Efim Kurganov's monograph on the role of the anecdote in Russian literary culture at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries is a welcome addition to Pushkin studies and to the study of Russian literature and culture in general.
The book—a dissertation for the degree of doktor filosofii—consists of an introduction, five chapters, a conclusion, appendix, and bibliography. In the introduction Mr. Kurganov tackles the problem of "legitimizing" the anecdote as an object of literary and cultural study. His argument here is very convincing, especially as it relies not only on studies carried out by Iurii Lotman concerning the worthiness of oral literature (ustnaia literatura) for scholarly study and, indeed, the peculiarly "oral" nature of Russian culture, but on the words of one of Pushkin's most illustrious contemporaries, Prince Viazemskii. The latter's Staraia zapisnaia knizhka will figure largely in the final chapter as a primary source that also serves as a programmatic precedent for Mr. Kurganov's own methodology.
The task that the author sets himself here is a doubly difficult if altogether intriguing one. Not only are the literary texts under study in some sense encoded, but they depend for their decoding on sources and traditions which can themselves be arcane, obscure, hermetic. The decoding here ranges over Masonic signs and rituals through calendarology, numerology, cardiology, the Cabala, etc. The whole area of research is a daunting one, especially for those researchers of an empirical turn of mind.