In tracing her husband’s—and her own—social and literary position, Nadezhda sympathetically addresses the Acmeist rejection of “symbolist” language in favor of precision and clarity and proceeds to outline the Mandelstams’ own joint but highly individual stance on nearly all matters. Osip was considered “impossible” by most orderly writers and by every writer’s organization, just as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sinyavsky have been found to be equally impossible. Early in his career, Osip’s art came to be considered illegal; in his isolation he came to believe, like Sinyavsky, that all authentic art is essentially illegal. Nevertheless, the tradition of being ungovernable runs deep in Russian letters. Fyodor Dostoevski would doubtless have been found to be altogether out of bounds and even more impossible, if not clearly mad, by the totalist democratic and socially homogenized standards of today’s empires.
Osip was impatient with Formalism and any division at all between form and content. Both he and Nadezhda were like Sinyavsky, the sui generis dissident, who considers himself, as an artist, constitutionally an enemy of all cant and systems. Osip, though kindly, had little truck with people, and Nadezhda was truculent about art and politics to the point where she was driven to declaring all organizations and most people’s ideas to be “rot,” pious or not. As artists, the Mandelstams were scarcely socially acceptable. Even...
(The entire section is 544 words.)