In this essay I explore how Soviet policymakers, biologists, and writers negotiated the borderline dividing the human and animal domains and conceptualized the animal world for ideological purposes. I link the classic Soviet clash between stikhiinost’ (spontaneity) and soznatel'nost’ (consciousness) with biological experiments of the 1920s that were set to deconstruct the human-animal hierarchy and to create a vision of “classless” biology. I show why Dzhan, one of Andrei Platonov's first earnest attempts to evolve into a socialist realist writer glorifying the Soviet state's firm strides toward the communist future, fails to achieve the semantic certitude of the Stalinist text. Various recurrent and profoundly unconventional themes, often connected with animality and corporeality, drastically muddle the ideological coordinates of the text and preclude the possibility of a clear passage from stikhiinost’ to soznatel'nost'. The (a)political status of the Dzhan people as a newly formed Soviet collective body manifests itself in the complex interplay between two rather commonplace categories: body and soul. The body acquires abstract political qualities by becoming collective, while the soul, as a designator for the Dzhan people and as a category, gains flesh. The novella reveals the “Turkmen“ nation as a site of bare life itself in its indestructible corporeal glory.
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