Slavic 139: After Socialism: Post-Soviet Cultures in Russia and Beyond

TuTh 12:30-2, Wheeler 130. Instructor: Edward Tyerman.

Units: 4 Satisfies L&S Arts & Literture or International Studies breadth requirement.

Cross-listed with Global Studies 140.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought to an end the world’s first experiment in state socialism. Over the subsequent decades, the societies that emerged from the Soviet collapse embarked on a complex and chaotic process of economic and social transformation. This course explores the literary and visual culture that emerged from this period of dramatic and even traumatic change. While our focus will be on the literature, cinema and popular culture of post-Soviet Russia, we will also consider texts and films produced in other post-Soviet spaces: Ukraine, Armenia, and Central Asia.

This course asks how post-Soviet cultures have imagined a society after socialism. How have post-socialist cultures responded to their incorporation into a globalized system of cultural production? What happens to Russian literature, with its long history of cultural primacy, when it must compete for attention with new forms of commercialized popular culture? How do post-Soviet writers and film-makers relate to the Soviet past: as a source of trauma, or as a lost utopia and site of nostalgic longing? What new relationships between cultural expression and state power have taken shape in post-Soviet societies? In particular, we will consider the relationship between art and politics in the Putin era in the context of neo-traditionalism, a revival of state patriotism, and the war in Ukraine. At the end of the course, we will explore the role of digital media in enabling new forms of alternative, leftist, and dissident culture to emerge.

Class time will consist of a combination of lecture and class discussion. Over the course of the semester, students will write two short papers (4-6 pages) and take a midterm and final exam.

Topics include: the formation of post-Soviet culture and the legacy of the Soviet past; the question of national identity across the post-Soviet space; Russian literary postmodernism; post-Soviet cinema, pop music, and popular culture; and the relationship between art, politics and dissent in contemporary Russia and Ukraine.

Texts will include: Svetlana Alexievich, Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets; Vladimir Sorokin, The Queue; stories by Liudmila Petrushevskaya and Vladimir Makanin; Viktor Pelevin, Homo Zapiens; Boris Akunin, “The Jack of Spades”; Liudmila Ulitskaya, The Funeral Party; German Sadulaev, “One Swallow Doesn’t Make a Summer”; Vladimir Sorokin, Day of the Oprichnik; Hamid Ismailov, The Dead Lake; Andrey Kurkov, Ukraine Diaries; Natal’ya Vorozhbit, Maidan: Voices from the Uprising and Bad Roads; Kirill Medvedev, It’s No Good (poems); Victoria Lomasko, Other Russias (graphic reportage); Linor Goralik, In Short: Ninety-One Rather Short Stories

Students will be required to purchase the following books:       

Vladimir Sorokin, The Queue                             9781590172742

Viktor Pelevin, Homo Zapiens                           9780142001813

Liudmila Ulitskaya, The Funeral Party                9780805211320

Vladimir Sorokin, Day of the Oprichnik              9780374533106

 All other readings will be made available in PDF form through bCourses.

Films for screening (in whole or in part):

Brother (dir. Alexei Balabanov, 1997)

Bank Imperial Advertisements (dir. Timur Bekmambetov, 1990s)

Russian Ark (dir. Alexander Sokurov, 2002)

My Perestroika (dir. Robin Hessman, 2010)

Leviathan (dir. Andrei Zvyagintsev, 2014)

Maidan (dir, Sergei Loznitsa, 2014)

Hot Country, Cold Winter (dir. David Sarafian, 2016)

Going Vertical (dir. Anton Megerdichev, 2017)

Prerequisites: none. Taught in English with readings in English.