Thursday, October 21, 2021

José Vergara's "All Future Plunges to the Past"

José Vergara is an Assistant Professor in Bryn Mawr College’s Department of Russian.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his first book, All Future Plunges to the Past: James Joyce in Russian Literature, and reported the following:
Page 99 of All Future Plunges to the Past comes near the end of chapter 3, “Andrei Bitov: In Search of Lost Fathers,” where I examine Bitov’s novel, Pushkin House (1964–71), and the author’s engagement with Joyce. In this section I’m looking at two characters whom I call the protagonist’s “Tormentor and Would-Be Savior” and how they represent inversions of figures in Ulysses.

In a way, yes! The page 99 test brings readers to a passage that emphasizes the book’s use of close reading and comparisons of details between selected Russian novels and Joyce’s work. It likewise underscores how Bitov, as do other writers featured in the book, follow or play with Joycean models. It also briefly mentions the key theme of (literary) paternity that’s at the heart of all the works I explore. And in another way, no! What this page doesn’t showcase are the other main themes and aspects of my approach that run throughout, such as the significance of context in reading Joyce in Russia or how his reception there tracks with changing conceptions of intertextuality.

While the test isn’t ideal for All Future Plunges to the Past, it does align nicely with the writing analyzed within its pages. Joyce’s hero in Ulysses Stephen Dedalus says, “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” While nearly everything in the novel was thought out and intentional, Joyce’s art, to my mind, still champions the magic of chance and of coincidence. Likewise, and with no claims to matching Joyce’s accomplishments(!), the main part of my book aims for something similar. On the one hand, it intentionally chronicles the history of Joyce’s reception in Russia over the past century, while also highlighting the circuitous routes involved and the kind of spontaneity and chance encounters central to Joyce’s story. This all culminates in the conclusion in a mini-oral history featuring interviews with contemporary writers, where, as one of those interviewees puts it, sometimes it’s nice to “let go of the reins” and see where the material takes you…
Visit José Vergara's website.

--Marshal Zeringue