Critical Context

Andrei Sinyavsky is the godfather of the post-Stalin renaissance in Russian literature. Although the arid, official policy of Socialist Realism has been relaxed in the Soviet Union, almost all intellectually provocative and stylistically innovative Russian literature has come from underground or emigre artists. This new writing has picked up and continued the two major strands of the Russian literary tradition that were broken off around 1930 with the introduction of Socialist Realism: the “critical realism” tradition represented by such figures as Leo Tolstoy, and the more aesthetically oriented modernist, antirealist tradition represented by figures such as Andrey Bely. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and his followers have resurrected the older tradition. Sinyavsky has continued and developed the techniques of the earlier avant-garde and pointed the way for younger Russian writers. Both Vassily Aksyonov, the most important younger writer to emerge in the 1960’s, and Sasha Sokolov, the leading stylist of the 1970’s and 1980’s, follow the path of “phantasmagoric art” advocated by Sinyavsky in his seminal 1956 essay, On Socialist Realism.

Sinyavsky has continued to contribute to his artistic vision since his emigration. In addition to teaching at the Sorbonne, he has established his own publishing house and journal under the name Sintaksis. His irreverent and idiosyncratic critical studies of such icons of Russian literature as Alexander Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol have been extremely controversial among Russian readers. Noteworthy among his nonscholarly works is Golos iz khora (1973; A Voice from the Chorus, 1976), a collection of meditations, quotations, and aphorisms culled from his labor-camp letters to his wife. His many stories are stylistically akin to what will probably remain Sinyavsky’s major contribution to Russian literature, Spokoinoi nochi.