Between Essentialism and Constructivism: Maksim Gor’kii and Vladislav Khodasevich on Russian Neo-Peasant Poetry
In this essay, I analyze Maksim Gor'kii’s and Vladislav Khodasevich’s attitudes to Russian neo-peasant poetry as a formative aspect of their respective worldviews. Their partly shared approach was one of the underlying factors in their short-lived émigré rapprochement that seemed so unexpected given their different life experiences and literary backgrounds. Both Gor'kii and Khodasevich considered Russian neo-peasant poetry as a literary expression of a peasant nationalist movement that endangered some outcomes of the socialist revolution. There were also differences in their assessment of this literary group however. My analysis of their respective articles dedicated to Sergei Esenin after the poet’s death by suicide, delineates the difference between Gor'kii’s and Khodasevich’s attitude to, and understanding of, neo-peasant poetry. Khodasevich’s exposition portrayed Esenin’s poetry and self-representation as a cultural construct, a mixture of neo-Slavophilism and Modernist “life-creation.” Gor'kii, for his part, “naïvely” perpetuated Esenin’s essentialist peasant self-representation, incorporating it into his vision of the contemporary “inexorable” struggle between town and country that he embraced at the time.