This course explores the discourse of “fact” within Russian literary culture. We will focus on movements and moments in Russian literary history that have affirmed the value of texts based on documents and eyewitness experience over the truth claims of fiction. In theoretical terms, the course will involve a historical exploration of the ways in which the lines between fact and fiction, dokumental’naia proza and khudozhestvennaia proza, have been drawn.
Central to our concerns will be the “literature of fact” movement of the 1920s, a development within the left avant-garde that insisted on the abolition of fiction and the distribution of texts based on socially useful factual information. We will situate the factographers within contemporary debates on the form and function of revolutionary literature, comparing factographic theory and practice (Tret’iakov, Chuzhak, Brik, Kushner) with the work of other contemporary writers who interrogate the line between fact and fiction (Babel, Pil’niak, Kataev, Shklovskii). Contemporaneous debates on “played” vs “unplayed” cinema will also merit our attention (Eisenstein, Vertov, Kalatozov), as will theorizations of the status and role of photography. In addition, the course will trace a pre-history of factography in the ocherki of the 19th century, and examine the afterlives of factography in postwar documentary prose (Solzhenitsyn, Adamovich, Alexievich).
Alongside recent work on documentary writing in the Slavic field (Fore, Papazian, Toker), theoretical readings will offer a set of conceptual frameworks for thinking about the distinctions between fact and fiction and the role of documentary writing within a literary system (Tret’iakov, Chuzhak, Brik, Shklovskii, Tynianov, Lukacs, Ginzburg, Genette, Barthes, Derrida, Lejeune).
Prerequisites: Graduate standing; consent of instructor.