Silence and the Rest: Verbal Skepticism in Russian Poetry

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Scholars have long noted the deeply rooted veneration of the power of the word-both the expressive and communicative capacities of language-in Russian literature and culture. In her ambitious book Silence and the Rest, Sofya Khagi illuminates a consistent counternarrative, showing how, throughout its entire history, Russian poetry can be read as an argument for what she calls verbal scepticism. Although she deals with many poets from a two-century tradition, Khagi gives special emphasis to Osip Mandelstam, Joseph Brodsky, and Timur Kibirov, offering readings that add new layers of meaning to their work. She posits a long-running dialogue between the poets and the philosophers and theorists who have also been central to the antiverbal strain of Russian culture. Unlike its Western counterpart, the Russian philosophical and theological doubt of the efficacy of the word still grants the author, and literature itself, an ethical force, the inadequacies of language notwithstanding.