The University of Wisconsin Press

Russian & Slavic Studies / Literature & Criticism / Philosophy / Religion


The Russian Prospero
The Creative Universe of Viacheslav Ivanov
Robert Bird

"An ambitious quantum leap in the study of Viacheslav Ivanov's work. Serious, original, and important."
–Alexis Klimoff, Vassar College

Viacheslav Ivanov (1866–1949), the central intellectual force in Russian modernism, achieved through his work an original synthesis of Christianity, Platonism, and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. His powerful intellect exerted an immeasurable influence in modernist Russia and the early Soviet Union, and after emigrating to Italy in 1924 he played an important role in intellectual debates in Western Europe between the wars. In recent years, Ivanov's manifold contributions have been recognized in all major aspects of Russian culture, including poetry, literary theory, philosophy, and theology.

In The Russian Prospero, Robert Bird uncovers the foundations of Ivanov's poetic and theoretical universe, traces its evolution, and explores its connections to cultural and intellectual currents in international modernism. Blending a close reading of Ivanov's work with a thoughtful analysis of his place within twentieth-century thought, Bird finds that Ivanov's ecstatic creative psychology leads directly to a consideration of history as a continuum of human interpretive activity, and to a conception of art as a historical force. He emphasizes and dramatizes Ivanov's quest to harness the power of art and apply it to concrete life-situations. It is the dilemma of Prospero, who must liberate his attendant spirit Ariel in order to restore full sovereignty over his own creative self and to regain ethical agency. The productive tension that resulted from Ivanov's struggle was a remarkable force in Russian modernism and remains a powerful spur for our own reflections on modernity.

"Bird's The Russian Prospero will be read and reread by anyone interested in the Russian 'Silver Age' and its legacy. This study of Viacheslav Ivanov and his world is the most ambitious and accomplished to appear in any language. Combining lucid explanatory commentary with ingenious interpretation, Bird expertly guides the reader through all genres of Ivanov's multifaceted writings."–Michael Wachtel, Princeton University

Robert Bird is associate professor of Russian literature at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Andrei Rublev and the translator of Viacheslav Ivanov's Selected Essays, which won the AATSEEL Translation Prize in 2002.

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Of Related Interest
Erotic Utopia: The Decadent Imagination in Russia's Fin de Siècle
Olga Matich

Bird's book is illustrated with a cartoon of Ivanov flying from a rooftop with a tiny flower clutched in his hands.

November 2006

LC: 2006008592 PG
368 pp.  6 x 9
1 figure

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