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Persisting in Folly

Russian Writers in Search of Wisdom, 1963–2013


Oliver Ready

The theme of foolishness has long occupied an unusually prominent place in Russian culture, touching on key questions of national, spiritual, and intellectual identity. In literature, the figure of the fool – and the voice of the fool – has carried additional appeal as an enduring source of comic and stylistic innovation. Never has this appeal been stronger than in the past half-century, whether as a reaction to the «scientific atheism» and official culture of the late-socialist era, or as a response to the intellectual and moral disorientation that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Persisting in Folly traces three contrasting phases within this period: the «praise of folly» that underpins acknowledged samizdat masterpieces by Venedikt Erofeev, Yuz Aleshkovsky, and Sasha Sokolov; the sceptical appraisals of the Russian cult of the fool offered in the 1980s by Viktor Erofeev and Dmitry Galkovsky; and the legacy of this conflicted tradition in post-Soviet prose. By combining close readings with a rich comparative and contextual framework, this book charts a new path through recent Russian literature and offers a wide-ranging consideration of the causes and consequences of Russian writers’ enduring quest for wisdom through folly.

«Any idiot can list idiots, but it takes a steady taxonomical touch to raise the fool to the level of national treasure - to canonize him, or at least wield him like a can-opener on a literature that has so far stayed sealed. Luckily for us, such a touch is exactly what Oliver Ready demonstrates in his new survey, Persisting in Folly: Russian Writers in Search of Wisdom, 1963-2013. His invaluable book accomplishes two critical functions, first defining the traditional figure of the Russian fool, and then following him through what remains a largely uncharted region of world literature: late- and post-Soviet Russian fiction.»
(Josh Billings, Los Angeles Review of Books, Nov. 2017)

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«[...] Oliver Ready’s painstaking unravelling of the interaction between individual thought and cultural patterns will be of value to anyone trying to understand the fate of not just the Russian intellectual in recent decades.»
(Rajendra A. Chitnis, TLS The Times Literary Supplement April 2018)

Read the review here