Difficult truths in memorializing Osip Mandelstam
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This dissertation considers the life and art of Osip Mandelstam in the 1930s, under the aspect of a disjunction between Mandelstam's posthumous image and the biographical evidence that emerged between 1993 and 2010. It traces this disjunction not solely to prior lack of information but also to the moral ambiguities that complicate the reception of this biographical material. Among the chief difficulties of Mandelstam's biography is his testimony to the OGPU, in which Mandelstam gave the names of those among his friends to whom he had recited his "Stalin Epigram." Close analysis of the exact words of the interrogation protocols, along with memoir evidence, is used to establish that the protocols constitute digests of information elicited previously by coercion. This conjecture is supported by reading the relevant parts of Nadezhda Mandelstam's memoirs under the aspect of the double bind--a pathogenic social situation studied by Gregory Bateson and described in structure and in its potential for inducing psychosis. Mandelstam's composition of the "Ode" to Stalin is considered in the light of new evidence about his exile and its effects on the poet's state of mind. The dissertation proceeds largely by scrutinizing the language of witnesses and their interpreters, of poets, understood as witnesses of truths available to the creative imagination, and of critics, the interpreters of poets and witnesses of the workings of poems and language. The idea of witness literature is considered in relation to the concept of textual witnesses, in the editorial sense, and to a specific instance of the latter in the marginalia of Nadezhda Mandelstam. Because this study must find a footing in the English language while attending closely to the Russian, it makes recourse to poets and critics who wrote in English, whose judgments and sensibilities help establish a broader frame of reference for a discussion focused on Stalin's Russia. Geoffrey Hill's particular artistic engagement with Mandelstam is contemplated as an instance of a special kind of bearing witness--the witness of imagination.
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