Tag Archives: Andrei Bely

Ivan Bunin monument, Voronezh

Click on photos to enlarge.


I got into the mood for this little excursion today by re-reading a Facebook post that many of my friends posted in recent days. You see, I will unleash a bit of bile myself before this is all over, so we might as well make this whole thing a journey down a ragged road. Actually, I’ll start with my own grievances. They have to do with this monument unveiled by Moscow sculptor Alexander Burganov in 1995 on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of Ivan Bunin’s birth in Voronezh. (For that event this little park located at the meeting of Plekhanovskaya and Ordzhonikidze streets, right in front of the local Oblast court, was renamed Bunin Square.)
Burganov is an ubiquitous sculptor in Moscow. It would appear that he is a good friend of that blight on Moscow culture Zurab Tsereteli, because, after Tsereteli himself, no one seems to get as many commissions to slap up monuments as Burganov. The latter’s work – like so many “official” Russian “public” artists, including Tsereteli and the abominable Soviet-era painter Ilya Glazunov – is simplistic and cartoony. Look at Bunin’s face here; you can’t see a feature anywhere that is not generic. There are the requisite attributes – a beard, cheekbones, ears, a nose, a mustache – but they look like they come from that kids’ game we used to play, remember? the one with the plastic parts of a body and a face that you slapped together on a slick surface to create different images of a human being? Look at the mustache and beard in the second photo below – they’re stuck on there like plastic strips. You almost suspect that if Burganov were to have received a more lucrative assignment while he was working on this one, he could have just used the basic carcass and slapped different features on it in order to have a quick turn-around time.
The dog, we’re told by Russian Wikipedia, symbolizes isolation and the fading of the noble class in Russia… What the hell? I’ll tell you what I think the dog is doing here: Burganov finished the sculpture (or, at least, the drawing and model) with just Bunin sitting there, and he realized, Holy Moses! this is boring! Just at that moment, Burganov’s dog ran up and licked his hand, or he heard a dog bark in the distance – and, voila! the monument was saved. Sort of. It’s like when a theater director doesn’t know how to end a scene and so he just turns the volume of the music up really loud. The dog is like bling. It sprinkles sparkly dust in your eyes so you don’t think too much about how vapid Bunin looks. You can just hear people coming up to the monument:
MAN: Aw! Isn’t he cute?
WOMAN: Coochie-coochie-coo!
MAN: Look at him stretching! Here, let me give him a rub on his butt!
WOMAN: Who is this guy here?
MAN: I dunno. Who cares?
Okay, so I made up the details, but not the essence. This monument succeeds in being pompous and bland all at the same time. That, of course, is an accomplishment, although not one you look for in your public art.
But, enough of that. Let me return to Bunin.

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I don’t know the original source, but the poet Andrei Permyakov posted an informational chart about Ivan Bunin on Facebook on Oct. 23 that really made the rounds. As of midday Oct. 28, it had been “liked” nearly 1700 times and had been “shared” nearly 200 times. (For the record, I include a screen shot of it after the last photo below.) This chart shows 16 nasty comments that Bunin, the 1933 Nobel Prize winner in the field of literature, made about illustrious colleagues.
Isaac Babel was “one of the most despicable heretics.”
Alexander Blok was “an unbearably poetic poet” who “hoodwinks the public with gibberish.”
Vladimir Nabokov was “a charlatan and a phrasemonger (often merely tongue-tied).”
Mikhail Kuzmin was “a pederast with a half-naked forehead and a funereal face painted up like a prostitute’s corpse.”
Mikhail Voloshin was “a fat, curly-haired aesthete.”
Of those Bunin rakes over the coals, the great experimental poet Velemir Khlebnikov seems to have come off relatively well amidst the insults: He was “a rather gloomy youth, silent, perhaps hungover but at least not pretending to be hungover.”
On Andrei Bely: “There’s nothing left to say about his simian furies.”
He wasted few words on Leonid Andreev (“drunken tragedian”) and Maxim Gorky (“monstrous hack”).
Of the 16 targets, only two are women. I don’t know if that means Bunin was more appreciative of women writers or less. In any case:
Marina Tsvetaeva is singled out for her “unending, lifelong flow of wild words and sounds in her poetry.”
Zinaida Gippius was merely “an uncommonly repulsive harpy.”
And to think that a man so bursting in personality, passion and opinion should be condemned to sit forever in front of a court building in his birth town with a blank, empty expression on his face, upstaged by a dog.
God works in wondrous ways.

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Bunin Chart

Andrei Bely apartment, Moscow

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The internet is full of identical sentences that read, “Andrei Bely lived at 21 Plotnikov Lane in the 1900s.” It isn’t much to go on. When did he move in? When did he move out? How long was he here and what did he do while he was here? I haven’t quite pinned it down.
Andrei Bely, born Boris Bugayev in 1880, was born on the Arbat, where there is now an Andrei Bely museum. We’ll get to that someday. But he also lived for at least a while in this imposing art nouveau apartment house on Plotnikov Lane just a stone’s throw from the Arbat.  The Andrei Bely website, which has a pretty good chronology of Bely’s life and work, tells us that he moved into this building during August and September (or, at some point during those two months) in 1906. At that time the street was named Nikolsky Lane. Bely took up residence in Apt. 7. And then the trail goes cold. Mentions of Nikolsky/Plotnikov Lane after that are relatively rare. We do find Bely “moving back to Moscow” in a different apartment (11 6th Rostovsky Lane, Apt. 2, apparently as a guest of the anthroposophist Alexander Pozzo) in November of 1911.
The fact of the matter is – it would appear that Bely spent precious little time in this apartment. By September he has moved in, but he left Russia for Europe on Sept. 20 and spent a great deal of the next few years traveling. Some of the cities that figured in his itinerary were Munich, Paris, Venice, Rome and Sicily. He visited Kiev at least twice and went back and forth between St. Petersburg and Moscow as if he were commuting. Plus he often spent summers outside of Moscow, usually at a rented dacha.
It’s true, he does find himself in Moscow from time to time – he returns to Moscow in February and Nov. 1907…
One Moscow online encyclopedia adds the tidbit that Bely moved into this new apartment with his mother- and that it was here that he made the acquaintance of the well-known philosopher Mikhail Gershenzon, who also lived on the same street. Still another source notes that the move was made necessary because of the death of Bely’s father – they could no longer afford to remain in their home on the Arbat.

IMG_8982.jpg2 IMG_8980.jpg2 IMG_8979.jpg2In his essay “Arbat,” Bely described the move to Nikolsky Lane thus:
For me the the exchanging of the Arbat is associated with retreat: I withdrew from the Arbat, settling next to the Arbat – on Nikolsky, an extremely quiet lane. Yes, my former Arbat life had now become my near-Arbat, sidestreet life...”
All this time Bely was on the verge of having to fight a duel with his friend, the poet Alexander Blok, over Blok’s wife Lyubov Mendeleeva (yes, the daughter of the formulator of the Periodic Table).  Maybe that’s why Bely traveled so much – to keep Blok off guard. In any case, Blok challenged Bely to a duel by letter on Aug. 8, 1907, while we are told that the two met in Moscow on Aug. 24 in Moscow and came to terms with each other peacefully. (Almost exactly a year earlier, Bely had challenged Blok to a duel – Mendeleyeva, of course, ever the reason.)
Some of the works that Bely was working on more or less at this time include his so-called “Fourth Symphony: Cluster of Snowstorms,” a poem, and his short story “Adam.” He was also writing a lot of essays and texts for lectures, many of them on topics mixing religion and politics, although he also wrote about theater, drama and poetry as well. He wrote his novel The Silver Dove in 1909, perhaps, in part, while he was resident at Nikolsky/Plotnikov Lane. But his novel Petersburg, considered by many not only to be his greatest work, but one of the finest works of the 20th century, was written in 1913-1914 – after he definitely was gone from this place.
In order to round out this post, which contains more non-information than it does information, let me point out that the beautiful structure at 21 Plotnikov Lane was designed by the architect N.D. Begichev. I pride myself in tracking down people’s first names, so as not to fall back on that horrid Russian habit of calling everybody by their initials, but I have not yet been able to identify Mr. Begichev. There are several prominent people with this name in Russian history, but none I have found are architects working at this point in time. If anyone can fill in my lack of knowledge, I’ll be happy to give you credit here. In the meantime, let the accompanying photos speak for my inadequate words.

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