fragility and loss of one’s native world combined with the inscrutability of one’s adopted world perhaps goes some way towards explaining the Doppelgänger and doubledness that proliferate in Nabokov’s fictions, and the self-conscious ethical and emotional ambivalence attending the aesthetic pursuits of many of his fictional characters. In his somber reflections on exile Edward Said writes:
Much of the exile’s life is taken up with compensating for the disorienting loss by creating a new world to rule. It is not surprising that so many exiles seem to be novelists, chess players, political activists, and intellectuals. Each of these occupations requires a minimal investment in objects and places a great premium on mobility and skill. The exile’s new world, logically enough, is unnatural and its unreality resembles fiction.
The aesthetic redemption of exile lies in the creation of one’s own, artificial, singular artful refuge – “a new world to rule” – immune to the contingency of history and the ravages of dispropriation and alienation. This position is quite rare in Loseff’s poetry, but this short lyric from the cycle “Captions to Pictures Seen in Childhood” may serve as an example:
Штрих – слишком накренился этот бриг.
Разодран парус. Скалы слишком близки.
Мрак. Шторм. Ветр. Дождь. И слишком близко брег,
где водоросли, валуны и брызги.
Штрих – мрак. Штрих – шторм. Штрих – дождь. Штрих – ветра вой.
Крут крен. Крут брег. Все скалы слишком круты.
Лишь крошечный кружочек световой –
иллюминатор кормовой каюты.
Там крошечный нам виден пассажир,
он словно ничего не замечает,
он пред собою книгу положил,
она лежит, и он ее читает.
A stroke – this sloop is listing too steeply.
The sail is ripped to shreds. The cliffs are too close.
Murk. Storm. Wind. Rain. And too close the shore,
with its seaweed, its boulders, its spray.
A stroke is murk. A stroke is storm. A stroke is rain. A stroke the howl of wind.
The steep list. The steep shore. All the cliffs are too steep.
Only one tiny minute dot of light:
the porthole of the stern cabin.
There we can see a tiny passenger,
as if he notices nothing,
he’s laid a book before him,
it lies there, and he reads it.
The lyric resonates with a literary history reaching back to Lucretius’ image of the spectator on shore calmly watching a violent shipwreck at sea. Yet Loseff transports the calm soul of the spectator to the very sailor-reader himself amidst the impending shipwreck, by juxtaposing aesthetic experience with the catastrophes of the world. Escapism or acquiescence to one’s fate: the lyric does not judge.
On the other hand, if one takes language to have the being of physis, of a living organism, capable of processes of growth and decay, then one’s native language nourishes the writer, and the corresponding images of the exile’s fate are those of deracination and extirpation, of the writer’s being “uprooted” from the living language or the nourishing “soil” of his native culture and “transplanted” into a foreign, possibly life-negating or sterile environment, one that does not allow the writer to be “productive.” Here language is cast as a supraindividual organic process, from which the writer has been wrenched away; the writer is bereft of this larger vital process, as for instance when Brodsky writes:
Perhaps a metaphor will help: to be an exiled writer is like being a dog or a man hurtled into outer space in a capsule (more like a dog, of course, than a man, because they will never bother to retrieve you). And your capsule is your language. To finish the metaphor off, it must be added that before long the passenger discovers that the capsule gravitates not earthward but outward in space.
For one in our profession, the condition we call exile is, first of all, a linguistic event: an exiled writer is thrust, or retreats, into his mother tongue. From being his, so to speak, sword, it turns into his shield, into his capsule. What started as a private, intimate affair with the language, in exile becomes fate – even before it becomes an obsession or a duty. A living language, by definition, has a centrifugal propensity – and propulsion; it tries to cover as much as possible – and as much emptiness as possible. Hence the population explosion, and hence your autonomous passage outward, into the domain of the telescope or a prayer.
The centripetal propensity of language, it can be inferred from Brodsky’s metaphors, induces the exiled poet to sustain himself within his capsule of language, on linguistic life-support, as it were. This exilic strategy need not be a failure, so long as the writer can regraft himself, as it were, onto the living processes of his native language: the successful poet, one who not only survives but thrives, will reproduce the physis of language. The poet Bella Akhmadulina precisely describes those exiled writers in whom the language remains alive, as reproductive:
But in exceptional cases, as with Bunin, with Nabokov, then we are talking about people who have taken with them something that became … as if they procreate the Russian language inside themselves, and they succeed entirely. [Brodsky] doesn’t need to hear Russian spoken around him, he himself becomes a force that is ripe. He himself is now the garden and the gardener. And he has taken with him something within himself so that he is no longer a victim of his own absence, of his separation from living speech. He becomes a rich soil for the Russian language to take root. I said this at one time to Nabokov. He asked me to reply ‘Do you like my language?’ and I answered ‘Your Russian, it’s the best’, and he said ‘But it seems to me that it is like frozen strawberries’. And whatever fate does … Well, with such people what is fate? Here, they seem to coincide, one with the other. For that matter, he himself procreates the language.
We remain within the second conception of exile and language, but the valences have been inverted: uprooted from his native soil, the exceptional writer becomes himself the nourishing soil for the growth, development, and survival of the native language.
Loseff deploys this strategy as well, with an original and ironical twist: he tropes books, culture, the poet himself as “humus” or “compost” (перегной, компост), fertilizing the ongoing organic growth of the language. For example, the concluding strophe of his poem “Грамматика есть бог ума” reads
На перегное души и книг
сам по себе живет язык,
и он переживет столетья.
В нем нашего – всего лишь вздох,
какой-то ах, какой-то ох,
два-три случайных междометья.
Language lives independently
on the compost of souls and books,
and it will survive centuries.
In it all that remains of our own is
a sigh, an ‘ah,’ an ‘oh,’
two or three incidental interjections.
And the conception of language as physis constitutes the organizing trope of his poem-manifesto “Поэт есть перегной”:
* * *
Поэт есть перегной, в нем мертвые слова
сочатся, лопаясь, то щелочно, то кисло,
звук избавляется от смысла, а
аз, буки и т. д. обнажены, как числа.
улыбка тленная уста его свела,
и мысль последняя, как корешок, повисла.
Потом личинка лярвочку прогрызла,
бактерия дите произвела.
Поэт есть перегной.
В нем все пути зерна,
то дождик мочит их, то солнце прогревает.
Потом идет зима,
и белой пеленой
пустое поле покрывает.
(from Тайный советник)
* * *
A poet is compost, in him dead words
ooze out, bursting apart, whether alkaline or acidic,
Sound escapes from sense, and
the ABCs, letters, etc. are uncovered, like numbers,
a smile, prone to decay, united his lips,
and his final thought, like a rootlet, was left hanging.
Then a maggot consumed the little larva,
bacterium begot children.
A poet is compost.
In him lie all paths of grain,
moistened by showers, warmed by the sun.
Then winter comes,
and covers the empty field
with a white shroud.
Loseff consistently tropes literary creation as organic fermentation, as it were, of the poet or his works serving as compost for the life process of literature. With this trope he also invokes one of his favorite poets and fellow exile, Khodasevich, whose 1917 poem “Путём зерна” clearly functions as a subtext to Loseff’s poem above. In an interview he explained the trope by noting that he enjoyed observing the backyard garden started by his wife Nina:
Особенно мистическое впечатление на меня производит то, что происходит с перегноем – как из дряни, мусора, отбросов на глазах возникает абсолютно чистая, как пыльца цветов, черная субстанция, дающая новую жизнь. Это, пожалуй, один из самых метафизических процессов, которые нам дано наблюдать воочию. Поэтому метафора «поэт-перегной» (где-то у меня есть: «перегной душ и книг», т.е. культура) – для меня самая высокая метафора любого существования, любой, в том числе творческой, жизни.
An especially mystical impression is made on me by what happens with humus – how out of trash, garbarge, waste arises before one's eyes an absolutely pure, like the pollen of flowers, dark substance that gives new life. This this perhaps one of the most metaphysical processes that we are given to observe with our own eyes. Therefore the metaphor “poet-humus” (somewhere I have the line “humus of souls and books,” i.e. culture) – for me is the very highest metaphor of any existence, of any life, including the creative life.
But by subordinating and incorporating the poet as fodder within a supraindividual organic process, the success of which is contingent upon forces beyond his control (and winter, above, may be read as an image of exile), Loseff thereby inverts and ironizes the Romantic, Promethean version of this strategy, for it is not the poet’s calling, his self-assertion, which revitalizes the language and culture, but rather his decay, his decomposition: the poet perforce submits to a process larger than himself that entails his own destruction and transformation. This self-effacement of the poet in virtue of his being taken up into a greater organic process of cultural reproduction is but one motive for the elision or “absence” of a strong (read: romantic) lyrical hero in Loseff’s poems, a topic to which we shall turn in Part three.
The third conception of language, as having the same being as Dasein, as human being-in-the-world, indicates yet another possible relationship the exiled writer might adopt towards his lost native language and culture. In this position, the poet bereft of his own language, perforce occupies a reflective distance to himself, his past and his new world, a loss that paradoxically may also be also a gain in self-knowledge. Thus, for instance, Brodsky writes of Tsvetaeva that “the knack of estranging – from reality, from a text, from the self, from thoughts about the self – which may be the first prerequisite for creativity … developed in Tsvetaeva’s case to the level of instinct. What began as a literary device became the form (nay, norm) of existence … [E]strangement is at the same time both the method and the subject of [her poem Novogodnee].” And, as is often the case with Brodsky, his reflections on a fellow poet are thinly veiled self-reflections; as he says in an interview: “Perhaps exile is the poet’s natural condition. I felt a certain privilege in this coincidence of my existential condition with my profession.” Within the discursive practice of this third conception, the writer dispossessed of his immediate language is not bereft of native soil but liberated into individual, self-reflective autonomy, just as political liberalism sheds hidebound tradition in the founding gesture of modernity, a rejection of nostalgic self-pity whose ambivalence and vigilance Theodor W. Adorno captures when he writes:
For a man who no longer has a homeland, writing becomes a place to live. In it he inevitably produces, as his family once did, refuse and lumber. But now he lacks a store-room, and it is hard in any case to part from left-overs. So he pushes them long in front of him, in danger finally of filling his pages with them. The demand that one harden oneself against self-pity implies the technical necessity to counter any slackening of intellectual tension with the utmost alertness, and to eliminate anything that has begun to encrust the work or to drift along idly, which may at an earlier stage have served, as gossip, to generate the warm atmosphere conducive to growth, but is now left behind, flat and stale. In the end, the writer is not even allowed to live in his writing.
For Adorno, “[i]t is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home,” for the burden and benefit of moral autonomy is a reflexive distancing from one’s immediate given and from oneself; and in this sense the exiled poet is the spokesperson of modernity altogether. It is this conception of language and estrangement with which Edward Said concludes his reflections on exile: “Exile is life led outside habitual order. It is nomadic, decentered, contrapuntal; but no sooner does one get accustomed to it than its unsettling force erupts anew.”
Loseff avails himself of this exilic strategy in several poems (chiefly from the section “Photography Lesson” of Wondrous Raid) that stage self-reflexivity literally, through mirrors or the lyrical persona’s describing himself and his estrangement third-personally. Loseff’s use of mirrors and optical doubling once again recalls Khodasevich’s similarly themed poems, such as “Перед зеркалом” (1924) and his great poem of exile, “Соррентинские фотографии” (1926). The epigraph to “Перед зеркалом” quotes the beginning of Dante’s Inferno (“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita”), Mikhail Lozinsky’s famed translaton of which is which in turn quoted in at the beginning of Loseff’s three-part poem (“Земную жизнь пройдя до середины”) in terza rima, recounting an unnamed but serious sickness that sent him to the hospital when he was thirty-three-years old, and which perhaps led to a spiritual epiphany after which he began writing poetry. In this and thematically related poems the lyrical persona describes himself from an external standpoint, as his self is doubled into body and soul. Poems that incorporate self-reflective estrangement include the lyrics “Урок фотографии.1,” “Урок фотографии.2,” and the concluding strophes of the poems “В отеле” and “Я сна не торопил, он сразу состоялся.” If “grammar is the god of mind”, then this trope finds its fullest linguistic development in the solecistic doubling of “Местоимения,” the conclusion of which reads:
Вот мы лежим. Нам плохо. Мы больной.
Душа живет под форточкой отдельно.
Под нами не обычная постель, но
тюфяк-тухляк, больничный перегной.
Чем я, больной, так неприятен мне,
так это тем, что он такой неряха:
на морде пятна супа, пятна страха
и пятна черт чего на простыне.
Еще толчками что-то в нас течет,
когда лежим с озябшими ногами,
и все, что мы за жизнь свою налгали,
теперь нам предъявляет длинный счет.
Но странно и свободно ты живешь
под форточкой, где ветка, снег и птица,
следя, как умирает эта ложь,
как больно ей и как она боится.
We’re lying down. We’re not feeling well. We’re ill.
My soul lives by itself, under the open window vent.
There’s not a normal bed beneath us,
but a rotten-cotton mattress, hospital humus.
The reason that I, the sick one, am so
unpleasant to me, is because he’s such a slob:
soup stains on his ugly mug, stains of fear
and the devil knows what else on his sheets.
Something still flows within us in jolts,
while we lie there with frozen legs,
and every lie we’d uttered our life long
now presents us with a detailed bill.
But you live strangely and freely
under the window vent, among twig, snow and bird,
and watch closely as this lie dies,
following its pain and its fear.
(from “Местоимения”)
In these poems the estrangement of the lyric persona’s intellect from his body induces the self-reflexivity of exile, and parallels a thematically related set of poems in which Loseff describes his life in exile as a similarly incapacitating, defamiliarizing estrangement: poems such as “Открытка из новой англии.1,” and “Леволосев” from the collection Тайный советник. And these two thematic strands are woven together in the concluding lines of the poem “Один день Льва Владимировича,” as the lyrical hero arrives home:
Дверь за собой плотней прикрыть, дабы
в дом не прокрались духи перекрестков.
В разношенные шлепанцы стопы
вставляй, поэт, пять скрюченных отростков.
Еще проверь цепочку на двери.
Приветом обменяйся с Пенелопой.
Вздохни. В глубины логова прошлепай.
И свет включи. И вздрогни. И замри:
… А это что еще такое?
А это – зеркало, такое стеклецо,
чтоб увидать со щеткой за щекою
судьбы перемещенное лицо.
Close the door tight behind you,
lest the spirits of the crossroads steal into the house.
Place into your well-worn slippers, poet,
the five writhing sprouts of your foot.
Check the chain on the door once more.
Exchange greetings with Penelope.
Sigh. Shuffle off into the depths of your lair.
Turn on the light. And shudder. And freeze:
. . . And what is that?
That’s a mirror, just a piece of glass,
so that you can see, with the brush inside your mouth,
the displaced face of fate.
(from “Один день Льва Владимировича”)
As these examples demonstrate, the moment of self-reflective autonomy provides a standpoint for the (in Loseff’s case, most often disparaging) judgment of the lyrical hero’s corporeal and moral fragility, ultimately of “life led outside habitual order” that is the condition of exile.
Lastly, the fourth conception of language is that of a praxis, a rule-governed habitual practice that is not a vitalistic living process over and beyond its practitioners, but which constitutes a second nature for its members. Heidegger accords scant attention to this understanding of the being of language because for him such collective habits must be inauthentic, obscuring each member’s inevitable existentialist being-toward-death. Thus he dismisses common linguistic practices as mere Gerede (idle talk) in §35 of Sein und Zeit, whereas Wittgenstein sees such practices as the very ground for signs having significance, or “life”. We can understand a literary tradition as likewise a “form of life” for its practitioners, writers who master the tradition by understanding and developing its rules (genres, topoi, themes, etc.). This conception of the being of language as a praxis or tradition will help us understand more precisely Loseff’s relationship to literary exile. My claim, to be pursued in the subsequent two sections, is that, while Loseff combines these various views of language and exile, as we’ve seen, he adopts a very distinctive literary practice in his poetics and his poetic persona, and thereby lends a unique voice to the condition of literary exile.
II. Allusion and Exile
The four conceptions of the being of language outlined in the previous section in turn inflect the use of allusion by an exiled writer. For example, we saw above that Loseff sometimes follows the Mandelshtamian model of exilic language by preserving through allusion the familiar, pragmatic names (often of childhood objects) of his native language – thereby relying on language as Zuhandenheit or “presence-to-hand.”
We can approach further aspects of the unique relationship between allusion and exile in Loseff’s poetry by comparing his verse with that of his friend Joseph Brodsky, for both poets seem to operate with a conception of language as praxis or tradition (the fourth conception in our typology in Part I), but take up quite different, indeed at times contrary attitudes towards their linguistic praxis and tradition in their use of allusion. In his book-length study of Brodsky’s poems of exile, David Bethea identifies what he calls the poet’s “triangular vision,” the triangulation via reference to two poetic predecessors who are also exiles:
…Brodsky, one of the most cosmopolitan poets in the history of Russian poetry and certainly the one most at home in the Anglo-American tradition, constantly looks both ways, both to the West and the to Russia, as he continues Mandelstam’s dialogue with Hellenicism. His vision can be called triangular in that a Russian source, say Mandelstam, is subtly implanted within a Western source, say Dante, so that each source comments on the other, but as they do they also implicate a third source – Brodsky himself… this ingenius triangularity happens often enough to be, for the mature Brodsky, a kind of signature… In essence, Brodsky constantly “outflanks” his own marginal status through cultural triangulation.”
For instance, Bethea shows how in Brodsky’s poem “December in Florence” is organized by the trope of “intertextual mediation”: “Dante’s exile is mediated by Mandelstam’s, which in turn is mediated by Brodsky’s. All are different – the Italian not at home in Italy, the Russian not at home in Russia, the Russian not at home in Italy – yet all are also the same, each in its way reflecting the central paradox of banishment,” namely that the exile is one who is not at home and yet remembers or projects that exiled home. Bethea’s readings of Brodsky’s exile poems emphasize the self-assertion of the poet’s voice as an existential rebellion against the effects of banishment and exile, the threat of muteness, insignificance, oblivion. But there is another aspect of this poetics that is not at all an outflanking, for it is also the regeneration or reconvocation of a community, a republic of letters comprised of fellow exiled poets, and in this way Brodsky writes himself into the classical canon of Russian and Western literature.
It should be noted that there are similar allusive passages in Loseff’s poetry that appear to make this gesture of literary self-aggrandizement, of saluting the power of literature, or imagination more generally, to assuage the depredations of exile, but such invocations are often undercut by irony or ambivalence. For example, the four-strophe poem “В прирейнском парке,” the first lyric in a narrative cycle of Loseff’s guest professorship and travels in Europe in the mid-1980s entitled “Путешествие,” is a tour de force of mellifluous paronomasia, incorporating multilingual puns on the names Wagner, Liszt, and Mendelssohn in its second strophe:
В парке под сводами грабов и буков,
копятся горы награбленных звуков:
черного вагнера, красного листа,
желтого с медленносонных дерев –
вы превращаетесь в социалиста,
от изобилия их одурев.
In the park, under the arches of hornbeams and beeches
accumulate mountains of amassed sounds:
the black of wagner, the red of a leaf,
yellow from the meddlesome trees;
you’re turning into a socialist,
stupefied by their abundance.
The virtuosic technique seems to celebrate the pure musicality of the Russian language, but even as the third strophe begins with “Звуки без смысла”, a note of warning is introduced as the lyrical hero, invoking Nietzsche, asks where such musical intoxication leads. The final strophe reads:
В парке под музыку в толпах гуляк
мерно и верно мерцает гулаг,
чешутся руки схватиться за тачку,
в сердце все громче лопаты долбеж.
Что ж ты, душа, за простую подачку
меди гудящей меня продаешь?

In the park filled with music, amid the crowds of flaneurs
flashes the gulag, true and tried,
hands itching to grab the wheelbarrow,
the shovel’s slap echoes ever louder in your heart.
What’s with you, soul, you’ll sell me out
for a simple scrap of sonorous copper?
The “sonorous copper” (“медь гудящая”) in the concluding line alludes to the end of the eighth chapter of Gogol’s Taras Bulba:
И пойдет дыбом по всему свету о них слава, и все, что ни народится потом, заговорит о них. Ибо далеко разносится могучее слово, будучи подобно гудящей колокольной меди, в которую много повергнул мастер дорогого чистого серебра, чтобы далече по городам, лачугам, палатам и весям разносился красный звон, сзывая равно всех на святую молитву.
And the their fame will travel to the ends the entire world, and all who are born later will speak of them: for a mighty word resounds far and wide like the sonorous copper of the bell into which the master craftsman has poured much precious pure silver, so that its beautiful peal may resound afar through cities, hovels, palaces and villages, calling all alike to holy prayer.
The role of this allusion, however, ironizes the Brodskyan paradigm of invoking literary predecessors both to outflank exilic experience and to reinscribe oneself into the community of poets via a celebration of the power of the word: the very sonority of the Russian language threatens to betray the lyrical hero’s soul, for its aesthetic appeal cannot anesthetize its sobering semantic history, as “гуляк” resonates with “гулаг.”
Thus the use of allusion to the classical canon as a grand literary gesture is most often undercut in Loseff’s poems by a tone of satire, irony or absurdity. For example, consider the following poem:
* * *
А лес в неведомых дорожках –
на деле гроб.
Так нас учил на курьих ножках
Профессор Пропп.
Под утро удалось заснуть, и вновь
я посетил тот уголок кошмара,
где ко всему привычная избушка
переминается на курьих ножках,
привычно оборачиваясь задом
к еловому щетинистому лесу
(и лес хрипит, и хлюпает, и стонет,
медвежеватый, весь в сержантских лычках,
отличник пограничной службы – лес),
стоит, стоит, окошками моргает
и говорит: “Сия дуэль ужасна!”
К чему сей сон? При чем здесь Алешковский?
Куда идут ремесленники строем?
Какому их обучат ремеслу?
Они идут навстречу.
Здравствуй, племя
младое, незнакомое. Не дай
мне Бог увидеть твой могучий
возраст …
* * *
But a forest full of mysterious paths
is in fact a coffin.
Thus were we taught by chicken-legged
Professor Propp.
Towards morning I managed to fall asleep,
and once again I visited that corner of the nightmare
where a cottage accustomed to everything
shifts from one chicken foot to the other,
habitually turning its backside
to the bristling forest of firs
(and the forest wheezes, and snorts, and groans,
a bit like a bear, complete with sergeant’s stripes,
that paragon of border duty, the forest),
and stands and waits, winking with its tiny windows,
and says: “This duel is horrible!”
What’s the point of this dream? What’s Aleshkovsky doing in it?
Where are these trade schoolers marching to?
What trade are they being taught?
They are marching forward toward...
young, unknown tribe. God help me,
may I never witness your coming of age.
The dream described in the poem draws on Russian fairy-tale motifs, such as Baba Yaga’s cottage, as well as Vladimir Propp’s structuralist interpretations of folklore and fairy-tale characters and actions, but the line “This duel is horrible!” is a citation from the contemporary novel The Hand (Рука) by the poet’s friend and fellow exile Yuz Aleshkovsky. However, the final allusion in the poem suggests a different kind of “intertextual triangulation” than that which Bethea finds in Brodsky’s poems. “Greetings, young, unknown tribe” (ll. 16-17) picks up the earlier “again I visited that corner” (ll. 1-2), both allusions to Pushkin’s 1835 lyric “Вновь я посетил…” in which the poet returns after ten years to Mikhailovskoye, the estate to which he was exiled for two years. The concluding apostrophe addresses the grove of young trees that have appeared in the intervening years beside the tree old pines he remembers from his banishment:
Здравствуй, племя
Младое, незнакомое! Не я
Увижу твой могучий поздний возраст,
Когда перерастёшь моих знакомцев
И старую главу их заслонишь
От глаз прохожего. Но пусть мой внук
Услышит ваш привестный шум, когда,
С приятельской беседы возвращаясь,
Весёлых и приятных мыслей полон,
Пройдёт он мимо вас во мраке ночи
И обо мне вспомянет.
Greeting, O tribe,
So young and unbeknown to me! Not I
Shall ever see your might final soaring,
When you shall have outgrown my old familiars
And stand between and shield their ancient heads
From eyes of travellers. My grandson, though,
Will hearken to your murmuring when he,
Returning late from friends and conversation
And filled with gay and pleasant speculation,
Will pass close by you in the gloom of nightfall
And suddenly recall me.
The concluding strophe in Pushkin’s lyric offers classical Enlightenment closure, in which the sufferings experienced during the earlier banishment are recuperated in the natural cycle of growth and the historical process of political maturation, as the speaker anticipates the new trees’ providing protection to his erstwhile compatriots in exile (the older pine trees), as well as his grandson enjoying the freedom of thought and exchange of ideas and criticism denied to the poet himself. Joseph Brodsky cites the same apostrophe in his great poem of exile, “1972 год,” in which the lyric persona (Brodsky himself was merely 32 years old at the time, and had just been banished from the Soviet Union) reflects on his old age and frailty and above all his impending “speechlessness” (“Aging is growth of a new but a very fine / hearing that only to silence hearkens, ll. 47-48) as tropes of the experience of exile. The fourth stanza begins:
Здравствуй, младое и незнакомое
племя! Жужжащее, как насекомое,
время нашло, наконец, искомое
лакомство в твердом моем затылке.
В мыслях разброд и разгром на темени.
Точно царица – Ивана в тереме,
Чую дыхание смертной темени
Фибрами всеми и жмусь к подстилке.
Well met, then, joyful, young, unfamiliar
tribe! Buzzing around my jugular,
time has discovered at last its singular
sweetmeat in my resilient cranium.
Thoughts are uncombed and a pogrom scours
my scalp. Like Ivan’s queen in her tower,
all fibers sense the dark breathing powers;
I scramble the bedding but try to carry on.
(translated by Alan Myers with the author)
Brodsky’s innovation is to quote Pushkin’s apostrophe but redirect it to the new, strange debilitating powers of aging, themselves tropes of the effects of exile on the poet. Yet Brodsky’s poem, which he calls “the first cry of speechlessness” (l. 99), like Pushkin’s recuperates the losses of exile (and aging) by construing them as willful and proud sacrifices to language and literature:
Слушай, дружина, враги и братие!
Все, что творил я, творил не ради я
славы в эпоху кино и радио,
но ради речи родной, словесности.
За каковое раченье жречество
(сказано ж доктору: сам пусть лечится)
чаши лишившись в пиру Отечества,
нынче стою в незнакомой местности.
Listen, my boon brethren and my enemies!
What I’ve done, I’ve done not for fame or memories
in this era of radio waves and cinemas,
but for the sake of my native tongue and letters.
For which sort of devotion, of a zealous bent
(“Heal thyself, doctor,” as the saying went),
denied a chalice at the feast of the fatherland,
now I stand in a strange place. The name hardly matters.
(translated by Alan Myers with the author)
Thus the argument of Brodsky’s poem is the familiar one of poetic compensation for the sufferings of exile: “All that I could have lost has been totally / lost. But also I’ve gained approximately all those things I was in for” (“Все, что я мог потерять, утрачено / начисто. Но и достиг я начерно / все, чего было достичь назначено.” ll. 46-48). And in this sense Brodsky maintains the “Pushkin cult” that many poets of the first half of the twentieth century founded when they rediscovered him in their exile; as Marc Raeff notes, although these poets had believed themselves to have transcended Pushkin’s poetic forms and themes, “[i]n emigration … the educated Russians rediscovered Pushkin as someone truly their own, the poet closest to them not only by language and form, but also by this stress on individual creative freedom, a freedom utterly destroyed in Bolshevik Russia.” In particular, Pushkin’s poems of exile provide precisely the intertextual triangulation for Brodsky, as they did for Russian émigré-poets of earlier generations. Loseff, however, undercuts that redemptory reliance on Pushkin with his ironical quotation of the same apostrophe, this time directed to nameless Soviet “trade schoolers,” who incarnate the hollowing-out of the Russian cultural and literary heritage to which Brodsky is electing himself. Loseff sends up the august Pushkin cult in the poem “Пушкинские места,” which is ostensibly set in Mikhailovskoye and begins with allusions to Евгений Онегин and “Цыганы” (which Pushkin completed at Mikhailovskoye):
День, вечер, одеванье, раздеванье –
всё на виду.
Где назначались тайные свиданья –
в лесу? в саду?
Под кустиком в виду мышиной норки?
à la gitane?
Day, night, dressing, undressing:
there was no privacy.
Where did they have their secret trysts:
in the woods? in the garden?
In the shrubbery, within a mouse’s purview?
À la gitane?
The poem also quotes from two of Pushkin's famous lyrics written about his exile in Mikhailovskoye: “голубка дряхлая” (l. 13) alludes to “Няне,” and “чудное мгновенье” (l. 25) alludes to “К ***.” But the canonical significance of the poet’s place of exile is satirically displaced into his “historical sites” of prospective sexual conquest. This subversive, satirical tone in Loseff’s early poetry establishes, I would contend, the dominate relationship he adopts towards the literary tradition he knows so well, and yields the complex effect of many of Loseff’s poems: a compendious erudition that is at once lightly displayed and sardonically mocked.
III. Elision and Exile
We have considered four fundamental conceptions of the being of language – language as pragmatic presence-to hand (Zuhandenheit), language as living organism (physis), language as Dasein, and language as praxis – and considered various positions for an exiled poet to adopt in regard to each conception of language. We have also examined the “intertextual triangulation” method of allusion favored by Brodsky, the means by which he inscribes himself into the tradition by orientating himself in relation to a Russian high-cultural predecessor (e.g., Mandelshtam, Pushkin) as well as a Western literary predecessor (e.g., Dante, Donne, Auden, etc.), both of whom are themselves poets-in-exile. And we have seen how Loseff engages in sardonic ripostes to that strategy, through a satirical attitude towards those same traditions. Thus far we have sketched out Loseff’s poetic strategy chiefly via negativa, by contrasting it with some other strategies. In this final section I attempt a direct characterization of Loseff’s poetics of exile, and will do so by arguing that he adopts yet another, different relationship to language understood (in our fourth conception) as a distinct practice, or, to speak with Wittgenstein, a form of life. Here the picture of language is one of a recognizable and repeatable activity, for which the model of playing a game serves for Wittgenstein. It is my suggestion that Loseff remembers, and commemorates, his lost native language not through a redemptory invocation of predecessors in an act of self-inscription into that tradition (as does Brodsky), but rather by continuing the aesthetic practices in which he participated with his friends and fellow poets in Leningrad.
The second literary tradition that Loseff embraces in the interview discussed above is the futurist and absurdist avant-garde collective “OBERIU” (Объединение реального искусства, or the Association of Real Art), founded in 1928 by Daniil Kharms, Alexander Vvedensky and Nikolai Zabolotsky. The group was renowned for defamiliarizing everyday life by means of unannounced performance art, nonsensical verse and dramaturgical poetics anticipating the theatre of the absurd. Loseff acknowledges that during the mid-1950s:
Most probably the influence of Zabolotsky and the Oberiu people was immense. I don’t know whether [the influence] was on my poems directly, or simply on my development [формирование]. There was a period during which I simply was incessantly studying them, was digging up their texts, copying them, passing them around, and they somehow entered into my blood.
While studying philology at Leningrad State University in the late 1950s, Loseff became a member of what came to be called the “Philological School,” a group of literary and cultural artists inspired by the Futurists and the absurdist avant-garde movement OBERIU. The founding members were Mikhail Krasil’nikov and Iurii Mikhailov; not unlike the Situationists in Paris, they staged “futurist demonstrations.” In a memoir Loseff recounts one of their exploits:
Several eighteen-year-old freshmen – Eduard Kondratov, Mikhail Krasil’nikov, Iurii Mikhailov and two or three others, dressed in boots and peasant shirts on 1 December 1951 came to the university and, sitting on the floor in a circle during the break between lectures, drank kvass soup from a common bowl with wooden spoons, reciting poems of Khlebnikov that were suitable to the occasion and as it were realizing the Khebnikovian pan-Slavic utopia.
For these and similar antics Krasil’nikov and Mikhailov were suspended from the university and sent to work in factories for eighteen months. When Loseff and his friends Sergei Kulle, Aleksandr and Eduard Kondratov, Leonid Vinogradov, Mikhail Eremin, and Vladimir Ufliand enrolled in the university in 1954, they joined the group, taking autumn dips in the Neva River amid the drifting ice floes, and staging their own alcohol-lubricated futurist “happenings”:
With Vinogradov and Eremin we walked along Nevsky Prospect in the evening. A crowd of people was hastily moving on account of the frost. I said: ‘It would be nice to lie down for a bit.” “It would be,” said my companions and began to lie down. We laid on our backs on the sidewalk at the entrance of the former Masonic lodge building, where the editorship of the journal Neva was later housed. As usual, the passers-by did not know how to react. Several stopped and with respectful concern asked what was going on. We answered in a friendly manner that we were resting. From this simple answer there suddenly appeared on the normal faces the reflection of tortuous work of thought, as though it were literally intolerable for the common Soviet passer-by; and the people hastened to leave. We looked at the stars, normally not visible above Nevsky Prospect, and said something befitting the study of the stars: about Kant’s moral imperative and, a topic fashionable at the time, about Fedor Mikhailovich on the balance of the Kantian antinomies.
The combination of absurdist, anti-conformist attitude with a profound knowledge of Russian culture is a defining characteristic of the “Philological School.” In the preface to The Wondrous Raid Loseff recounts how, although as a young man he had written verse and puppet-theatrical plays for children, he started writing verse only in 1974, at the age of 37 (in fact the age at which Pushkin died), in part because his literary friends had either emigrated (Brodsky had left two years previously), had ceased writing, or were writing less, in part as a result of a serious illness that induced careful and sustained self-examination (resulting in poems of self-reflection examined above). Two years later he emigrated to the United States, a geographical dislocation that consummated, as it were, the earlier dislocation from his literary friends, from their communal avant-garde practices. This loss, I suggest, might be considered the organizing basis for Loseff’s poetics: the loss of those practices is what is commemorated in his exilic poetry. In a roundtable discussion of the condition of exile, the philosopher and writer William Gass offered these thoughts:
Exile, in this ancient sense, is a severing of blood; it is a loss of family ties, of clan identity, of cultural definition. You are not exiled from your work if you have simply lost a job when another job will do as well. Socrates [had accepted the state’s offer of exile rather than hemlock] would not only have been deprived of his position in the polis, he would have been deprived of that philosophical activity which was his life.
On Gass’s suggestion, Socrates chose death over banishment because he could not countenance forsaking his philosophical activity; I am suggesting something analogous (though the poet might scoff at the pretentious comparison) in the case of Loseff, that his poems are not, in the first instance, self-conscious attempts to reinscribe himself into a tradition and cultural heritage from which he had been physically separated, but rather the continuation of the poetic and absurdist practices of his native community.
We can bring this distinction into sharper relief by considering a complaint that is sometimes raised against Loseff by his critics: the lack of a strong, positive lyrical hero or autobiographical persona in his poems. The critic Dmitrii Bykov identifies “Loseff’s main lyrical contradiction” as the paradox that “there is no lyrical ‘I’, no homeland other than literature, no love, God is half-way present, can be guessed at… but there is certainly no hope…. With Loseff it’s not the case that there is no hero: he’s just not here. He’s not at home.” And in an important afterword he wrote to accompany early publication of Loseff’s poems in 1979, Brodsky described his friend as “ a restrained poet, extremely restrained.” Bykov interprets the restraint or elision of a lyrical ‘I’ as a reaction to the pains and disappointments Loseff has undergone, and draws a revealing contrast with Brodsky:
Лосев - поэт по преимуществу теплый, но настолько ущемленный и травмированный, настолько подавленный миром, в котором ему приходилось жить-выживать (он и писать-то смог, только покинув этот мир и переселившись в более комфортную среду), что эмоция прорывается в его тексты чрезвычайно редко. Но там, где у Бродского в ледяной пустоте витийствует лирический герой, как раз очень даже полнокровный, живой и осязаемый, там у Лосева в ледяной твердыне мира образуется спасительная лакуна пустоты; эта-то пустота и есть авторское 'я', со всех сторон стиснутое чужой плотью. Где герой Бродского упраздняет мир, герой Лосева упраздняет себя.
Loseff is primarily a warm poet, but to such a degree wounded and traumatized, to such a degree overwhelmed by the world, in which he had to live and survive (he was only able to write after he had abandoned this world and resettled in more comfortable circumstances), that emotion breaks through his texts extremely rarely. But whereas in Brodsky the lyrical hero orates in the icy emptiness, and is in fact quite full-blooded and alive and palpable, in Loseff in the icy stronghold of the world a salvational lacuna of emptiness arises: this emptiness is the authorial ‘I’, from all sides squeezed in by foreign flesh. Where the hero of Brodsky abolishes the world, the hero of Loseff abolishes himself.
And in one of the most astute and judicious essays on Loseff’s early verse, G. S. Smith likewise observes that “[t]he emotions associated with love and loss of country have been cauterized or repressed… The process of cauterizing emotion, perhaps thereby to master it intellectually, is conducted in the first instance by the poet in relation to his own self.” While the emotionally detached or even absent lyrical hero in Loseff’s verse is undeniable, the interpretation proffered by Bykov and Smith perhaps hews too closely to the Romantic tradition of the Byronic poet-hero favored by Pushkin and Brodsky, a tradition which we’ve seen Loseff subverts and satirizes. Moreover, emphasizing Loseff’s restrained and distant lyrical persona obscures what another critic, Sergey Gandlevskii, identifies as a new type of lyrical hero in Loseff’s verse, the “intellectual-debauchee,” or what Artem Skvortsov calls the “professor-hooligan,” which, it should be quickly added, should not immediately be identified with the author. Rather, the lyrical persona of many of Loseff’s poems is itself a further aspect of the literary praxis of the “Philological School,” which accorded nearly absolute significance to intoxication. Loseff writes:
Everything good in me I owe to vodka. Vodka was the catalyst of my spiritual emancipation, it opened doors into interesting undergrounds of the subconscious, and at the same time trained me not to be afraid – of people, of authorities.
It’s quite remarkable that with such an intensive fondness for vodka only one or two of our group really became drunkards. We damaged our health, not to mention our careers, but that is another matter, altogether a small price to pay for freedom, for understanding, for wonderful poems.
The deflationary allusion to Gorky’s famous dictum “Everything good in me I owe to books,” the more delicate nods to Huxley and Dostoevsky, and the intertwining of aesthetic, psychological and political notions of liberation within Loseff’s apologia pro vino suo amount to interlinear notes to several poems in The Wondrous Raid, including its first cycle: “In Memory of Vodka.”
Loseff’s poems, I would claim, are not constructed around the presentation of a lyrical hero or a ‘self,’ and therefore critics expecting such a poetic self will surely be disappointed. Instead, as Gass above intimates, we should shift our focus from the self to the poetic practices consistently exercised in Loseff’s poetry, which allude to, and are in remembrance of, his fellow members of the “Philological School,” whose absurdist and formalist principles, rather than the persistence of a poetic self, are central. In Loseff’s poems we should see the self as сдвиг, the formalist device of displacement and juxtaposition – and among members of OBERIU and the “Philological School,” often deployed in order to generate absurd, comic or ironical effects.
Loseff, the poeta doctus, in an interview notes the etymological relations between “ткань” (“cloth”) and “текст” (“text”), which both derive from the Latin verb “texere”, “to weave,” concluding: “All of us in some sense or other are weaving the text of our life.” Interwoven into the very fabric of Loseff’s life is however, the experience of dislocations on the one hand, and on the other the creative, fictional, even Aesopian nature of parts of that life as text. The concept around which meet psychology, history, and stylistics for Loseff’s poetry is the Russian Formalist notion of “сдвиг”: “shift,” “displacement” or “dislocation.” Viktor Shklovsky adopted the concept and applied it to a variety of levels of literary analysis (syntactic, semantic, aesthetic, literary-historical) as one device by which a literary device achieves “остранение”: “defamiliarization,” the effect a literary text has of making reality strange, or new, in virtue of the text’s фактура, or density. The density of the text’s weave, to remain with Loseff’s chosen image, is determined by its shifts, displacements, such that the text constitutes a new experience or perception of reality.
Unlike the impulses outlined earlier in this essay to commemorate a lost homeland by re-collecting words or familiar objects, or by stylizing a lyrical persona to reinscribe himself into a post-exilic literary tradition, Loseff’s creations are decidedly poetic acts of displacement, in the Formalist sense: shifts in perspective, syntax, semantics, that “lay bare the device” of word- and life-weaving in the context of exile. The poems are not a flight into fiction or literariness as such, but the assertion of the literariness of one’s self-understanding, of one’s attitude towards one’s experience; and in some, extreme cases, one can shift oneself, perhaps only infinitesimally, from being object of historical experience to becoming a kind of subject again, by creating displacements of literary exuberance and subversive brilliance. Loseff’s poems in The Wondrous Raid are first and foremost exercises in poetic intellect to produce absurdist and satirical pleasure, just as he did twenty years previously with his now displaced comrades of the “Philological School.” Loseff’s exilic strategy, derived from the fourth, Wittgensteinian conception of the being of language as praxis, is to remain, however displaced be may be, a practicing member.