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Mastering Chaos

The Metafictional Worlds of Evgeny Popov

Jeremy Morris

«This is an interesting and important book, the first attempt to encapsulate the highly idiosyncratic œuvre and career of Evgeny Popov, a major and controversial figure in the late Soviet and post-Soviet literary landscape.» (Michael Pushkin, University of Birmingham)
«Morris is excellent in his treatment of the writer’s attitude towards the past and history; and he differentiates between Popov’s more nuanced and ambiguous view of the Soviet experiment and those writers, likewise liberals, who have adopted a ‘confessional’ stance.» (Robert Porter, University of Bristol)
«A broad contextualization of the works of this important Russian author.» (Christine Engel, University of Innsbruck)
This is the first book devoted to the writings of Evgeny Popov (born 1946), a major and controversial figure in the late Soviet and post-Soviet literary landscape. The author uses a wide range of primary and secondary sources, many of them in Russian, alongside detailed analysis of the novels and stories themselves. The introduction charts the course of Popov’s personal and professional biography, including major turning points such as the Metropole affair of 1979. A chapter on critical contexts provides a clear account of the history of Popov’s reception. Other chapters focus on the first collection of short stories and the complexities of narrative voice, the concept of the ‘non-elucidatory principle’ at the heart of Popov’s poetics, and the short story cycles in Metropole and Catalogue, from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Finally the author addresses the key phenomenon of Popov’s self-fictionalization in both his shorter and longer works up to the present day.


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Despite the attempt in this book to present a rounded portrait of Popov’s writing, it is dif ficult to disagree with the broad postmodernist position- ing of his works as set out by the vanguard of post-Soviet literary criticism, Mark Lipovetsky and Viacheslav Kuritsyn. Brian McHale describes post- modernism as requiring a turning away from epistemological questioning towards a general ontological, post-cognitive questioning where ‘[t]he poet struggles to keep his words from saying something, although, like the carrot, they want to go to seed’.1 This would serve as an apt description of much of Popov’s art, from any period of his work. In this book however, I have in my readings consciously shied away from placing Popov’s work too definitively within the postmodernist Russian canon, especially consider- ing the author’s reservations (and not infrequent bemusement) about that label as applied to his work. Instead, while demanding a complex reading of his oeuvre within a context after and in communication with Russian, Soviet and other modernisms in general, I have tried to bring out the rich- ness of his writing, its diversity, while not ignoring the many intersecting points within it. While this is meant to be a book-length introduction to the author, inevitably it builds on existing criticism without being able to acknowledge fully its debt to the path-breaking work on Popov carried out in the 1990s. In particular the work by Robert Porter and Christine Engel should be singled out as formative inf luences. Similarly, while I have...

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