Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Discussion on the Nature of Writing

A Discussion on the Nature of Writing 

“It ain’t easy brother, Chester can tell you that. I wrote a novel, you know. A kind of spy thriller in which I had to stop a Soviet Squirrel named Natasha from giving my recipe over to the Russians. I worked for two years on that thing, while still putting in time at the studio. When I finished, I knew it was good, clean spy fiction, a paragon of the genre. But they told me I couldn’t publish it, not even under a pseudonym. Couldn’t afford to confuse my image, they said, as if they hadn’t renamed me three times already,” said the Cheetah bitterly.
            “Did you like writing the book?” asked the Rabbit.
            “It was crunchy,” said the Cheetah.
            “Maybe you could give it to someone else, and let them published it under their name?” suggested the Rabbit.
            “What?! Never! Chester don’t fuck around like that. Chester gonna stop doing this TV bullshit one day, and find himself a place in Brooklyn and get Paul Auster to help publish his books. Talked to Paul last year at a party in L.A. He says he’ll see if he can help Chester out.”
            “Oh,” said the Rabbit a little offended, “It was only a suggestion,” and then added, “I tried to write something once. It was a book of aphorisms, you know a la Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. But they only mocked me as always: ‘Silly rabbit,’ they’d say, ‘Silly, silly rabbit.’”
            “I used to write poems about me lucky charms,” said a sad little man, drinking hard ale from wooden cup, “Beautiful poems they were:

Frail the white rose and frail is the charm
Which she holdeth before with a spoon
Whose marshmallow sight
Was sure a delight
And it caused all the children to swoon
            “I remember one,” said H.G. Wells, suddenly barging in unannounced:
Our novel gets longa and longa
Its language gets stronga and stronga
But there’s much to be said
For a life that is led
In illiterate places like Bonga!

“How did you get here?!” I asked Wells astonished.
“I'm here to tell you to get back to work!" he roared, "Or quit writing books nobody wants to read and get a real job! No one's ever gonna read you if you spend your time whining about how its hard! You think writing the Time Machine wasn’t hard? You think I didn’t want to throw the manuscript for Twenty Leagues under the Sea, into the Boston Harbor?!”
            “Wasn’t that Jules Verne?” I pointed out timidly.
            “I’ll show you Jules Verne,” and he raised his cane menacingly, and I thought him about to strike me about the head, but instead he scattered the cartoon cereal mascots from my childhood, and disappeared. 

Friday, June 08, 2012

Freedom and Performance in a Soviet Youth Prose Novel: Rereading Vasily Aksyonov’s Starry Ticket

     −Может быть, тебе в мореходку  поступить?  −  говорит  Юрка.  − На
штурмана учиться, а?
     −На  кой  мне  черт  мореходка? В Атлантику я на следующий год и так
выйду. Игорь обещал.
     −Я думаю, если уж быть моряком...
     −Почему ты решил, что я хочу быть моряком?
     −А кем же?
     −Клоуном, − говорю я. − Знаешь, как в детстве, сначала хочешь стать
моряком, потом летчиком, потом дворником, ну, а потом уже клоуном. Так  вот,
я на высшей фазе развития.[1]

(Vasily Aksyonov, Starry Ticket)

            Vasiliy Aksyonov’s early 1961 novel, Starry Ticket, is widely regarded as the apotheosis of Soviet "youth prose." While reading the critical attention the novel received in the United States, I found myself returning to the following two thoughts: 1) If Starry Ticket is youth prose, then youth prose is something different from what has been suggested by some prominent critics; 2) If Starry Ticket isn't youth prose, then what is it?[2] In the following discussion I will attempt to first articulate my concerns regarding the critical attention the novel has received and then consider whether youth prose, at least in the manifestation of Starry Ticket, might be a kind of post-Soviet genre, where specific Soviet concerns are replaced with the general concerns of youth.[3] If this is true, then perhaps some of the confusion surrounding the novel is due to applying the rigid schema of the Soviet Novel to a specific youth prose text.   
            The novel consists of a linear plot about a group of young people confronted with a common question within a specific historical context. The historical context is post-Stalinist Russia, and the question before four of the protagonists (Dima, Galya, Alik, and Yuri) consists of deciding what to do after high school. In the case of the 28 year old Viktor (Dima's older brother) the question consists of what to do toward the end of graduate school.  Thus, the novel begins with a typical question before all intelligent dreamers stepping into the precarious world of modern (industrial/post-industrial) adulthood. Do you join the rank and file of whatever vast industrial empire you find yourself in? What specialized occupation will you dedicate your life to? What is the title you want to carry? These questions are playfully alluded to in the beginning of the novel when the main hero, Dima, quips: “Ученым можешь ты не быть, но кандидатом быть обязан!”[4] Playing on Nekrasov’s poem “Поэт и Гражданин,” Dima highlights the fact that in a highly rigid system (here he is referring to his brother's academic career) power is created and maintained by the conferring of titles, a process that is quite different from, and often in opposition to, the "work" of academia, i.e. discovering, experimenting, transferring and synthesizing knowledge, etc.[5] Of course, there is nothing particularly Soviet about this problem or about the question facing the novel's protagonists. This is an important point to keep in mind because the universality of the questions and problems at the center of Starry Ticket override the novel's specific historical context. This is why I believe the novel has at times been misread because it is interpreted as a Soviet novel about Soviet youth with Soviet problems. I want to suggest that it is better to read Starry Ticket as written by a specific twenty-eight year old author, Vasily Aksyonov, about a common problem facing all young people living in industrial/post-industrial society. This reading expands the possibilities of the novel, and perhaps necessarily expands the definition of youth prose as a genre.
            Let me begin by articulating some of my concerns regarding how the novel has been discussed in the past. A typical description of the novel can be found in a 1964 review published in The Slavic and East European Journal:
            "Tallin offers the "Vikings" sandy beaches, blue sea, vestiges of an ancient West-European culture,             and freedom to shift. New friends, first love and betrayal, and finally, hard but exhilarating labor on a fishing trawler, do the trick of turning foot-loose boys into respectable builders of  communism."[6]

These two sentences are structured around the dichotomies of Europe vs. Russia, fun vs. communism, youthful dancing vs. respectable building, etc. The narrative arc is then mapped onto these dichotomies; hence, the idea of a shift from "foot-loose boys" to "respectable builders of communism." Besides leaving out two of the novel's main protagonists, Galya and Viktor, the review homogenizes those it does mention, and thereby ignores one of the novel's great accomplishments−the portrayal of individual freedom as embodied in the diverse paths taken by the each protagonist.
            The homogenization of the novel's characters is developed further by Geoffrey Hosking's when he reduces them to a youth prose type, which allows him to speak about the characters in Starry Ticket almost as if they populated other Soviet youth prose novels:
            Much controversy was caused by so-called 'youth prose', centered in the journal Yunost. At first sight          the works of writer's like Kuznetsov, Askenov, and Gladilin look like a complete break with the past…There heroes appear cynical, sophisticated and world-weary: they reject the values of their elders, and sometimes any values at all…Yet on closer examination all this effervescence usually turns out to be the old myth in new form. After working their way through their youthful rebellion, these young people return to the old values, having dusted off the late Stalinist patina…they finish up at a Siberian hydroelectric power station, having restored some 'revolutionary romanticism' to the prospect of constructing it…these are the ideals which always lie deep in them and subconsciously motivate their rebellion…For Aksenov, at this stage in his career, the battleground in the human  heart is not (as for Dostoevsky) between good and evil, between God and the Devil, it is between the old and the new, and the division corresponds exactly to social division. All political, social and moral categories relate ultimately to the Purpose and must be presented and analyzed in that light.[7]

He goes on to liken the protagonists of youth prose to the "new people" from Chernyshevsky's What is to Be Done? and writes that the generation gap between the new and old is represented as the gap running between Dima and Viktor. He conflates the novels of Kuznetsov, Askenov, and Gladilin and produces a description in which it is hard to tell which protagonists belong to what novels. The result of this homogenization of characters, under the umbrella of youth prose, culminates in the idea that the prime mover in all these novels is the Purpose−the ominous capital P presiding over the lowercase p of prose; the hydroelectric power-station the telos of the youth novel. But Hosking's account is brief, and in order to discuss a specific framework of youth prose, let us turn to Katerina Clark’s detailed study of Soviet literature in her book, The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual. (Since Starry Ticket has had little scholarly attention, Clark’s book is one of the most readily available and influential accounts of the novel, at least in the English speaking world. The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual has been reprinted three times and is one of the most commonly cited books on Soviet literature. In my discussion I will refer to the latest edition published in 2000.) 
            Like Hosking, Clarks shifts between different works of youth prose and writes about them as a homogenous set.[8] Her main point is also similar to Hosking's− the youth novel, although superficially different from preceding Stalinist novels (e.g. in the use of slang and western references),  it is really a mutation of the Stalinist novel where the events of the plot are different but the underlying structure is the same: a rite of passage from spontaneity to consciousness and social integration.[9] The youth prose hero, according to Clark, struggles inside the dichotomy of a false world (represented by the center: Moscow or Leningrad) and a true world (represented by the periphery). Like the fairytale hero, the youth prose hero passes from false to true world; however, unlike the fairytale hero he doesn’t return to the false world, and thereby resolves the conflict of imperfect Soviet reality (epitomized by the center) by locating the higher reality of Communist ideals in the periphery. Clark writes:          
Occasionally the hero sets off for purely temporary, personal reasons but finds some pocket of “socialist production and construction” and is, against all his own expectations, drawn into work with it so that, in the end, he chooses to remain there rather than return to the Moscow (or Leningrad) of careerists and cynics. A good example of the latter pattern would be V. Aksenov’s A Ticket to the Stars (1961), in which a group of swinging young Leningraders set off for a good time in the Baltic resort town of Tallin, which, by the end of the novella, virtually changes identity: from a haven for jazz and other forms of Western decadence and becomes simply the nearest town to a fishing sovkhoz in which the hero decides to follow his destiny. This radical switch on the hero’s part is paradigmatic, for in the youth novel a change of identity is the basic dynamic […]
He [the hero] stays [in the peripheral space away from Moscow or Leningrad] because he is attracted by the people he meets on his new job, especially the mentor figure. The latter is usually an older worker, possibly the brigade leader, and probably a member of the Komsomol. In other words, while considerably lower on the administrative hierarchy than the typical Stalinist mentor, he is usually on a hierarchy, all the same. He is a person of integrity who believes firmly in the collectivist Communist ideal. But, instead of being a father figure, he is usually more like an older brother. Thus, a vertical axis can be constructed through him—a link can be forged between “the organization” and the individual—without having to use a father figure of great political power. 
At the end of most youth novels the mentor dies, usually in some engagement with elemental forces or as the result of some accident. In Ticket to the Stars the mentor figure is actually the hero’s real-life older brother, and he dies in an experiment connected with preparations for space travel. […] Before his death, the mentor will, in the tradition of the Stalinist novel, either give the hero a “last statement” or hand him a symbolic “baton.” Ticket to the Stars closes, for instance, with the young hero’s gazing at his late brother’s Komsomol membership card, his “ticket to the stars.
Upon the mentor’s death the hero crosses the threshold of uncertainty and decides to stay in his new location indefinitely. He also commonly decides to study and either joins the Komsomol or at least makes plans for a career beyond the rank-and-file position he presently occupies. In other words, he changes his orientation from the axis of infinite brotherhood, which has characterized his stay in the new place up to this point, by acknowledging the value of hierarchy. The conflict between the ideal community and the actual structure of society, so acutely felt in 1956, is thus resolved ritually.
Besides a mentor, the hero also finds a new girl at his new place of work. She is typically humbler in origins than the girl he left behind in the big city, but she has more compassion for her fellow man. At the point when the hero decides to stay on at his new location, he also decides to break with his old girl in favor of the new one, and with this his last binding attachment to the ‘little family’ of his old world is severed.”[10]

 I want to make six points that I believe complicate Clark’s interpretation of Starry Ticket:
1.      Moscow: In the end, the hero chooses to remain in the periphery rather than return to the Moscow of careerists and cynics.  The above contradicts the end of Starry Ticket when Dima does not stay in Tallinn and returns to Moscow. Also, Viktor’s triumph during his defense (in part inspired by Dima) shows that Moscow can be redeemed, if the individual living in its space asserts and defends his true and authentic position against that of false and inauthentic positions. This also links Viktor to heroes preoccupied with truth and falsehood, which is a theme Clark locates in 1940s prose, but finds lacking in youth prose.
2.      Tallinn: A group of swinging young Leningraders set off for a good time in the Baltic resort town of Tallin, which, by the end of the novella, virtually changes identity: from a haven for jazz and other forms of Western decadence it becomes simply the nearest town to a fishing sovkhoz in which the hero decides to follow his destiny. This radical switch on the hero’s part is paradigmatic, for in the youth novel a change of identity is the basic dynamic.[11] In Starry Ticket, Tallinn is a space of play throughout the novel, and proximity to the fishing village does not negate its previous status. The city, like Dima, doesn't go through a rite of passage but simply expands its discursive boarders.[12] 
3.       Work: Against his own expectations the hero is drawn into work. Work is not against Dima’s expectations. Although, his decision to leave is ostensibly left to chance, or literally the toss of a coin, he does plan to join the fishing kolkhoz from the beginning. This is how Dima describes his plan in chapter two:
План в общих чертах такой, – говорит Димка. – Сначала мы едем на Рижское взморье. Отдохнем там немного – должны же мы, черт возьми, хоть немного отдохнуть!  – а потом двинемся пешком по побережью в Ленинград. По дороге наймемся поработать в какой-нибудь рыболовецкий колхоз. Мне один малый говорил, что там можно заработать кучу  денег. А потом дальше. Посмотрим Таллин и к августу будем в Ленинграде.[13]

4.      Mentor: The mentor is usually an older worker, possibly the brigade leader, and probably a member of the Komsomol and is considerably lower on the administrative hierarchy than the typical Stalinist mentor…In Ticket to the Stars the mentor figure is actually the hero’s real-life older brother, and he dies in an experiment connected with preparations for space travel. If the youth prose hero is a brigade leader low on the administrative hierarchy, then in Starry Ticket this role is better fulfilled by Igor Baulin, captain of the fishing boat Dima works on. Viktor is a mentor figure, but he is an accomplished space scientist and national hero, i.e. not particularly low in terms of Soviet hierarchy. I would like to suggest the Starry Ticket has not one but two mentors: the brother, Viktor, and Igor Baulin, the 27 year old captain. Both are positive characters and represent the positive potential of both center and periphery.
5.      Ticket: Before his death, the mentor will, in the tradition of the Stalinist novel, either give the hero a “last statement” or hand him a symbolic “baton.” Ticket to the Stars closes, for instance, with the young hero’s gazing at his late brother’s Komsomol membership card, his ‘ticket to the stars.’” Viktor does leave Dima a "baton" (though I would call it more a talisman), but it is not a Komsomol membership card, and nowhere in the novel is it referred to as such. The starry ticket, which is literally a constellation of stars, is referred to by both brothers as a train ticket i.e. something that allows a person to travel between different spaces. It is not a Komsomol membership which grounds a person in a specific Soviet space.[14]
6.      Denouement: The hero chooses to remain in the periphery rather than return to Moscow and breaks his ties with the city girlfriend and consequently his ties with the little family. The youth novel is different from the typical Stalin novel, the old master plot remains the same in which the hero passes from a state of spontaneity to one of consciousness. As noted in my first point, Dima finishes the novel in Moscow; however, because he maintains his freedom and spontaneity, the reader is left wondering where he will go next. The important point here is that the novel ends on an ambiguous note, not the end of a rite of passage. Also, at the end of the novel Dima chooses the playful (and unreliable) Galya over the plain Estonian girl, and this is a key example of his commitment to play and spontaneity. The novel ends with a series of spontaneous actions on Dima’s part, which are a part of his growing consciousness not a contradiction of it.
            As I mentioned above, I think one of the reasons the novel has been misread is the homogenization of its five protagonists. Of the five, two do conform to Clark's rite of passage schema−these are Yuri and Alik. Yuri’s character is not unlike Tolya from Anatoly Kuznetsov’s 1957 novel, Continuation of a Legend. Like Tolya, he has a difficult time working from the beginning. Despite his athletic achievements, he fails at spear fishing and when the group goes to work at the kolkoz, he is constantly sick and exhausted. This main consolation is a Tallinn girl (i.e. a new girl of humbler origins). Of the five protagonists, Yuri conforms closest to the youth prose hero described by Clark. He remains outside of Moscow, chooses a Tallinn girl (whose "simplicity" is marked by her inability to understand slang), and decides to start a career as a lather operator:
     — Нет, ребята, — говорит Юрка, — море не моя стихия. Уеду я отсюда.
     — Куда?
     Юрка молчит, сидит такой большущий  и  сгорбленный.  Потом,  решившись,
поворачивается к нам.
     —  Уезжаю  в  Таллин.  Поступаю  на завод “Вольта”. Учеником токаря, к
Густаву в подмастерья. Общежитие дают, в перспективе  комната.  Команда  там
вполне приличная...
     — И Линда рядом, — говорю я.
     — А что?
     — Да нет, ничего, все правильно.[15]

            Like Yuri, Alik also ends the novel by completing a rite of passage (though he does decide to

return to Moscow). This is the exchange he and Dima have at the end of the novel:

       “Ах ты гад, — думаю, — знаешь, что такое супрематизм, ташизм, экзистенциализм,  а
не  сможешь  отличить  Рубенса  от Рембрандта”. И в литературе также, только
современность. Хемингуэй, Белль  назубок,  слышал  кое-что  про  Ионеско,  а
Тургенева  читал  только  “Певцы”  в хрестоматии. Для сочинений в школе ведь
вовсе не обязательно было читать. Детки, хотите, я вам  сознаюсь?  — Алька
снял  очки  и  вылупился  на нас: страшными глазами. — “Анну Каренину” я не
читал! — Он снял колпак и наклонил голову. — Готов принять казнь.
     —Думаешь, стоит ее почитать, “Анну Каренину”? — спросил Юрка.
     —Стоит, ребята, — говорю я.
     —Неужели ты читал ее?
     —В детстве, — говорю я. И правда, в детстве я читал “Анну Каренину”.
В детстве я вообще читал то, что мне не полагалось.[16]

Besides marking Alik's passage into the hierarchical system of academia, this conversation also marks the different between Alik and Dima. Alik enters academia because he needs an institutional structure that will guide his reading in the appropriate way (e.g. toward a better appreciation of the classics), while Dima's spontaneous and “inappropriate” (не полагающийся) reading habits have already led him to read Anna Karenina.
            I will now move on to discuss Dima, Galya, and Viktor in terms of imaginative (often spontaneous) performative acts and argue that these performative acts create new discursive spaces within which the heroes are motivated to transcend existing hierarchies, and the expectations produced by those hierarchies. 
I derive me idea of the perforative act from J.L Austin’s paper “Performative Utterances.”[17]  Austin describes performative acts or performatives as not referring to an existing state of affairs but instead as bringing about a new state of affairs into existence.[18] It is telling that three of the main examples of performatives that Austin gives are apologizing, ship christening, and betting—all three are present in Starry Ticket−Galya's apologies, Dima's real and pretend bets, and the painting of the fishing boat are all instances of performative acts.
The connection between performance and freedom is nicely articulated in Svetlana Boym's book Another Freedom: The Alternative History of an Idea. [19] Boym begins with the Aristotelian conception of freedom which emphasizes both the importance of individual expression and the importance of  society which creates the occasion for that expression; thus, individual expression and society are necessary for a meaningful understanding of freedom. [20] "The experience of freedom," writes Boym, "is akin to the theatrical performance that uses conventions, public memory, and a common stage but also allows for the possibility of the unprecedented and particular." Thus, the relationship between inside and outside, foreign and native, center and periphery, core and everyday practice are constantly reframed, allowing the individual to navigate between convention and invention, responsibility and play.[21]
In terms of Aksyonov scholarship, I think Priscilla Meyer's paper, " Basketball, God, and The Ringo Kid" makes a similar point about transcending dichotomies through imaginative performance.[22] This later novel focuses on five imaginative and spontaneous protagonists living in the early 1970s, and includes flashbacks from the life its main protagonist Tolya, whose childhood is spent with his mother in Siberia upon her release from a work-camp. Meyer writes that The Burn presents three spaces from Tolya’s early life: 1) The public world of the basketball player: a normal existence within the context of the Soviet preoccupation with sports, but this space is tarnished by the official Soviet world; 2) The private world of the religious mentor: a world of personal integrity, but prohibited by official Soviet discourse; 3) The imaginative world of cinema embodied in the image of the Ringo Kid, which allows Tolya to imagine the personal bravery needed to challenge the authorities and thereby resolve the conflict between 1 and 2.[23] In this case the performative act takes place in the imagination and creates a third space where the hero is motivated to transcend the inhibitions of the system (represented by the "real" spaces of 1 and 2).
            Let me now turn to some specific examples of performatives in Starry Ticket. At the beginning of the novel, Dima pretends to have won money over a game of pool, money that was actually given to him by his brother. The performance Dima boasts about does not happen in reality, but in his imagination. Viktor obviously doesn’t believe him and Alik remarks that the incident is highly unlikely; however, when the group considers leaving Moscow, Dima mentions his imaginary win at pool with great enthusiasm and the rest of the group follows suit with their own ideas about how to survive once they leave Moscow. In this case, one performative act (even one that doesn't correspond to reality) encourages more, which allows the group to establish a new space in which they are more free than before. As in the case of Tolya and his fantasies about the Ringo Kid, Dima's imaginative act motivates to be more brave.  
            Another set performatives in the novel take place between Dima and Galya, who are constantly playing what they at times refer to as "Romeo and Juliet." It could be said that Dima and Galya indulge in their relationship. I bring this up because this is the word used by Austin to describe marriage: “When I say ‘I do (sc. take this woman to be my lawful wedded wife), I am not reporting on a marriage, I am indulging in it.”[24] Aksyonov describes their indulgence in the following:
Любовь! Что знает о тебе семнадцатилетний юноша из  "приличнойсемьи?
О,  он  знает  вполне  достаточно.  Соответствующие беседы и даже диспуты он
посещал. Кроме того, ему вот уже больше года разрешается посещать  кое-какие
фильмы.Впрочем, он и до шестнадцати их посещал.
            Он знает, как это бывает. Люди строят гидростанцию, и вдруг Он говорит:
"Я люблю", − а Она кричит: "Не надо!" или "А ты хорошо все обдумал?"[25]

            By couching their love in the context of cinema, Aksyonov emphasizes the performative aspect of the relationship. Following Galya's infidelity, the two indulge in a series of pretty cinematic performances.  Two highlights are when Dima goes out to sea and declares his love for her over the radio and against the orders of the captain. Galya for her part runs wild and practically naked along the shore until she collapses in the sand. Their performance spanning the novel binds the two in a space that allows them to remain playful while their friends Yuri and Alik decide on returning to the fold. Consider Galya's final appearance in the novel (after her manic run along the beach): “Галка за окном уже какая-то другая, уже прежняя. Надувает щеки и показывает мне язык.”[26] After her infidelity, reunion with Dima, and hospitalization she remains the same (“прежняя”)—playful and coquettish. Like Galya, Dima remains in the space of the imagination at the end of the novel. His final thoughts are a question directed at the stars: “Это теперь мой звездный билет! ...Билет, но куда?”[27] Dima is left staring at the sky wandering about what new space his wandering will bring him. He is thinking of a new stage, and what that stage is undetermined.
               Furthermore, not only does Dima maintain his freedom at the end of the novel, he influences his brother.  This is most evident in Viktor's dissertation defense where against his better judgment and the approval of his superiors puts on a performance very similar to those of his brother. Although the chapter describing Viktor's defense is one of the shortest,  it can be read as a microcosm of the novel as a whole.  The chapter begins with Viktor's dream about ancient Greek academia where he must deliver a speech, but cannot because he is asleep. The response from one of the ancients is−За такие  штуки  надо  морально  убивать. This little dream aptly describes the tyranny of academia and the Soviet Union, and by tying both to ancient Greece, universalizes these systems−the tendency for rigid hierarchization has a long history preceding the Soviet Union.  The entire defense is described in the language of performance, and the opening scene could just as well describe a film festival: Dressed in black suit and tie, Viktor walks to the defense along a red carpet−Меня можно снимать в кино, he says, after passing a flattering broadside depicting him playing table tennis.[28] It is clear that in academic space Viktor, like Dima, is a leader. He has achieved this of course not because of his table tennis skills, but because of his work, which is imaginative, new, and combative with regard to the previous generation. His arch nemesis, the notorious old-guard academic W, represents all that is wrong with the system.[29] The name sounds more dramatic in Russian than in English, and in the German is reminiscent of M, the classic Fritz Lang movie; either way, it is a name befitting a super villain. Chapter 10 is essentially a showdown between W and Viktor. W is an old guard careerist who benefits himself by functioning within the confines of the system; his dishonesty and selfishness help him adapt his position based the demands of the system, as opposed to the personal demands of integrity and the external demands of truth. His speech consists of standard academic and Soviet rhetoric, and finishes with a preemptive critique of Viktor's work: мне хотелось бы сказать о некоторых  молодых  и  оченьподчеркиваюочень талантливых ученых, которые, попав в плен модных концепций, вообразили себя новаторамиВольно  или  невольно,  но  эти  лица  расшатывают основы нашей программы и сами сбивают себя с единственного истинно научного пути[30]. In typical super-villain fashion, W attacks the hero and also beacons the young prodigy over to the dark-side. The fight has begun and progresses in formulaic fashion. The hero, seemingly defeated by the masterful blows of the super-villain, comes back to defeat the villain and surpasses even his own expectations.
               Chapter 10 also shows the hero as estranged, another major theme in the novel. Alienation is a typical attribute of the superhero because his exceptional powers marking him as other. The chapter not only depicts Viktor's victory over the infamous W but depicts his isolation. Before and after his defense, Viktor passes the halls of the institute alone, completely consumed by his struggle. As in Dima's case, Viktor's imagination is a double edged sword; it endows him with the power to transcend existing hierarchies, but it also alienates him from people. Viktor's radical dissertation discredited W's work and those working under him, including Viktor's best friend Boris, who breaks his friendship with Viktor. The novel is not naïve; even in the best case scenario, when the imagination wins over established norms, the people reliant on those norms are often negatively affected.
               Dima is proud of his brother for his achievements, but his familial ties to him are much stronger. After the funeral Dima thinks:
Викторслышишь ты меня? Я тобой горжусь. Я буду счастлив, когда время придет, и твое имя... Запишут куда-то золотом, наверное, это  хотел  сказать профессор.  Но  знаешь,  старик,  я любил, когда ты меня "подзаводил", любил стрелять у тебя деньги и боксировать с тобой после душа. Помнишь, в  Таллине в номере гостиницы? А как мы ехали с тобой в такси? И шлялись из одного кафе в  другое, а ты все плел что-то возвышенное? И мы как раз собирались поехать на стадион?[31]

This final address to his brother begins with pride concerning Viktor's achievements, but Dima quickly attributes this kind of pride to the world of academia, and instead reminisces about his fraternal, quotidian memories of Viktor. The ticket represents this fraternal bond between Dima and Viktor. Although, Viktor doesn't tell his brother about the starry ticket he imagines over his window, Without telling each other, both brothers associate the ticket with a train ticket, and this unlikely convergence connects the two not in the Soviet space of a Komsomol ticket, but in the imaginary space I've discussed in this paper. And although space did play an important role in the Soviet Union, the imaginative leap made by the two brothers can easily be conceived off without reference to the Soviet Union; presumably there are many configurations of stars that can be thought of as a train ticket. In the text, space can be read as having a universalizing function. Upon seeing the ticket Dima thinks:
Я смотрю туда, смотрю, и голова начинает кружиться, и все-все, все, что было в жизни и что еще будет, −все начинает кружиться, и я уже не понимаю, я это лежу на подоконнике или не я. И кружатся, кружатся надо мной настоящие звезды, исполненные высочайшего смысла.[32]

Not only are such thoughts common and universal, but they even slightly push against the Soviet Union and the United States. It would be redundant to say, "The stars above my head are real" unless I was juxtaposing them against false stars, e.g. the emblematic red star of the Soviet Union and also the stars on the American flag. The real stars are fulfilling the highest meaning− исполненные высочайшего смысла.  
In this paper, I have tried to reread Starry Ticket in order to clear up some misconceptions surrounding the novel and to argue that it is mostly preoccupied with a set of questions commonly asked by young people in industrial/post-industrial society, and that it answers these questions by focusing on performance, playfulness, and the imagination, as a way of creating a space in which the individual can express themselves more freely. Starry Ticket neither rejects nor rationalizes Soviet reality; it functions outside many of the dichotomies ascribed to Soviet discourse, and certainly functions outside the dichotomies ascribed to it by some critics. It takes place in and around the hybrid city of Tallinn. The city is both western and Soviet; it has a night life and a fishing kolkhoz. Dima can be both hardworking and playful; he can self-righteously criticize his shipmates for drinking on the boat and later drink vodka on the same boat, and order the most expensive cognac in Tallinn. On this rereading, Starry Ticket does not adhere to a typical Soviet master plot or chart Dima's rite of passage from spontaneity to embracing Soviet ideals. It is a novel about finding ways of creating one's own ideals.

[1]Vasily Aksyonv. Sobranie sochinenii. Tom 1. Zvezdniy bilet. Izdanelskii dom: Iunost: 1991
[2] In this paper, I am primarily concerned with the novel's critical reception in the U.S. The Soviet and the post-Soviet responses are fascinating and deserve further attention. In both spaces the novel has a rather ambiguous status. If Станислав Рассадин (a critic for Iunost at the time of the novel's release) writes: Сколько помнится, о нем напечатано было по всей стране несколько сотен статей и рецензий, из которых только одна была одобрительной, then why was a film made shortly after the novel? Was it to make the "post-Soviet" novel more Soviet? Today, there is a Zvezdniy bilet literary prize; in their speeches, the recipients refer to the novel fondly, but many admit they haven't read it.
[3]Alexander Zholkovsky actually refers to Aksyonov's early protagonists as half-Soviet, (полусоветски). Bluzhdaushchie sny i drugie raboty, Nauka, Moskva: 1994, p. 44).
[4] ibid. Aksyonov. p. 184.
[5] see: Pierre Bourdieu. Homo Academicus. trans. Peter Collier. Stanford University Press, 1988.
[6] Nonna D. Shaw. Review: Vasili Aksenov, A Ticket to the Stars. trans. Andrew R. MacAndrew. The Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 8, No. 3 (1964), p. 344
[7] Geoffry Hosking. Beyond Socialist Realism: Soviet Fiction Since Ivan Denisovich. Granada Publishing: 1980, pp. 23-25.
[8] Katerina Clark. The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual. University of Chicago Press, 2000.
[9] ibid. p.226.
[10] ibid. p. 228-231.
[11] Also, two very small points: 1) the fishing village is referred to as a kolkhoz—the word sovkhoz never appears in the novel; 2) the group is not from Leningrad but Moscow. That these typos have remained in the 3rd edition, is an indication of how many people have actually read Starry Ticket.
[12] Alexander Zholkovsky, refers to the heroes of Aksyonov's early novels as western and soviet hybrids. In the second chapter of the book, "Iskusstvo prisbosobleniya," he writes: "В содержательном плане это и есть тот гибрид советского и западного, о котором мы уже говорили. Как оказывается, в стилистическом плане ему вторит гибрид полнокровного − полусоветского, полуковбойского − оптимизма с модернизмом, то есть с литературной техникой, соответствующей скорее разорванному, дуалистическому, экзистенциалистскому жизнеощущению. Мир раннего, голубого и розового, Аксенова − это “оптимистическая модерния”, где стоит вечная оттепель" (ibid. 44). I find the term hybrid, slightly too passive a term for the heroes of Starry Ticket; but in terms of Tallinn it fits perfectly−Tallinn is a hybrid city. Prisbosobleniya (which can mean both adaptation and acclimation) in the way Zholkovsky uses it, describes an "Other" hero who must adapt to new and strange circumstances. Sinyavsky's alien in "Pkhentz" or even Ilya Ilf's and Yevgeni Petrov's Astap Bender must hybridize themselves in order to adapt to an aberrant environment; the heroes of Starry Ticket are perfectly adapted to their environment; their rebellion is an active creation of brand new space (or scientific theory in the case of Viktor). They are not adapting to a new environment they are creating one.
[13] ibid. Aksyonov, p.200
[14] Since Viktor is an academic, the ticket could also refer to the slip given to a student during an exam, when the student randomly picks the question she will be tested on.  This academic practice is one instance of the use of randomness inside the Soviet system.
[15] ibid. Aksyonov, p. 331.
[16] ibid. p. 332.
[17] J.L. Austin. "Performative Utterances" in Philosophical Papers. London: Oxford University Press. 1970. pp. 233-52.
[18] ibid. p. 238.
[19] Svetlana Boym. Another Freedom: The Alternative History of an Idea. University of Chicago Press, 2010.
[20] The Complete Works of Aristotle trans. Jonathan Barnes. Princeton University Press, 1984. Book I, Part I
[21] ibid. Boym, pp. 4-5
[22] Priscilla Meyer, "Basketball, God, and The Ringo Kid" in Vasiliy Pavlovich Aksënov: A Writer in Quest of Himself. Ohio: Slavica Publishers, 1986.
[23] ibid. 121
[24] ibid. Austin. 235
[25] ibid. Aksynov. 237
[26] ibid. 333
[27] ibid. 335
[28] ibid.. p. 286
[29] To my ear, W sounds more dramatic in Russian than in English. It also reminds me of the Fritz Lang movie, M. Either way it the name is that of a super villain.
[30] ibid. p. 286
[31] ibid. 332
[32] ibid. p. 335