Slavic 46: Twentieth-Century Russian Literature: The Subversive Imagination: Russian Literary Responses to the Soviet Experience and Its Aftermath

TuTh 3:30-5, 79 Dwinelle. Instructor: Myrna Douzjian.

Units: 3 Satisfies L&S Arts & Literature breadth requirement.

“The Subversive Imagination” focuses on twentieth- and twenty-first-century Russian texts that challenge the established order through the depiction of imaginary worlds. That is to say, these “unrealistic” works offer a critical perspective on socio-political and cultural developments in Soviet and contemporary Russia. Our readings of individual texts will address the relationship between subversive cultural production and watersheds in Russian history, including the formation of the Soviet state, the evolution of its policies and practices, and its eventual collapse and transition into the post-Soviet era. At the same time, we will explore the ways in which the imaginary blurs the line between the supernatural and the worldly, between the impossible and the possible, between art and life. Students will be introduced to various subgenres of this type of writing: dystopia, science fiction, the fantastic, the absurd, magical realism, and the fairy tale.

The course will begin by defining transgression in the context of contemporary Russian writing; it will then turn to subversive Soviet-era literature; and, finally, it will return to post-Soviet literature. This circular approach will allow us to consider the dialogue that the subversive imagination creates across different (and often compartmentalized) periods in Russian literary culture.

Texts for purchase (to reduce costs, students may want to purchase used copies on
Sorokin, Vladimir. The Blizzard: A Novel. Trans. Jamey Gambrell. Farrar, Straus and Giroux,        2015. ISBN: 0374114374.
Zamyatin, Yevgeny. We. Trans. Natasha Randall. Modern Library, 2006. ISBN: 081297462X.
Bulgakov, Mikhail. The Master and Margarita. Trans. Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan           O’Connor. Vintage, 1996. ISBN: 0679760806.
Erofeev, Venedikt. Moscow to the End of the Line. Trans. H. William Tjalsma. Northwestern UP, 1992. ISBN: 0810112000.
Voinovich, Vladimir. The Fur Hat. Trans. Susan Brownsberger. Mariner Books, 1991. ISBN:0156340305.
Pelevin, Victor. Homo Zapiens. Trans. Andrew Bromfield. Penguin, 2002. ISBN: 0142001813.

The instructor may assign additional short readings by authors such as Vladimir Mayakovsky, Daniil Kharms, Abram Tertz, Anna Akhmatova, and Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. These will be made available on the course website.

Requirements: about 100 pages of reading/week; midterm; two short response papers (2-3 pages); and final.

Prerequisites: None. Readings and lectures in English. Students with knowledge of Russian are encouraged to do at least some of the reading in Russian.