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Mikhail Platonovich → Platon Mikhailovich → Mikhail Platonovich

December 5, 2011

One of the several narrative voices in Vladimir Odoevskii’s “The Sylph” (Сильфида, also as pdf, 1836, published 1837) belongs to a certain Mikhail Platonovich, who either communes with a sylph or goes mad. The story ends with a paragraph from a new speaker, the “putative publisher” (191). This publisher says he was given “Platon Mikhailovich’s letters” (192). Platon Mikhailovich is mentioned nowhere else, and it is not explained who he might be. Christopher Putney admits the “riddle” of the reversed name could be dismissed “as nothing more than a typographical error” (188), and apparently a translator of the story did exactly this and “‘corrected’ the name back to Mikhail Platonovich” (192n7).

But Putney reads more in the changed name, and sounds persuasive to me. Having the publisher refer to Platon Mikhailovich is something we can interpret lots of ways: as Odoevskii’s own mistake, a mistake Odoevskii has the publisher make, an accurate reference to Mikhail Platonovich’s son or father, or a suggestion of an endless alternation of MPs and PMs. The “confusing name change of the hero at story’s end is symptomatic of the Romantic attraction for self-subversion and internal contradiction” (192) and leaves “an impression of the entire text as indeterminate in its essence” (193). It might even be “Odoevsky’s enigmatic gesture at the possibility of that unification of subject and object, reified in the father/son calculus, that is the sacred goal of aesthetic production for the Romantic artist” (201).

Not Odoevskii's sylph, but a dancer 14 years younger than him in a ballet called The Sylph

The heart of the article is about that Romantic idea of unification. The sylph beckons Mikhail Platonovich to follow her out of his world into “a universe that exists either at a prelapsarian time that precedes the process of division, of disunification, of separation, of multiplication from the One, or at a future time after a reunification has been effected” (195). An 1825 story by Odoevskii, “Two Days in the Life of the Earthly Globe” (Два дни в жизни земного шара) has a comet almost hit the earth, after which people “experience a sudden transfiguration with the dawn of a new utopian age” in which “all contradictions are resolved, subject becomes object, and vice versa” (201). In all this Odoevskii follows Schelling, whom he admired, as well as Neoplatonist thinkers and occult traditions (“dabblings in alchemy and Kabbalism” in “The Sylph,” 198; see also 195, 199-200).

See Christopher R. Putney, “‘The Circle That Presupposes Its End As Its Goal’: The Riddle of Vladimir Odoevsky’s ‘The Sylph,’” Slavic and East European Journal 55.2 (2011): 188-204.

Disclaimer: I have met the author of the article.

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