Slavic 280/281: Proseminar: Bely’s Peterburg

Tu 4-7, Dwinelle 6115. Instructor: Edward Tyerman.

Units: 4

The primary objective of this seminar is to acquaint students with a diversity of methodologies and approaches used in contemporary literary scholarship. The general trajectory of the course will juxtapose formalist, structuralist and poststructuralist approaches to the study of texts with a range of methods (New Historicism, sociology, Marxism, etc.) that seek to connect literary texts to their historical contexts. Our readings also bring together modes of literary study that originate in Russia and Eastern Europe (such as Formalism, the Bakhtin School, and Tartu Semiotics) with methodologies emerging from Western academia (including psychoanalysis and postcolonial theory). These readings will allow us to ask a series of conceptual questions: what is a text? What is an author, and what is a reader? What theories of language can be used to ground the study of literature? What is genre? What are the functions and limitations of a literary canon? How do texts relate to other texts, and to their social and historical contexts? Can formal and historical approaches to literature be reconciled?

We will explore and test these methodologies against a close reading of one core text, Andrei Bely’s Peterburg. A key artefact of Russian modernism and a pivotal link between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Russian literature, Peterburg is also a novel that many Slavists teach during their careers. We will consider Bely’s novel for its relationship to the Russian canon, but also for its position within transnational paradigms of modernism and modernity. We will ask what formal and structural approaches to the study of literature can tell us about the idiosyncratic style and structure of Bely’s text and the complex aesthetic theories that lie behind it. We will also ask what methodologies we might use to link Bely’s novel to its historical context, both political (the Russo-Japanese War and the 1905 Revolution) and cultural (Symbolism, decadence, empire and orientalism, esoteric and apocalyptic thought).

Students are expected to have already read Peterburg prior to the commencement of the semester. Our basic text for the seminar will be the 1916 version of the novel as reprinted in the 1981 Nauka edition. All other readings will be provided online or through the Slavic library.

The final grade will be based on:
(a) A number of brief (10-15 minute) oral presentations and participation in class discussion
(b) A series of 1-2 page written assignments, detailed on the syllabus
(c) A term paper (8-12pp.). Students may also opt for a take-home exam in place of a final paper.

Prerequisites: graduate standing; knowledge of Russian. Required of all first-year graduate students in the Slavic Department; also open to more advanced students or students from other departments.