Varlam Shalamov

About Shalamov

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  • Josefina Lundblad-Janjic Poetry and Politics: An Allegorical Reading of Varlam Shalamov’s Poem «Аввакум в Пустозерске»

  • "Shalamov considered his 1955 poem «Аввакум в Пустозерске», composed two years after his return from the camps of Kolyma, one of his most important poems. He also considered the poem, written in amphibrachic dimeter and composed of thirty seven four-line stanzas, to unite the “historical figure” of the seventeenth-century schismatic archpriest Avvakum with elements of “the author’s biography.” Read as an allegory, the poem appears to deal with the violent oppression in the twentieth century which Shalamov personally experienced: the terror under Stalin. A self-proclaimed atheist, Shalamov endows the historical figure of Avvakum not solely with religious but also with political significance: the archpriest of his poem becomes a prominent representative of Russian resistance to the abuse of power. Through the use of allegory, “a place where the political can meet the aesthetic,” Shalamov creates a lyric which, as Avvakum did through his Autobiography three hundred years prior, presents not only a challenge to contemporary society but also an alternative perspective on its most recent past".


  • Josefina Lundblad-Janjic Shalamov Rediscovered: When A Poet Writes Prose (january 2014)

  • «This year’s International Shalamov Conference made the daring move from theory to practice in a most literal manner: from discussing literary works about the Gulag to visiting the physical site of an actual camp, Vojna, an experience that left all of us deeply moved».


  • Robert Chandler The poetry of Varlam Shalamov (1907-82)

  • Varlam Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales is generally recognised — at least by Russians and readers of Russian — as a masterpiece of Russian prose and the greatest work of literature about the Gulag; this thousand-page cycle of stories draws mainly on Shalamov’s experiences as a prisoner in Kolyma, a vast area in the far northeast of the USSR that, throughout most of the Stalin era, was in effect a mini-State run by the NKVD; most of the inmates of its hundreds of camps were either felling trees or mining coal or gold. Shalamov’s poetry, however, still has few readers even in Russia, although he himself seems to have valued it above his prose.


  • Lysander Jaffe “Writing as a Stranger:” Two Translations of Shalamov’s “The Snake Charmer”

  • “What does it mean, then, to retell “The Snake Charmer” in another language? For translators, this challenge has proven formidable, not least because of the original text’s long, convoluted history of publication. “The Snake Charmer” and other Kolyma Tales first appeared in the Russian émigré journal Novyi Zhurnal in 1967, and was not re-published until 1978. The 1967 version differs drastically from all subsequent versions, omitting significant portions of Shalamov’s prose. John Glad first translated this and other Kolyma Tales into English in 1980, and his translation reflects many of these omissions. Glaring inaccuracies also result from the many typos in the 1967 version; the most unfortunate of these is the line “Эх, скука, ночи длинные,” written as “Эх, скука, ноги длинные” in the first publication, and rendered by Glad as “It’s so boring my legs are getting longer.” (my italics) It may be argued that on a small scale, Glad was working from a different original than Robert Chandler and Nathan Wilkinson, who re-translated “The Snake Charmer” almost thirty years later.”


  • Josefina Lundblad-Janjic Life and work, world literature and Soviet history. Exploring the moral necessity of Varlam Shalamov

  • During two scorching hot days in the middle of June, a diverse assembly of scholars from Russia and beyond converged in Moscow in search of answers to two questions: What is Varlam Shalamov? And why do we need him?


  • Michael Meyer Brewer “Authorial,” Lyric and Narrative Voices in Varlam Shalamov's Kolymskie rasskazy: A Close Reading of "Sententsiia”

  • “Shalamov's work has been much criticized for its wholly pessimistic, misanthropic tone, its artistically uneven nature, as well as for its occasional factual or historical inaccuracy. But, as argued in this paper, when viewed as a work of fiction within the larger authorial framework, which dialogizes the disparate “voices” and invalidates any question of unevenness by freeing the “stories” themselves from specific generic limitations, these criticisms cease to be appropriate. The entire work, itself dense and coiled-tight like a taut spring, must be left intact to play itself out. Dissonant to be sure, at times in minor keys, it finds its incremental power in contrapuntally recurrent sub-themes, and the interaction of disparate discourses of authority that give Kolymskie rasskazy its profound ambivalence, and semantic and ethical breadth.”


  • Michael Meyer Brewer Varlam Shalamov's Kolymskie rasskazy: The Problem of Ordering

  • “The author's correspondence and notes support the view that the work has an intended ordering and that it was constructed and reconstructed by the author toward a certain artistic and semantic goal. I have researched the placement of certain stories within the work, positing why the author's ordering in these instances is important. The repetitions of key narrative events, lyrical passages, camp aphorisms, and other units of text, also link into the importance of ordering — Shalamov's ordering of stories with repeated elements serves to build on their meaning as symbols, as well as ironically juxtapose diverse narratives. The close readings of “Po snegu,” “Sententsia,” “Kant” and “Stlanik” are meant to elucidate how the work, when read in the author's intended ordering, reveals its richness and web-like complexity”.


  • Sarah J. Young Shalamov's Symbolism. Rebirth from Kolyma? Shalamov’s Cosmology of Alienation

  • “For Shalamov, the result is the fractured form of his short story collections, where recurring incidents, characters and images undermine the stability of the text through constant shifts of meaning. For the reader, it leads to an acknowledgement of the inability truly to comprehend and share the horror of that experience; we, thankfully, perhaps, must remain alienated from it, and the snake, coiling around the stories, stands, finally, as an image not only of that world and its recreation in narrative, but also of the alienated reader”.


  • Valery Yesipov Cerebration or Genuflection? (Varlam Shalamov and Alexander Solzhenitsin)

  • “Many thought he had already died. “Varlam Shalamov is dead,” Alexander Solzhenitsyn declared to the whole world from America. Meanwhile, Shalamov still walked the streets of Moscow. He could be seen on Tverskaya, when he ventured out from his hole to buy groceries. He was a ghastly sight, reeling down the street like a drunk, falling over.”


  • Irina Sirotinskaya The Years We Talked

  • My first impression of Varlam Tikhonovich? Big. There was the physique, tall and broad-shouldered, and then a clear sense of an extraordinary, formidable personality — from his first words, at first glance. I was to know him for many years. That first impression never changed, but it gained in complexity… It is impossible, nor should one reduce this complex, contradictory personality to a single denominator. Within him, different facets of his personality co-existed and battled, always at the boiling point.


  • Valery Yesipov They Will Push Me Down the Hole

  • “There were other reasons, apart from weak health, that Shalamov stood apart from the dissidents. Firstly, he considered art, including literature, even unpublished, a sufficiently strong means of resistance to any regime. Secondly, he understood how destructive it can be for a writer to slip into political writing. This was Shalamov’s firm sceptical stance, the fruit of much thought in the camps and after: “The affliction of Russian literature is that it sticks its nose where it shouldn’t, trying to guide people’s lives, pronouncing on issues it is not competent in”.”


  • Elena Mikhailik Potentialities of Intertextuality in the Short Story On Tick Varlam Shalamov: Problems of Cultural Context

  • “The intertextual connections in Shalamov's prose are powerful story-line building factor on both the structural and semantic levels. These connections permit the story to exist as if in several cultural volumes, they also intensify the informative and emotional pressure inside the text. In the short story On Tick Shalamov employs intertext as a general-purpose tool for solving both composition and semantic problems. Such an intensive use of the culture's capability for dialogue as an artistic device is uncharacteristic even for post modernist Russian prose and has analogs only in modern poetry”.


  • Elena Mikhailik Dostoevsky and Shalamov: Orpheus and Pluto

  • “Despite outward similarities the Kolyma Tales is not a part of the menippean tradition. The menippea tested people and ideas in an attempt to answer the “ultimate questions”. Dostoevsky needed indeterminism and polyphony to provide his protagonists with choices. Shalamov has no need to create a testing ground. He already has one. He also has no need to actually stage a test. That has also been taken care of by the system that for decades has been testing millions of human beings to destruction. Shalamov’s challenge is quite different from that of Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky was looking for answers. Shalamov knew he had found them”.


  • Leona Toker Testimony and Doubt: Shalamov’s “How It Began” and “Handwriting”

  • “Shalamov’s placing of factographic pieces side by side with fictionalized ones, with the mode, factual or fictional, of some of the stories, such as “Condensed Milk” remaining vague, is, among other things, a signal to the reader that all his materials are to be read as testimony, while – and though – the questions that are to be asked of them are the questions that one asks of fiction, viz. questions about symbolism (it is Krist rather than the interrogator who gets the vitamin-rich turnip peelings; the interrogator’s scurvy-ridden smile and his opening of the stove briefly illuminate the room, and, as it were, one’s soul), thematic coherence (the incuriosity of the exhausted prisoners), conservation of character (the little we know of he interrogator makes his burning of Krist’s file plausible), or stylistic economy. And if testimony is needed in cases of factual uncertainty, fictional devices, which may undermine the epistemological efficacy of the narrative as testimony, may also enhance is power of preempting moral doubt”.