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Sergueï Nicolaïevitch Zenkin

Sergueï Nicolaïevitch Zenkin is a specialist in the theory of literature, particularly with regard to 19th and 20th century French literature. He has conducted important research on intellectual history, perticularly history of 20th-century theoretical ideas in the humanities. Recent publications include: Cinq lectures de Roland Barthes (in French), Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2017; Theory of Literature: Problems and Results (in Russian), Moscow, Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2018 and La Forme et l’énergie: L’esthétique du formalisme russe (in French), Clermont-Ferrand, Presses universitaires Blaise-Pascal, 2018

Attempts on the image in literature

The 19th century European narrative literature repeatedly refers to deliberate destruction (or intentions, attempts to destroy) of artificial images. The old artist in Honoré de Balzac’s novella The Unknown Masterpiece burns his collection of art; the hero of Alexander Pushkin’s
poem The Bronze Horseman threatens the monument to the Emperor Peter the Great in St. Petersburg; the inhabitants of a French village in Prosper Merimée’s novella The Venus of Ille remelt the “evil” antique statue found in the soil; the painter in Nikolai Gogol’s novel The Portrait compulsively buys and destroys masterpieces of painting; another picture, in Émile Zola’s novel Work, is burned after the suicide of its author; the hero of Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray attempts to stab his own portrait, displaying his sins; in The Adventure of the Six Napoleons, a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle, six busts of the French emperor are broken in turn, first by a thief, and finally by a detective.
Being destroyed or disappearing for some other reason are the recurrent destiny of intradiegetic images (material images included into a narrative text as its actors), and the attempts of their obliteration always constitute a highlighted, spectacular moment in the narrative, and not just an outward sign of someone’s inner feelings; they are typically presented as a sacrifice of “excessive” (magical, demonic) objects. In some cases, they are explained by a deviant behavior of the character (madness, delinquency), but the literary text is organized in order to make the reader sympathize with the experiences of that “iconoclast”, and mentally reproduce his acts. An analysis of texts should disclose the mechanism of this self-identification and put the stories about the attempts on the image into the general framework of the 19th century visual and literary culture.

Key words: Artificial images, destruction of images, literary culture