Freedom and Performance in a
Soviet Youth Prose Novel: Rereading Vasily Aksyonov’s Starry Ticket
−Может быть, тебе в мореходку поступить?
− говорит Юрка.
мне черт мореходка? В Атлантику я на следующий год и
−Я думаю, если уж быть
−Почему ты решил, что я хочу
−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.
(Vasily Aksyonov, Starry Ticket)
early 1961 novel, Starry Ticket
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?
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.
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.
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
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,
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.
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
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.
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.
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.)
Hosking, Clarks shifts between different works of youth prose and writes about
them as a homogenous set.
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.
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
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.”
I want to make six points that I believe
complicate Clark’s interpretation of Starry
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.’”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
молчит, сидит такой большущий и сгорбленный.
в Таллин. Поступаю
на завод “Вольта”. Учеником токаря, к
Густаву в подмастерья. Общежитие дают, в
перспективе комната. Команда
Линда рядом, — говорю я.
нет, ничего, все правильно.
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
сможешь отличить Рубенса
от Рембрандта”. И в литературе также, только
современность. Хемингуэй, Белль назубок,
слышал кое-что про
читал только “Певцы”
в хрестоматии. Для сочинений в школе ведь
вовсе не обязательно было читать. Детки, хотите, я
вам сознаюсь? — Алька
очки и вылупился
на нас: страшными глазами. — “Анну Каренину” я не
читал! — Он снял колпак и наклонил голову. — Готов
—Думаешь, стоит ее почитать, “Анну Каренину”? — спросил Юрка.
ребята, — говорю я.
детстве, — говорю я. И правда, в детстве я читал “Анну Каренину”.
В детстве я вообще читал то, что мне не полагалось.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
between performance and freedom is nicely articulated in Svetlana Boym's book Another Freedom: The Alternative History of an Idea
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.
"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
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
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
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.
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).
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.
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.”
Aksyonov describes their indulgence in the following:
Любовь! Что знает
о тебе семнадцатилетний юноша
из "приличной" семьи?
знает вполне достаточно.
Соответствующие беседы и даже диспуты он
посещал. Кроме того, ему
вот уже больше года разрешается посещать
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?"
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
Consider Galya's final appearance in the novel (after her manic
run along the beach): “Галка за окном уже какая
, уже прежняя
. Надувает щеки и показывает мне язык
After her infidelity, reunion with Dima, and hospitalization she remains the
”)—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
, но куда
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
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
. 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.
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.
The name sounds more dramatic in Russian than in English, and in the
German is reminiscent of M,
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 очень
очень талантливых ученых
, попав в плен модных концепций
, вообразили себя новаторами
или невольно, но
эти лица расшатывают основы нашей программы и сами
сбивают себя с единственного истинно научного пути.
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.
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
Dima is proud
of his brother for his achievements, but his familial ties to him are much
stronger. After the funeral Dima thinks:
Виктор, слышишь 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?
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
J.L. Austin. "Performative
Utterances" in Philosophical Papers.
London: Oxford University Press. 1970. pp. 233-52.
Svetlana Boym. Another
Freedom: The Alternative History of an Idea. University of Chicago Press,