Slavic 239: Russia and World Literature

Tu 3-6, 6115 Dwinelle. Instructor: Harsha Ram.

Units: 4

The current revival of world literature as a paradigm has its champions as well as detractors. Is world literature merely the quantitative expansion of literature onto a planetary scale? Or is it defined rather by the circulation or exchange of texts beyond their nation or region of origin? Or is it perhaps the very imaginative capacity of literature to project and imagine the world? Is world literature an empirical archive or a theoretical question?

Where does Russia-Eurasia fit into this story? Is Russia yet another world-region awaiting insertion into a preconstituted planetary paradigm? As a latecomer to the European literary system, and achieving world renown only in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, what does Russian literature have to teach students of world literature?

Several features mark the Russian experience as uniquely relevant to the question of world literature:

(a) the translation and circulation of major Russian writers, above all Tolstoi, Dostoevskii and Chekhov, and their impact on the history of the novel and the short story

(b) the rise of Russian literary theory, from Potebnia and Veselovskii to the Russian formalists and Bakhtin: is there a specifically world-literary dimension to Russian literary theory?

(c) the Russian revolution, its internationalist premise and its worldwide reverberations, and the global impact of the Russian avant-garde

(d) the multiethnic and geographically Eurasian nature of the Russian empire and its successor state the Soviet Union, and the creation of the first state-sponsored multicultural literary system in modern history.

We will be seeking to examine these four questions through a combination of theoretical and literary texts.

Texts: To be determined: most will be made available electronically.

Workload: Weekly readings; 2 oral presentations; 1-page paper proposal; final paper (10-15 pages double-spaced).

 Prerequisites: Reading knowledge of Russian. Students from other departments who lack Russian should approach me prior to enrollment.