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Transparency, Opacity, and the Artistic Response to the Revolution

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  1. Transparency in The River Potudan takes the form of emptiness, translucency, and clarity.
  2. But Nikita's trouble extends further than a trouble getting to know Lyuba more intimately.
  3. When he returns to Lyuba, his surroundings are predictably more opaque.
  4. In Chapaev, the role of transparency is bit different.

Much of the art produced in Russia during and after the Revolution served as a response to the sudden and widespread changes in society. Andrei Platonov's short story The River Potudan is no exception. Largely allegorical and interpretive, this tale of a soldier's re-entry into the world of his youth employs subtle motifs to give the reader a more complete sense of how exactly a civil war transformed Russia. One of the salient motifs in the work is the distinction between transparency and opacity?and the symbolic extensions of this concept from the visual world to the spiritual and ideological realm. Platonov uses transparency in his story to represent the disillusionment of the Russian people with their post-war situation, and in contrast to the potential, portent, and potency of opacity. His vision stands in opposition to that of the Vasiliev ?brothers,? in which opacity operates in a Marxist sense as a bourgeois means of oppression.

[...] For example, worlds like ?mysterious,? and give way to words like and ?light-filled.? That the world he returns is so thoroughly threadbare and transparent is not at all what Nikita desires, and the readers are left to assume that the war from which he returns is perhaps the cause of his disquiet. A particular aspect of this general transparency in the story is the recurrence of windows. Returning to his father's home, Nikita first looks through a window. As Nikita peers in, father leaned close to the windowpane and looked through it at his son. [...]

[...] His failure to have sex with Lyuba is a result of his love for this mystery; performing the sexual act would be a scripted, transparent way of demystifying and ?knowing? Lyuba (in the biblical sense). But Nikita's trouble extends further than a trouble getting to know Lyuba more intimately. This is only a manifestation of a more general disquiet, which pushes Nikita to have suicidal thoughts. What is crucial is that he wants to throw himself into the clear Potudan. [...]

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