Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 560

Although ostensibly a work of science fiction, “Pkhentz” may be read as a satiric allegory on the tragic consequences of the Russian Revolution, as well as a commentary on the plight of the creative artist in the Soviet Union. The alien lands in the Soviet Union in the first part...

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Although ostensibly a work of science fiction, “Pkhentz” may be read as a satiric allegory on the tragic consequences of the Russian Revolution, as well as a commentary on the plight of the creative artist in the Soviet Union. The alien lands in the Soviet Union in the first part of the twentieth century, at the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917. Abram Tertz (the pen name Andrei Sinyavsky used for political reasons) suggests that the Bolshevik seizure of power was a mistake similar to the mistaken crash-landing of the alien spaceship that went off course and took seven and a half months to land, approximately the same amount of time between the Russian Revolution in February, 1917, and the Bolshevik seizure of power in October, 1917.

The Russian Revolution, like the crash-landing, was an unintended, chance happening. The alien states: “In fact we had no intention of flying into space . . . we were going to a holiday resort. . . . Then . . . something occurred, . . . we lost buoyancy . . . and down we fell, into the unknown, for seven and a half months we went on falling . . . and by pure chance we landed up here.” The alien, like Robinson in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), is the sole survivor and must face the problem of adapting himself to a hostile environment. “The air was wrong, the light was wrong, and all the gravities and pressures were strange.”

Tertz draws an analogy between the alien’s hostile environment and the hostile political atmosphere confronting writers after the revolution. He personally identifies himself with the alien by giving him his own first name, Andrei. The alien’s assumed identity as half-Russian, half-Polish, recalls Tertz’s personal biography. Most significant, the alien loses sight of one eye in 1934, the year of the first Congress of Soviet Writers, which followed the 1932 edict of the Communist Party, in which all writers were organized into a single union with a single board of censorship. At the 1934 convention, the delegates approved a Party resolution establishing the doctrine of socialist realism as the sole standard for writing. Henceforth, all literature would be realistic in form and socialist in content. This doctrine stifled literary creativity and resulted in a uniform, conformist art to which Tertz objected.

In an original and provocative book-length essay, Chto takoe sotsialisticheskii realizm (1959; On Socialist Realism, 1960), Tertz attacked socialist realism. He called for a new “phantasmagoric art . . . in which the grotesque will replace realistic descriptions of ordinary life” and which will “be truthful with the aid of the absurd and the fantastic.”

Through his fantastic tale of the plight of Andrei, the alien, Tertz associates the position of the alien as an outsider and nonconformist with that of the writer in the Soviet Union. At the end of the story, Tertz suggests the need to overcome the cultural isolation that Russian writers have experienced by being separated from their Western European counterparts. When the alien apostrophizes his lost homeland in his native language, which he only dimly remembers, he uses two Western European words, bonjour and gutenabend. The concluding apostrophe is Tertz’s plea to reestablish the link between Soviet literature and a lost linguistic and cultural tradition represented by both prerevolutionary Russian literature and the literature of Western Europe.Oh native land! PKHENTZ! GOGRY TUZHEROSKIP! I am coming back to you. GOGRY! GOGRY! GOGRY! TUZHEROSKIP! TUZHEROSKIP! BONJOUR! GUTENABEND! TUZHEROSKIP! BU-BU-BU! MIAOW-MIAWO! PKHENTZ!

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