Between faith and disbelief: the theme of life and death in Yu. N. Ivanov’s novel Dances in the Crematory: Ten Episodes from the Life of Königsberg
In exploring the themes of life and death in Yu. N. Ivanov’s novel Dances in the Crematory, I carry out a structural-semantic analysis of the fragmentary chronotope and the ideational- thematic and plot-compositional levels of the novel. I demonstrate that the principle of fragmentarity is utilised by the author to the full extent across the novel, primarily, in its chronotope. The latter is closely connected with the fragmentary-discrete structure of human consciousness and memory, including the spiritual memory, which secures the most vivid events and episodes from the life of the main character in the textual space of the novel. I prove that, at the ideational-thematic level, the principle of fragmentarity is manifested in the novel in the form of a series of antithesis themes and binary oppositions (peace/war, life/death, god/evil, love/hate, faith/disbelief, God/devil), which reveal the author’s worldview and integrate semantically different dimensions of the novel — subjective, psychological, moral, philosophical, and fictional ones. These oppositions emphasise the novel’s leitmotif (the metaphor of the road as a person’s life journey) and its central moral-philosophical idea and dilemma — the tragic fate of a person who has chosen the independent path of overcoming death with life. I stress the correlation between the themes of life and death, which gravitate in the novel towards a difficult, yet clear victory of life over death. I trace how the autobiographical character- narrator gradually turns to God and faith. I prove that, in the novel’s poetics, the author uses such a technique as the compression of the plot and the idea into two symbolic metaphors — the dance in the crematory and the zoo, which stand for resurrection and the triumph of life in the tragic space of Königsberg/Kaliningrad — a city devastated by the war.
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