Slavic 246B: Contemporary Literature

Th 2-5, 6115 Dwinelle. Instructor: Olga Matich.

Units: 4

Instructor’s email:

The course treats post-Stalin and post-Soviet Russian culture and literature (1950s – 1990s), most of whose works were originally not published in the Soviet Union, but in tamizdat. Exemplary in this regard was Gulag writing except for A. Solzhenitsyn’s Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha and writing about the Stalinist terror except for Iu. Trifonov’s Dom na naberezhnoi. We will examine those works that resulted in literary scandals of major political importance (e.g. Doktor Zhivago) from the perspective of the historical relationship of the Russian writer and the state, as well as their literary significance. We will consider the revision of official Soviet history and recuperation of the past which produced a uniquely Soviet/Russian literature of memory. We will focus mostly on the literary politics and aesthetics of those writers who worked outside the politicized literary paradigms as they were defined in the post-Stalin era, writing that did not follow the newly formed “dissident” paradigm.

The relationship of continuity and change became a particularly important subject in this period: we will try to establish the ways Russian literature after Stalin and fall of the Soviet Union tried to transcend its Soviet roots and where it remained deeply embedded in them. One of the differences was the emphasis on irony and parodic discourse.

We will examine some of the important clusters of meaning that define the post-Stalin and post-Soviet eras. Among them are the reappropiations of the traditional Russian novel (Pasternak, Doktor Zhivago), modernism (Ven. Erofeev, Moskva-Petushki and S. Sokolov, Shkolla dlia durakov), and the present in its “real” or parodic everyday sense (V. Aksenov, S. Dovlatov, E. Kharitonov, D. Prigov, T. Tolstaia,). One of the important revisions of the past was the rereading of socialist realism initiated by A. Siniavsky’s Chto takoe sotsialisticheskii realizm? (1959) written under the pseudonym Abram Tertz and published abroad (tamizdat). In 1981, K. Clark’s The Soviet Novel offered a ground-breaking rereading of the socialist realist novel by analyzing its mythologized ritualistic structure, which raised the Soviet novel to the ranks of serious literature. In 1988, B. Groys argued against the aesthetic divide between the historical Soviet avant-garde and socialist realism in Gesammtkunstwerk Stalin (1992), supporting the controversial claim in part by discussing the reinscription of socialist realism in contemporary avant-garde literature and visual arts (Sotsart). Among the authors that Groys discusses in this regard are D. Prigov, V. Sorokin, and last novel by Sokolov. A curious post-Soviet reappropriation of a legendary Soviet hero, Vasilii Chapaev, was the novel Chapaev i pustota (1996) by V. Pelevin. (Chapaev was the hero of two Soviet classics: the eponymous novel by D. Furmanov [1923] and film by the Vasiliev Brothers [1934]). Another important cluster was diasporic writing, whether written in emigration or still at home (E. Limonov, Eto ia – Edichka and V. Aksenov’s Ostrov Krym), that spatializes diasporic identity located between homeland and new home.

We will also view related Soviet films and painting, especially the post-Soviet Komar and Melamid, and consider the relations between verbal and visual arts, one of whose key distinctions is temporal vs. spatial that both modernist and postmodern writing attempt to minimize.

You are encouraged to read Doktor Zhivago (with which we will start) during the break because we will spend only one week on it, and it is a long novel.

Prerequisites: Graduate standing or consent of instructor.