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Subjectivity (Fet vs. Nekrasov)

April 17, 2011

Contrasts between Nekrasov and Fet are common enough, and because the differences seem so evident, they’re not always well done. I think Boris Osherovich Korman’s is elegant.

What’s different is how important the субъект сознания* is compared to the объект. Which poet is more focused on subjects and which on the object?


Korman argues that in Nekrasov’s system, the “subject of consciousness” is extremely important, functioning as “a distinctly felt prism through which reality is refracted before the reader’s eyes,” and sometimes this subject itself is the main thing being portrayed (108). This is often the case in Nekrasov’s “role-playing poems” (“ролевая” лирика, “ролевые” стихотворения – Korman uses the quotation marks for his own terms), where we have a lyric poem told from the perspective of some character other than a stylized lyric hero who overlaps with the author.** Some passages in Nekrasov’s poems, read in isolation, could be taken as descriptions of emotional states that everyone has experienced, but in context these emotional states are always “structural elements in the emotional/psychological and ideological makeup of a concrete individual” (113, emphasis in original).


The “I” in most Fet poems is quite hard to pin down, lacking biological details or distinctive inherent traits. A poem like “Светил нам день, будя огонь в крови” (1887), about two people’s missed opportunity at passion and their lifelong regrets about it, doesn’t concentrate on who the two people are, but on what happened to them (the “object” rather than the “subject”). This is paradoxically clear in Fet’s attempts at “ролевая” лирика, which are rare and not especially successful. Grammatical forms show that “Всю ночь гремел овраг соседний” (1872) is a woman addressing a man, but if we didn’t have the verb endings and imagined it as a man addressing a woman, there is so little focus on the субъект сознания that practically nothing would change (109-10).

* As an aside, I’m not sure if there’s an English equivalent for субъект сознания, which means something like “the person whose point of view is being expressed in a given text, who may be distinct from the speaker.” Also, I see that at least one Russian translation of Kristeva translates sujet parlant as “говорящий субъект,” and not субъект речи “speaker.”

** “Ролевая” лирика is a bit like poetry’s answer to сказ, as Korman explains more precisely in the previous section (103-04).

See B. O. Korman, Лирика Некрасова (Izhevsk, 1978), 108-15.

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