Studia Litterarum (2019-09-01)

The New York Text in Contemporary Russian-American Fiction

  • Evgenia M. Butenina

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 4, no. 3
pp. 158 – 171


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Stemming from the classical studies by Yuri Lotman and Vladimir Toporov on urban semiotics, the paper focuses on the main features of the so called New York text of Anglophonic Russian American fiction where the “Hudson note” of Russian literature that appeared in the 19 th century gains force. Many Russian immigrants of the fourth wave — Gary Shteyngart, Lara Vapnyar, Irina Reyn, Keith Gessen, Michael Idov, and Anya Ulinich — live in New York and emphasize their New York identity as authors. All of them are professional philologists who, unlike all the previous generations of immigrants, received their education in the USA. To perceive their intercultural status, they transfer some features of the most literary-centric Russian text — that of Petersburg — onto the New York text. The paper argues that Russian-American literature grasped some of the main features of the Petersburg text and transferred them into the narrative of the most immigrant American city: these are eccentricity (the location “on the edge”), eschatological myth, the (meta)literary, theatricality, and transitory state. Thus, the coexistence of two cultures finds its natural expression in the hybridization of the textual space within the immigration narrative framework. However, as а result of such cultural transfer, New York becomes a less tragic literary “brother” of Petersburg, to echo the line of Osip Mandelshtam’s apocalyptic poem that gave name to Petropolis by Anya Ulinich.