Slavic 280: Andrei Platonov

F 3-6, 6115 Dwinelle. Instructor: Eric Naiman.

Units: 4

Graduate Berkeley-Stanford Seminar

Co-instructor and companion course at Stanford:
Nariman Skakov, Stanford
Slavic 340 (3-5 units)


‘The power of devastation [Platonov’s texts] inflict upon their subject matter exceeds by far any demands of social criticism and should be measured in units that have very little to do with literature as such,’ wrote Joseph Brodsky. The graduate course explores key texts of Andrei Platonov, who is frequently considered the greatest Russian prose writer of the twentieth century, and covers major critical approaches to his ‘devastating’ oeuvre.


Our seminar will be devoted to the intensive, close (and relatively slow) reading of Platonov’s work. The texts selected include most of Platonov’s better-known works, but we will by no means cover all aspects of his career. (Left mostly by the wayside will be the early poetry, his technical articles on land reclamation, his plays and filmscripts, his literary criticism, his fairy tales and other post-war work). Nor is this course intended to serve primarily as an introduction to Platonov’s “times” or to the Soviet “literary process,” although we will touch upon those areas. While our remarks in class will provide necessary contextualization throughout the semester, the primary emphasis will be on our reading of Platonov’s work itself. Participants are encouraged to read Platonov’s prose as they would poetry, with an eye to the interaction of language, thematics and ideology.

Professor Eric Naiman (Berkeley) and Professor Nariman Skakov (Stanford) will teach this course jointly. Participants will include graduate students from both Berkeley and Stanford, registering for the class through their home campus. The seminar will meet seven times at Berkeley and five times in Stanford. (Eric Naiman can provide transportation for up to four Berkeley participants each time we meet on the Stanford campus while Stanford students will be reimbursed for their travel expenses.) The seminar will follow the Berkeley academic calendar but will not meet during Stanford’s spring break. (No classes on March 23 or 30). On Saturday May 5, we will hold a one-day conference at the Stanford Humanities Center at which students will present their papers in the presence of Platonov scholars Eliot Borenstein (NYU), Jonathan Flatley (Wayne State) and Jason Cieply (Wellesley).

Class participation will be extremely important. Periodically, participants will be assigned the responsibility for presenting an oral analysis of a passage or a short work in class. Participants will be asked to write a short paper (5 to 10 pages) and a longer, final essay which may – but need not – be an expanded version of the first paper. We will do a few in-class translation exercises as well.