The University of Wisconsin Press

Russian Literature / Literary Criticism


Realizing Metaphors
Alexander Pushkin and the Life of the Poet
David M. Bethea

A Publication of the Wisconsin Center for Pushkin Studies
General Editors: David M. Bethea and Alexander Dolinin

"Realizing Metaphors addresses a question that is one of the most exciting and controversial in the field of literary studies—the question of how (if at all) an artist's life relates to his or her works. . . . Bethea brilliantly succeeds in his task. . . . The result is a book that is a new word both in Pushkin studies and in the field of literary biography."—Irina Reyfman, Columbia University

"The book covers immense ground—as an essay on the blindness and insight of four major critic/thinkers (Freud, Bloom, Jakobson, Lotman) and as a rigorous and penetrating study of the relationship of two of Russia's greatest poets (Pushkin and Derzhavin). I have never read anything quite like it, either as a daring essay in critical theory or a study of Pushkin's lifelong encounter with his great predecessor."—William Mills Todd, Harvard University

"After reading Realizing Metaphors , I would like to express my delight, first of all, at that which, while not an academic accomplishment, is perhaps something even more rare—the author's love toward Pushkin. . . . The Pushkin that appears in David Bethea's book seems to me very much like the original, protean and elusive."—Olga Sedakova, Russian poet

Readers often have regarded with curiosity the creative life of the poet. In this passionate and authoritative new study, David Bethea illustrates the relation between the art and life of nineteenth-century poet Alexander Pushkin, the central figure in Russian thought and culture. Bethea shows how Pushkin, on the eve of his two-hundredth birthday, still speaks to our time. He indicates how we as modern readers might "realize"—that is, not only grasp cognitively, but feel, experience—the promethean metaphors central to the poet's intensely "sculpted" life. The Pushkin who emerges from Bethea's portrait is one who, long unknown to English-language readers, closely resembles the original both psychologically and artistically.

Bethea begins by addressing the influential thinkers Freud, Bloom, Jakobson, and Lotman to show that their premises do not, by themselves, adequately account for Pushkin's psychology of creation or his version of the "life of the poet." He then proposes his own versatile model of reading, and goes on to sketch the tangled connections between Pushkin and his great compatriot, the eighteenth-century poet Gavrila Derzhavin. Pushkin simultaneously advanced toward and retreated from the shadow of his predecessor as he created notions of poet-in-history and inspiration new for his time and absolutely determinative for the tradition thereafter.

David M. Bethea is Vilas Research Professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is the author of Khodasevich: His Life and Art; The Shape of Apocalypse in Modern Russian Fiction; and Joseph Brodsky and the Creation of Exile.

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cover of Bethea's book is green and burgundy, with a line drawing

November 1998
262 pp. 6 x 9
13 b/w photos

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Paper $17.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-15974-0
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