A Voice from the Chorus Critical Essays

Andrei Sinyavsky


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

It is fitting that A Voice from the Chorus should conclude with a vision of a book, “hundred-mouthed,” fulfilling its destiny independent of its creator, for Sinyavsky believes that the writer serves as a “form” for a power greater than himself. “I have no program except art,” Sinyavsky said in an interview in The Times Literary Supplement (May 23, 1975). “All my life I have wondered what art is and why it exists.” Those questions are not definitively answered in A Voice from the Chorus; Sinyavsky suggests that it is of the essence of art to elude precise definition: “Art is always a more or less impromptu act of prayer. Try to catch hold of smoke.” Nevertheless, he does not cease exploring the nature of art; that quest lends continuity to his wide-ranging reflections.

Above all, he emphasizes the absolute freedom of art. No demands for social utility, no partisan claims, may be allowed to constrain that freedom. Thus, despite the fact that it no longer serves the purpose of concealment, Sinyavsky continues to use the pseudonym Abram Tertz for most of his publications. Sinyavsky originally took this name from an underworld ballad; it suggests art’s perennially subversive nature. By the same token, Sinyavsky rejects the demands of realism: “Art is not the representation, but the transfiguration of life.” Indeed, Sinyavsky argues that “realism” is largely a fiction; so-called realistic painting, he notes, is a triumph of artifice, made possible by the viewer’s unconscious acceptance of countless conventional devices.

What he says about art in general, Sinyavsky reaffirms for writing in particular: “From the start, from the very first paragraph,” he declares,you must write in such a manner as to cut off every way of retreat and thereafter live only by the law of the train of words now set in motion. . . ....

(The entire section is 772 words.)