This book was conceived many years ago when I lived in the Ukraine and was
an M.A. student at Odessa University. At that time, conservative Soviet liter-
ary criticism did not permit any new movements except those which developed
concepts concerning socialist realism in its different variations. It especially
concerned those masters of Russian literature who, in accordance with the gen-
eral tenet, should have served as forerunners of the "genuine" literary movement.
Needless to say, Chekhov was used successfully as a model for such socialist
propaganda. Today it would be very difficult to investigate how many interest-
ing, innovative concepts of former Soviet critics were ruined while still in their
infancy and how many creative lives were destroyed.
In this connection, I should recall the name of my late teacher, a professor
of Russian literature, Stepan Iliyov--one of the most popular professors at the
University of Odessa, who was published abroad. Iliyov's unique research on
the mythopoetics of Russian Symbolists was prohibited for many years; Soviet
periodicals were forbidden to publish his works; and he was unable to defend his
dissertation until quite recently, just several years before his premature death. A
tragic life and death of another persecuted professor of Russian literature, Yury
Marmeladov, whose strikingly bright analysis on mythopoetics of Tolstoy and
Dostoyevsky was posthumously published in Russia, may also serve as an
example of that dull history.
My first attempts to analyze Chekhov's poetics as related to mythology
were highly appreciated by Iliyov. He supported my scholarly endeavors and
recommended my article to a literary journal, Voprosy russkoy literatury. I
remember a long, angry letter from an anonymous reader who blamed me for my
daring attempt to misrepresent Chekhov; I also remember a short, warm letter
from the editor of the journal who persuaded me to continue my research despite
any current difficulties. In her letter, the editor apologized for her inability to
publish my article, implying the cause to be the tendentiousness of
contemporary Soviet criticism. At the same time, she expressed her belief that,
sometime, my research would see the light of day. Those who remember the
political situation before perestroika can appreciate the bravery of the editor of an
academic journal who was not afraid to express her solidarity with a "rebel"
It is always gratifying to see positive changes in time. Some remarkable
research on Chekhov's poetics has appeared in European and American criticism,
among them such notable contributions to Chekhov's mythopoetics as those of
Laurence Senelick and Savely Senderovich. Also, in Russian criticism,
the inquiry into myth and ritual regarding Chekhov's works is no longer considered as heresy.
Times have changed; I have changed as well. While continuing my re-
search on Chekhov's mythopoetics, I realized that it actually touched upon more
general, theoretical, questions. These questions could not have had a satisfactory
resolution without my reference to Aron Katsenelinboigen's concept of indeter-
minism, different aspects of which encouraged my research.
In the acknowledgment to his book on Tolstoy's narrative, Gary Saul
Morson wrote the following: "I also benefited greatly from a course on the cre-
ative process that I co-taught with one of the most creative people I have had the
privilege to know, Aron Katsenelinboigen."1 Katsenelinboigen's method of
thinking and his deep and fresh insights captivated my mind: they became
grounds for theoretical statements of my dissertation, and later we began to
discuss a systems approach with regard to literary criticism. None of the
theories existing at present has been able to give me such a clear and compre-
hensive vision of the strategy of literary analysis as Katsenelinboigen's concept.
I must also note here a great influence of Russell L. Ackoff's approach to
the notion of systems, which became a tool for the development of my theories.
Thus, my initial intent to study Chekhov's mythopoetics has gradually
developed into theoretical research on the systems approach to a literary work.
In my final version I approached mythopoetics as a system, taking as an exam-
ple Chekhov's plays.
I would like to acknowledge my friends and colleagues who were highly
benevolent and supportive during my work. Discussions with Olga Hasty,
Yury Krugovoy, Saul Morson, Margarett Nizhnikov-Magnus, Alexander V.
Riasanovsky, and the encouraging questions which arose during meetings and
telephone conversations stimulated the development of my theses at various
I would like to express my special appreciation to Caryl Emerson for her
attention to my research and generous assistance in preparing the final version of
the theoretical part of this book.
I am also grateful to my dear friend Ludmila Yevsukov--our constant talks
have always provoked deeper thought.
I also would like to thank (in alphabetical order) Cindy Alexander,
Bonnie M. Clause, Jean Clemons, Richard Frost, John Holman, Inna
Kolchinsky, Jean Newman, and Janet Roberts for their kind help in improving
the style of my manuscript.
Above all, my deep thanks are due to my husband, Vadim Zubarev, who
tolerated my absent look during my research, never ceased providing feedback,
and always paid my telephone bills.
To me, the appearance of this book is an affirmation of my idealistic be-
lief in the positive meaning of life.
Copyright © 1999-2010 by Ulita Productions
A Systems Approach to Literature
Mythopoetics of Chekhov's Four Major Plays
Vera Zubarev (V.Ulea)