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On the Crossroads of Science, Philosophy and Literature: Andrey Bely's "Petersburg"

Kosakowska, Elizabeth Irene

The radical developments in science at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries greatly influenced the general perception of the universe, contemporary discussion of the cultural crisis, and Modernist literature in Russia and the West. My work examines the importance of those groundbreaking scientific discoveries to Andrey Bely's Modernist novel, Petersburg, which reflects both his thorough knowledge of science and his desire to find a solution to the cultural crisis of his era. I discuss his novel in the view of his geometrical model of universal and human evolution, which he described in two lesser known essays written in 1912: "The Line, the Circle, the Spiral--of Symbolism" and "Circular Movement." Taking these essays as my point of departure, I examine Petersburg's scientific imagery, namely thermodynamics, psychology, and astronomy, in order to demonstrate the scientific basis of Bely's vision of the universe and his presentation of it in his novel. I also give special consideration to the schools of thought that shaped Bely's view of universal and human development. My analysis of Bely's interest in the philosophy of Schopenhauer, Solovyov, Nietzsche, and Steiner suggests that Bely's creative fusion of elements of those philosophical ideas led to the formulation of his own unique vision of the universe. I view ambiguity and uncertainty as the main feature of this vision and argue that they characterize the Modernist, dynamic view of the universe. By analyzing Bely's major novel from a scientific point of view, which has been heretofore neglected by scholars, I hope to uncover a new layer of meaning in Petersburg. I believe that this approach will prove fruitful as a means of illuminating not only Bely's Petersburg, but also all of his artistic oeuvre.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Slavic Languages and Literatures
Thesis Advisors
Gasparov, Boris
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 15, 2013
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