Ilf and Petrov and Puralist Reading


The problem of multiple readings is intertwined with that of an intrinsic vs. extrinsic approach. Structuralism, and the New Criticism before it, summarily indicted nowadays for their fixation on the intrinsic, actually broached the subject of multiplicity. They did so by splitting the analysis into different levels, which were to be read according to respective universal (i.e., external) codes, or sets of rules. At the same time, however, structuralism posited the principle of a more or less harmonious isomorphism of levels, thus placing a severe constraint on potential interpretive pluralism. An important decentralizing step was taken by Roland Barthes, who in SIZ (1974 [1970]) explicitly related the five levels of his essentially structural analysis to the corresponding codes and renounced the integration of the resulting partial readings into a single Message. This inaugurated current poststructuralist permissiveness, welcoming any number of conflicting interpretations and misreadings.


Conceding in abstracto the merits of an “infinite play of signifiers,” one feels reluctant, however, to lose sight of the more limited pluralism of those meanings projected into the text by the specifically relevant historical, generic, or authorial sign systems. Contrary to S/Z, they can be fully fledged thematic readings, but as in SIZ and contrary to some structuralist and New Criticism analyses, there can be more than just two (forming some sort of polar opposition), for instance, five or more. This makes accounting for the complex mode of their coexistence an interesting theoretical and practical challenge. Generally speaking, both extremes — discordant polylogue and total thematic subordination — are possible, as are all the intermediate shades of ambiguity. The critic’s focus should be on stating the various codes according to which the text is being read, the typical patterns of interplay among the readings, and the specifics of the resulting interpretive picture.

It is in this spirit that I will concentrate on a short episode from Ilia Ilf and Evgenii Petrov’s widely popular Ostap Bender saga. This satirical saga comprises two novels, Dvenadtsat’ stul’ev (The Twelve Chairs, or Diamonds to Sit On, 1928) and Zolotoi telenok (The Golden Calf, 1931), whose plot revolves around the adventures of a witty confidence man, the “Grand Schemer,” Velikii Kombinator, Ostap Bender, hunting for individual treasure in his collectivist land. In the tradition of travelogue narrative,1 threading the main story through a series of vignettes, every chapter plays the leitmotif of the itinerant hero against those of the episodic characters representing the social milieu. This syntagmatic linkage emplots the fundamental paradigmatic similarity of the two juxtaposed (arche)characters: both Bender and his variable partner embody the theme of ‘adaptation,’ central to the novels. As a rule, the episodic character represents a pathetically slavish or unsuccessful version of adjustment to Soviet ways, while the Grand Kombinator subverts the very idea of conformity by artistically aping the official cliches and idiosyncratic manias of the “maladjusters” he encounters in his picaro’s progress.

The episode with the hapless dreamer, Khvorob’ev (The Golden Calf, chap. 8; see Ilf and Petrov 1966: 87-97), is no exception.

Fearing arrest for their antics, Ostap Bender and his team of petty thugs decide to paint their car another color in the barn belonging to Khvorob’ev, an old education official and unreformed monarchist. Out of exasperation with the “new order,” Khvorob’ev has retired from his job and moved to a house in the country, but reality catches up with him, haunting his very dreams with Soviet scenes and slogans. His hopes of having a good old pre-revolutionary dream are repeatedly dashed. It is by claiming to have precisely such dreams that Bender gains his confidence. (For a more detailed rendering of the episode, see the table in the Appendix to this chapter.)

Bender’s mocking conmanship provides the familiar musical accompaniment to which Khvorob’ev’s grotesque theme is played, reverberating with manifold literary, cultural, and ideological overtones. This contrapuntal structure is further enriched by Bender’s (and the narrator’s) double-voiced treatment of the conventions and value systems involved.

The degree of Ilf and Petrov’s polyphonism has been debated. Treasured, along with Zoshchenko, during the Stalin years as the most subversive authors available, they have now lost some of their luster to the rediscovered Bulgakov, Platonov, Nabokov, and some others in the ongoing post-Stalin revision of the modern literary canon. When the two satirists do receive critical attention, the focus invariably turns on the ambiguity of their message, pro-Soviet yet provocative, and their ostentatious literariness — qualities that in their case, for extraartistic reasons, are seen as evidence of moral compromise and stylistic shallowness.2 In reading the multicode score of the Khvorob’ev episode, we begin with the ‘Ostap theme’ as the least extrinsic one.

The Bender Act

The script underlying Ostap Bender’s behavior has been distilled into a set of invariant patterns (Shcheglov 1986c: 93-104; 1990, 1: 41-46). Ostap desacralizes and defeats his episodic antagonist by means of three main stratagems, which emphasize his own uninvolved posture (he is carnivalistically both superior and inferior to the partner) and an objectifying (re)definition of the other person.

Bender starts with Recognition: he promptly reduces his new acquaintance to a formula, identifying the appropriate set of stereotypes for manipulating him. From the arrogant position of a jaundiced observer of human folly, he catches on to his partner’s game in midsentence and chimes in with parodic Mimicry of his enthusiasm and characteristic discourse. Acting both ‘from below’ and ‘from above’ (the motivation is trivial, but the performance is con brio), Bender coldly feigns solidarity and juggles the corresponding sacred cliches, playfully adapting them to alien stylistic contexts and frivolous circumstances. Thus, he reproduces in a light key the same labors of adaptation that the others go through in earnest and with tormenting anguish: his sloppy bricolage of cliches is merely a hyperbolic mirror image of the clumsy originals. Recognition and Mimicry set the stage for cynical Exploitation, whereby Bender channels his partner’s preoccupations or idealistic beliefs into the service of his own “base” needs. All three operations express a common theme (‘desacralization of stereotypes’) and are usually employed in conjunction with each other.

The outlined triptych is amply evident in our episode:

— First comes Recognition (in part already mixed with Mimicry): Bender secretly watches Khvorob’ev, listens to his complaints about “the same cursed dreams,” waits for the “results of the mysterious trial” as Khvorob’ev decides “to try once more,” embraces the distressed dreamer, declares sympathy, and ventures a close guess by claiming to have dreamed of the Mikado.

— Then Mimicry takes over: guided by Khvorob’ev’s eager responses, Bender zeroes in on his target, inventing enviable monarchistic dreams, is invited in and told the story of Khvorob’ev’s plight.

— Exploitation rounds off the episode: Bender offers help, hastily diagnoses the problem, and prescribes the cure in an improbable jumble of Freudian and Marxist terms:

Since, as the saying goes, “Existence determines [the nature of] consciousness,” therefore, inasmuch as you live in a Soviet land your dreams are bound to be Sovietic…. I have had occasion to treat some of my acquaintances according to Freud…. The main thing is to remove the cause of the dream … [i.e.] the very existence of the Soviet power. As soon as there is no more Soviet power you will somehow feel better.” (1966: 91-92)

He promises to effect the recovery “on [his] way back,” meanwhile keeping his car in the barn of his newly acquired patient, is gratefully granted permission, and leaves Khvorob’ev shuffling after him in a state of hopeful trepidation.

The Dream Genre

Bender’s quack diagnosis echoes an equally loose patchwork of symptoms that make up Khvorob’ev’s case. Dreams are a venerable and well-researched literary tradition (see Gershenzon 1926, Remizov 1977, Katz 1984), and the episode under analysis is intertextual to a fault. This means, however, that Khvorob’ev and his dreams are made of the same stuff as the rest of the book, which is a carnival of quotations mimicking and deflating one another.

Some intertexts are invoked quite openly. For instance, the refrain that punctuates Khvorob’ev’s lamentations is unashamedly borrowed from Grigorii, the future Pretender, in an early scene from Pushkin’s Boris Godunov: “The very same dream!” (Vse tot zhe son!).

The link is corroborated, laid bare, and rendered absurd as the narrator forthwith compares Khvorob’ev to Grigorii’s antagonist, Czar Boris Godunov, only this time from the Mussorgsky opera, or rather, in a completely metatextual gesture, to the famous basso Chaliapin himself. The Boris connection is then strengthened by Khvorob’ev’s line “Not a minute of rest!” (“Ni minuty otdykha!”) and the narrator’s statement “Nor could his proud soul find any solace at home” (“No i doma [Khvorob’ev] ne nakhodil uspokoeniia svoei gordoi dushe”). These two go back to Boris’s soliloquy “Shestoi uzh god is tsarstvuiu spokoino, /No schast’ia net moei dushe” (“For over five years have I reigned calmly [in peace], but there is no happiness for my soul”), but also admix with it one more troubled operatic monarch, Borodin’s Prince Igor: “Neither sleep, nor rest is there for [my] tormented soul” (“Ni sna, ni otdykha izmuchennoi dushe”).

Further scrutiny yields a Pushkin subtext also for the sentence “He wanted to run, but he couldn’t” (“On khochet bezhat’ i ne mozhet”), lifted almost verbatim from the description of Petrusha Grinev’s dream haunted by Pugachev, yet another classic Russian pretender (Captain’s Daughter, chap. 2).

The last quote is probably not intended for exact attribution but rather for promoting the general atmosphere of literariness. Among other virtual subtexts are:

— the title of Fedor Sologub’s novel Tiazhelye sny (Nightmares, lit. Heavy Dreams); compare Odurevshii of tiazhelykh snov monarkhist (“The monarchist, befuddled by his nightmares”);

— the line in Evgenii Onegin (4: 36-37) about the hero’s rural way of life: “Onegin zhil anakhoretom” (“Onegin lived anchoretically”; Pushkin 1964, 1: 199); compare “I davno vy zhivete takim anakhoretom? — sprosil Ostap” (“And have you lived long so anchoretically?” Ostap asked);

— and the old prince Bolkonskii’s exclamation “V svoem dome ni minuty pokoia!” (“Not a moment’s peace in my own house!” War and Peace, Tolstoy 1966: 599); compare Khvorob’ev’s similar predicament and language (see also Shcheglov 1991, 2: 482).

In a still more abstract sense, the entire episode is highly intertextual: a variation on the nightmare genre, whose parameters are familiar to the Russian reader from the works of Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and others. The generic dream usually serves to characterize the dreamer and express the text’s overall theme; can provoke an appeal to God, who is responsible for sending dreams; is told to a listener in exchange for interpretation; corresponds in one way or another to surrounding fictional reality, as narrative foreshadowing, wish fulfillment, fixation on a role model, philosophical parable, and so on; tends to recur, terrify, replace waking life, or deceptively blend with it; can be invented, shared by different characters, and so on; is seen as an analog to art (e.g., narrative), hence used as a framed story.

The Khvorob’ev episode easily meets all these requirements. It portrays Khvorob’ev as an ill-adapted monarchist (note the obsessive ‘royalism’ of the intertexts) lost in the world of Soviet cliches. Khvorob’ev repeatedly invokes God and even addresses a bureaucratized supplication to Him. “Khvorob’ev … woke up, . . . prayed to God, pointing out to him that there apparently had been a regrettable hitch, as a result of which a dream intended for a high-placed and trusted comrade was sent to a wrong address. As for him, Khvorob’ev, he would like to see His Majesty the Czar’s issue from the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin.” The dreams are told to a “sympathetic” Bender, who both soothingly dismisses them as insignificant and offers a solid scientific interpretation. Khvorob’ev’s actual dreams mirror reality, whereas the ones he desires are an escapist idyll, displaying a fixation on dubious royalty. The nightmares recur incessantly, are the dreamer’s only activity, and blend with reality by being indistinguishable from it. Bender fakes dreams that exactly match Khvorob’ev’s frustrated tastes. And the dreams are not only told and traded like stories but are ordered by Khvorob’ev as if from a magic hypnotheque or, to put it in today’s terms, from a video store.

The analogy between dreams and mass media is explicitly stated in the text, as Ostap Bender claims to have dreamed “a melange. The sort of thing that the newspapers call ‘News from Everywhere,’ and in the cinemas, ‘Topics of the Day,’ . . . the Mikado’s funeral,” and so on.

The authors pointedly vandalize the dream genre by creating a modernist pileup of its standard features, exaggerated and clashing with one another. The “wandering dreams of alien bards” (Mandelstam) are inflicted on Khvorob’ev in a way that explodes the tradition while purporting to follow it. Indeed, a “genuine” dream can hardly be so openly intertextual, especially with the quotations so felicitously picked from mutually exclusive sources. Contradictions and absurdities also plague Bender’s interpretation (which in addition to its other aspects is a spoof of a medic’s bedside babble in the manner of Moliere), while the divine origin of dreams is debased by stylistic mongrelization. Perhaps the most flagrant deviation involves the “dream = art” parallel, which is repeatedly pushed to an extreme (orders are placed for customized dreams) and just as regularly subjected to dramatic failure (Khvorob’ev gets the opposite of what he ordered). These and other ungrammaticalities disqualify the episode qua “the same old” traditional dream, stimulating the reader to seek other avenues of interpretation — in accordance with the theory that ungrammaticality signals a lack calling for ‘conversion’ to crown the reading process.3

The problem of remodeling a tired genre is both directly and indirectly posed in the text under analysis: the chapter is given a pointedly meta-aesthetic title — “A Genre in Crisis.” 4

This title derives from the chapter’s other episode: a spoof of the small-town community of traditional artists trying desperately to compete with an avantgardist who “works” his portraits of the town’s Party dignitaries in bolts, nuts, oats, and other unconventional but topical materials. However, when viewed side by side, the two episodes exhibit common thematic concerns.

Once the juxtaposition has been made, they read as a bipartite treatise on official portraiture: avant-gardist portrayal of Soviet leaders in the one case and traditionalist court painting/photography in the other. Remarkably, all that Khvorob’ev wants to see in his dreams (and Bender claims to have seen in his) are the czar and his courtiers patterned on photographs in the official pre-revolutionary press.

At a still deeper level, the ‘genre-in-crisis’ leitmotif can be taken to refer to the authors’ own procedure in the chapter, especially in the Khvorob’ev episode, suggesting that it is written to be read as a conversion of the genre it appears to instance.

The Adaptation Game

One clue to a possible reinterpretation is furnished by the ‘adaptation’ problem, present here in the form of the drastic “rewriting” of Khvorob’ev’s dream scripts by a higher office. Formulated in such terms, the situation reveals its further intertextual affinities. Indeed, adjustment to ideological censorship, as a metaliterary version of adaptation in general, figures prominently in all of Ilf and Petrov’s oeuvre.

Among its classical examples in the novels are Nikifor Liapis-Valois’s ideologically correct and universally adaptable poem The Gavriliad (The Twelve Chairs, chap. 29); the plight of the old rebus composer Sinitskii, whose innocent craft suffers from the invasion of Soviet slogans (“Ideology has got me (Ideologiia zaela],” he complains; The Golden Calf, chap. 9); or “The Complete Celebrator” kit, invented by Bender to help streamline the work of his “colleagues,” the Soviet writers (The Golden Calf, chap. 28).

The same theme pervades Ilf and Petrov’s feuilletons and short stories, for example, such classics as “Kak sozdavalsia Robinzon” (How [the Soviet] Robinson Crusoe was created) and “Ikh bins golovy do nog” (Ich bin from head to feet).5

The common plot that underlies the last two pieces offers instructive parallels to our episode, shedding light on the dynamics of Ilf-and-Petrovian ‘adaptation.’

In both cases, a creative artist (a writer; a circus performer) is pitted against a censoring body (the editor of a youth journal; Repertkom, or the Repertory Committee). The artist is encouraged to produce and contributes his own fresh and unofficial creation, which turns out to represent a different, alien’ — foreign’ — artistic convention and system of values (a Robinson Crusoe-like adventure story; a German performing dog that says, “Ich liebe! Ich sterbe!”). But then the censoring body gradually forces the artist, over his objections, arguments, and pleas, to expunge everything non-Soviet (the individualism of Robinson Crusoe; the “abstract humanism” of the dog’s repertoire) and to conform fully to Soviet cliches. The metamorphosis passes through a stage of compromise, breeding preposterous hybrids (Robinson becomes a social activist, Soviet-style; the dog is to deliver a lengthy propaganda piece). Eventually, the utter inflexibility of the alien artistic creature (Robinson is an “eternal” classic; the dog is, after all, only canine) dooms it to total demise (Robinson Crusoe is thrown out of “his” story; “The dog’s traces [footprints] were lost” [Sledy sobaki zaterialis’]).

Precisely the same happens, mutatis mutandis, to Khvorob’ev. He too has a pet project (of personalized dreams) stemming from an un-Soviet cultural tradition (monarchist). He submits it to a higher authority (represented, ironically, by “God”) but is rebuffed (has strictly Soviet dreams). He protests in vain, then knuckles under and is ready to compromise (e.g., to dream of the leader of Constitutional Democrats in the pre-revolutionary Russian Parliament, Pavel Miliukov, who is, after all, “a university man and a monarchist at heart”), only t( be told (this time by Bender, about which later) that the surrender t( conformity must be complete (“Inasmuch as you live in a Soviet land your dreams are bound to be Soviet”).

On the whole, the Khvorob’ev story offers a rather harsh version of the artist/censorship confrontation.

Khvorob’ev is one of [if and Petrov’s most principled nonconformists-on par with the dissidents seeking refuge in the lunatic asylum (The Golden Calf chap. 16), with whom, incidentally, he also shares the motif of mental ids order. Sticking to his personal code, he consistently rejects the Soviet way c life and has a long and consistent track record of internal emigration.

The treatment he receives is equally uncompromising: Soviet culture im placidly invades first his office hours, then his solitary promenades, and finally the dreams he believes sacrosanct and hopes to enjoy in his countryside retreat (“‘The Soviet power took everything away from me…. It has even replace my thoughts. But there is one sphere where the Bolsheviks cannot penetrate the dreams that are sent down to us by God”‘).

The lines of conflict are drawn so clearly that they practically exclude the hybridization of Soviet and “alien” elements so beloved by [If and Petrov. Ii the story line, the sole exception is the consent to edit in Miliukov, and perhaps on the level of style, the prayer in bureaucratese.

The Dystopian Masterplot

Ilf and Petrov’s mythopoetics of adaptation did not simply result from an idiosyncratic obsession but was developed in response to a central issue of Soviet ideology and culture. The Khvorob’ev episode in particular seems to be the authors’ variation on the so-called antiutopian theme, introduced into Soviet literature by Zamiatin’s We (1954 [1924]and Ehrenburg’s Julio Jurenito (1922esp. chap. 27, “The Grand In quipster Outside the Legend,” expurgated until recently from late Soviet editions). The genre of antiutopia (Morson 1981: 115-41), which had had a long history of subverting its utopian twin, was infuse with new meaning in the twentieth century as totalitarianism claimed to be utopia come true. It was also strongly influenced by Dostoevsky’s antiutopian discourse in “Notes from the Underground,” The Possessed, and “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor,” and by the subsequent Kafkaesque exploration of the human condition in modern society. It is at the intersection of the antiutopian tradition, sociopolitical reality, and modernist-existential writing that the new genre of ‘dystopia’ crystallized over a period of several decades: “a type of anti-utopia that discredits utopias by portraying the likely effects of their realization, in contrast to other anti-utopias, which discredit the possibility of their realization or expose the folly and inadequacy of their proponents’ assumptions or logic” (Morson 1981: 116).

A comparative study of six dystopian classics written before, parallel with, and after The Golden Calf yields a rather stable masterplot, which can serve as our next frame of reference for the Khvorob’ev episode. The six are Evgenii Zamiatin’s We (1954 [1924]), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1950 [1932]), Vladimir Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading (1959 [1938]), George Orwell’s 1984 (1949), Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451° (1967 [1950]), and Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (1963 [1962]). For brevity’s sake, I concentrate on the common denominator of these texts without trying to do justice to variations, which at best are mentioned parenthetically (for more detail, see Zholkovsky 1986g:190-98).

The action of a dystopia takes place in a “rational” society, which, having traded God and the freedom of will for universal harmony and happiness, decrees total uniformity of thinking and abolishes privacy, repressing all that is unpredictable and rooted outside the spatial, temporal, or epistemological boundaries of the System. This dictatorship of the political superego results not in the promised harmony but in a personality split, which reveals itself as the Protagonist embarks on his dissident Quest. Gradually abandoning his allegiance to the system, he comes within reach of a perfect synthesis of the traditional opposites — Nature/Culture, Reason/Emotion, Man/Woman, Child/ Adult — all in one way or another suppressed by the system and therefore united in resisting it. But the quest ends in the defeat of the protagonist or even his reverse metamorphosis into a conforming vegetable.

The protagonist is usually a common and commonsensical man, an intellectual functionary of the system; for example, Zamiatin’s constructor of the Integral supermachine; Huxley’s technicians of hypnopaedia and poetic propaganda; Orwell’s official of the Ministry of Truth engaged in updating the past; and Bradbury’s fireman burning forbidden books.

The system looks after the protagonist as if he were a Child, and as such he is inherently natural, spontaneous, disobedient, socially unintegrated — marginal. These centrifugal tendencies are activated in the course of the quest as the protagonist acquires also the characteristics of an Old and Ailing Man, which combine inferiority and dependence on the system with links to the preutopian past and other borderline and sacral states of mind. To complete the set of peripheral roles, the protagonist meets a Woman, and their natural, free, and individual Love challenges the system and is eventually destroyed by it. The protagonist’s other roles — child, old man, ailing man — can also be played by separate characters.

The hero’s antagonist is the Inquisitor, who in his dual role of utopian thinker and experienced practical ruler displays Omniscient Understanding of and Provisional Identification with the protagonist’s quest but then engages in a sophisticated and provocatively cynical Apology of the system ushered in by the Revolution.

Like the protagonist, the Inquisitor can be split into more than one character. Thus, his grotesque sophistry may be entrusted to the Provocateur, who has no stake in the state’s power and clowningly apes the perverse logic of its defense. Such, for instance, is the role played by Julio Jurenito as he interviews, in an imitation of Ivan Karamazov’s Christ, the “important Communist” (alias the Inquisitor, alias a thinly fictionalized Lenin). The Provocateur is an important fixture in fellow-traveler writing, as evidenced by the figures of Jurenito, Babel’s Benia Krik, Olesha’s Ivan Babichev, Bulgakov’s Woland and retinue, and, of course, Ostap Bender himself. Along with other Dostoevskian Inquisitors/Provocateurs, Ostap’s genealogy also features Peter Verkhovensky.6

The Inquisitor has at his disposal the Apparatus of Power, often based on state-of-the-art technology and comprising the means of enforcement proper and those of brainwashing (the boundary between the two is sometimes pointedly obfuscated). The Inquisitor’s seat is the Ministry, where the protagonist too is kept, as a worker, patient, or convict. The protagonist starts out living in semipublic quarters, transparent to technology and/or informers, but the quest and the woman bring him to the Old House.

The Old House goes back to the pastoral Hut (opposed to sentimentalism’s corrupt City), to the abandoned/ haunted Castle of the gothic, and to “progressive” nineteenth-century writing (e.g., Conan Doyle). Now it also becomes a repository of Culture and the antipode to utopian phalansters.

In the Old House or elsewhere, the protagonist comes into contact with the Outside World, Nature, the Past, its forbidden Culture (including God), and the Book. The reading/writing and hiding of the book (often the protagonist’s diary) forms a core element of the masterplot (Morson 1981: 141). The antonym of the Book is the obligatory official Anti-Book and various brainwashing media. Among its synonyms are other forms of cultural memory and windows onto the last stronghold of resistance to censorship: the Irrational — in particular, Dreams.

It is to the dystopian treatment of dreams that I now turn, leaving the masterplot transcription of the Khvorob’ev story till the end of the next section.

The “Newdream”

The dreaming motif is one of the nerve centers of dystopia, its relevance to the genre being overdetermined in several ways. ‘Dreaming’ is naturally associated with the philosophical problematic of cognition (in the spirit of Plato’s cave, Calderon’s La vida es sueno, etc.), eminently germane to the utopian substitution of universal good for truth. The “nationalization” of dreams by the state is of course the archetypal dystopian nightmare. Also, dreams mesh well with the protagonist’s abandoning the role of a healthy member of the system to become an ailing man (see esp. Zamiatin), spending much time in Bed and slipping into prophetic states.

Generalized from the six subplots (see Appendix, “Summaries”), the dream segment of the dystopian masterplot features the following invariant situations:

In a predictable recycling of the traditional Desired Dream, found in all six dystopias, the protagonist has (has always had, wants to have, or acquires in the course of the quest) his own Desired Dreams, which are his Sanctuary from the all-pervasive system. However, these dreams — indeed all dreams — are either Forbidden by the state or just Not Dreamed by the citizens (Zamiatin, Nabokov, Bradbury). Instead, Obligatory Dreams (or Obligatory Dreamlessness) are induced by a variety of Manipulation Techniques: lobotomy (Zamiatin), drugs (Huxley, Bradbury), hypnopaedia (Huxley, Burgess), or more sophisticated combinations of physiological and psychological treatment (Orwell, Burgess).

In this atmosphere of Dream Control, the characters develop strategies for Ordering 7and/or Faking their Desired Dreams. The protagonist does so to protect himself. For example, Winston Smith’s epiphanic decision to “dream right” (1984, 3: 4) replaces his earlier line of defense: “Confession is not betrayal … only feelings matter…. They could lay bare . . . everything you had done or said or thought; but the inner heart, whose workings were mysterious even to yourself, remained impregnable” (2: 7). The Inquisitor orders/fakes dreams to win his Intellectual Combat with the protagonist (Bradbury), which commonly features the latter Prostrate in Bed at the mercy of the Inquisitor and/or in his Embrace.

The Khvorob’ev episode, written rather early in the history of the dystopian genre (1931), exhibits remarkable affinities with the masterplot in general and its Newdream aspect in particular. It dramatizes an escalating invasion of the system into the protagonist’s life and his very dreams: “The Soviet regime … invaded even the dreams of the monarchist.”

At first the protagonist is a normal member of society, but then he leaves his job in the Ministry (of Public Instruction [!]) and embarks on his anti-establishment quest. In this he suffers setbacks and soon succumbs to ailing, as symbolized by his very name (khvoroba means “ailment, disease”) 8He is an old man, a leftover of the pre-revolutionary era 9residing in an old house located outside the city-in nature, hung with portraits representing cultural memory. Khvorob’ev hates the new anticulture with its obligatory dreams, anti-language (khamskii iazyk, cf. Orwell’s Newspeak), and anti-books (note the mention of Vsevolod Ivanov’s Armored Train 14-69).

A linguistic remark in the text invokes the utopian obsession with mathematics (targeted by generations of anti-utopians from Swift down to Zamiatin and his followers): Khvorob’ev reports to work at “the Methodological and Pedagogical Sector…. Oh, that sector! Never did [Khvorob’ev], who treasured all things elegant, including geometry, suppose that this beautiful mathematical concept, denoting a part of the area of a curvilinear figure, could be so banalized.”

Khvorob’ev tries to commune with God and retreat into the sanctuary of dreams, which he insists on ordering but finds effectively forbidden, while the Inquisitor-Provocateur Bender displays faked dreams and promises to countermanipulate Khvorob’ev’s nightmares with the help of the Book (Freud). Bender shows a total understanding and provisional identification with Khvorob’ev’s predicament and refers to the official Anti-Book (Marx) in his apology of the system. Their combat takes place in the proximity of the bed (which is “in disorder, presenting convincing evidence that its owner spent there the most restless hours of his life”) and culminates in Bender’s powerful embrace, accentuating in Khvorob’ev the child and ailing man, doomed to ultimate defeat.

In several respects, however, Ilf and Petrov’s episode deviates from the masterplot. Conspicuously absent are the Inquisitor proper and his apparatus of power and manipulation techniques, replaced by the phantasmagoria of self-inducing obligatory dreams and the Bender figure (the latter accumulates three roles: Bender’s usual self as manipulative Kombinator, the dream genre’s listener-interpreter, and dystopia’s Provocateur). This may have been dictated by Aesopian reasons and also accords with the ambiguous, grotesquely modernist tone of the episode.

Another difference is the irony of Khvorob’ev’s cherishing as his private, antiestablishment values similar bureaucratic cliches, but of a previous culture, in a natural consequence of the cruel ambivalence with which Ilf and Petrov, along with Bender, treat their episodic protagonist. Khvorob’ev is thus degraded to the level of the performing dog whose “own” text is none other than a stereotypical love song. This is in line with the two satirists’ general tendency in most of their stories and the treatment of the novels’ episodic characters to play cliches against cliches rather than cliches against a Truly Free Individual, a role reserved for the Grand Kombinator alone.10 To humiliate Khvorob’ev further, the authors make him irreversibly old and pathetic and do not provide him with a Woman.

Among Ilf and Petrov’s contributions to the dystopian masterplot are some of the absurdities resulting naturally from the episode’s other components. Especially interesting are the combination of Faked Dreams with Shared Dreams in Bender; the motif of Misaddressed Dream in Khvorob’ev, a whimsical variation on the theme of dream control; and the whole business of repeatedly Ordered, Forbidden, and Obligatorily experienced dreams. These innovations, however, are not without parallels in the dream-genre tradition and modern writing.

Dream Genre Revisited

Most of the characteristic irregularities that first led us away from the genre of the literary dream and now bring us back to it serve the dominant dystopian theme of invaded privacy. Such is one of the effects of crowding Khvorob’ev’s dreamscape with references to Grigorii, Boris, Igor, and Grinev, aggravated by Bender’s second-guessing and faking

Khvorob’ev’s dreams. And of course the same theme is responsible for inflicting on Khvorob’ev the recurrent obligatory nightmares, while a cognate dystopian motif, countermanipulation of dreams, underlies Khvorob’ev’s insistent ordering of desirable visions. All these effects build on properties inherent in the dream genre by amplifying, transforming, or recombining them, and they do so in ways characteristic of other modernist texts, prosaic and poetic.

Sharing dreams, usually with mystical or ominous connotations, was used in nineteenth-century literature (see “A Terrible Vengeance,” Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, Lermontov’s poem “A Dream,” etc.). The reverse side of the mystical transcendence of the boundaries of self is this motif’s potential for conveying the theme of invaded privacy. It was naturally seized upon and put to dystopian and other modernist uses by many contemporary authors, among them Anthony Burgess (see Appendix, “Summaries,” 6) and Vasilii Aksenov.

In Aksenov’s Surplus Tare of Barrels (1968)all the characters have dreams. Their dreams are numbered, in a probable spoof of Chernyshevsky’s What Is to Be Done? They all dream of The Good Man, each his or her own. The driver’s dreaming ends in an actual accident. And gradually, as the characters are drawn closer to one another in their common love for the mysterious “tare of barrels,” their individual visions incorporate more and more details characteristic of the others’ dreams.

Faking dreams, in its turn, was already practiced by the child narrator of Tolstoy’s Childhood.

In the very first chapter, he claims to have dreamed of his mother’s death. When his gouverneur tries to console him, he starts crying and half believes his own invention. From then on, the dream is accepted as having taken place, and later it actually comes true (Katz 1984: 114).

A much less innocent form of Faking appears in Platonov’s The Foundation Pit (1930):

There, the upwardly mobile toady Kozlov declares that “he had seen in his night dreams the chief of the Central Administration of Social Security, Comrade Romanov, and a varied society of people dressed in clean clothes,” which he so wants to join (Platonov 1973: 53).

The character who invents dreams behaves in an authorial way or, to put it the other way around, serves as the author’s excuse for his or her fictions. Indeed, the attempts at deliberate control, manipulation, and countermanipulation of dreams have their roots not only in the desirability of traditional idyllic visions but also in the arbitrariness, sanctioned by the literary convention, with which authors ascribe to their characters whatever dreams they need for narrative or thematic reasons.

Such is the function, for instance, of the chapter-long dreams in Goncharov’s Oblomov and Chernyshevsky’s What Is to Be Done? and a shorter but programmatic dream at the end of Crime and Punishment where Dostoevsky sends Raskol’nikov a prophetic dream to seal his eventual salvation.

In the twentieth century, the infliction of dreams on characters — by the author, narrator, speaker of a poem, and even other characters — becomes much more self-conscious, assuming various functions, among them the dystopian.11

While testifying to the richness of our episode’s intertextual background, these parallels differ from the avowed sources (Boris Godunov, Captain’s Daughter, Prince Igor) in that they rely on the paradigmatic features of the dream genre rather than specific textual references. In the artistic economy of converting the ungrammatical jumble of overtly invoked literary nightmares into an innovative Newdream structure, the former function as “false leads.”12 The paradigmatic intertexts, on the other hand, indicate the general direction in which the episode’s deeper significance may lie, albeit without offering specific textual clues. Theoretically, such intertextual blandness in administering conversion is possible, but for such past masters of quotation as Ilf and Petrov, would be rather unlikely. Indeed, a closer scrutiny of the dream genre yields several texts that seem to contain direct textual foreshadowings of the most salient, dystopian aspects of the Khvorob’ev episode.

Gogol’s “Nevsky Prospekt” offers a classical model of the deliberate ordering of dreams.

Piskarev repeatedly tries to dream of the prostitute he has fallen in love with, is repeatedly frustrated, several times dreams of some officials instead (!), and finally sees her in the idealized guise of an elegant lady; “dreams become his life.” On realizing, however, that reality cannot live up to the dreams (the girl is a prostitute), Piskarev commits suicide. 13

Relevant in even more ways is Dostoevsky’s The Village of Stepanchikovo, as will become clear from the transcription of one of its episodes in terms of the dystopian masterplot. Dostoevsky, along with other classics, looms large as a subtextual presence in the Bender novels. Notably, motifs from Dostoevsky’s letters to his wife (Dostoevsky 1926, a recent publication at the time of Ilf and Petrov’s writing) form one of the major strands woven into Father Fedor’s (!) travels anti letters to his wife in The Twelve Chairs (Shcheglov 1990, 1: 255). Stepanchikovo centers on the figure of Foma Fomich Opiskin, a “buffoon who has become the unlimited despot on … [the] estate, . . . a carnival king” and “anticipates in many ways the future heroes of Dostoevsky” (Bakhtin 1984: 163). In Chapter 6,

Foma Fomich Opiskin plays a clownish Inquisitor to the serf boy Falalei’s dystopian Protagonist, who also displays the characteristics of Child, Natural Man and Woman: “He had a girl’s features — the features of a village beauty…. He was so naive, so guileless and simple-hearted, that one could easily have taken him for a simpleton … as innocent and gentle as a lamb, happy and carefree as a child…. Foma Fomich … decided to become Falalei’s benefactor” (Dostoevsky 1983: 99).

Opiskin decides to enlighten Falalei by teaching him French and good manners in the teeth of the boy’s inability to learn and the opposition of the old man, the trusted valet Gavrila. Gavrila tries to protect the boy, but is punished by Foma, who subjects him to reeducation, forcing the old servant himself to study French (i.e., a Newspeak of sorts): “Old Gavrila … had the temerity openly to dispute the advantage of knowing the French language anyway…. Foma … ordered the fractious Gavrila himself to take up the study of French as a punishment” (100).

As for good manners, Falalei makes a habit of telling Foma his recurrent dream of the white bull. Foma declares this vulgar dream forbidden and enjoins Falalei to have nobler dreams. Falalei complies, tries ordering dreams about elegant ladies, resorts to prayers, but fails: “Falalei … was strictly forbidden to have any more such uncouth peasant’s dreams… His dreams are every bit as bad as his day-time thoughts [Kakovy mysli, takovy i sny]…. Could you not dream of something refined, delicate, edifying, some scene out of polite society — say, gentlemen playing cards or ladies promenading in a fine park?’ Falalei solemnly promised. . . . Before returning to bed Falalei, in tears, beseeched God for help and thought for a long time how he could possibly avoid dreaming of the accursed white bull. But … all through the night he dreamt of the hated white bull … and not a glimpse of a single lady promenading in a fine park” (101-2).

Foma claims that the forbidden dream has been faked to spite him, and others try to persuade the innocent Falalei to fake the obligatory dream: “Foma Fomich categorically refused to believe in the possibility of such a repetition of dreams, and declared that Falalei must deliberately have been worked upon by a member of the household … expressly to annoy him, Foma…. It never occurred to Falalei to tell a lie, . . . that, instead of the white bull, he had seen a carriageful of ladies with Foma in their midst” (102).

Foma is then distracted by other events and leaves Falalei alone until the final scene of general reconciliation, only to find him stuck with the dream of the white bull: “‘Falalei, what did you dream of last night?’ … ‘Of your virt … of the white b-bull!’ . . . ‘At least I appreciate your honesty, Falalei…. I forgive you!”‘ (228).

The dystopian manipulation of dreams fails for the nonce, but only after its many ominous manifestations have been spelled out in full, prefiguring in great detail the Khvorob’ev episode. In addition to the already noted thematic motifs, the parallels include such specific features as

— the absurd monotony of repeatedly unsuccessful attempts at having dreams made to order;14

— the ‘nobleness’ of the ordered obligatory dream about high so ciety;15

— the narrative pause, allowing for the development of other subplots;

— the final vignette, emphasizing the ineluctability of the recurrent dream; and even

-the phrasing of the Inquisitor’s omniscient diagnosis: Foma’s “Kakovy mysli, takovy i sny” (best translated as “Like thoughts, like dreams”) seems to prefigure Bender’s “Inasmuch as you live in a Soviet land your dreams are bound to be Soviet.”

A decisive step in the conversion of the traditional dream genre into its twentieth-century counterpart was marked by Olesha’s Envy (1927). An episode from Ivan Babichev’s childhood (2: 1) combines elements of the authorial infliction of necessary dreams on characters, a character’s (Piskarev’s) successful ordering of desired dreams for himself, and one character’s (Foma’s) futile attempts at manipulating the dreams of another.

The episode features little Ivan with what he claims is a dream-control device: “As a twelve-year-old boy he demonstrated in the family circle an apparatus of strange appearance, . . . and stated that with the aid of his apparatus it was possible to evoke in anyone — by order — any dream” (1: 1).

His father challenges him by ordering a dream about the Battle of Pharsalus. When the boy’s effort fails, he is about to punish Ivan. Then the mother intercedes, faking the by now obligatory dream and arguing that it was misaddressed: “The mother … shouted: ‘Don’t beat him…. He made a mistake.. . So what if you didn’t dream? [it] … took off in another direction…. I, I sag the battle of Pharsalus! …’ ‘Don’t lie,’ said the director.”

The father denounces her and whips Ivan, only to discover that someone (the maid Frosia) did have the misaddressed dream; later on, he dreams himself.

The similarities with the Khvorob’ev story are striking, especially in the idiosyncratic motif of ‘misaddressed dream.’ Given the close chronological, thematic, and stylistic ties between the two works (a well as personal ones between their authors), one is inclined to suppose direct borrowing.

An interesting parallel/problem is also offered by the provocateurial chip figure. The father, a stern school principal, teacher of Latin, guardian of ‘right dreaming; and enforcer of order, makes a plausible Inquisitor; the mother, Woman; and the little Vania, a child Protagonist on a Quest. As for the role reversal in Dream Manipulation (the protagonist manipulates the Inquisitor it constitutes an original but legitimate variation on the masterplot: it corn bins the protagonist’s familiar attempts at Countermanipulation (as in Zamiatin, Bradbury, and Burgess) with the duplication by the Provocateurs of the state’s machinery with their own mock structures (as in Bender’s Office for the Collection of Horns and Hoofs versus The Hercules and in Ivan’s Ophelia versus Chetvertak [the Two Bits diner]). Thus, the protagonist acquires some features of the Provocateur. An additional twist projects this combination into the protagonist’s childhood, endowing it with some prankish plausibility.

The Score

The manifold structure, analyzed above voice by voice, so to speak can be summarized now as an integral whole in a five-column table (see Appendix). Each column is filled out in its own metalanguage that is, features motifs that are characteristic of the corresponding corpus of texts as variations on the dominant theme of that corpus. Column 1 labels the events in terms of Bender’s ‘desacralizing behavior,’ invariant in both novels. The second column rewrites the same material as a generic literary dream, centering on the opposition ‘dreams versus reality,’ and also provides actual subtexts. In the next column, the episode is categorized as a case of ‘ambivalent conformism,’ a theme varied throughout Ilf and Petrov’s works. Column 4 use, the archetypal motifs and character roles of dystopia to chronicle ‘an individual’s quest in the totalitarian world,’ and the last column lists the typical means of ‘dream control,’ elaborated in modern dystopian writing and earlier texts. (Incidentally, the contents of columns 2 and 5 could each be split into abstract generic features and concrete subtextual references, yielding a sevenfold description and underscoring the arbitrariness of code counts.)

The five codes (columns) are in varying degrees extrinsic to the episode itself and variously overlap with one another. The first represents the macroplot of the entire Bender saga; the second, the memory of the episode’s traditional genre; the third, an invariant of the authors’ oeuvre; the fourth, the masterplot of a modem genre; and the fifth, an original cross between the memory of the old genre and the demands of the new one. It is this modernist conversion, or rereading, of the tradition that constitutes the innovative crux of the episode, resolving the issue emblematically posed by the chapter’s title (“A Genre in Crisis”).

This central effect is supported by the episode’s entire structure. Indeed, the five components of its reading form a remarkably coherent cluster, as if they “naturally” belonged together. Bender (column 1) sets the general ambiguous-parodic tone, spoofing the episodic character’s fixation on personal dreams (column 2), which are, of course, least susceptible to adaptation. The adaptation game (column 3) is the authors’ version of life in a dystopia (column 4), where even dreams are subject to control (column 5). In its turn, the new dream genre (column 5) is only a transformation of the old one (column 2) and has prophetic subtexts in Russian literature (column 5). It is this particular well-motivated clustering of voices, which overdetermine and naturalize each other, that can be said to define the theme of the episode’s single cumulative interpretation.

But the secret of the episode’s effectiveness can be ascribed only in part to this general thematic outline and the potential for structural unity it generates. No less important are the original new combinations that successfully fuse the five components into a tight whole. Three such deep-level superpositions are pivotal:

— the one that confers on Bender the desacralizer (column 1) some inquisitorial functions (columns 4, 5), a possibility explored in Ehrenburg’s Jurenito;

— the one that turns the traditional desired dreams (column 2) into dystopian ordered or obligatory dreams (column 5), in a radical inversion determined by Utopia’s grim transformation into its opposite; and

— the one that reinterprets the familiar notions of dreams’ divine origin and opposition to reality (column 2) as dream control and invasion of privacy (columns 4, 5), once the state has appropriated and relativized reality itself.

As a result of these equations, every one of the horizontal crosssections of the “score” reads as an exercise in multiple discourse. Thus, for example, Khvorob’ev’s lamentations (horizontal segment 3), which for Bender’s purposes present the emotional involvement of his future dupe (column 1), are caused in terms of the dream genre by recurrent nightmares with a specific fixation and described in a jumble of corresponding quotations (column 2). The fixation on dubious czars serves as an ideological epitome of the episodic character’s personal code (column 3), and the operatic source of quotations provides a stylistic expression of that code (a taste for ponderous old-regime cliches). In the dystopian context, however, this reads (column 4) as an ailing old man’s links to the old culture (and its gods, especially if we take Khvorob’ev’s “Avaunt! Don’t touch me! Avaunt! [Chur menia, chur!]” in its literal, exorcist sense). Finally, from the perspective of Newdream (column 5), this segment is an early manifestation of obligatory dreams and futile attempts at countermanipulation by ordering (cf. segment 2), disguised so far as mere recurrent nightmares (column 2).

* * *

On the whole, the five-code format and the actual interpretation it helped formulate seem to have significant explanatory power and open the way for further analysis. In particular, one can proceed now to compare the contents of the columns with the repertoire of the corresponding genres (and other discourse types) to study the significant omissions from and additions to that repertoire. Also, expanding the format, one could try to account for the narrative rhetoric of each one of the five simultaneously unfolding vertical subplots, the artistic economy of horizontal combinations, and the overall strategy of the score’s polyphonic development. Such an expressive analysis would have to take into consideration the immediate wider context of the chapter as a whole, whose other episode also involves the problematic of official art (see “Ilf and Petrov and Pluralist Reading,” this chapter).

Premising these and similar avenues of study on the proposed format should not exclude the possibility of modifying or revising it. The format implements an approach that envisages intertexts as a given text’s links to ‘clusters of relevant features’16 through the intermediary of which the other texts (e.g., Village of Stepanchikovo) are actually or potentially invoked. The cluster principle is supposed to limit the unbridled reading into the text of just any meanings. But there is no reason why the list of relevant planes / codes / contexts should not vary from text to text or why the particular set applied to a text should not be expanded with additional plausible contexts. For instance, it would be interesting to see how our reading of the Khvorob’ev episode would be affected by the adduction of Kafka’s The Trial.

The above presentation clearly aimed at and accordingly produced a rather unified interpretation, polyphonic in the musical, not Bakhtinian, sense. It seems to be in agreement with the purport and tenor of Ilf and Petrov’s writing and certainly with my theoretical preferences. These latter call for as much thematic integration as the text and its contexts will accommodate and admitting disparate pluralism only where the different voices can be shown to defy reconciliation effectively. This is a far cry from insisting on one right format and one right reading — something one would hardly think of doing in a chapter devoted to the horrors of “dreaming right.”


The table presents a series of passages from chapter 8, “A Genre in Crisis,” of The Golden Calf. The arrangement of elements and their meanings are explained in The Score section above.


1. Zamiatin, We. ‘Dreams’ are a symptom of the protagonist’s infatuation with the woman, who comes from “the land of dreams” because she is “incalculable.” “He never saw dreams before” and now dreams some “mortally sweet horror.” While “not to sleep is criminal,” “dreaming is a serious mental disease,” the “ancient disease of dream seeing,” along with such diseases as soul and fancy. Dreams are associated with the Ancient House (Zamiatin’s coinage!), the “delirious world of the ancients,” and the protagonist’s diary records, which he calls “absurd dreams” resembling “a fantastic novel.” The “dream sickness” (snobolezn’) is finally cured by the obligatory surgical Operation of “extirpating the [center for] fancy.”

2. Huxley, Brave New World. The system relies for repression on the spraying of soma, which tranquilizes people by plunging them into pleasant dreams, and soma pills are willingly taken by citizens at the slightest threat of facing life’s problems. Another powerful dream technique is obligatory caste-specific hypnopaedia undergone at a tender age by everybody on an incubatorlike assembly line to ensure that members of each caste are completely satisfied with their place in society. The protagonist, Mr. Savage (!), who has bypassed hypnopaedia and avoids soma, is able to face the prospect of death, about which he thinks in terms of dreaming and in the words of the forbidden book: “To sleep. Perchance to dream.”

3. Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading. The protagonist is imprisoned from the beginning, and dreams, especially erotic ones, are forbidden: “The inmate should not have at all, or … immediately … suppress nocturnal dreams whose content might be incompatible with the … status of the prisoner, such as: . . . sexual intercourse with persons who in real life … would not suffer said individual to come near, which individual will therefore be considered … guilty of rape.” Yet Cincinnatus has them anyway — an “ennobled … semi-reality, more genuine reality than our waking life.” Besides, the boundary between dreams and reality is blurred throughout the text. Most likely, the entire cardboard world of the novel is a ghostly nightmare, complete with its stylized characters and the statue of Captain Somnus (in the Russian original, Sonnyi, lit. “Sleepy”), which crumbles at the end, while death will be an awakening to genuine life. The protagonist’s dreams intertwine with his writing (of the book), and the modernist arbitrariness of the narrative as a whole reserves the status of indisputable reality only for Nabokov’s text itself. The protagonist’s emblematic alter ego is the butterfly napping in his cell and like his soul, successfully eluding the jailers.

4. Orwell, 1984. “Doublethink” presupposes (metaphorical) centralized hypnosis and self-hypnosis. The protagonist, Winston Smith, even believes that his former wife’s frigidity was caused by “the hypnotic power of the Party.” People are often arrested for what they have said in their sleep; therefore, one “must not only think right; [one] must feel right, dream right.” That is the conclusion to which the prostrate protagonist (having passed through the stage of failure to distinguish between dreams and reality) is driven in the end by his Inquisitor, who knows more about his dreams (in particular, about the fear of rats that is hidden but discernible in his nightmares) than the dreamer himself. The protagonist has a whole suite of dreams: the Inquisitor telling him in the dark that they will meet where there is no darkness; his drowning mother and sister and the guilt he feels toward them; his mother shielding his kid sister with a helpless but loving gesture; the wall of darkness behind which something terrible is hiding — rats, as becomes clear later; the Golden Meadow, which turns out to be the real scene of his first date with the woman. While in prison, he has a complex dream: all doubts are over, he has surrendered and is blissfully awaiting a bullet in his back; he believes he is in the prison’s corridor but at the same time as if in a sunlit place, which becomes the Golden Meadow; the protagonist thinks of the woman he loves, calls her by name, and wakes up. His scream signals to the Inquisitor that deep down he still has not renounced himself and his lover; by unleashing rats on the protagonist’s face, he induces him to wish to shield himself with the woman’s body in a mental gesture opposite to his mother’s and thus effectively to betray the woman, fall out of love with her and in love with Big Brother. In the end, Winston again blissfully dreams of the sunlit corridor of the prison and the expectation of the bullet, but without the sequel involving the Golden Meadow.

5. Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451°. The protagonist’s wife spends a night on the borderline of sleeping and waking, washed over by oceans of sounds from her headphones. She also inadvertently takes an overdose of sleeping pills. The protagonist has become a fireman “in his sleep,” in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. As the protagonist switches off the TV “walls,” addictively watched by his wife, they are compared to “the pale brows of sleeping giants, now empty of dreams.” In the poem he reads (Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach”), the world first resembles “a land of dreams, so various, so beautiful, so new,” but turns out to have “neither joy, nor love, nor light, . . . nor help for pain,” as “ignorant armies clash by night.” Thus, all major threads of the plot converge on a ‘book’ about dreams. Dreams are also invoked by the Inquisitor as he tries to win the protagonist over by claiming to have dreamed of gaining the upper hand in a duel fought with literary quotations. The protagonist listens to him literally with one ear while lending the other to the Professor (Old Man and Book), who supplies him with counterarguments through a microreceiver. The professor also plans to use this radio for the hypnopaedic teaching of culture, in a rare instance of an AntiState alliance of technology with dreams and books. Toward the end, the protagonist dreams of an idyllic farm, Nature, and the beautiful woman.

6. Burgess, A Clockwork Orange. The protagonist repeatedly encounters his Inquisitors while bedridden or strapped into the armchair custom-designed for the brainwashing operation — a grotesque hybrid of Coercion, Medical Treatment, Art, and Dreaming. Repeated obligatory viewing (with eyelids fixed open) of films about violence, to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and in combination with an emetic, effectively suppresses the protagonist’s aggressive, sexual, and aesthetic impulses. The reeducation’s success is demonstrated in a scene where the tamed protagonist is humiliated in front of the watching public. From these horrors he escapes into a “sleep … with no dreams at all” and wants “to snuff it … without pain.” In fact, his dreams (among them, those shared with his father) had actually forecast trouble, and in two prophetic nightmares dreaming was joined by Music, which had turned against him. The link between dreams and art is made quite explicit: the protagonist defines a dream as “a film inside your gulliver [head], except that it is as though you could … be part of it,” but redreaming a sequence from the film that had “cured” him makes him sick. Another violation of his privacy is perpetrated with the help of music, which “drag[s him] out of … sleep” and pushes him to suicide. Equally unceremonious is the reverse treatment with hypnopaedia. The protagonist experiences it in his sleep as a sort of internal washing out and then filling up, after which he resumes his healthily aggressive dreams and love of “the glorious Ninth of Ludwig van.”


1 The term is used here in a broad sense, covering such disparate cases as The Divine Comedy, the picaresque novel, Don Quixote, Dead Souls, and Jaroslav Hasek’s The Good Soldier Schweik; on the thematic relevance of such comparisons, see Shcheglov 1986c: 93-104; 1990, 1: 34-49.

2 For a survey of opinions, see Kurdiumov 1983: 9-34.

3 See Riffaterre 1978: esp. 3-5, 63-80; for the critical strategy of uncovering, underneath a parodic jumble, a positive thematic thrust, cf. the beginning of Chapter 5.

4 “Krizis zhanra.” Malamuth’s translation, “The Landscape Changes,” completely misses this point, Richardson’s “A Crisis in the Arts” is closer; see Ilf and Petrov 1966, 1962, respectively.

5 See, respectively, Ilf and Petrov 1961, 3: 193-97; 1935: 32-37; for English translations, see Guerney 1960: 397-407; my analysis is based on Shcheglov and Zholkovsky 1976: 220-22.

6 On the direct use of chap. 2: 7 of The Possessed (“U nashikh”), see Shcheglov 1990, 1: 217).

7 The word ‘ordering’ is used here in the sense of “calling up made-to-order dreams,” as in “ordering a meal or a book” (and not “making dreams orderly”).

8 This crippled condition is very much in the spirit of the times; cf. Pasternak’s co-temporaneous statement: “My v budushchem, tverzhu ia im, kak vse, kto / Zhil v eti dni. A esli iz kalek [!], / To vse ravno: telegoiu proekta / Nas pereekhal novyi chelovek.” (We are in the future, I keep telling them, like all, who/ Have lived in these days. And if [we should prove to be] from among cripples, /It does not matter: With [his] cart of the Project/ The new man has run over us) (“Kogda ia ustaiu ot pustozvonstva,” 1931); cf. Chapter 8.

9 A similar figure is “substitute-chairman [zits-predsedatel’] Funt, … a man from the good old days,” who did time (as the front for various shady companies) under several czars and revolutionary regimes. Funt is akin to the old railway worker Kordubailo in Solzhenitsyn’s “An Incident at Krechetovka Station” (Pomorska 1971: 42-91), who has taken a military oath of allegiance to five consecutive regimes. A grim opposite case is provided, as usual, by Orwell, in the person of the anonymous old prole Winston Smith probes in vain for information about pre-revolutionary times (1984, 1: 8).

10. Unlike Ilf and Petrov, the authors of most dystopias (with the possible exception of Burgess) are clearly in moral sympathy with the victimized protagonist, disillusioned as they are with the human condition.

11. For dream control in Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, Zabolotskii, Mikhail Bulgakov, Thomas Mann (“Mario and the Magician”), and others, see Zholkovsky 1986g:201-6.

12. Being “false” in this rhetorical sense, they are, of course, thematically overdetermined in other respects. Thus, they foreground Khvorob’ev’s ‘problematic monarchism,’ which in turn provides an ironic counterpoint to the dystopian theme of total control.

13. Similar dreams and visions, including ordered ones, appear in Turgenev’s “After Death (Klara Milich).”

14. Dostoevsky spoofs the traditional recurrence of “the same old dream” not only by iteration but also by the dream’s very content: the Russian idiom skazka pro belogo byka/bychka (“a tale about the white bull”) means “endless’ repetition of one and the same thing” (see the dictionary entry for Belyi [“White”], Chernyshev 1948: 379); an approximate English counterpart would be dreaming of a shaggy dog.

15. In the spirit of Tynianov’s (1977a [1921]) analysis of Opiskin as a parody of Gogol’s Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends, the purported dream about elegant ladies cum Foma himself can be seen as an ironic combination of Piskarev’s fixation on his prostitute qua lady and Gogol’s own obsessive insistence in Selected Passages on the educational role of the company of beautiful ladies (esp. in chapters 2, “Zhenshchina v svete,” and 21, “Chto takoe gubernatorsha”). Khvorob’ev echoes this only in the very general sense of yearning for dreams from court life. His one possible direct link with Selected Passages is in the mention of “Czar’s issue from the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin,” comparable with Gogol’s praise of the book Tsarskie vykhody (Czars’ issues): “It was as though I saw everywhere a Czar of olden times reverently going to evening services in all his antique imperial attire” (Letter 15, Gogol 1937-52, 8: 279; 1969: 86-87).

16. For the concept of intertextual clusters, see Chapter 5 and in more detail, Zholkovsky 1992c.