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Viktor Sklovskij na Belomorkanale: literator kak razvedcik


Viktor Shklovskii actively participated in the infamous collective volume about the White Sea-Baltic canal (1934). He did not, however, take part in the writers’ excursion organized by the OGPU: he had travelled to the lager alone well before that, looking for his convicted brother. This is, at least, the version the writer was trying to spread in his senior years, clearly trying to diminish his responsibility for a book glorifying slave labour in the Soviet camps in the eyes of the progressive intelligentsia. In the post-Stalin years, a new role-model for writers emerged, offering an alternative to the previous forced choice between “general” and “martyr”: we could call this third option the “secret agent option”, that of a writer trying to play along with the system and to cheat it when possible – “Aesopian language” was this kind of writer’s main means of operation. Shklovskii’s oral tales about his activities in the Thirties where aimed to suggest that this model was already at work in high Stalinism; a search of elements of Aesopian messages in the Belomorkanal volume in order to verify his thesis is the main object of this article; results are somehow contradictory.