Festival Celebrates City’s Mythology
Vladimir Toporov wrote that Petersburg was a ‘city of hooligans.’
Published: October 5, 2011 (Issue # 1677)
The festival examined the potential of city locations to inspire myths today.
Despite its status as a relatively young city, St. Petersburg is awash in mythology. From stories surrounding its initial construction, to the Bronze Horseman, to tales of the Revolution, St. Petersburg is full of locations that conjure up local myths, folklore, and scenes from literature. This theme was explored recently during the third annual Petersburg Text literary festival, which was held from Oct. 1 to Oct. 4.
Held by the Live Classics International Association of Centers of Contemporary Culture, the festival brings together literary critics, academics, local historians, philosophers, and writers to present and discuss work centered on a particular theme, changed annually. This year, the theme was “Literary Natural Boundaries.” The chief goal of the festival events, discussions, and presentations was to discover the potential of Petersburg locations to inspire myths today.
One of the major festival participants this year was Naum Sindalovsky, a leading expert on the folklore and mythology of St. Petersburg. He gave a talk at Dom Knigi on Monday, where he spoke about the peculiarities of local folklore and mythology, citing examples of Petersburg-specific anecdotes, urban legends, and terms of speech. He also gave a short talk at the festival’s opening ceremony on Saturday, encouraging people to “listen while walking down the street” for newly developing legends, and reminding them that the mythology of St. Petersburg can be found not only in the historical center, but also in newer regions on the city’s outskirts. For Sindalovsky, the mythology of the city is a living, ever-changing entity.
Another speaker at the opening ceremony was Aleksandr Melikhov, who was also one of the five recipients of the 2011 Gogol Prize for Literature. Founded by the St. Petersburg Union of Writers in 2003 to recognize talented Russian writers, this year’s awards honored Vera Kobets for “Farewell,” a collection of short stories; Ilya Boyashov for “Stone Women,” a novel about the history and character of Russian women; Natalia Sokolovskaya for “The Canon of Love,” a collection of love-themed short stories; and Andrei Stepanov and Olga Lukas for “The Elixir and Prince Sobakin,” a novel about a prince, his famous chemist grandfather and a satellite. Melikhov received his third Gogol this year for his novel “Father’s Shadow,” having also won prizes in 2003 and 2009.
Another important part of the festival was the academic conference portion, which ran from Sunday to Tuesday and in which over thirty academics participated. The topics up for discussion included “From the Bohemia of Leningrad to the Bohemia of Petersburg: Common Spaces and the Pathos of Placelessness” (Dmitry Golynko-Volfson), “Industrial Petersburg in Russian Poetry” (Natalia Perevezentseva), and “The Petersburg Dreams of Marina Tsvetaeva” (Irina Burlakova).
Alongside the general question of mythologized spaces and city folklore in the literary texts of St. Petersburg, hooliganism and the role it has played in city life was also a central theme of the festival. This year, hooliganism and its association with St. Petersburg marked its centenary, with the first mention of the term in the city’s press appearing sometime around 1911-1912.
Vladimir Toporov, the late eminent Russian philologist, wrote in his book “Peterburg Text” that St. Petersburg was a “city of hooligans” and, as befits such an association, the festival that shares the name of the aforementioned book was not entirely dedicated to serious academic discussion.
An exploration of this theme was the street performance following the round table of “Young Ladies and Hooligans,” a humorous investigation of bohemian hooliganism, its psychology, aesthetics, and historical and cultural precedents. The interactive nature of the street performance allowed for spectators to not only engage with important past instances of aesthetic hooliganism, but to become participants themselves. Other more light-hearted moments of the festival included the mini-play “Poprischin and the Outskirts of Petersburg Text” and a game called “Travels Through Petersburg Text,” played over two days by teams from St. Petersburg State University and Herzen State Pedagogical University.
For more information on the festival, Live Classics, and the Gogol Prize, see www.liveclassics.ru.