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Média, informations et émotions

The Fog of Stagnation

Explorations of Time and Affect in Late Soviet Animation
Le brouillard de la stagnation : explorations du temps et de l’affect dans le dessin d’animation du soviétisme tardif
Anna Fishzon
p. 571-598


Cet article pose qu’une « temporalité étrange » s’est fait place pendant l’époque de la stagnation : le passé staliniste était innommable et le futur reporté ou interdit. En réponse à l’horizon limité du « socialisme avancé » – la perte de la cohérence narrative et de la futurité, la promesse communiste qui n’arrive jamais – un éternel présent riche en possibilités et en sentiments fut mis en place dans les films d’animation, fournissant un temps et un espace où le désir était encore possible. Ëžik v tumane [Un hérisson dans le brouillard, 1975] de Jurij NorÒtejn, les films de Vinnipuh (1969‑1972) de Fëdor Hitruk et Bremenskie muzykanty [Les musiciens de Brême, 1969] ont ravivé le désir et modifié l’imaginaire non pas, comme on aurait pu s’y attendre, en rétablissant un temps linéaire, mais en réimaginant la stagnation comme un domaine d’explorations passionnantes et non téléologiques. Là où le brouillard dans Ëžik v tumane provoque un manque et met la libido en marche, Vinnipuh apporte une solution partielle à la crise du désir de l’époque brejnévienne en mettant en scène une perversité polymorphe et un « temps de cuisine » élastique ; quant aux Bremenskie muzykanty, ils sont allés plus avant dans le développement des nouvelles sociabilités, des amours et des formes de plaisir induites par cette temporalité étrange. Les fossés, les espaces magiquement intimes, les personnifications bizarres et le temps défiguré étaient rendus par le cadre diégétique autant qu’instanciés par le film en tant qu’objet, invitant les spectateurs à examiner de façon ludique les impasses du socialisme tardif et à imaginer une vie à la libido saturée, riche en promesses.

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  • 1 Much work has been done on children’s literature written for “dual audiences” in Russia and elsewhe (...)
  • 2 Children’s literature was viewed as an “inner exile for those who could not longer publish for adul (...)
  • 3 The “stagnation era” is a designation attributed by Mikhail Gorbachev to Brezhnev’s tenure ; it evo (...)

1Animation was a staple of late Soviet popular culture. It addressed a “dual audience” of children and adults and remains relevant, if controversial, in Russia today.1 Since many animated films and children’s songs of the Brezhnev period were openly anarchical and often about outcasts, it is perhaps not surprising that Vladimir Putin’s government has flirted with a ban on old cartoon favorites like Nu, Pogodi ! [Just You Wait !, 1969] featuring cigarette smoking, hoarse‑voiced characters. Scholars of late socialist children’s cultural production have noted that media like animation, puppet theater, and musical fairytale recordings were subject to comparatively light state censorship (cartoons are particularly difficult to monitor for subversive content) and hence became domains of social and cultural critique. The animation studio Soiuzmul´tfil´m is believed to have been a “safe haven” for dissenting messages, or, less threateningly, newly emergent counterpublics that, while quintessentially “Soviet” (sharing in the widely held beliefs of the time) were neither socialist nor explicitly ideological.2 Here I engage the less obvious but arguably deeper challenge to stagnation‑era official discourse posed by late Soviet animation : the interval for desire and emancipatory pleasures that its narrative frames, plot motifs, and aesthetics created for the viewer. Ezhik v tumane [Hedgehog in the Fog, 1975], the Vinnipukh trilogy (1969‑1972), and Bremenskie muzykanty [Bremen Town Musicians, 1969], in other words, did not undermine official Soviet ideology from without but rather used and reshaped its values to summon transformative modes of spectatorship, time, and affect. My ultimate claim is that a presentist, queer temporality emerged during the so‑called era of stagnation, when the Stalinist past was unspeakable and the future postponed or foreclosed. In response to this limited horizon—the loss of narrative coherence and futurity, the never‑to‑arrive communist promise—a voluptuous present, rich in possibility and feeling, was brought into being in popular animated films, providing a revitalized time and space where one could desire and hope again.3

  • 4 Judith (Jack) Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place : Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New Yo (...)

2The concept of “queer time” has been elaborated by J. Jack Halberstam, who situates its emergence not in the last decades of the Soviet Union, of course, but in gay communities of 1980s urban America “whose horizons of possibility had been severely diminished by the AIDS epidemic.” Halberstam describes queer temporality as a model of time rooted in and committed to the present, compressing time and expanding the potential of the moment. Queer temporality is nonlinear, unstructured by reproduction and generational thinking. Inattentive to a national‑historical past and at odds with futurity, cathecting the transient and contingent, it means for some living in “rapid bursts,” as Vladimir Vysotskii did, or “junk time,” as William Burroughs called it.4

  • 5 For example, Jacques Lacan, “The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freud (...)
  • 6 I employ the concept of “queer temporality” as opposed to “presentism” because I want to stress the (...)

3Stagnation was the central experience of the Soviet 1970s, and I am not referring specifically to the economic and political spheres. With the disappearance of the struggle toward the phantasmatic wholeness of communism—the utopia in whose name countless calls to storm industry, agriculture, and private life had been made—the dialectic temporalization necessary for the work of desire was abandoned as well. Psychoanalysis has long noted the implicit historicity of desire, its dependence on a narrative sequence that offers hope, however unrealized, of filling the constitutive lack in the subject.5 As I show below, the less censorable animated films of the late 1960s and 1970s activated desire and altered fantasy not through a reestablishment of linear time, but rather via a reimagining of stagnation as queer temporality—a libidinally saturated domain of thrilling, non‑teleological explorations.6 Where Ezhik v tumane precipitated a lack and set the libido in motion, Vinnipukh provided a partial solution to the Brezhnev‑era desire crisis by staging polymorphous perversity and an elastic “kitchen time” ; and Bremenskie muzykanty further developed the new socialities, loves, and forms of enjoyment permitted by such queer temporality.

Ezhik v tumane and the Potential for Desire

  • 7 The stagnation era is receiving increasing attention from historians. Recent oral histories and stu (...)
  • 8 David MacFadyen, Yellow Crocodiles and Blue Oranges : Russian Animated Film Since World War Two (Mo (...)

4In the context of the current scholarly debates about the Brezhnev era, one is almost chagrined by the candid and lyrical way Iurii Norshtein’s animated short Ezhik v tumane renders the experience of stagnation, making transparent its dilemmas and affects, and its ultimate dialectization.7 On the one hand, the film performs stagnation (or, at least, draws our attention to its performative dimension) : the Hedgehog and the Cub construct their intersubjective reality by uttering, indeed monotonously repeating, their respective roles and deeds—stars, “juniper twigs,” raspberry jam, and so forth. The very act of enunciation makes the Hedgehog and the Cub what they are—grants them a fixed and confining place within the symbolic order. On the other hand, Ezhik v tumane invites identification with the Hedgehog’s disorienting experience in the Fog. By means of exaggeratedly loud or echoing sounds—crunches, whistles, creaks, tinkles, and whispers that seem both to displace and draw one into intimate association with the Hedgehog’s moving body, as well as crosscutting and tight close‑ups that undermine a “focused and objective point of view”8—we gain an idea of what it feels like to live in isolated compliance, to occupy a particularly vexed stance toward desire.

5The plot is eloquently simple : the narrator informs us at the beginning that the Hedgehog and the Cub meet every evening, sit on a log under a starry sky, sip tea, and count stars. Before them looms a house with a chimney that provides a convenient boundary between their respective domains : on the right are the Cub’s stars and on the left, the Hedgehog’s. For an unspecified and unmeasurable duration, the relationship between the Cub and the Hedgehog is contained in this innocent and circular temporality, unburdened by conflict, accident, and change. Their routine is so predictable, in fact, that the Hedgehog can rehearse verbatim the Cub’s words in anticipation of their nightly encounter. As the Hedgehog makes his way to the Cub’s house he compulsively recites the dialogue that structures all their meetings : “I’ll tell him I’ve brought raspberry jam and he’ll say : the samovar has cooled off – we’d better put in some … what are they called ? … Juniper twigs ! – in the fire !”

  • 9 Perhaps this is why we sense a budding anxiety—a slight stutter—in the Hedgehog’s repetitive banter (...)

6The phrases are incanted as if they possessed magical, transformative properties. Words are things without external referents ; they enact rather than signify. The Hedgehog and the Cub live in a world with no objects in the psychoanalytic sense—no distance between word and deed necessitating a bridging metaphor, no fantasy mediating reality, and no love. They form a dyadic unit, completing one another.9 But then something happens. A third field appears, a rupture in the tie between the two characters : one day, on his way to the Cub’s place the Hedgehog comes upon a thick and mysterious Fog where a silent white Horse resides. The Horse stirs his interest and a question forms in the Hedgehog’s mind : “If the Horse lies down to sleep, will it choke in the fog ?” He is lured into the Fog by its enigmatic aspect and once submerged an abyss opens up between him and the Cub, a tear in the dyad, and with it a yawning lack, curiosity, and desire. The Hedgehog temporarily forgets about the Cub and their routine, and seeks meaning. He wonders, refusing to turn away when opacity threatens and answers do not emerge. We are made to feel his anxiety in unexpected and violent orchestral outbursts, and his captivation in the woodwinds’ broad and sustained melodic lines. Eventually, the Hedgehog makes his way back to the Cub, but he does not truly return. For the Hedgehog, at least, the purity of their repetitions, dumb and beautiful, cannot be recaptured : “The Cub talked and talked and the Hedgehog thought, ‘Isn’t it wonderful that we are together again.’ And also … he thought about the horse … ‘How is she doing there … in the fog ?’”

Fig.1 - Ezhik v tumane, Director Iu. Norshtein, Soiuzmul´ltfil´m 1975

Fig.1 - Ezhik v tumane, Director Iu. Norshtein, Soiuzmul´ltfil´m 1975
  • 10 On object a (objet petit a), as well as the concepts of alienation and separation see, for example, (...)

7On this point—the impossibility of a return to wholeness after the intrusion of a third term or figure—psychoanalytic theory aids understanding. The fundamental insight behind the Oedipus complex, and, later, D.W. Winnicott’s “transitional phenomena” and Jacques Lacan’s dual processes of “alienation” and “separation” is that sacrifice is constitutive of subjectivity. Even before the paternal metaphor or thirdness‑as‑language intrudes upon the mute pleasures of infants and their primary caregivers, weaning and loss take place. When infants are forced to separate from the maternal dyad they cede a piece of the body they mistook for their own. A part that once belonged to the infant now bears an aspect of the Other and begins to circulate out there. The infant constructs a fantasy around this primary loss and its marker, an object carrying something it once possessed, that eventually becomes what Lacan calls object a.10

  • 11 Lacan identifies four principal objects a : the voice, the gaze, the feces, and the breast, all of (...)

8A crucial point for Lacan is that object a is not the object of desire or desire as such but its cause : it determines how one’s desire is structured. Through circulation of fantasy, divided subjects become fixated on a particular object a, which pulls the strings of desire, as it were, choreographing its movement. Object a defies apprehension and can only be sensed momentarily in a tone of voice, a scent, a gaze, a fleeting sensation – memorials to a primordial loss ; it is located in people and things that exert a power of fascination, propelling the subject to yearn, seek, and fail again and again to fill the constitutive lack.11

9Object a appears at a pivotal moment in Ezhik v tumane as the voice of Someone, the experienced but unseen amorphously bodied creature that saves the Hedgehog’s life and brings him back to the safety of the Cub’s friendship. Having wandered far into the Fog, the Hedgehog stumbles and plunk, “‘I’m in the river. Let the river carry me along,’” he decides. The Hedgehog “sigh[s] deeply and begins to drift with the current.” He hallucinates the Horse in a whirling starry sky as the Cub vainly calls “Hedgehog !” in the distance. We are enveloped, with the Hedgehog, by the sounds of the river and the onomatopoeic whisper of a tinkling piano. He thinks, “I’m completely soaked. I’ll drown soon.” But then, the narrator informs, Someone from the water’s murky depths touches his hind paw : “‘Excuse me,” says Someone without making a sound, ‘Who are you and how did you get here ?’ ‘I am Hedgehog. I fell in the river.’ ‘Then sit on my back. I’ll carry you to the shore.’” A flourish in the string section indicates a sudden shift in mood and perspective. Someone remains immersed in darkness but the Hedgehog now sits up, firmly supported and moving through the river with purpose. He is accompanied by an ambulatory pulse of dotted rhythms from a determined oboe. Its repetitive melody and progressive upward pitches signal the resumption of linear movement – a way out of the confusion of the Fog and the swirl of the night sky. Upon reaching shore, the Hedgehog thanks Someone. “Don’t mention it,” a voice replies.

  • 12 On the voice as an uncanny and elusive entity that borders the body (the Real) and language (the Sy (...)

10Here we see the voice‑as‑object a at work, its paradoxical duality and status as a border concept. Lacan observed that the human voice bears a ventriloquistic quality : it is never simply ours, a property of us as bodies. Because the voice escapes the mouth and has an independent materiality it is always potentially object a, an organ inside oneself that acts like a foreign intruder. If the voice‑as‑speech is completely within language—speech as opposed to infantile cries, screams, and animal sounds—it is simultaneously a physical entity that always exceeds the unembodied system of differences governed by the signifier.12

11In the film, Someone appears to be an indeterminate and free‑floating agency that “speaks without sound” (bezzvuchno). Are we to assume, then, that the voice we hear, to which only viewers and the Hedgehog are privy, inhabits his mind alone and belongs to him ? But what do we make of the humplike body that carries the Hedgehog to shore, which seems also to give the voice shape and presence ? Someone is both part of the Hedgehog and not. It exists between and within two places : under the law of speech and its linear dotted eighths and in an underwater, preverbal territory of aimlessly circling tones. When the Hedgehog enters the Fog, he opens a space for desire—its eternal movement and consequent fantasizing. The Fog is not yet meaning, but its promise. It establishes a placeholder for the Hedgehog within the Symbolic. Eliciting questions without responses, breaking up habitual modes of thought and identifications with utterances, the Fog inserts silence—a fissure—between speech and action. It undermines the performative and shifts to the constative.

  • 13 Objet petit a for Lacan is also the object of the drive—which is precisely an acephalic, non‑subjec (...)
  • 14 One of the anonymous reviewers of this article suggested an alternate interpretation of Ezhik v tum (...)

12When the Hedgehog falls into the womblike river and contemplates submitting to its reassuring flow, he flirts with a restoration of a prelinguistic time prior to the fragmenting experience of the Fog. But he soon realizes that repairing the wound, merging with the river, would mean drowning, a certain death. It is at this moment that the Hedgehog finds Someone, his object a. He hooks onto it, and it saves him from being devoured by the current, directing him to the other shore where he resumes old rituals—but not entirely. Like a true object a, Someone circulates among the mOther, the self, and the signifier, preserving the integrity of each field yet, paradoxically, cutting through and disturbing all three, ensuring that temporality will never be stagnant or circular, endlessly caught in maddening repetition.13 When our hero returns to the Cub, who is still in the same place, stupidly imitating speech rather than using language, one wonders if their naïve pact of counting stars now seems slightly embarrassing to the Hedgehog. As the Cub prattles, his traumatized spiny companion stares blankly into the distance, thoughts elsewhere. Between the Cub and the Hedgehog now intervenes the memory of the Horse and the Fog.14

  • 15 MacFadyen, Yellow Crocodiles and Blue Oranges, 164‑165.
  • 16 Ibid, 170.
  • 17 Alexei Yurchak, Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More : The Last Soviet Generation (Princeton (...)

13Most commentary about Ezhik v tumane in the Soviet period and since attributes its popularity to a transparent sentimentality—its purpose of “investigat[ing] the psychology of human feelings.” The film was heralded, writes literary scholar David MacFadyen, “as an especially successful work in its reduction of a folkloric tradition to the essence of a pure spatiotemporal freedom, one of express relevance and application to children’s development.”15 After perestroika it was deemed by some an ecstatic withdrawal from public life, “revolutionary” in its “dissolution in the world of desire.”16 I propose that the importance of Ezhik v tumane, like much other late Soviet animation labeled as children’s culture, lies in its depiction of what Alexei Yurchak has called “citational temporality.”17

14In his influential Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More, Yurchak draws on theorists J.L. Austin, Slavoj Žižek, and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari to make several compelling arguments about late socialism. His first and perhaps most generative insight is that a “performative shift” occurred within Soviet authoritative discourse after the loss of its “master,” Stalin. Because the vozhd´ positioned himself as the only legitimate external editor of communist discursive space, his death resulted in a hypostasis and the increasing irrelevance of the discourse’s constative meaning. By Brezhnev’s time, authoritative discourse acquired a citational temporality : party speeches, Komsomol reports, and Pravda articles could only refer back to earlier official statements or hint at future events. Without a master to authorize fresh language and ideas, late Soviet discourse looped back on itself, producing a kind of simulacrum—immutable, repetitive, and without individual authors. A point unexplored by Yurchak but particularly important for me is that a performative shift not only conditioned Brezhnev‑era stagnation, but also staged it linguistically. Stagnant authoritative discourse, in other words, ultimately performed stagnation itself.

  • 18 Ibid, 1‑157.
  • 19 I am not the first to apply Yurchak’s ideas to children’s culture. See Il´ia Kukulin et al, eds., V (...)

15Another, ensuing argument of Everything Was Forever is perhaps even more resonant here. Yurchak contends that because communist rhetoric was stripped of external referents after the Stalin era and mattered less for its veracity than for the quality of its expression, surprising connotations eventually were attached to familiar symbols and tropes. While authoritative discourse remained fixed, spectacularly reproducing itself, newly formed publics unrecognized by the regime arose and flourished within “deterritorialized” spaces : words, places, and regularized practices evacuated of their original meaning by the performative shift came alive again.18 I argue that the realm of the Hedgehog (and of children’s animation more broadly) was one such “deterritorizalized” space, and that psychoanalytic and queer theory permit its deeper examination.19

  • 20 MacFadyen, Yellow Crocodiles and Blue Oranges, 156.

16Just as the uncanny material presence of the object‑voice for Lacan poses a resistance to symbolization but also serves as the vehicle of speech—for the Hedgehog, the voice (and for viewers the film itself) offers a path beyond the citationality of the purely Symbolic on the one hand, and pre‑Oedipal paradisal ignorance on the other. Ezhik v tumane indeed “allows emotional participation”20—instantiates the experiential dimension of stagnation—and points to an escape : one that is not simply a retreat to the Cub, that is, an apolitical private life (a commonly heard cliché about the Brezhnev years), but an invitation to explore the vicissitudes of temporality and its libidinal aspects. The film ultimately demonstrates the ways repetition can be revolutionary, as it is the very act of returning to juniper twigs and star counting that initiates enduring transformation. The Hedgehog will only know the impact of the Fog when he encounters the Cub again—the flatness of his speech, the rigidity of his tasks and pleasures.

  • 21 Yurchak, Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More, 282.

17We come, then, to what is perhaps the unwitting message of Norshtein’s work : one transcends stagnation by reproducing it. This insight of Ezhik v tumane—that change is only possible through repetition—anticipates Yurchak’s conclusions about the post‑Stalin era : stagnation as temporality, as interminable returning, enabled tectonic changes.21 Stagnation was crucial to the collapse of communism not only in the form of economic depletion and popular cynicism but also as an experience of time and space. The shift from a teleological linear time to a citational temporality in the midst of more subtle alterations within the cultural environment—the socioeconomic background, so to speak—quietly opened up an ideological gulf that produced a catastrophic breakdown of the old order. Like the Hedgehog who changes as a result of his post‑Fog return to the Cub because he cannot repeat what was once repeatable innocently, Soviet audiences could no longer fully be immersed in and merely act out stagnation after watching and listening to it on screen and records.

The Pleasures of Failed Masculinity : the Case of Vinnipukh

  • 22 One also might say that the film itself operates as the Lacanian third term for spectators.
  • 23 Kenneth B. Kidd, Freud in Oz : At the Intersections of Psychoanalysis and Children’s Literature (Mi (...)
  • 24 Winnicott calls “transitional phenomena” a potential space, an “intermediate area of experiencing, (...)

18If Ezhik v tumane assumed the function of a psychoanalyst in so far as the film incarnated a lack or a Winnicottian transitional space for the audience—shepherding adult viewers through further “separation” and stirring desire by staging the primordial cut22—Alexander Alan Milne’s WinniethePooh (1926) and its eponymous hero, invoked by Winnicott in his writings as the “exemplary transitional object,” had a more direct influence on psychoanalytic theory and practice.23 It is quite apt, then, to speak of the ways the animated Vinni‑pukh and the many extradiegetic associations brought to the character by his famous portrayer Evgenii Leonov put the spectator’s psyche to work, bringing to the fore culturally specific forms of enjoyment and enabling a potential space, in the words of Winnicott, a hypothetical area of mutual creativity between Pukh and the Soviet viewer.24

  • 25 Kidd, Freud in Oz, 49.
  • 26 On “Poohology” and various psychoanalytic uses of Milne’s text, see ibid., 35‑63.

19Milne’s WinniethePooh originated in England and was inspired by stories the author created with his son Christopher Robin about Christopher’s beloved teddy bear and other toy characters.25 Perhaps because Milne’s Pooh is a children’s story told humorously from an adult’s point of view by a nurturing and loving narrator, it attracted an avid adult readership and even generated so‑called Poohology, a body of texts that mobilized the books, movies, and material culture of Pooh for didactic and satirical ends. The Soviet Vinnipukh, translated faithfully by Boris Zakhoder in the early 1960s and then made into a three‑part animated series by director Fedor Khitruk for Soiuzmul´tfil´m between 1969 and 1972, also enjoyed immense popularity with children and adults, proving especially appealing to intelligentsia readers and spectators.26

  • 27 Nataliia Smoliarova, “Detskii ‘Nedetskii’ Vinni‑pukh,” [“Vinni‑pukh : (Not) For Children”] in Il´ia (...)
  • 28 A comparison of the Milne, Disney, and Khitruk versions has been made but with an almost exclusive (...)

20Literary scholar Nataliia Smoliarova, waxing autobiographical in her article “Detskii ‘nedetskii’ Vinni‑pukh,” tells of the warm welcome she received when in 1972 she started her first position as translator in one of the Moscow institutes. Her senior colleague boasted of the friendly atmosphere in the department : “we have here many couples, travel novels, shared children, and a copy of Vinnipukh.” Smoliarova considered herself lucky on all counts, presumably since both good colleagues and Zakhoder’s Vinnipukh were in short supply and high demand. There were long queues for the book in libraries and friendship circles ; copies changed hands many times and the less fortunate searched for it without success in stores and among speculators.27 Khitruk’s animated films used Zakhoder’s translation and arguably surpassed it in popularity, making Pukh’s unwittingly amusing verses and Piatachok’s staccato high‑pitched asides staples of late Soviet jokes and everyday sarcasm. Khitruk’s alterations to the characterization as well as narrative and aesthetic aspects of the Milne and Zakhoder texts reveal how the Vinnipukh films molded and commented on the identifications and central fantasies of late‑socialist society.28

21The most obvious changes made by Khitruk are the removal of Christopher Robin and his narrator‑father from the story. Christopher’s lines are given to Piatachok (and in places Rabbit) and Milne’s to a less intrusive voice‑over narration. The effect is that the distance between spectators and characters is narrowed, and the self‑reflective storytelling duties are transferred to the viewer. The potential for identification and reflexivity on the part of the spectator is expanded, too, by occasional ruptures in the diegetic frame (Pukh pauses during his contemplative walks to stare directly into the camera) and the intertextuality occasioned by the gravelly voice of Evgenii Leonov. The celebrated character actor not only enriched the psychological portrait of Vinni‑pukh with his evocative timbre, referencing other Leonov deadpan comedic film roles as well as his extrafictional persona ; he also famously served as Pukh’s physical model.

22Pukh‑as‑Leonov leads me to the central aim of this section : a consideration of the ways the incarnation of Vinni‑pukh—which encompassed and utilized both Leonov’s physical body and body of work—attempted to remediate the economic, intellectual, and social failures of the late Soviet period. As I suggested in the discussion of Ezhik, desire understood as a lack—the search for an elusive object that offers hope—while often missing in Brezhnev‑era authoritative discourse and cultural forms made exclusively for adults, was staged in animated films. What is more, representations of orally driven, insatiable, rotund, polymorphously perverse, and ultimately failed masculinities functioned as antidotes to the inertia and libidinal impoverishment of intelligentsia men. By looking at Vinni‑pukh‑Leonov in a second context, as Vasilii Kharitonov in Georgii Daneliia’s Autumn Marathon (1979), I want to consider Brezhnev‑era efforts (and perhaps failures) to make space for desire. Characters like Pukh and Kharitonov, with their unempathic motivation, big bellies, and hearty appetites for food, drink, and homosocial relations, might have exhibited a primitive and immature desire ; but among their sanctimonious, enervated, and cerebral peers—the standard‑bearers of Brezhnev‑era cultivated masculinity—they, at least, were able to enjoy.

23Winnie‑the‑Pooh had a long and varied life before his appearance on Soviet screens. Wolfgang Reitherman’s first Disney adaptation WinniethePooh and the Honey Tree (1966) is based on the same two chapters as Khitruk’s first two films, Vinnipukh (1969) and Vinnipukh Goes Visiting (1971), the latter about ten minutes each in length. In many respects both the Disney and Soviet versions are faithful to the original plot, reproducing much of the dialogue verbatim. And yet important divergences in visual style and narrative framing produce different emotional worlds and characterizations.

24The initial chapters of Milne’s WinniethePooh, illustrated by the Punch cartoonist Ernest H. Shepard, revolve around Pooh’s insatiable appetite for honey. Self‑reflective narration is used liberally in these early chapters. It is then perhaps not surprising that both the Russian and the American adaptations feature voice‑over narration and characters looking into mirrors or even straight at the camera.

  • 29 On the illusion‑of‑life paradigm see Thomas Lamarre, “Coming to Life : Cartoon Animals and Natural (...)

25But Khitruk and Reitherman incorporate the narrator and Christopher Robin into their films in very different ways. In accordance with Disney’s “illusion‑of‑life” paradigm that operates with a dualist ontology of fantasy and reality, Reitherman begins the animated segments with a credit sequence over live‑action footage of a deserted nursery jammed with stuffed animals and a WinniethePooh book belonging to Christopher Robin. Milne’s narrative frames are retained by Reitherman but no connection is drawn between the English narrator (Sebastian Cabot) and the American Christopher Robin, whose voice belongs to the director’s son Bruce. WinniethePooh thus becomes a story recounted to viewers rather than Christopher Robin, and no father‑son relationship between author‑narrator and reader‑protagonist is established.29

26The Disney version eliminates Milne‑as‑father but nonetheless domesticates the story by using the book as a framing device, the characters on screen inhabiting and leaping from its pages. The image of the printed book and its illustrations invites sentimentality while simultaneously producing a distancing effect. Although Milne’s ruminative conversations between Christopher Robin and his father have been transposed into occasional exchanges between Pooh and the narrator, the appearance of the book introduces the idea that the audience is receiving the story from the vantage point of a parent affectionately observing the characters as one would small children. This additional frame thereby attenuates immediacy and identification for adult audiences.

  • 30 On the strained relations between Zakhoder and Khitruk and the differences in their vision for the (...)

27In contrast, Khitruk’s narrator has no relationship to Vinni‑pukh or anyone else and serves a much narrower purpose : to unobtrusively and briefly introduce the story, offer sparse commentary, and utter a few valedictory lines at the end. Pukh and Piatachok periodically peer at the camera and appear to look directly at the audience with somewhat blank but hypnotic eyes. By eliminating the metanarratives that both Milne and Reitherman use to evoke the childlike make‑believe world of the Hundred Acre Wood—a world of hybrid socialities where naturalistic forest animals, stuffed toys, and a boy congregate and have adventures—Khitruk is able to obviate not only Christopher Robin (much to the dismay of Zakhoder) but human life more generally.30 Instead, he intensifies and expands the fantasy space, creating a universe where Vinni‑pukh and his friends are very much alive ‑‑ not as animals or stuffed toys but as “real” characters that feel more authentic when not placed in scenes with naturalistically drawn humans. The written word does not stand between the spectator and these characters, and the film induces both identification and reflective engagement, implicitly summoning viewers to assume the position of Pukh or the space evacuated of Milne.

  • 31 Ibid., 328‑329 ; 336‑343.

28Also contributing to the immediacy of Khitruk’s world is his naïve animation. The illustrations resemble children’s colored‑pencil drawings—flat, laconic, with warm reds and yellows, and lush greens. Technical difficulties necessitated some of the simplicity in the art, limiting the movements of Vinni and Piatachok (for example, Vinni’s front and back paws always moved in the same direction) but also enhancing the characters’ awkward charm. Khitruk’s animation was much more contemporary and innovative in 1969 than the timeless style of the Disney films, which drew heavily on the Shepard illustrations. Khitruk managed to render sympathetic Pukh and Piatachok and to capture the aesthetic spirit of Milne and Zakhoder—their subtle wit and comical effects—without recourse to nostalgic citation or the “literary classic” trope. Animation scholars tend to agree that Khitruk’s two‑dimensional style released him from the conventions of the Disney “illusion‑of‑life” mode, making Pukh, the Rabbit, and Piatachok rough, clumsy, and very lovable.31

29Khitruk’s biggest change to the original characterization was the addition of Piatachok as a central character. In the Milne original, only Pooh, Christopher Robin, and Rabbit appear in the first two chapters. Piglet is omitted from Reitherman’s film altogether and is mentioned only briefly in the preface of Milne’s text, where he is diminutive and envious, desperate to be popular like Pooh. By substituting Piatachok for Christopher Robin, Khitruk gives Pukh a companion who, unlike Christopher, is not considered superior in intelligence or maturity. Piatachok, in fact, is quite admiring of Vinni and though he does certain things better than his older brother figure, he spends much of the films taking orders and breathlessly trying to keep up with Vinni’s speedy pace. Voiced by the film actress Iia Savvina and sped up to a piercing treble, Piatachok thus reads like an adorable infant or toddler, both eliciting sympathy and enlarging Pukh’s personality.

  • 32 Milne, Winnie‑the‑Pooh, 25. In Reitherman’s version, Pooh is clearly a teddy bear, “stuffed with fl (...)

30Khitruk’s Vinni‑pukh, finally, more than the Pooh of Milne and Disney, is a hero shaped by relationships that perpetually illuminate his and other characters’ essential traits. Milne’s Pooh is Christopher Robin’s beloved toy and likes to play games, sit quietly before a fire, or listen to stories, especially about himself. In Milne’s second chapter, Pooh is shown to be capable of self‑reflection : he exercises in front of a mirror and notices his bulging midsection. But more often than not Pooh is phlegmatic, self‑absorbed, and oblivious to social norms. He obstinately continues to invite himself into Rabbit’s home despite the latter’s repeated attempts to shed him by impersonating somebody else and finally nobody (“But this is Me ! – What sort of Me ?”).32

31The Soviet Pukh offers more surprises. Khitruk’s opening harpsichord tune and gentle fairytale narration promises a plodding pace, but Vinni brings an unexpected briskness. Before the hero comes into view, we see his tracks and hear the narrator explain that Vinni‑pukh is a poet who composes short verses and songs, and that he always likes a snack. Pukh then appears, marching quickly and composing his latest verses to the rhythm of his steps. He shows no facial expression and pauses from time to time to look into the camera as if to guess what to say or do next. His blank stares are humorous, well timed, and utterly beguiling.

32Pukh is slow‑thinking, though highly impulsive, and his body and actions seem to overrun and race ahead of his thoughts. During his first conversation with Piatachok, he barely makes eye contact and speaks in fitful terse phrases. The piglet seems to worship his mentor and eagerly does whatever Vinni demands. But despite his subordinate position we occasionally suspect that Piatachok possesses more knowledge about the world than Vinni—as in the first installment when he expresses concern that Vinni’s muddied body looks nothing like a dark cloud and thus will not fool or distract the bees from whom the cub hopes to steal honey.

33That Piatachok’s presence adds complexity to Pukh and underscores relationships among characters becomes especially apparent in the 1971 Soviet film Vinnipukh Goes Visiting based on the second Milne chapter. The honey‑eating scene in Rabbit’s abode is expanded to demonstrate the subtle ways Pukh’s oral drive trumps other impulses. He is not altogether unaware of etiquette, but his superficial grasp of rules of comportment is put only in the service of crude manipulation and ultimate goal of acquiring a meal. Pukh’s “concern” that Rabbit not find him rude is unaccompanied by an actual capacity for empathy with the result that he overstays his welcome and eats everything Rabbit has in his cupboard. Yet through subtle gestures and interactions, Pukh is humanized. He orders around but never bullies Piatachok. Like a parent might do to a small child, Pukh splashes water on his little sidekick’s face and ties a napkin over his mouth, preventing him from eating or speaking for the entire meal and disrupting his plans. At the end Pukh reaches for Piatachok’s hand several times before finally grabbing it and trying to abscond with him.

  • 33 Cited in Leving, “`Kto‑to tam vse‑taki est´…’,” in Il´ia Kukulin et al, eds., Veselye chelovechki, (...)

34Khitruk’s Vinni‑pukh is surlier and fatter than his American and British counterparts. His torso is huge. It overflows, announces its enormity. The tiny and squeaking Piatachok serves to accentuate his friend’s stoutness. Pukh cannot help his physique ; he is all hunger and mouth, powerless to cease ingesting. He invites our hunger, perhaps even our cannibalistic urges, with his driven and out‑of‑control orality. His is an infantile mouth, a pre‑Oedipal body. Neither Pukh nor Piatachok (and in this way they are typical cartoon characters) understand bodies as carriers of shame or as markers of difference—certainly not sexual difference. And yet, Pukh is not a teddy bear like previous Winnie‑the‑Poohs but a raspy‑voiced man who remains a boy or failed adult. He is innocent of the reality principle, and he might never grow up. Khitruk once wrote to Zakhoder that he understood Vinni‑pukh as a character who is “always bursting with grandiose plans, too complex and unwieldy for the trivialities to which he wants to apply them. This is why the plans fall apart as soon as they come into contact with reality. He is constantly getting into trouble, not because of stupidity, but because his world does not accord with reality.”33

  • 34 Rabbit’s resemblance to a late Soviet intelligent is also noted by Leving in ibid., 332.

35In his second film Khitruk takes perhaps the most liberties with Milne’s text, largely in the service of conveying late socialist cultural paradigms. While Shepard’s Rabbit is drawn in a naturalistic style, Khitruk’s is anthropomorphized—an unmistakable member of the Soviet intelligentsia. With nose in the air, finger raised, large spectacles, thick lisp, and nasal effeminate self‑righteousness, he lectures and prevaricates more than Milne’s creation.34

36Pukh’s voracious appetite and poor self‑restraint in Rabbit’s home acquires special relevance in a deficit economy. Rabbit is compelled to relinquish the entire contents of his kitchen : he shudders at having to serve condensed milk and honey but seems too spineless and docile to say “no” to Pukh. Though Rabbit is cynical and insincere, initially lying to Pukh about not being home, he immediately yields to his visitor’s demand just as he might answer to the demands of the state. Pukh’s willfulness and drive for pleasure are thrown into sharp relief by the inertia and cheerless aridity of Rabbit and other intelligentsia‑like characters (we witness such contrasts again in Khitruk’s third installment when Pukh encounters Donkey and Owl). If Rabbit’s intelligentsia masculinity is more fully realized than Pukh’s—more adult, civilized, moral, castrated (that is, alienated in language and knowing loss)—it is also devoid of desire : bookish, overly polite, saccharin, longwinded, and without virility. Indeed, Pukh’s immature, awkwardly embodied, and arguably queer masculinity is embraced and even celebrated in a world where being “mature” means living like the passive Rabbit.

  • 35 Lilya Kaganovsky, “The Cultural Logic of Late Socialism,” Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema 3 :2 (...)
  • 36 Ibid.

37Lest the idea of Vinni‑pukh as an antidote to the libidinally drained Soviet intelligent seem a stretch I would like to look at a scene bearing a structural resemblance to Vinnipukh Goes Visiting from another Leonov film, Autumn Marathon, where he makes a brief but memorable appearance as a human Poohlike character and helps stage similar themes and cultural logics among Soviet humans. Autumn Marathon is principally about a crisis of desire. It is a wry but not unsympathetic rendering of a likable forty‑something university professor struggling with thorny midlife dilemmas. Incapable of refusing anyone’s requests, thoroughly overcommitted, Andrei Buzykin (played by Oleg Basilashvili) can no longer manage the multiplying exigencies in his professional and private lives. Although well‑intentioned, Andrei’s efforts at placating his wife, mistress, needy friends, and clamoring colleagues ultimately disappoint and exasperate the very people he is desperate to please. Everyone seems to want something from Andrei, but what does Andrei want ? As Lilya Kaganovsky points out, “Andrei takes no pleasure in either his wife or his mistress, and sex is implicitly replaced with eating” (eating without enjoyment, I would add).35 In an early scene that conveys Andrei’s alienation, he sits with his back to his mistress, mechanically chewing his dinner while she talks about wanting to have his children.36 Kaganovsky suggests, drawing on Lacan, that “this is not simply another example of the prudishness of Soviet cinema, or the well‑known pronouncement, ‘We have no sex.’ At stake here is a lack not merely of sex but of the ‘sexual relation’ … Relationships (between the sexes) presented in Soviet films deny the possibility of desire as an operative force, converting sexuality into its related, component parts : nurturing, family, marriage and children”—converting it, in other words, into demand.

  • 37 Ibid.

The “demand” coming from the state requires that subjects not only work and attend Party meetings, but also that they marry and reproduce. A subject out of bounds… has to be contained [in a reproductive marriage, in the workplace]—his “desire” made identical to the “demand” of the state.”37

  • 38 Anna Lawton, Before the Fall : Soviet Cinema in the Gorbachev Years (Washington, DC : New Academia (...)
  • 39 On the dialectic of desire from a clinical as well as theoretical perspective, see Bruce Fink, A Cl (...)

38Andrei, however, is trapped in a rut of his own creation. “His attractive qualities—intelligence, sensitivity, kindness of soul” – are virtually eclipsed by his passivity. “He does not act but… simply reacts to people and events as best he can, without any protest and a resigned smile.”38 As Lacan would have it, Andrei is stuck at a point just short of desire : at the level of the Other’s demand. He prefers addressing concrete demands and performing tasks (meeting his lover, helping a friend with translations, drinking with his neighbor, attending meetings) to dealing with desirousness—his mistress’s fantasy of having children, his wife’s yearning for intimacy. For Andrei and perhaps most of us, the encounter with the Other’s desire, diffuse and enigmatic, is too anxiety producing. Yet, desire enables and organizes subjectivity : subjects, like desire itself, need lack in order to spring to life, to strive, and look ahead. Unlike demand, desire has not one object but many ; it wants to keep desiring.39

39If desire in this, psychoanalytic sense “is a search for an object that promises a future” then, as Kaganovsky suggests, Autumn Marathon

skips over “desire” and leaves us with something closer to “drive”—the circular movement around an objectless void. In the film, the repeated act of jogging that structures the narrative speaks to this objectless circulation. Every morning Andrei’s foreign colleague, a Danish professor and fitness devotee, Bill, rings his doorbell and collects him to go jogging.

  • 40 Kaganovsky, “The Cultural Logic of Late Socialism,” 186.

40Indeed, the very structure of the Autumn Marathon is circular : it begins and ends with a jogging session in the dark autumnal Leningrad hours. “The two joggers’ formulaic greeting accentuates the ritual and repetitive nature of this event : ‘Morning !’ says Bill in English. ‘Morning !’ repeats Andrei in English ; ‘Vy gotov ?’ (‘Ready ?’), asks Bill, ‘Gotov,’ Andrei always answers.”40

  • 41 Ibid, 186‑187.

41For a moment in the film, forward movement seems possible. After a series of misunderstandings and arguments, Andrei’s wife and mistress abandon him in dramatic fashion. Left alone, he is delirious with relief, believing that he has found a way out of the impasse. But his celebration ends in a flash : mistress and wife in quick succession return, and the usual routine is resumed. The last scene confirms that all the characters, despite much frantic activity, have remained in the same place. When Bill shows up—in the evening this time—for their daily jog, Andrei agrees, and the film concludes with Bill in a tracksuit and Andrei still in the workday’s dress shirt and tie, “jogging in the fading light, a row of street lamps stretching before them into infinity. Andrei finally realizes that he has no will : he is – ‘bezvol´nii.’”41

42Unlike his neighbor Andrei, Vasilii Kharitonov (played by Leonov) has not succumbed to the tyranny of jogging and health discourses. Portly, working‑class, and alcoholic, Kharitonov has a passion for vodka and mushrooms, and little consideration for the professor’s tendency to work at home. He drops in one Thursday (his day off), vodka in hand, and finds Andrei and Bill busy with a translation. Paying no mind to Andrei’s mild protests, Kharitonov makes his way to the kitchen, swiftly pours the vodka and insists that the three drink together. Initially Andrei continues to resist feebly ; but due to their chronic passivity and politeness, the professors agree to have a shot, and then another, and a third—all without enthusiasm. A bit later, at the insistence of Kharitonov, the trio goes mushroom picking in a forest without mushrooms. Finally, Andrei becomes exasperated, leaving Bill with Kharitonov. The Danish professor, under the influence of a much more experienced drinker, ends up in a vodka‑binging oblivion. After riding a bicycle into the wee hours all over the city looking for more alcohol, Bill is picked up by the police and taken to a detoxification clinic.

43Much like the bespectacled Rabbit and Vinni‑pukh’s little pupil Piatachok, Andrei and Bill cannot seem to say “no” to Leonov’s character. The ambivalent and analytical intelligenty are completely disarmed by Kharitonov‑Pukh’s insistent proposals—the monomaniacal force of his hunger and simplicity of his pleasure. Perhaps what Leonov’s characters display is closer to drive than desire, but if it is drive, it is not the futile post‑Oedipal variety exhibited by Andrei and Bill.

  • 42 Ibid., 185.

44What is significant about the queer failures and enjoyments of Leonov‑Pukh ? How do we account for his appearance and popularity in the stagnation era ? Stagnation was not merely an effect of economy or even discourse, as Yurchak implies, but also a central point of Brezhnev‑era ideology : the Soviet Constitution of October 1977 declared that “socialism” was now “developed.” The Soviet Union had stalled on the road to communism, failing to reach its ultimate destination ; the radiant tomorrow would never arrive.42 Kaganovsky elaborates,

  • 43 Ibid., 186‑187.

when the Stalinist system of self‑sacrifice exhausted itself, when self‑sacrifice to the violence of the state finally resulted in the “graveyard” of socialism, we were left with “stagnation” : that is to say, the production of subjects without desire […] There was […] a “cultural logic of late socialism” that had ramifications in the sphere of popular culture. Literature and cinema responded to the economics of “stagnation” with a metaphorization of desire, by repeatedly staging its absence.”43

  • 44 For example, Anna Fishzon, “Re‑Animating Stagnation : the Queer Times and Magical Spaces of Late So (...)
  • 45 Put another way, subjects are castrated—anchored in the symbolic order and therefore alienated in l (...)
  • 46 The scene has been analyzed at some length in Dale Pesmen, Russia and Soul : An Exploration (Cornel (...)

45Although I agree in many respects with Kaganovsky (and have put forward similar ideas elsewhere),44 I would like to qualify her argument here on several grounds, opening up new vistas on the cultural work of films like Autumn Marathon and Vinni Pukh. First, the state could not have succeeded in producing “subjects without desire” because desire is constitutive of subjectivity itself : in order to become a subject, you must lack, lose a part of yourself in the field of the Other. Possessing a lack delimits : part of the subject is barred, unknown, and must be sought.45 Second, in my reading, rather than merely staging the absence of desire, Autumn Marathon poses desire and its re‑dialectization as a problem – a desire crisis generated by the deadlock in the stagnation‑era subject with respect to the Other’s demand. The drinking scene in Andrei’s kitchen, though not especially long, made a tremendous impression on audiences and won Leonov recognition for a relatively minor role.46 Perhaps the resonance of that scenario rested partly in its similarity to the Vinnipukh film, released almost ten years earlier, in which Leonov was also an interminable guest attempting to stretch time, to extend his visit and manipulate his host while remaining naively amused and sating himself. Perhaps Leonov resonated, too, because in both roles he offered at least a partial resolution of the desire problem. The repetitions enacted by both Pukh and Kharitonov are playful and pleasure‑seeking ; they hark back not to a time before desire was eradicated but before it was born—an innocent earlier period. Their repetitive actions are not, like Andrei’s, a circling around a traumatic void—the symptomatic compulsion to repeat. The void is not there because it has not been generated yet : the pleasure in fullness and in repetitive gestures is not the psychotic’s, but the young child’s.

46What is more, Leonov‑Pukh addressed the problem of enjoyment. In the third Khitruk animated film of 1972, Pukh meets Donkey Ia, who is gloomy and self‑pitying for somewhat vague but weighty reasons. When Pukh asks him “what is the matter ?” Ia answers “Nothing, Pukh, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.” “Can’t all what ?” demands Pukh. “Have fun, sing, dance.” The Donkey, in other words, cannot enjoy. But he has an even larger problem than that. Pukh soon notices that Ia is missing his tail. Not having noticed its absence, the tailless melancholic then wonders whether it had been lost or stolen. Also, it is Donkey’s birthday. Pukh is determined to get his friend a birthday gift and perhaps find his tail in order to cheer him up.

  • 47 See Sigmund Freud’s 1925 paper, “Negation.”

47Back home Pukh searches for a suitable birthday present and settles on—what else ?—a jar of honey. On the way to see Ia, however, he predictably gets hungry and consumes the contents of the jar. Pukh then decides to give his friend the jar containing nothing, as well as the nothing in the jar—that way Donkey could fill it with anything he wants : “how useful an empty jar will be,” Pukh keeps exclaiming. It is not difficult to see the possible metaphors here. Ia is depressed but he has the potential to desire because he has suffered a loss—in other words, he is castrated. Pukh finds and returns the tail to its owner, affixing it with a bow—a sign of symbolic intervention—a memorial to prior loss and a marker of its new, denatured status. Pukh also gives Ia an empty jar—the outline of something, a potential space, an emptiness that can be filled with many different objects. This is desire par excellence. Having lost the original bodily object through symbolic castration (alienation in language) the subject, in Freudian fashion, refinds the object in the world.47

  • 48 See Sigmund Freud, “On Narcissism” (1914) and “Instincts and their Vicissitudes” (1915).

48How can Vinni‑pukh—a mere child who does not yet know lack, who has not yet ceded anything, help the jaded Donkey ? Pukh, after all, only understands primary process, pleasure. To the extent that he acknowledges others, it is via what Freud deemed an infantile, narcissistic mode of perception according to which the other, though separate, is just like him, wanting the same things he wants and in the same ways.48 Was the stagnation‑era audience supposed to see its salvation in this not‑quite‑adult ? Or, worse, a failed man—an eternal boy like Kharitonov ?

  • 49 I would like to thank David McDonald for suggesting the phrase “kitchen temporality” to me.

49One might wonder if, in embracing Leonov’s characters, Soviet audiences were reveling in childishness for its own sake—a bracketed, “kitchen temporality” of pure escapism.49 I do not believe that this was the case, especially in Khitruk’s animated films. By excising the fatherly figure of Milne and his conversations with Christopher Robin, Khitruk positions the viewer in the paternal role, allowing him or her to form an Oedipal triangle, to act as the third term (or analyst) who intervenes in the sealed and solipsistic world of Pukh and Piatachok to ask questions, causing desire. The spectator, in other words, obviates the need for an actual father and assumes the responsibility of interpreting the oracular speech and enigmatic behavior of the characters, converting drive into desire within the story and, by extension within him‑ or herself.

From the Kitchen to the Campfire : The Queer Temporality of Bremenskie Muzykanty

50In the widely loved, now iconic Soviet 1969 musical cartoon Bremenskie muzykanty, the heroes enter on a donkey‑drawn modish plaid suitcase‑as‑wagon. The Donkey, wearing a matching plaid mantle of saturated blue and red, provides an occasional accompaniment of “la‑la‑la, yeah, yeah‑yeah, yeah‑yeah” to the rock and roll soundtrack as the other band members—a teenaged Troubadour, Cat, Rooster, and Dog on bass and electric guitars—sing their theme song :

There’s nothing better in this life,
Than to roam the world with friends !
In friendship struggles aren’t daunting.
We take every path !

We will not forget our calling –
To bring laughter and joy to others !
For palaces’ seductive domes
We’ll never trade our freedom !

Our floors are fields of flowers.
Our walls are giant pines.
Our roof— the clear blue sky.
Our good fortune—to live this fate !

51The lush voice of actor and pop singer Oleg Anofriev belts out the tune as his character, the Troubadour, lies on his back atop the hurtling wagon, effortlessly strumming a guitar and swinging his leg to its rhythm. Blinding yellow curls caress his neck and a bright orange Baja jacket and matching embroidered bell bottoms hug his strapping physique : the young man is carefree, happy, and chic. His animal friends, too, are decked out in the latest western fashions. The white and black striped cap perched on the Donkey’s long blonde mane contrasts nicely with his plaid attire ; the Rooster’s large cherry‑red comb, over‑sized belt buckle, and thick‑rimmed blue glasses are decidedly rockabilly revival ; the Cat’s colorful bowtie suggests psychedelic ; the floppy‑eared Dog’s gold medallion and black and red upright electric bass epitomize cool.

  • 50 Juliane Fürst, “Love, Peace and Rock ’n’ Roll on Gorky Street : The ‘Emotional Style’ of the Soviet (...)

52Before most Soviet children and adults had even heard of hippies they learned to recognize them by watching and listening to Bremenskie muzykanty on screen and records. Although they perform circus acts for a vaguely seventeenth‑century kingdom in the early part of the cartoon, the Bremen musicians of Soiuzmul´tfil´m communicate both sartorially and musically that they are a rock and roll band—one that manages to evoke both home and abroad by moving seamlessly among musical styles : from psychedelic rock to nostalgic doo‑wop, so‑called gypsy art songs and 1960s estrada to Beatles‑style melodies and funk. In their generic eclecticism the Brementsy truly resemble the first generation of Muscovite hippies, who adapted flower children’s costume, musical taste, and gentle politics of peace and personal freedom to hardboiled Soviet conditions.50

Fig.2 – Bremenskie muzykanty, director I. Kovalevskaia, Soiuzmul´tfil´lm 1969

Fig.2 – Bremenskie muzykanty, director I. Kovalevskaia, Soiuzmul´tfil´lm 1969

53In this section, I consider how Bremenskie muzykanty gave expression to a queer temporality—one that grew out of, and to some degree displaced, the citationality and stagnation of the Brezhnev years and signaled the end of the Soviet Union. Both the original film and its 1973 sequel, Po sledam bremenskikh muzykantov (On the Trail of the Bremen Musicians) popularized a queer, that is, nonlinear concept of time by linking the presentist and free‑flowing worlds of children, hippies, and animals. The temporality instantiated by writers Iurii Entin and Vasilii Livanov, and composer Gennadii Gladkov through such linkages, like the spaces and temporal modes of Leonov‑Pukh, did not stand in opposition to the Soviet way of life. Nor did the films’ values pose an overt challenge to socialist ideals : they offered utopian depictions of friendship, egalitarianism, romantic love, and collective action. What they failed to portray was movement—or, rather, linear movement toward a brilliant future. Instead, the Bremen musicals enticed audiences with eruptions of emotional intensity along a road to nowhere, genre mixing, metaphorical play, and the transcendence of generational logic.

54Bremenskie muzykanty appealed to spectators of all ages but one nevertheless wonders why Gladkov, Entin, and Soiuzmul´tfil´m chose to evoke hippiedom in an adaptation of a folktale ostensibly aimed at children. Indeed, the Bremen musicians of the 1973 sequel are markedly more hippie than their 1969 predecessors : the V neckline of the Troubadour’s shirt plunges further to reveal a larger portion of suntanned chest framed by an oversized pointed collar. He and his girlfriend, the Princess, don crowns of flowers ; she prances barefooted across meadows in a red, clingy micromini dress as their animal friends fish and dance around a campfire.

  • 51 Cited in Fürst “‘When you come to Moscow, make sure that you have flowers in your hair…’,” 7‑8 ; al (...)
  • 52 Fürst “‘When you come to Moscow, make sure that you have flowers in your hair…’,” 13‑14 ; also see (...)

55A likely reason for the felicitous incorporation of hippie aesthetics and themes into these late socialist animated films was the already established link between hippiedom and childhood, both in the popular imagination in the West and in Soviet hippies’ self‑stylization and politics. Juliane Fürst, in her oral history of the relatively small but vibrant stagnation‑era hippie scene, informs us that Soviet audiences were first introduced to the new subculture by the 1967 Rovesnik article, “Children with Flowers and Without Color.” While the piece excoriated hippiedom as a capitalist diversion of youth from truly leftist activism, it also pointed to the affinity between childlike and hippie behaviors, and provided a detailed description of the predilections and attitudes of young Hyde Park hippies, “barefooted and clad in colorful … attire, in search of a life without money and materialism.”51 The Moscow hippies affirmed their identification with children in 1971 by adopting the Day of the Defense of the Child as a special hippie holiday and insisting that they too were children, “the true subjects of the celebration.” The same year, Fürst notes, Moscow hippies “planned a demonstration in defense of Vietnamese children and against the Vietnam war in front of the American embassy.”52

  • 53 See Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Tales of the Avunculate : The Importance of Being Earnest,” in Tendenci (...)
  • 54 Kathryn Bond Stockton, The Queer Child : Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century (Durham : Duke U (...)

56Children were especially apt symbols of generational rebellion against both capitalism and the socialist state because, childhood, as delimited in the twentieth century, signifies a queer temporality, a period of delay, and a world apart from adult concerns. In their supposed flower‑picking innocence and through play with siblings, friends, and animals, real and figural children can offer adults the possibility of a life outside the normative family and law‑enforcing state.53 In the stalled time of childhood, hippies found a subversive symbolic potential because, in Kathryn Stockton’s words, delay always betrays : “how can children be gradually led by degrees toward domains they must never enter at all as children ?” Paradoxically, children‑as‑innocents represent danger—the danger of managing their own delay and of agency in their own pleasure.54

  • 55 Fürst “‘When you come to Moscow, make sure that you have flowers in your hair…’,” 4‑16 ; also see F (...)

57Many paradoxes also structured the lives of Brezhnev‑era flower children. Although their modes of identification and beliefs ran parallel to those of the family and the state, hippies, initially in Moscow, and gradually throughout the major cities of the Soviet Union, forged lines of filiation, meeting places, and rituals in the very heart of educational, ideological, and cultural institutions : at Moscow State University, the Komsomol, and the Bol´shoi Theater. Hippies called themselves a system, sistema, suggesting rigid structures and explicit rules but, really, the sistema was a loose and informal social network advocating aimlessness, a peripatetic life, and outsider status. Initially, the sistema consisted of children from the Soviet ruling bureaucratic class but eventually the network grew more inclusive and by the mid‑1970s faced arrest, caroused with queer youth, and shared spaces with gay cruising grounds.55 Like actual children who engage in fantastical play enabled by the benign neglect of nearby adults, flower children met and played rebelliously beside but in full view of their law‑creating privileged parents, managing to fashion rich emotional and aesthetic worlds. When the longhaired Bremenskie muzykanty wandered onto Soviet screens, parts of these hippie subcultures were made known and vivid to the wider public.

  • 56 Jack Zipes, trans., “The Bremen Town Musicians,” The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (Ne (...)

58The original folktale Bremen Town Musicians is not a story about humans. Its animal heroes talk, think, and act in solidarity in order to rebel against their ruthless owners and establish a just and happy life. In the Grimm brothers version, a Donkey, Dog, Cat, and Rooster, all of advanced age and no longer fit for labor, run away from their respective farms, where they are targeted for slaughter. The Donkey sets off first and the others join one by one on the road to Bremen, a place of freedom and hope—a town where the fast friends plan to become musicians. Toward evening, en route to Bremen, they see light coming from a cottage, peer inside, and discover robbers enjoying drink and food. The hungry animals devise a plan to scare away the robbers and take their provisions. The Donkey stands upright and grabs the windowsill with his forefeet. The Dog climbs on the Donkey’s back, the Cat jumps on the Dog, and the Rooster flies onto the Cat’s head. Perched securely atop one another, they begin to make “music” in unison : the Donkey brays, the Dog barks, the Cat meows, and the Rooster crows. They then shatter the window, burst into the room, and startle and spook the robbers with their cries. The terrified robbers, convinced a ghost has invaded the cottage, flee into the forest. The animals proceed to occupy the cottage, enjoy a fine supper, and fall asleep. Later that night, the robbers return and order a member of their crew to go inside and investigate. A series of ambushes rapidly follow and the robbers abandon the cottage forever while the four animals like the place so much that they forgo Bremen and live happily there for the remainder of their days.56

59Bremenskie muzykanty is also about collective heroism and friendship—minstrels banding together, employing their musical skills and smarts to create unshackled, fulfilling lives. The hippie comrades, too, encounter and outwit a group of “robbers” (in the film they resemble gypsy singers and perform a tuneful number), and more than once stand on each other’s shoulders to score a victory. But here the similarities, important though they are, end. Human characters abound in the world of Bremenskie muzykanty and the motive for action in the film is not ageist oppression but romantic love.

60In the Soviet version, we recall, the animal musicians from the start travel with a human troubadour who acts as a bandleader. They arrive, in all their psychedelic sartorial splendor, in a place belonging to a remote time, a sort of campy Middle Ages with Baroque elements : the hippie friends find there a seventeenth‑century monarch, judging by dress and court etiquette, in a Versailles‑like palace, incongruously surrounded by medieval fortifications and cavalry, infantrymen, and loyal subjects. The musicians entertain the denizens of the outmoded town with a series of circus and variety theater acts.

61Against the background of the high‑tempo rhythms and raucous proceedings of their performance emerges a moment of exquisite refinement and transcendence. It conjures up a realm of experience completely cut off from the time‑soaked beat of everyday life. As in the Grimm tale, but for a different end, the Brementsy mount one another’s shoulders. The acrobatics here are meant to entertain rather than frighten, of course, and instead of the Rooster, the Troubadour acts as the crowning figure of the precariously vertical stack of bodies. He leaps, to a suspense‑building drum roll, onto the Cat’s pate and lands upside down. Standing on his head, he bows his guitar, holding it like a violin. The Troubadour then spots the Princess on a balcony. As their faces meet (his upside down, hers right side up) and they look into each other’s eyes, blushing, the sweetly stringed euphoniousness produced by the Troubadour provides the perfect accompaniment to him and the Princess falling suddenly and hopelessly in love. But, then, “falling in love” misrepresents what really takes place, since the phrase suggests a process, even if meteoric. The love that envelops the two teenagers is instantaneous and intrinsically timeless. The onlookers recede into oblivion, and the moment hovers in oscillating suspension, removed from all things diachronic and ordinary. A solo violin punctuates it with a lilting, sentimental tune, motion within an everlasting now. But as instantly as it was created, this interlude of timelessness is shattered : the assemblage of animals on which the Troubadour’s head has been comfortably resting begins to teeter, and he manages an improbable airborne somersault straight into the Princess’s chamber, prompting the outraged King to throw him and the other musicians out of his castle.

Fig.3 – Bremenskie muzykanty, director I. Kovalevskaia, Soiuzmul´tfil´lm 1969

Fig.3 – Bremenskie muzykanty, director I. Kovalevskaia, Soiuzmul´tfil´lm 1969

62All this probably sounds very familiar, and it is. There is nothing especially radical or queer about the Romantic connection between a sense of timelessness and young love ; nor the twentieth‑century notion that young adulthood is an italicized and intensified time mediated by a zeal for freedom from parental control. But Bremenskie muzykanty offers its viewers much more than typical fairytale romance. Once their timeless interval dissolves the lovers do not re‑enter, as most fairytale and late‑nineteenth‑century fictional couples do, the thoroughly time‑bound reproductive family—ride off as a pair into a sunset of nuptial blessedness.

63The Bremen musicians devise a plan to bring the Princess and Troubadour together. They dress up as bandits, abduct the cowardly King, and then stage a rescue by the Troubadour. In gratitude, the King allows the lovesick young man to marry his daughter and invites him into the palace. The happiness of the bride and groom is disturbed, however, by the absence of their animal friends, who have been excluded from wedding. The couple quits the scene as the guests continue dancing, unaware, and abandon the patriarchal family and the royal bloodline, too, to join the Donkey, Dog, Cat, and Rooster on the road to Bremen, or nowhere in particular. The Princess, having discarded her crown and royal robes for tall modish boots and an A‑line mini, now stands atop the wagon with the Troubadour as all six friends, reunited and free, recapitulate their theme song.

64Timelessness is queer in Bremenskie muzykanty because its evocation does not ultimately endorse or result in traditional gender roles, normative family arrangements, and dyadic heterosexual union. The Princess’s tale is not a Cinderella story leading her from a perverse fatherless stepfamily to a natural, nuclear one. Indeed, the human couple’s love has no meaning and happiness remains elusive outside the extended kinship structure of animals and its emancipatory magic. The Princess substitutes a five‑piece band for the harpsichord, and an exceptional state of temporal deviance becomes a permanent mode of being.

  • 57 Stockton, The Queer Child, 90.
  • 58 Ibid.

65“Animal/child affectionate bondings,” writes Stockton, “offer opportunities … for children’s motions inside their delay”—their pause on the threshold of adulthood—by “making delay a sideways growth the child in part controls for herself, in ways confounding her parents and her future.”57 Following Deleuze and Guattari, she suggests that the family dog, for example, can function not simply as a sentimental domestic relation, but “rather as a loving, growing metaphor for the child itself … and for the child’s own propensities to stray.” The dog, in Stockton’s view, “is a vehicle for the child’s strangeness … [and] her companion in queerness. As a recipient of the child’s attentions … and a living screen for the child’s self‑projections, the dog is a figure for the child beside itself, engaged in a growing quite aside from growing up.”58

  • 59 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus : Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian (...)

66Stockton’s sideways growth closely resembles Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of plateau defined as a “`state of intensity leading to irreducible dynamisms … and implying other forms of expression.’” One such plateau, becoming animal, is an alliance between human and animal that “‘traverses human beings and sweeps them away’.” This alliance is anti‑Oedipal because it is not filial, and “a question not of development or differentiation” but of increase in magnitude, degree, and quantity—movement and transport. Deleuze and Guattari claim, and Stockton echoes, that “children are particularly ‘moved’ by animals in this way and ‘continually undergo becomings of this kind’.” Animals are parts of the many “‘assemblages a child can mount in order to solve a problem from which all exits are barred to him’.”59

  • 60 Ibid., 92.

67As we have seen, animal assemblages are mounted quite literally in Bremenskie muzykanty. The musicians, in a layered stack, like a metaphor that pauses time, a moving suspension that swells meanings, enable the Troubadour and Princess to meet and to fall in love.60 The animals’ formidable bodies, on which the Troubadour stands, act as bridge and transport between the radically different aesthetic and temporal worlds of the two young lovers, allowing a timeless interval, merger, and enlargement. One can easily imagine that, if not for the aid of the Donkey, Cat, Dog, and Rooster, the hippie Troubadour and medieval Princess would remain in their separate temporalities without hope of convergence.

68The Princess, while under her father’s aegis, inhabits a realm not of a specific generation, but representative of generational time itself. It is pastiche, a pastel mixture of bygone times and towns, ruled by a dithering King who perpetually carries between two pink fingers an egg in a holder—a singular soft‑boiled egg that he sometimes slurps with a spoon. Clearly symbolic of feminine brittleness and reproduction, neither the egg, nor the kingdom, as we know, proves appealing to the Princess. In attempting to soothe the Princess after briefly abducting her in the 1973 sequel, the King proposes rather pathetic salutary measures : “Your condition is hysterical, try this dietary egg, my dear girl … or maybe we’ll send for the doctor.” The princess rejects the King’s offer—and with it the bondage of Oedipus, the feminine gamete, and growing up (or old). Thanks to the prompt rescue efforts of her dear animal friends, she soon escapes once again to the temporal domain of the Troubadour – to all that is present, free, and eternally novel ; and to the queer time of infinite delay, hippie exuberance, colorful desires, and planning‑free, animal‑like existence. The makers of the Bremenskie muzykanty films satirized Soviet life, to be sure, and gave expression to western influence and an imagined West. But, more than that, I have argued here, they employed hippie aesthetics and late socialist sensibilities to make strange, expand, and enliven the era of stagnation ‑‑ their own Soviet time and space.

69The same censorship and economy of scarcity that produced the ubiquitous, seemingly eternal queues of the Brezhnev era also gave birth to a children’s culture that invited exaltation in chronology‑stopping spaces and nonreproductive corporeality. Perhaps the most dynamic and, finally, self‑undermining feature of late socialism was its tendency to distort time and create moments of endless duration. Subjectivity and sociability are situated in and constituted through linear time ; disrupt temporality and you disrupt gender, family inheritance, sexuality, and communist ideology. Stagnation thereby produced not only queer time, but also queer subjects.

70Animated films like Ezhik v tumane, Vinnipukh, and Bremenskie muzykanty, through depictions of alternate life paths borne of unusual friendships and love, enabled boundary crossing, the flouting of authority, and the exploration of transgressive fantasies and relationships to time. Even more radically, voice, musical language, queer embodiment, and the positioning of the spectator alternately in the role of the child and the Lacanian third, opened possibilities for desire and enjoyment. Gaps, magically intimate spaces, and disfigured temporality were performed within the diegetic frame as well as instantiated by the film‑as‑phantasmatic object, compelling spectators to playfully examine the impasses of late socialism, and imagine a more enchanted life, brimming with potentiality.

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1 Much work has been done on children’s literature written for “dual audiences” in Russia and elsewhere. See, for example, Larissa Klein Tumanov, “Writing for a Dual Audience in the Former Soviet Union : The Aesopian Children’s Literature of Kornei Chukovskii, Mikhail Zoshchenko, and Daniil Kharms,” in Sandra L. Beckett, ed., Transcending Boundaries : Writing for a Dual Audience of Children and Adults (New York : Routledge, 2012), 129‑148. Also see Sara Pankenier Weld, “Udvoennaia auditoriia i dvoinoe videnie : Ezopovskie glubiny Dvukh tramvaev Osipa Mandel´shtama [Dual Audience and Double Vision : The Aesopian Depths of Osip Mandelstam’s Two Tramcars],” in Mikhail Gronas and Barry Scherr, eds., Lifshits/Losev/Loseff/levlosev, trans. Vladimir Kutcheriavkin (M. : Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, forthcoming 2015). On the broad audience of Soviet animation, see Laura Pontieri, Soviet Animation and the Thaw of the 1960s : Not Only for Children (New Barnet, UK : John Libbey Publishing, 2012).

2 Children’s literature was viewed as an “inner exile for those who could not longer publish for adults.” Maria Nikolaeva, “The ‘Serendipity’ of Censorship,” Para*doxa, 2, 3‑4 (1996) : 379 ; also see Lev Losev, On the Beneficence of Censorship : Aesopian Language in Modern Russian Literature (Munich : Verlag Otto Sagner in Kommission, 1984). On animation as a “safe haven” for satirists, see Birgit Beumers, “Comforting Creatures in Children’s Cartoons,” in Marina Balina and Larissa Rudova, eds., Russian Children’s Literature and Culture (New York : Routledge, 2008), 161. On the subtle subversive interpellations in animation see, for example, Konstantin Kliuchkin, “Zavetnyi mul´tfil´m : prichiny populiarnosti ‘Cheburashki’ [A Cherished Cartoon : Reasons for the Popularity of ‘Cheburashka’]” and Lilia Kaganovskaia, “Gonka vooruzhenii, transgender i zastoi : Volk i Zaiats v kon/podtekste ‘kholodnoi voiny’ [The Arms Race, Transgenderism, and Stagnation : The Wolf and the Rabbit in the Con/Subtext of the ‘Cold War’],” in Il´ia Kukulin, Mark Lipovetskii, and Mariia Maiofis, eds., Veselye chelovechki : kul´turnye geroi sovetskogo detstva [Funny Little Creatures : The Cultural Heroes of Soviet Childhood] (M. : Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2008), 360‑392.

3 The “stagnation era” is a designation attributed by Mikhail Gorbachev to Brezhnev’s tenure ; it evokes widespread political disenchantment, hopelessness, and economic exhaustion.

4 Judith (Jack) Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place : Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New York : New York University Press, 2005), 2‑7. Vysotskii’s addictions to alcohol, amphetamines, and heroin likely led to his premature death at age 42.

5 For example, Jacques Lacan, “The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious” and “Position of the Unconscious,” in Écrits : The First Complete Edition in English, trans. Bruce Fink (New York : W. W. Norton and Company, 2005), 671‑702 and 703‑721. See also Lee Edelman, No Future : Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Durham : Duke University Press, 2004), 91.

6 I employ the concept of “queer temporality” as opposed to “presentism” because I want to stress the subversive and self‑conscious aspects of this approach to time on the one hand, and its utter disregard for the past and future on the other. Queer temporality is less about stretching time (though it involves some of this, too) than about making every second count : expansion of the present is an effect of sucking the moment dry. When Francois Hartog, for example, writes about presentism in the second half of the twentieth century, he outlines an attitude toward history and time that is dominant and pervasive ; it seeks to incorporate within the present a history (as memory) and future in the interest of identity. Queer temporality, in contrast, tends to discard history, thwart identity, and abandon the future in the name of ephemera, enjoyment, and an intensified now. F. Hartog, Régimes d’historicité : Présentisme et expériences du temps (P. : Éditions du Seuil, 2003).

7 The stagnation era is receiving increasing attention from historians. Recent oral histories and studies of postwar culture, critical of the framing questions and narratives generated by Cold War scholarship, are addressing topics long neglected in a field once focused principally on the state and groups in direct opposition to it. Studies of the Soviet 1970s are turning to youth cultures, the automobile and airline industries, domestic life, sociability, crime, and work. Many of these pioneering works‑in‑progress rely on ethnography and interviews, and offer the first tentative challenges to the “stagnation” paradigm as well as the sharply drawn distinction between East and West. I wish to build on their important empirical research and continue looking beyond (or alongside) state power to think more comprehensively and conceptually about the late Soviet imagination. See, for example, Donald Raleigh, Soviet Baby Boomers : An Oral History of Russia’s Cold War Generation (New York : Oxford University Press, 2012) ; Lewis Siegelbaum, Cars for Comrades : The Life of the Soviet Automobile (Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 2011) ; Sergei Zhuk, Rock and Roll in the Rocket City : The West, Identity, and Ideology in Soviet Dniepropetrovsk, 1960‑1985 (Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010) ; Eva Maurer, Julia Richers, et al, eds., Soviet Space Culture : Cosmic Enthusiasm in Socialist Societies (New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) ; Lewis Siegelbaum, ed., Borders of Socialism : Private Spheres of Soviet Russia (New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2006) ; James T. Andrews and Asif A. Siddqi, eds., Into the Cosmos, Space Exploration and Soviet Societies (Pittsburgh : University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011) ; Christine Evans, “Song of the Year and Soviet Culture in the 1970s,” Kritika : Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, 12, 3 (2011) : 617‑645.

8 David MacFadyen, Yellow Crocodiles and Blue Oranges : Russian Animated Film Since World War Two (Montreal : McGill‑Queen’s University Press, 2005), 165.

9 Perhaps this is why we sense a budding anxiety—a slight stutter—in the Hedgehog’s repetitive banter, an urgency in remembering the word “juniper.” It reveals the absolute necessity for the pair to complete one another’s sentences, to plug up a potential gap (the Cub desperately exclaims when the Hedgehog returns from his detour in the Fog : “Who, other than you, will count stars with me ? !”). The Owl that hovers over the Hedgehog as he treads through the forest arguably represents the haunting specter of this gap. The gap is traumatic (separation anxiety) yet it produces a need for, and thus enables, signification and desire. On anxiety as lack of a lack see Jacques Lacan, Jacques Alain‑Miller, ed., Anxiety : The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book X [1962‑63], trans. A.R. Price (Malden, MA : Polity Press, 2014), 100‑130, 157‑169.

10 On object a (objet petit a), as well as the concepts of alienation and separation see, for example, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Alain‑Miller, ed., The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho‑analysis : the Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XI [1973], trans. Alan Sheridan (New York : W.W. Norton, 1998), esp. 53‑78, 174‑186 and 203‑229. On D.W. Winnicott’s overlapping concepts of “transitional phenomena” and “transitional objects” (more below), see Winnicott, Playing and Reality [1971] (New York : Routledge, 2005), esp. 1‑34 and 51‑86.

11 Lacan identifies four principal objects a : the voice, the gaze, the feces, and the breast, all of which serve as memorials to the early loss to symbolization. Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho‑analysis, 242. For more on object a, see also Jacques Lacan, Seminar VIII : Transference [1960‑61], trans. Cormac Gallagher. Unpublished manuscript, 118‑53. Available at :

12 On the voice as an uncanny and elusive entity that borders the body (the Real) and language (the Symbolic), incorporating both, see Mladen Dolar, A Voice and Nothing More (Cambridge, MA : MIT Press, 2006).

13 Objet petit a for Lacan is also the object of the drive—which is precisely an acephalic, non‑subjectivized circular movement around a void. I do not have the space to discuss the ways in which drive is implicated in the metonymy of desire and vice versa. Here I want to stress object a in its role as the object‑cause of desire and its conceptual overlap with Winnicott’s “transitional phenomena” (discussed below)—the Fog as a potential space, an opportunity to disengage from or even protest the demand of the Soviet state.

14 One of the anonymous reviewers of this article suggested an alternate interpretation of Ezhik v tumane. Through a reference to Slavoj Žižek’s reading of the film Stromboli (1950) in Enjoy your Symptom !, the reviewer implied that Ezhik’s sojourn in the Fog constituted what Lacan calls an act. The Lacanian act is an ethical, radically “free” choice but not really an action, Žižek explains, because it is something one undergoes rather than does. Faced with what Lacan calls the Real—a breakdown in the fantasmatic structure, a traumatic event, one can say—the subject passes through an act, risks everything and leaps into the abyss, embracing the trauma. My main problem with this compelling but I think erroneous reading of Ezhik is that an act is by definition a repetition of the originary, subjectifying act—the primordial choice that constituted the sexed subject as such. The subjectification with which I credit Ezhik and a Lacanian act (a traversal of the fantasy) are similar because both involve “separation,” the first from the mOther and the second from the Big Other (a symbolic suicide or aphanisis, a fading away of the subject). Indeed, both leave the subject forever changed, though in the first instance the individual is not a subject proper prior to the forced choice of separation. Ezhik’s entry into the Fog, in other words, represents not a return but the constitutive act itself : at the start of the film he is not yet a subject. Žižek, Enjoy your Symptom ! Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out. Second edition (New York : Routledge, 2001), 42‑46. I do, however, understand the extradiegetic enunciation of the film as a kind of psychoanalytic interpretation potentially leading to an act (the traversal of the fundamental fantasy) on the part of the spectator.

15 MacFadyen, Yellow Crocodiles and Blue Oranges, 164‑165.

16 Ibid, 170.

17 Alexei Yurchak, Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More : The Last Soviet Generation (Princeton : Princeton University Press, 2006), 60‑76.

18 Ibid, 1‑157.

19 I am not the first to apply Yurchak’s ideas to children’s culture. See Il´ia Kukulin et al, eds., Veselye chelovechki.

20 MacFadyen, Yellow Crocodiles and Blue Oranges, 156.

21 Yurchak, Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More, 282.

22 One also might say that the film itself operates as the Lacanian third term for spectators.

23 Kenneth B. Kidd, Freud in Oz : At the Intersections of Psychoanalysis and Children’s Literature (Minneapolis, 2011), 51.

24 Winnicott calls “transitional phenomena” a potential space, an “intermediate area of experiencing, to which inner reality and external life both contribute.” In the first months of life, he claims, the infant exists only in a dyadic unit with its mother, a protected state of hallucinatory omnipotence and utter dependence. Eventually, a third field emerges, a neutral illusory realm in which the infant, possibly through a relationship with a transitional object such as a blanket or teddy bear, and from the safety of its mother’s unobtrusive love, first confronts radical alterity and takes a crucial step toward the recognition of oneself and others as subjects with distinct internal worlds. Transitional space lies between “me and the not‑me,” reality and fantasy : the infant participates in both concurrently, experiencing internality and externality free of strain and without challenge. The transitional object has materiality and is acknowledged by the infant to be part of its physical world, a discovered “not‑me” possession ; yet, it is also an extension of the infant’s internal life, its omnipotent creation. Transitional phenomena produce all creative impulses and subjectivity itself. It is the originary field of culture to which we retreat and from which we draw comfort and inspiration as adults—art, music, religion, and so forth. Winnicott, Playing and Reality, 2‑20, 95.

25 Kidd, Freud in Oz, 49.

26 On “Poohology” and various psychoanalytic uses of Milne’s text, see ibid., 35‑63.

27 Nataliia Smoliarova, “Detskii ‘Nedetskii’ Vinni‑pukh,” [“Vinni‑pukh : (Not) For Children”] in Il´ia Kukulin et al, eds., Veselye chelovechki, 287.

28 A comparison of the Milne, Disney, and Khitruk versions has been made but with an almost exclusive focus on aesthetics by Iurii Leving, “`Kto‑to tam vse‑taki est´…’ : Vinni‑pukh i novaia animatsionnaia estetika,” [“`There is someone there after all…’ : Vinni‑pukh and New Aesthetics in Animation”] in ibid., 315‑353.

29 On the illusion‑of‑life paradigm see Thomas Lamarre, “Coming to Life : Cartoon Animals and Natural Philosophy,” in Suzanne Buchan, ed., Pervasive Animation (New York : Routledge, 2013), 127.

30 On the strained relations between Zakhoder and Khitruk and the differences in their vision for the Vinni‑pukh films, see Leving, “‘Kto‑to tam vse‑taki est´…’,” in Il´ia Kukulin et al, eds., Veselye chelovechki, 319‑326.

31 Ibid., 328‑329 ; 336‑343.

32 Milne, Winnie‑the‑Pooh, 25. In Reitherman’s version, Pooh is clearly a teddy bear, “stuffed with fluff” and literally bursting at the seams. The contralto voice of Sterling Holloway is deliberate and mellifluous ; he often smiles and assumes mannered gestures indicating cogitation. Sometimes while unaccompanied by other characters he sings with the support of an extradiegetic male chorus that casts a mawkish and vaguely patriotic quality on the film. The easygoing American Pooh shows no hint of aggression, even chuckling when injured.

33 Cited in Leving, “`Kto‑to tam vse‑taki est´…’,” in Il´ia Kukulin et al, eds., Veselye chelovechki, 328.

34 Rabbit’s resemblance to a late Soviet intelligent is also noted by Leving in ibid., 332.

35 Lilya Kaganovsky, “The Cultural Logic of Late Socialism,” Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema 3 :2 (2009), 186.

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid.

38 Anna Lawton, Before the Fall : Soviet Cinema in the Gorbachev Years (Washington, DC : New Academia Publishing, 2004), 22‑23.

39 On the dialectic of desire from a clinical as well as theoretical perspective, see Bruce Fink, A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis : Theory and Technique (Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, 1997), 50‑71.

40 Kaganovsky, “The Cultural Logic of Late Socialism,” 186.

41 Ibid, 186‑187.

42 Ibid., 185.

43 Ibid., 186‑187.

44 For example, Anna Fishzon, “Re‑Animating Stagnation : the Queer Times and Magical Spaces of Late Socialism.” Unpublished paper presented at the workshop Reconsidering Stagnation, Amsterdam, Netherlands. March 31, 2012

45 Put another way, subjects are castrated—anchored in the symbolic order and therefore alienated in language. Feelings of wholeness and omnipotence signal breakdown of the boundaries between self and other and lead ultimately to psychosis, the disintegration of the subject.

46 The scene has been analyzed at some length in Dale Pesmen, Russia and Soul : An Exploration (Cornell UP, 2000), 182‑183. About Leonov’s comedic roles, see Peter Rollberg, Historical Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Cinema (Scarecrow Press Inc., 2009), 404.

47 See Sigmund Freud’s 1925 paper, “Negation.”

48 See Sigmund Freud, “On Narcissism” (1914) and “Instincts and their Vicissitudes” (1915).

49 I would like to thank David McDonald for suggesting the phrase “kitchen temporality” to me.

50 Juliane Fürst, “Love, Peace and Rock ’n’ Roll on Gorky Street : The ‘Emotional Style’ of the Soviet Hippie Community,” Contemporary European History, 23 (2014) : 565‑587 ; and Fürst, “‘When you come to Moscow, make sure that you have flowers in your hair (and a bottle of portwine in your pocket)’ : The Life and World of the Soviet Hippies under Brezhnev.” Unpublished paper presented at the workshop Reconsidering Stagnation, Amsterdam, Netherlands. March 31, 2012, 8‑15.

51 Cited in Fürst “‘When you come to Moscow, make sure that you have flowers in your hair…’,” 7‑8 ; also see Fürst, “Love, Peace and Rock ’n’ Roll on Gorky Street,” 583.

52 Fürst “‘When you come to Moscow, make sure that you have flowers in your hair…’,” 13‑14 ; also see Fürst, “Love, Peace and Rock ’n’ Roll on Gorky Street,” 571.

53 See Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Tales of the Avunculate : The Importance of Being Earnest,” in Tendencies (Durham : Duke University Press, 1993), 52‑72. Sedgwick suggests that queer affiliations formed with uncles and aunts, figures who frequently function as alternatives to the law of the biological domestic father, offer examples of lives and pleasures unavailable within the normative family.

54 Kathryn Bond Stockton, The Queer Child : Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century (Durham : Duke University Press, 2009), 62.

55 Fürst “‘When you come to Moscow, make sure that you have flowers in your hair…’,” 4‑16 ; also see Fürst, “Love, Peace and Rock ’n’ Roll on Gorky Street,” 586.

56 Jack Zipes, trans., “The Bremen Town Musicians,” The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (New York, Random House Publishing Group, 2003), 96‑98.

57 Stockton, The Queer Child, 90.

58 Ibid.

59 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus : Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian (Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 2002), 257‑60. Cited in ibid., 94.

60 Ibid., 92.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig.1 - Ezhik v tumane, Director Iu. Norshtein, Soiuzmul´ltfil´m 1975
Fichier image/jpeg, 180k
Titre Fig.2 – Bremenskie muzykanty, director I. Kovalevskaia, Soiuzmul´tfil´lm 1969
Fichier image/jpeg, 540k
Titre Fig.3 – Bremenskie muzykanty, director I. Kovalevskaia, Soiuzmul´tfil´lm 1969
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Anna Fishzon, « The Fog of Stagnation »Cahiers du monde russe, 56/2-3 | 2015, 571-598.

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Anna Fishzon, « The Fog of Stagnation »Cahiers du monde russe [En ligne], 56/2-3 | 2015, mis en ligne le 17 novembre 2019, consulté le 28 mai 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Anna Fishzon

Research Associate, Women’s Studies Program, Duke University,

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© École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris.

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