Literature and Science: an Approach. Andrey Platonov, a New Language for a New World

San Vicente, Ricardo
Quaderns Divulgatius, 14 2000

Platonov (Voronej, 1899 - Moscow, 1951) aspired to give voice to a world in transformation. The son of a railway worker, his emblem could well be the locomotive, as a symbol of what would also be Soviet progress. Platonov travelled around the country working as a "meliorator" engineer or, in other words, as a specialist who had mastered the techniques (mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, agronomic, ecological...) and who created technical implements to improve agricultural productivity. His second task was writing: to describe the world and to reflect with the reader uponthe "construction of communism".
In the nineteen-twenties, he wrote many novels, amongst them being The Excavation and Txevengur, many tales and stories, plays and innumerable essays, many of which have now been exhumed from archives, reviews and publishing houses. The reward for all his activity was silence, the detention of his friends and his son, his being treated as if he had the plague, and, finally, premature death.
The most relevant aspect of Platonov's style is the awareness that, in order to describe the world, one has to forge a new literary language. According to the young engineer and writer, the village man feels that he is fashioning the future, yet he speaks with the language of the past. Literature has to transform the reader. The subject material and points of the plot are part of the formation of a new culture, of a new social and cultural reality that rejects the past, and Platonov was working in this regeneration of reality.
The basic components of Platonov's literary language are decidedly popular lexical undercurrents along with technical terms and neologisms of the new thought, a language distancing itself from the cultured legacy of Tolstoy or the bureaucratic atmosphere of Dostoevsky. The heroes of Platonov's novels seem to be learning how to speak: to name things and events in the new world. However, though he narrated the Soviet reality with the fervour of a newly enlightened man, his works were rejected by magazines and publishers alike. Txvengur had to wait more than 40 years to become known in the West, and over 60 years before it appeared in Russia. They censored his work because his depiction of the reality that he wanted to improve, and which he faithfully portrayed, was interpreted as satire or burlesque criticism.

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