Uncompromising Compromise of Sergei Dovlatov – from “Ours” to Non-Ours
Keywords:Dovlatov, America, emigration, third wave, Russia versus the West, motherland, exile, trauma, literature, compromise, rationalism – irrationalism
This paper attempts to look at Dovlatov in a broad context – starting with a personal case of Dovlatov the emigrant, it aims to arrive at a more general portrait of a Soviet Russophone writer in exile and to uncover common features inherent in the outlook at life of a Russian émigré artist of the third wave of Russian emigration.
To this end, it appears important to consider emigration not only as a liminal situation, a situation of transition, i.e. of crossing all sorts of borders – external and internal, but also (by and large as a consequence of this border crossing) as a traumatic situation. This relates first of all to exile, that is, to a forced loss of one’s own motherland and environment. Indeed, a voluntary emigration, especially in the post-Soviet period, is a phenomenon of a completely different order – it is, instead, a migration, a question of a conscious choice, without the tragedy of a no-return, i.e. without the fatal ingredient characteristic of the Russian exiles of the Soviet period.
In the case in question, however, we are dealing with an existential laboratory which tests above all human dignity, and with a state of acute existential solitude which this laboratory considerably magnifies. In this case, it would be more appropriate to talk about self-destruction than salvation. As for compassion, it remains relevant, but only at a personal, human level, only towards one’s close circle rather than an émigré environment as such.
In the light of the above, if we interpret compromise as one’s readiness to be transplanted onto a foreign soil, as a borrowing of alien themes, criteria and language, or simply as a game on the seemingly native linguistic field, but according to non-native (and, as it happens, unfair) rules, then in a higher spiritual sense Dovlatov, having crossed the border from ours to non-ours, turned out to be incapable of compromise – just as he was incapable of it while in Russia. Indeed, he wrote his most profound and most piercing lines at the edge of anguish and longing – on the nostalgic material, that of the past.
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