The University of Wisconsin Press


Russian and Slavic Studies / Literature & Criticism



Beyond the Flesh
Alexander Blok, Zinaida Gippius, and the Symbolist Sublimation of Sex
Jenifer Presto


"An entirely new and highly productive approach to the study of Symbolist mythologies."
—Catherine Ciepiela, author of The Same Solitude: Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetaeva


Though the Russian Symbolist movement was dominated by a concern with transcending sex, many of the writers associated with the movement exhibited an intense preoccupation with matters of the flesh. Drawing on poetry, plays, short stories, essays, memoirs, and letters, as well as feminist and psychoanalytic theory, Beyond the Flesh documents the often unexpected form that this obsession with gender and the body took in the life and art of two of the most important Russian Symbolists.

Jenifer Presto argues that the difficulties encountered in reading Alexander Blok and Zinaida Gippius within either a feminist or a traditional, binary gendered framework derive not only from the peculiarities of their creative personalities but also from the specific Russian cultural context. Although these two poets engaged in gendered practices that, at times, appeared to be highly idiosyncratic and even incited gossip among their contemporaries, they were not operating in a vacuum. Instead, they were responding to philosophical concepts that were central to Russian Symbolism and that would continue to shape modernism in Russia.

"A sophisticated, elegant, and substantial study of two central figures in the Russian Symbolist movement. The intellectual sparkle of the book is matched by its very thorough scholarly underpinning."—Sibelan Forrester, Swarthmore College

Jenifer Presto is associate professor of comparative literature and Russian at the University of Oregon.

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Of Related Interest:
cover of Matich is an illustration of an ambigeously gendered individual in turn of century clothing Erotic Utopia
The Decadent Imagination in Russia's Fin de Siècle
Olga Matich
"No historian of literature has looked at turn-of-the-century Russia from the perspective found in Olga Matich's groundbreaking study."—Yuri Tsivian, professor of Slavic languages & literatures, art history, and comparative literature, University of Chicago

Cover of book is green with a black and white drawing of a man and a woman.

January 2009

LC: 2008011968 PG
376 pp.   6 x 9
4 b/w illus.

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"Jenifer Presto's imaginative pairing of two major Symbolist poets produces all sorts of scholarly rewards, both in her provocative readings of individual texts and in the far-reaching cultural and theoretical contexts she uses to frame these readings. The poetic landscape of Russia's Silver Age will never look quite the same again."
—Clare Cavanagh, author of Osip Mandelstam and the Modernist Creation of Tradition

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