The translation of the Preface from Russian edition of Secret Journal 1836 - 1837 by A. S. Pushkin

 

You've done goodness knows what, and who's going to answer for it?
Pushkin?

A common turn-of-phrase

Whose Pushkin?
By Olga Vozdvizhenskaya

 

As with any real-life phenomenon, Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin has become over the two hundred years of his existence in Russian culture something much more than the subject of countless studies, scholarly findings, hypotheses and riddles. A kind of mythology has grown up around the personality of the poet, just as it has around other heroes from our distant and not so distant past--from Alexander Nevsky to Boris Eltsyn. Moreover, official biographical "vitae" and unauthorized rumors are as a rule equally far from the truth. And upon closer inspection the truth turns out to be more complicated and contradictory than it appears in the linear trajectory of a hero's life in this or that Russian myth. The reason is clear--any hero is in the end a living person and life is never just black and white.

Pushkin has been seen in different ways by his contemporaries and by subsequent generations, depending on the time and place. For example, in February of 1937 in the Columned Hall of the Palace of Soviets, N. Tikhonov gave a speech in honor of the one hundredth anniversary of Pushkin's death, in which he stated that love for Pushkin, like love for People's Commissar Ezhov, was a form of love for Comrade Stalin. At the same time, an anecdote began to circulate about two "Voroshilovsky riflemen" who sincerely could not understand why there was a monument to Pushkin in the center of Moscow, when D'Antes was the better shot. In addition to the real Alexander Sergeevich, the Sovietized Pushkin of Tynianov and the frivolous society Pushkin in Life of Veresaev co-exist in the consciousness of the reader. Mikhail Bulgakov, who has himself become a classic of Russian literature offered a very unique evaluation of Pushkin through the hero of Master and Margarita. There was “My Pushkin” announced with all the passion of Marina Tsvetaeva, but the Pushkin of Daniel Kharm's paradoxical anecdotes and that of Vladimir Nabokov's commentary on Eugene Onegin soon took their place alongside "her Pushkin."

Two Moscow middle schools carry the name of Pushkin. The first, situated on the site of the house in which Alexander Sergeevich was born, was named in honor of the poet in 1937 to mark the one hundredth anniversary of his death, while the second, a contemporary school with a humanities-based curriculum, was so named in 1999 to mark the two hundredth anniversary of his birth. Of course, students in both schools study the life and work of the poet, but how different is the Pushkin canonized in 1937 during the "cult of personality" from that "sun of Russian poetry" that shone with particular brilliance over a free Russia in 1999. Finally, previously unknown documents and materials are from time to time discovered, which shed new light of the poet's life and milieu, so that every generation must re-interpret the Pushkin myth in its own way. This is the greatness of Pushkin: he remains our contemporary and his work continues to be relevant for Russia for all time. But whose Pushkin is the "truest"? And in general, to whom does Pushkin belong? To everyone. That's how it should be. Pushkin, in the words of Apollon Grigoriev, is "our everything," and he is all ours. But because he belongs to everyone, each of us has the right to look at the great poet from the angle s/he prefers. And here before you now in yet another hypostasis of the poet.
In 1986 a book came out in the United States that carried Pushkin's name and it produced a tidal wave of reactions that continue to this day. In the "Necessary Preface" the publisher--the poet and prose writer Mikhail Armalinsky--recounts the story of how he acquired the manuscript of The Secret Journal, and there is no need to repeat it now. The Soviet (and not just the Soviet) press immediately heaped abuse on the publisher that varied only in the degree of malice it contained, ranging from a disgusted pursuing of the lips to demands that the publisher be subjected to corporal punishment. Of course, the book was declared a forgery, although it should be pointed out that Armalinsky has never insisted that this was an authentic text by Pushkin. Armalinsky himself was labeled an erotomaniac, a pervert, a peddler of pornography, and a lot of other things, but what inspired the greatest indignation was the fact that someone had dared to sully a "national relic" considered by many to be a national idol, radiant in his uncorrupted purity. (Just as no mention could be made of the queen's legs, no mention could be made of another part of the great poet's anatomy. There may be spots on the sun, but not on the "sun of Russian poetry"--never. And in general Pushkin experienced only "beautiful paroxysms of the soul", not of the flesh.) The publishers didn't take this lying down. They returned the abuse as best they could, all the while egging on their accusers to publish The Secret Journal in the poet's homeland do that readers could decide for themselves what's what.
The outcry was so great that it naturally produced new waves of interest in The Secret Journal. The book, now aglow with the aura of taboo, was re-released and translated into foreign languages. In the last fifteen years, The Secret Journal has undergone several Russian-American editions and has been released in so many countries, it would be instructive to see a complete list. As of May 2001 The Secret Journal has been published in the following languages:

* Russian: Pushkin, A.S. Tainye zapiski 1836-1837 godov. Minneapolis: M.I.P. Company, 1986. This edition was re-released in 1989, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, and 1997;
* English: Pushkin, A.S. Secret Journal 1836-1837. Minneapolis: M.I.P. Company, 1986. Excerpts were published in Penthouse Forum Feb. 1991:50-53, 84, 86;
* Italian: Puskin, Aleksandr S. Diario segreto 1836-1837. Rome: Lucarini Editore, 1991. Excerpts were published in the magazine L'Espresso 43 Sept. 1991: 110-112;
* German: Puschkin, Alexander S. Geheimes Tagebuch 1836-1837. Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn Verlag, 1992. Excerpts were published in the German edition of the Penthouse. See: Penthouse (Munich) 9 Sept. 1992: 66-70;
* French: Pouchkine, Alexandre S. Journal secret (1836-1837). Paris: Sortilege Les Belles Lettres, 1994. Excerpts were published in the French edition of Penthouse. See: Penthouse (Paris) Sept. 1994: 64-67, 158;
* Greek: Pouskin, Alexantr S. Mustiko hmerologio 1936-1837. Athens: Kastaniotis Editions, 1995;
* Ukrainian: Pushkin, O.S. Taemni zapysy 1836-1837 rokiv. Lel' Reviu 5 1995: 26-30;
* Dutch: Poesjkin, Aledsander. Geheim Dagboek 1836-1837. Naarden, Vesting: Element Uitgevers, 1996;
* Icelandish: Pushkin, A.S. Jatningar Pushkins. Reykeyvik: Reykholt, 1996. (The author's name was printed in Cyrillic on the cover and title page.);
* Spanish: Pushkin, A.S. Diario secreto de Pushkin. Mexico: Edamex, 1997;
* Korean: Pushkin, A.S. Secret Journal 1836-1837. Soeul: Jakkajungsin Publishing, 1997;
* Latvian: Puskins, A. 1836.-1837. gada Slepenas Piezemes. Riga: NT Klasika, 1997. Excerpts were published in the Riga journal Sexer Plus 13 Oct. 1997: 10-13;
* Portuguese: Puchkine, Alexandre. Diario secreto 1836-1837. Algres: Difel SA, 1998;
* Czech: Puskin, Alexander Sergejevic. Tajny denik 1836-1837. Sex 3-12 1998. See also: Puskin, A.S. Tajny zapisky z let 1836-1837. Praha: Concordia, 2001;
* Chinese: Pushkin, A.S. Secret Journal 1836-1837. Taipei, Taiwan: Unitas Publishing. 1999. Excerpts were published in the journal Unitas Literary Monthly 3/173 1999: 51-83. See also: Yalishanda Puxijin Mimiriji. Shanghai: Zhu Hai Publishing, 1999;
* Slovenian: Skrivni Zapiski A.S. Pushkina. Maribor: Zalozba Obzorja, 2000;
* Lithuanian: Puskinas, A.S. Slapti uzrascai 1836-1837 metai. Siauliai: A.S. Narbuto ledykla, 2000;
* Turkish: Puskin, Aleksandr Sergeevic. Gizli Gunce 1836-1837. Istanbul: Civiyazilari, 2000. See also: Gizli Gunluk A.S. Puskin. Isatanbul: Papirus Yayinevi, 2001;
* Albanian: Pushkin, A.S. Ditari sekret 1836-1837. Tirane: Fan Noli, 2000.

The reader will surely note from the list that an edition has yet to be published in Russia, although the book has been published in the former republics of the Soviet Union. In keeping with a vile Russian (and also Soviet) tradition, The Secret Journal has been condemned without ever having been read. Most recently, publishers have begun to fear for their reputation or do not wish to invest money in a book of such dubious content. This, despite the fact that everyone who has heard anything about The Secret Journal knows what it's about and in what light its hero is presented. But over time, amidst the abuse, appeals sounded more and more often to publish the book as a model of its genre. Excerpts, often corrupted, began to appear in periodicals of an erotic nature, in youth-oriented publications, and in collections of so-called alternative, "re-discovered", dissident literature. Unfortunately, almost all these publications were, intentionally or not, pirated.
More time passed. Perestroika came and went and freedom of the press extended its roots ever deeper into the life and consciousness of Russians. Works that dealt with once proscribed topics and that employed once forbidden terms appeared with ever greater frequency. The series Russia's Clandestine Literature has existed now for ten years and has enjoyed great popularity. It is now time that The Secret Journal, which undeniably belongs to Russia's clandestine literature and which has in the course of the last fifteen years acquired its own mythology, be presented to the Russian public. And here it is.
I will not enter into the various debates over whether Pushkin is the author of this text or only its protagonist; over who the author might be if its wasn't Pushkin; whether it was Pushkin or not, the text exists; or over whether the Russian poet met the French officer who was to play such a fateful role in his life at a ball or in a bordello? The Journal's portrayal of one man's inner life, of the struggle between passion and moral codes, of that man's thoughts on the nature of love, creativity, sin, pleasure, life, death, and fate, make it less a witness to an epoch than a document of the human heart. And its confessional tone, its extreme candor, perfectly correspond to the complexity of its themes.
Its themes are indeed complex. It wasn't the Soviet government that forbade the public discussion--both in oral and written form--of intimate topics, including sensuality and bodily satisfaction. Unfortunately, Russia adopted Christianity in its Byzantine form, which encouraged every kind of mortification of the flesh (during Great Lent it was forbidden even to enter into a lawful sexual union, that is, to marry). This entire dimension of human life was reduced at best to "appeasing one's demons," and at worst to "fornication." For this reason literature has not paid particularly kind attention to these very natural human needs, considering them to be lowly, shameful, unworthy. It's unnecessary to offer concrete examples. Anyone with so much as a passing acquaintance with the canonical works of Russian literature knows that sexuality is thoroughly condemned in it. And in Russia, literature--the written word--is considered to be a textbook of life. Censorship, that constant of Russian culture, has denied Russians the very words with which to name or explain things related to the so-called "lower bodily strata." All Russians had were unacceptable words, although known to all, that were uttered in Holy Russia by adherents of different faiths. Something began to change around the turn of the 20th century with new currents in art, but then the October Revolution occurred, consolidating the tyranny that was a traditional feature of the Russian Orthodox worldview.
However, nature abhors a vacuum. And the vacuum that was formed on the site of official reticence was filled with myth. Every national culture produces its own sexual mythology. It may change over time in different contexts, but it will always preserve certain universal characteristics. For example, the myth must belong to a former time, a time preceding the one in which the myth is recounted. Already in the time of Pushkin, the half-legendary Ivan Barkov was perceived as a writer of the previous generation. Pushkin's "Queen of Spades" was written during the reign of Nicholas I, when Russia was filled with nostalgia for the gallant times of Catherine the Great. In his late novel The Junker Cadets, Kuprin mentions how at the end of the nineteenth century cadets painstakingly preserved lists of unprintable works--the youthful sins--of Lermontov, passing them down from class to class. These texts, which were probably corrupted through countless acts of copying were revered by the cadets as a part of their traditional military education and as a peon to the glory of Russian arms. Anecdotes about Chapaev (not the real commander who died in the Civil War, but the hero of the film by the Vasilevsky brothers), his simple orderly Petka and the lasivious machine gunner, Anka, who was always ready--to do anything with anybody--reached the height of their popularity in the 1970s; they embodied the longing in Russian society under Brezhnev and Andropov for the simple values of "war communism." But the most famous hero of Russian sexual folklore is Lieutenant Rzhevsky, a hero of the Napoleonic Wars, as he appears in the Soviet film A Hussar's Ballad. (The image of the lieutenant in Russian popular consciousness has long had little to do with the real content of the film.) The hussar's military exploits are not the subject of these anecdotes. There are many other examples one could cite, but the emergence of a national mythology of this type follows a single pattern. Moreover, these mythologies manifest themselves not only in the oral tradition (in anecdotes, for example), but in written form as well. Luka Mudishchev, for instance, is known in an enormous number of handwritten and published variants, which is also true of the unprinted erotic parodies of Woe from Wit, Eugene Onegin, "Demon", and other works of Russian literature.
Throughout their history Russians have felt a profound need for a sexual myth and for a sexual hero, despite their general lack of satisfaction in this area--not in deeds, but in thought. And so, could the Pushkin myth have avoided this topic? Could Pushkin, the most vivid personality in Russian history, have avoided scrutiny of his intimate life? Could he have avoided becoming a sexual hero? The two-fold divinity of Pushkin's image also played a role; there was the official posthumous glorification of the poet by every Russian regime as well as the extremely rare phenomenon of "harmony" between people and government in the unanimous recognition of the divine greatness of our hero's talent. Pushkin's genius was an extraordinary event, incomprehensible to mere mortals: "Who knows what glory is? At what price did he purchase the right, the opportunity, or the grace?" The gift of creation, which belongs to God alone, lifted Pushkin out of the confines of everyday life, and the divine nature of his talent accordingly demanded from him a host of extraordinary qualities in other areas as well. We know that Apollo is the god who rules over the muses. But Priapus was also a god, and so it is entirely natural that Pushkin as the divine Absolute of Russian cultural mythology should harmoniously combine in his image features both of Apollo and of Priapus.
That mythology also portrays Pushkin as an eternal member of the opposition, a rebel, a lover of Liberty and, at the same time, as a lover of liberties. And so it is no surprise that when constrained a freedom-loving spirit will be transformed into an indefatigable libertine. In complete accord with the ancient blueprint of myths, Pushkin both in his life and in his work was excessively gifted, tireless, god-like, but at the same time vulnerable, like Achilles and Hercules were vulnerable (it's no coincidence that The Secret Journal ends on the very eve of the duel, the outcome of which is known to all). The Secret Journal, by the way, is not the only work in which Pushkin is portrayed as possessing extraordinary male needs. For example, there was the publication of "Pushkin's Don Juan List." To this day the poet's creative biography, as represented by this or that poem, poses the question to scholars and lay readers alike: To which of the poet's lady friends is the poem dedicated? And what exactly happened in that "miraculous moment" between the poet and Anna Kern? Did his lawful wife Natalia cheat on him with the emperor? Or with D'Anthes? Did Pushkin father illegitimate children with peasant girls? And if so, where--at Mikhailovskoe or Boldino? The inability to speak calmly and in a well-argued manner on such topics only fuels the flames of interest. And nostalgia for the past, for some irretrievable Golden Age lends the Pushkin myth a particular attraction ("Where are you, our youth, where are you, our glory--the golden time of serfdom?"). Therefore, a book like The Secret Journal is virtually destined to be a success-de-scandale. This success is only increased by another myth, according to which any book that is forbidden by the Soviet censor and condemned in the official Soviet press most probably contains if not the truth then at least something extremely interesting. This, however, is not always the case: books are banned for all different reasons and sometimes just to be on the safe side. But what concern does myth have with the truth?

It may very well be that The Secret Journal is a literary mystification, which is nothing unusual in literary history. Pushkin, for example, presented himself as the publisher of the works of a deceased writer, Ivan Petrovich Belkin, the author of The Tales of Belkin. Another time, in his Novel in Letters, he introduced himself in the third person--with the Latin letter P. If The Secret Journal is a mystification, I have no intention of exposing or defending it. However, this book, which has had such a stormy history, which represents a cross section of the Pushkin myth as it exists in our complicated time--at the close of the twentieth century--and which gives expression to the uncensored Russian worldview (like so many other intellectuals, Mikhail Armalinsky emigrated from the USSR in the 1970s), deserves to be published in Russia and to be available to our contemporaries and compatriots. However, it will then cease to be success-de-scandale, for only forbidden fruit is sweet. Although when you take a bite, who knows what might happen? The taste of fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil can seem bitter. Take the example of Luka Mudishchev, which circulated for almost two hundred years in hand-written manuscripts or in secretly printed limited editions. But now, following the publication of a widely available academic annotated edition, the work only attracts the attention of literary historians and connoisseurs of the genre. It used to be a legend; now it's just a literary monument.
In any case, The Secret Journal, as already mentioned above, is of interest on its own merit, independent of the issue of its authenticity, as a model of a genre that is so very rare in Russian literature. And so, without looking to foment a scandal, we have taken upon ourselves the task of putting a stop to a discussion which has lasted so many years now and which, in the absence of the text itself, has often been little more than empty sound. The reader him or herself can now decide what this book is—an offense against a great poet or yet another stone in the foundation of a "monument not made by human hands."
While The Secret Journal was being prepared for publication, an interesting exchange took place with the American publisher MIP company and Mikhail Armalinsky, as a result of which they agreed to some minor stylistic corrections (e.g., the initials of the heroes were changed from Russian to Latin letters, the use of punctuation was refined, and several insignificant changes were made). In all other respects the book is an exact replica of the American edition of 1986, which has since then been reissued both in Russian and in translation into foreign languages. As for the content, the spirit of the age, the reliability of the facts, and the justification for the language of The Secret Journal (if we're to believe the "Necessary Preface", the text is a translation of an encoded French original, now irretrievably lost), the author must answer for all that, whoever he may be. It is my hope that The Secret Journal, which has been so often berated, accused of every deadly sin, and picked apart by scholars, will now begin in Russia a new phase in its long suffering existence. Its publication in the series "Russia's Clandestine Literature" will probably incite arguments, attacks, raptures, and a new round of applied "parapushkinistika." But as the hero of The Secret Journal once said: "Accept praise and slander with equanimity and never question a fool."
Olga Vozdvishenskaia

Postscript to the 2004 Edition

And so it came to pass. There was abundant praise and abundant slander, and, of course, we didn't stoop to argue with fools. Although there were plenty of attacks directed at us, it was all the same gratifying to find a number of intelligent people participating in the debates.
For example, it was remarked that since the first publication of The Secret Journal nothing had been heard from Pushkin's descendants, who have formed a rather organized, tight-knit, international society. One can only conjecture as to why these ladies and gentlemen have not reacted to the existence of the Journal. Either they are treating it with a sense of humor worthy of their distinguished forebear, or they feel that to get involved in this affair would be unworthy of aristocrats. We should note that the Russian government has, to its credit, acted the same way: publicly refusing to comment of the release of The Secret Journal in Russia.
And the affair has played itself out in a serious fashion, as we assumed it would. The book flew off the shelves in a few months. The book release took place at the A. Zverev Center for Contemporary Art (which, coincidentally, is located in the German quarter, just a three minute walk from the home where Pushkin was born) and was announced by ITAR-TASS news service and repeated in many media outlets. The literary-philological establishment, as well as those readers of the older generations who were raised on its precepts, were indignant and brandished red flags and fists. Someone even demanded that the Russian publishers be prosecuted. But there were many, many others for whom The Secret Journal appeared to be, if not a revelation, then a book that encouraged new ways of thinking about Pushkin, about the Russian poet as a cultural phenomenon, and about human nature in general. There had never been a Russian work that examined so closely and in such detail the relationship between the body and the spirit, the human and the divine, the creative and the quotidien. Those who declared The Secret Journal to be "filthy pornography" or "slander against the great poet were, it seems, simply fixated on Pushkin's name on the front cover and on the word "cunt" on the very first page. And so, they failed to read the book with any understanding. They were unable to appreciate the depth of the analysis, the quality of the writing, and the courage and integrity of those who took risks in order to make this work available to readers. In short, this book, which is associated with a legendary poet, has itself become a legend before our very eyes and--at times--by our own hand.
With the Russian publication of The Secret Journal, the work of David Baevsky in far-off Minnesota increased. Since 2001 the number of reactions in print has exceeded all reason. Parapushkinistika grew from day to day and soon a fourth edition was released. This time it was published in Russia. As of 2002, this book of commentary was four times larger than the original text. And the end of this process is nowhere in sight. It is also noteworthy that Russia's former East European allies have, following her lead, taken an interest in The Secret Journal. To the list of translations, we must now add:

* Serbian: Tajni dnevnik A.S. Puskina 1836-1837. Belgrade: Zepter Books, 2002;
* Bulgarian: Tainite zapiski na Aleksandur Sergeevich Pushkin 1836-1837. Sofia: Kibea, 2002;
* Hungarian: Puskin titkos naploja 1836-1837. Debrecen: Toth Konyvkerekedes es Kiado Kft., 2003;
* Rumanian: Puskin, Alexandr. Jurnalul secret 1836-1837. Hustler (Bucharest) May 2001-Sept. 2003.

It is obvious that, for whatever reason, The Secret Journal is meeting a need in the contemporary world. One continues to hear the question to this very day: "Did Pushkin really write it?" And I answer as always: "I don't know." It's no longer important. Perhaps it is an authentic text by Alexander Pushkin. Perhaps it's an attempt to be on the same level as the poet or to identify with him. Or perhaps it's a splendid example of a postmodern novel or a wonderfully successful literary provocation. In any case, this book has brought its readers a great deal of pleasure. And will continue to do so.
It is for this reason that we now present you with the second Russian edition of The Secret Journal.

Translated by Brian James Baer