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Andray Platonov, SOUL

Information and Questions for Reading

Andrey Platonov (1899-1951) is an extremely interesting Russian author, and one who was neglected in the Soviet period due to his heterodox ideas and resolutely NON-Socialist Realist style. Robert Chandler, who has translated a lot of Platonov, gives a wonderfully detailed introduction to this volume - all you ever wanted to know about Platonov! - so I'll assume that you'll ask me if you have any questions. I would just draw your attention to Platonov's social class (he was a worker - the favored class, or supposedly favored, in the Soviet period), technical education, and lack of previous acquaintance with Central Asia. As Chandler's introduction demonstrates, there was quite a bit of ambient stereotype about Central Asia in the early Soviet period - remember that this is not the Caucasus, but regions to the East of it. On the other hand, Platonov did travel to Central Asia, twice, though his vision of the place shows us that he was looking through particular lenses of his own.

I already mentioned that the word "Dzhan," which means "soul," is one that many Russians of Platonov's era knew from its use in popular culture during the pre-Revolutionary period (not the particular "self-Orientalizing" things I gave you to read, but similar ones).

Questions for Reading Platonov's Soul:

1. Platonov and Tynyanov are both Russians with no family tradition of Islam, or living near Muslims. How do their depictions of Muslims differ from those of Lermontov and Bestuzhev-Marlinskii, who had been in the Caucasus (and perhaps had become kunaks of residents there)?

2. And how do the majority Muslim regions of Persia (Iran) and Central Asia compare, in these depictions, to the Caucasus?

3. How Muslim are Platonov's Dzhan people? How does their religious behavior or observation compare to what we see in Tolstoy's Hadji-Murat?

4. What do you make of the role of sex in the narrative? (Is this perhaps Platonov imposing his own concerns on the local culture?)

5. Chagataev, our hero, turns out to have a Russian father. What does that suggest about the relationship of Russia and Central Asia?

6. ...And yet "Chagataev" does not sound like a Russian name, but like a Russified Tatar name.

7. What is the role of the natural environment in "Soul," and how do the characters interact with it, both when they are giving up in despair and when they are making progress towards a better future?