'A Fragment of Wholeness': The Making of the Poetic Subject in Vasyl Stus's Palimpsests

Change log
Tokarskyi, Bohdan 

My PhD thesis investigates the exploration of the self and the innovative poetical language in the works of the Ukrainian dissident poet and Gulag prisoner Vasyl Stus (1938-1985). Focusing on Stus’s magnum opus collection Palimpsests (1971-1979), where the poet casts the inhuman conditions of his incarceration to the periphery and instead engages in radical introspection, I show how Stus’s poetry foregrounds the very making of the subject as the constant pursuit of the authentic self. Through my examination of unpublished archival materials, analysis of Stus’s underexplored poems, and the contextualisation of the poet’s works within the tradition of the philosophy of becoming, I propose a new reading of Palimpsests, one that redirects scholarly attention from the historical and political to the psychological and philosophical. This new perspective allows me to explore the writer’s complex concept of authenticity, which oscillates between ‘recollection’ and ‘repetition’, the desire for sameness and the temporal non-coincidence of the self. It affords the opportunity to analyse Stus’s unique poetical language, which captures the very coming-to-be of the subject before it reaches any stable identity. Palimpsests enacts repetition-as-difference on the level of words, poems, and the collection as a whole. I scrutinise the permeating self-doubling in Stus’s poetry and show that the central poetic persona in Palimpsests is, unusually, not ‘I’ but ‘you’ – the specular double of the speaker. This self-address positions ‘oneself as another’ and leads me to assert that Stus’s Palimpsests opens up new avenues for the study of lyric address as such. I contend that the process of the making of the self surpasses the poet’s text and his own historical circumstances and involves the reader in the process of self-writing. My thesis reshapes our understanding of Stus’s verse and contributes to the study of subjectivity and authenticity in Soviet dissident literature and in the Ukrainian tradition of metaphysical poetry.

Finnin, Rory
Vasyl Stus, Ukrainian poetry, Soviet poetry, Ukrainian dissidents, Soviet dissidents, Selfhood, Poetry of the self, Lyric address, Self-doubling, Subjectivity, Palimpsest, Hermetic poetry, Ukrainian modernism, European modernism, The Kyiv School of Poetry, Intertextuality, Medical humanities, Neuroscience and poetry, Psychology and poetry, Becoming, Poetry and philosophy, Repetition, Existentialism, Ukrainian literature, Soviet literature, The reader, Neologisms
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
The Gates Cambridge Trust, St John's College