Critical Context

Although The Foundation Pit is one of Andrei Platonov’s most important works, it has never been published in the Soviet Union. This does not mean, however, that it has not influenced the course of Soviet prose. The work was circulated in manuscript long before its publication abroad in the 1970’s. Platonov’s experiments with language and his vision of the absurd have helped shape some of the best of post-Stalin prose, official and unofficial.

Platonov first began to gain fame in the 1920’s. Stories that would eventually go into his first collection, Epifanskie shlyunzy (1927; epiphany), attracted attention for the cleverness of their style. Platonov’s original use of language, as well as his intense focus on the relationship between humans and their machines (he himself was an engineer) earned for him a place among the emerging young writers who were exploring the effects on an old rural consciousness of a new ideology and technology.

Neither Platonov’s idiosyncratic use of language nor his bleak portrayal of rural life was easily accepted in the 1930’s. He became an object of derision for his attitudes and anti-Soviet slander. Platonov, however, had many defenders and managed to publish such powerful stories as “Usomnivshiysya Makar” (“Makar the Doubtful”), “Vprok” (for the future good), and “Fro.” Hostile criticism, however, as well as the arrest of his only son, effectively ended his writing career by 1940. Platonov continued to write, however—journalistic reworkings of folktales—until his death in 1951. Platonov’s best work, which includes The Foundation Pit and his novel Chevengur (1972; English translation, 1978) is more than simply satire; it is the purest example of surrealism and the absurd in Russian literature.