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Project for the Study of Dissidence and Samizdat

By Ann Komaromi

The Electronic Archive “Project for the Study of Dissidence and Samizdat” (PSDS) includes the database of Soviet samizdat periodicals, electronic editions of selected samizdat journals, illustrated timelines of dissident movements, and interviews with activists. The Project aims to make rare materials more widely available and to provoke questions about the trajectories of groups and individuals within the varied field of Soviet dissidence and nonconformist culture.

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INTRODUCTION - 37

ТРИДЦАТЬ СЕМЬ (THIRTY-SEVEN, 37)

The journal 37 emerged as part of the trend towards periodical editions in Leningrad samizdat culture in the second half of the 1970s. The journal 37 was one of the first such editions, and its appearance helped demonstrate the establishment of independent cultural life in Leningrad (“37”; Dolinin and Severiukhin 27, 29).  Twenty-one issues appeared between January 1976 and March 1981: nine in the first year of the journal’s existence, four in 1977, three each in 1978 and 1979, and one each in 1980 and 1981. The print run varied widely from issue to issue, and estimates of circulation range from five to two hundred copies per issue (“37” 457; Antologiia 3: 297-99).  

Editors Tatiana Goricheva and Viktor Krivulin started the journal out of the apartment they rented together with their friend and co-editor Lev Rudkevich. The journal’s title derives from the number of their apartment, #37, at 20 Kurliandskaia Street. The editors of 37 thus advertised its origins in a domestic space, highlighting an important characteristic of unofficial cultural life in the 1970s, which developed through independent seminars, art exhibits, readings, conferences, editorial work and production of samizdat journals and books in personal apartments and among friends. The journal 37 occupies a special position within this space because it was closely associated with a particular independent seminar, the Religious-Philosophical Seminar (1974-1980), initiated by Goricheva and Sergei Stratanovskii in 1974 and meeting regularly until 1980.  

As something like a traditional Russian “thick” journal, 37 was divided into several distinctive sections, each of which had its designated editor. Both sections and editors changed over time and no two issues were configured in exactly the same way. It seems that Goricheva intended a central role for the section on religion and philosophy that she edited; in 1979, she maintained that all editors were keen for the journal to serve the cause of Orthodox education (Goricheva 40). This statement contradicts the fact that a large proportion of the journal was never directly concerned with religion, let alone Orthodoxy. Lev Rudkevich, atheist and editor of the science section until his emigration in 1977, even published his criticism of religion, entitled ‘On Faith’, in 37 No. 3. Moreover, the section on religion was itself flexible. In the issues where the sections have actual titles, it featured variously as ‘Philosophy, Theology’ (Nos. 3, 4, 10) to ‘Christianity and Art’ (Nos. 14, 15) and ‘Philosophy and Religion’ (Nos. 11, 18) in order to accommodate materials pertaining to different genres. Most of the unambiguously Christian material published in 37 was generated by the editors and their friends, very personal in nature and not necessarily suitable for giving people a grounding in Orthodox theology or practice. Some of these texts took the form of ‘conversations’ – stylized epistolary exchanges, e.g. the ‘Evangelical Dialogues’ between Goricheva and Krivulin in Nos. 1 and 2 and ‘Issues of Contemporary Christianity’ between ‘A and B’ in No. 2, continued by ‘A, B, V, G, and D’ in No 3.  The other major vehicle for Christian thought were transcripts of the discussions held during the sessions of the Religious-Philosophical Seminar about issues affecting the neophyte Christian in contemporary society, e.g.  ‘Christianity and Ethics’ in No. 6, ‘Christianity and Humanism’ in No. 7/8, and ‘Contemporary Christianity’ in No 9. The publication of these discussions is consonant with the objective proclaimed in the editor’s foreword to the first issue, namely ‘To lead the culture of conversation beyond its pre-written stage’. A number of non-literary texts by famous names appearing in the journal represented Western philosophy in translation:  Kierkegaard (No 1), Malthus (No 2), and especially Martin Heidegger (No 2, 3, and 5 – this issue came out after his death and was dedicated to him), a choice that reflects Goricheva’s deep investment in phenomenology and specifically in Heidegger’s works. By contrast, few texts were published that could be deemed ‘Orthodox’ – a letter by the Silver Age polymath and priest Fr Pavel Florensky, himself a marginal figure in the church, and two interviews with Orthodox priests in No 14.  

Poetry was at the centre of unofficial culture in Leningrad, and 37 was a first-rate poetry journal. It was founded in the wake of the final rejection of the poetry almanac Lepta (Contribution) by Sovetskii pisatel' publishing house, as was its sister journal, Chasy (The Clock, No. 1-80, 1976-1990), edited by Boris Ivanov and the longest-surviving journal of Leningrad samizdat.  Works that had been intended for publication in Lepta appeared in the first issues of 37 and Chasy, as well as in Konstantin Kuzminskii’s and Grigorii Kovalev’s The Blue Lagoon Anthology of Russian Poetry (Ivanov 1993: 82-89; Ivanov 1995: 92).  The close relationship between 37 and Chasy was unique, but while the journals overlapped significantly with regard to the material and authors they promoted, they remained fundamentally different. Chasy was above all a literary journal, committed to publishing the widest possible range of high-quality unofficial literature alongside translations and critical essays. As Krivulin described it in his retrospective comparison of the two journals, if Chasy aimed to “gather mushrooms,” that is, to bring together all writers whose uncensored works could not be accommodated by official Soviet print, then 37 expressed a more deliberately tendentious and discriminating perspective. Essentially, 37 aimed to articulate a new kind of language “capable of describing the actual state of culture in that historical moment in Russia from the point of view of a personality” located within it (Krivulin 1993: 74-75).

The editors of 37 regularly included large selections of poems, often the size of a book-length collection, as separate booklets within the journal itself. Examples of poets who were published in this form include Viktor Krivulin (Nos. 1, 14), Viacheslav Kuprianov (No. 3), Elena Shvarts (No. 6), Aleksandr Mironov (No. 19), Olga Sedakova (No. 10), Lev Rubinshtein (No. 15) and Vsevolod Nekrasov (No. 17). The journal 37 is seminal as the venue that showcased those who came famously to represent the “Petersburg school” of poetry, including Krivulin, Mironov, Shvarts and Stratanovskii. These and the other poets of the “Petersburg school” in unofficial culture that featured in the issues of 37 treated spirituality, culture and history in distinctive ways that recall high modernist precedents and the “Petersburg text” in Russian literature (Ivanov 572; Kulakov 110-11; Orlitskii 175; Sandler 126). These poems contributed to the elevated tone and turn toward tradition in 37 that bring to mind Acmeist poet Osip Mandelshtam’s “longing for world culture.”

At the same time, issues of 37 fostered a dialogue among this particular Petersburg trend and other voices in unofficial culture. Alongside the highly serious relationship to cultural tradition and spiritual themes we find echoes of the playfulness and absurdity associated with the legacy of the OBERIU (The Society for Real Art). Many materials from this final stage of the Russian avant-garde in the 1920s became available for the first time in the 1960s and they influenced unofficial culture in Leningrad (Savitskii 141-64). The discussion of Leonid Aronzon and presentation of his works in No. 12 reveals the dialogic combination of high seriousness with absurdist poetics. The strikingly original poetic works, strong personality and tragically short life of Aronzon made him a plausible alternative to Joseph Brodsky for the role of “founding father” of the Leningrad late Soviet poetic renaissance (Sedakova 258; Krivulin 1998). The journal shows the importance of the absurd for this renaissance, implicitly and explicitly, when the editors discuss the absurd as significant Russian and Western legacy in the introduction to poems by Sergei Stratanovskii, No. 7/8. Stratanovskii’s verses reflect engagement with post-war writers like Camus and Sartre, as well as an innovative poetic relationship to the industrial area of Leningrad (Sabbatini 277-82).

The journal 37 sheds light on yet another important aspect of late Soviet unofficial culture: Moscow Conceptualism. While the Petersburg school poets have been folded into a trend of “Metarealism” treated as a development distinct from that of Moscow Conceptualism (Berg 158, 160; Epstein 108, 147), poets associated with the two aesthetics share some common roots in the heritage of Russian modernism and in their engagement with Western post-war trends such as the absurd. Boris Groys published his seminal article “Moscow Romantic Conceptualism” for the first time in 37 No. 15. Groys took an increasingly prominent role in shaping the late issues. As a result conceptualism began to dominate the poetry section, e.g. in the important publications by leading conceptualist authors Vsevolod Nekrasov and Lev Rubinstein. The dialogic tensions arising from the coexistence of these distinct aesthetics in 37 gave the journal dynamism and made it more than a simple organ of like-minded friends.

Alongside the outstanding selection of poetry, 37 also featured prose, critical essays and reviews, translations, for the most part literary, and publications of works not appearing in official print that fill out the wide-ranging scope of an edition that aimed to reflect the holistic nature of the independent culture being created in Leningrad. An important regular section was the ‘Chronicle’, (e.g. in Nos. 4, 9, 14, 17, 19), listing unofficial cultural events taking place in Leningrad – seminars, art exhibitions in people’s flats, poetry readings etc.  Goricheva’s forced emigration in 1980 led to an almost complete overhaul of the editorial board for the last three issues (Nos. 19-21): Viktor Krivulin took over as editor-in-chief, Boris Groys and Suren Takhtadzhian assumed prominent roles. The theology section disappeared; this led to Evgenii Pazukhin and Viktor Antonov resigning from the editorial board. New sections for cultural studies (kul’turologiia) – No. 20, and visual art (izobrazitel’noe iskusstvo) – Nos. 20, 21, appeared. But the emigration of most of its central figures, and the discontinuation of the Religious-Philosophical Seminar in 1980, meant that the journal ceased publication in 1981.

Independent culture in the late Soviet period came into existence first of all on the basis of its opposition to official culture. The publication of 37 became possible because of this opposition, and repressive measures taken by the Soviet authorities impacted its life and ultimately caused its untimely end. Nevertheless, from the first issue (indeed, from the first dialogue), the editors and authors of 37 aimed to be something more than the opponent of State power. The variety of strong voices found on the pages of the journal show that unofficial culture had begun by this time to generate its own energy and sense of mission from within unofficial culture itself. The recovery of the modernist heritage, a drive for greater awareness of international culture, aesthetic engagement of the contemporary moment and new approaches to the poetic word and artistic material – these impulses appear to strong effect in 37 and make it one of the most remarkable documents of that time.

-- Josephine von Zitzewitz and Ann Komaromi

 

WORKS CITED

“37,” Samizdat Leningrada (Dolinin et al., op. cit.), 457-59.

 

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Berg, Mikhail, Literaturokratiia. Problema prisvoeniia i pereraspredeleniia vlasti v literature (Moscow: NLO, 2000).

 

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Dolinin, V. E. and D. Ia. Severiukhin, “Preodolenie nemoty,” Samizdat Leningrada (Dolinin et al., op. cit.), 7-51.

 

Epstein, Mikhail, “Metarealism and Conceptualism,” and “A Catalogue of New Poetries,” Russian Postmodernism. New Perspectives on Post-Soviet Culture, ed. Mikhail Epstein, Alexander Genis, Slobodanda Vladiv-Glover (New York: Berghahn Books, 1999), 105-112, 145-51.

 

Goricheva, Tatiana, “Zadachi khhristianskogo prosveshcheniia. Vystuplenie na vstrechi redaktsii, avtorov i chitatelei dvukh svobodnykh religioznykh zhurnalov: ‘Obshchina’ (Moskva) i zhurnala khristianskoi kul’tury ‘37’ (Leningrad). Leningrad, 22 fevral’ia 1979,” in “Khristianskii Seminar,” Vol’noe slovo 39 (1981), 34-41.

 

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Ivanov, B. “V bytnost’ Peterburga Leningradom. О leningradskom samizdatе,” Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie 14 (1995), 188-199. 

 

Krivulin, Viktor, “Zolotoi vek samizdata,” Samizdat veka, Anatolii Strelianyi et al., eds. (Moscow: Polifakt, 1999), 342-354.

 

Krivulin, Viktor, “Leonid Aronzon – sopernik Iosifa Brodskogo,” Okhota na mamonta (Saint Petersburg: Russko-baltiiskii informatsionnyi tsentr BLITs, 1998), 152-57.

 

Krivulin, Viktor, “’37’, ‘Severnaia pochta’,” Samizdat. Po materialam konferentsii ‘30 let nezavisimoi pechati. 1950-80 gody’, V. Dolinin, B. Ivanov, eds. (SPb: NITs “Memorial,” 1993), 74-81.

 

Kulakov, Vladislav, Poeziia kak fakt. Stat’i o stikhakh (Moscow: NLO, 1999).

 

Orlitskii, Iurii, “Stroficheskaia unikal’nost’ leningradskoi nepodtsenzurnoi poezii,” Vtoraia kul’tura. Neofitsial’naia poeziia Leningrada v 1970 – 1980-e gody, ed. Jean-Philippe Jaccard, Violaine Freidli, Jens Herlth (Sankt-Peterburg: Izdatel’stvo ‘Rostok’, 2013).

 

Sabbatini, Marco, “‘Obvodnyi kanal’ v mifopoetika Sergeia Stratanovskogo 1970-1980-kh gg.,” Vtoraia kul’tura. Neofitsial’naia poeziia Leningrada v 1970 – 1980-e gody, ed. Jean-Philippe Jaccard, Violaine Freidli, Jens Herlth (Sankt-Peterburg: Izdatel’stvo ‘Rostok’, 2013), 267-308.

 

Sandler, Stephanie, “Poetry after 1930,” The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Russian Literature, ed. Evgeny Dobrenko and Marina Balina (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 115-34.

 

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Sedakova, Ol’ga, “Muzyka glukhogo vremeni (Russkaia lirika 70-kh godov),” Vestnik novoi literatury 2 (1990): 257-65.