- New Directions in Soviet Literature: Selected Papers from the Fourth World Congress for Soviet and East European Studies, Harrogate, 1990
This selection was published at the end of 1992, a year after the unsuccessful putsch and successful "Second Russian Revolution." The term "Soviet" in the title is now outdated, and judging by this book, the Harrogate Conference [End Page 195] took place in the intellectual atmosphere of perestroika's half-house. The ten articles in this volume cover the period from the late 1920s through the 1980s.
The reader will appreciate the well-researched "The Left Avant-Garde Theatre in the late 1920s" by Katerina Clark. The article deals with TRAM (the acronym for "The Theater for the Working Youth"). The TRAM plays were written by the workers, for the workers, and about the workers. Their manifesto repudiated "academic art" and demanded the liquidation of the famous Arts Theatre as an "enemy class."
It was, for a while, a viable way forward for Russian theater. Many of its experimental ideas were later used by Brecht and then, via Brecht, they seeped into contemporary Western theater. While the early TRAM productions aimed at reeducating the worker, raising productivity, and in general "forging the new man," later they became much more sophisticated and tried to present a "conflicted" and "multilayered" account of reality. They rejected the existence of a coherent or single version of reality and presented the opposite accounts simultaneously. Their directors sought to break down the identification between the actor and the character, which was the sacred cow of the Arts Theatre. In the 1930s, TRAM started losing its position to the official aesthetics articulated by Gorky, and by 1938, it disappeared altogether. This most satisfying short paper leaves one hungering for more information on this rarely addressed subject and hoping that Clark will undertake a book-size project on the vagaries of the avant-garde theater in Russia.
"The Naturalistic Tendency in Contemporary Soviet Fiction: Thematics, Poetic functions" by Constant Kustanovich introduces three writers, Sergei Kaledin, Ludmila Petrushevskaia, and Evgenii Popov, finding in their works the absence of the hero, the dullness of life, and the scarier aspects of existence, combined with a lack of the humanistic tendencies of the nineteenth-century's naturalistic fiction—a mix uniquely suitable for the description of Soviet life. The paper is readable, devoid of jargon, unassuming, and informative.
Rosalind Marsh's excellent piece, "Images of Stalin in Russian literature" shows a sure grasp of detail. Marsh touches on the utopian concept of "remaking history" and its transformation into the idea of "remaking self" in the works of Zamiatin, Pasternak, and Platonov. She is interested in the balance between historic accuracy and artistic value, with the village writers having more of the latter, and honest and better informed authors (for example, Rybakov, Shatrov, and Baklanov) showing more of the former: perhaps only Vassily Grossman, the author of the shattering Vse Techet (Everything Flows) and Zhizn' i sud'ba (Life and Fate), combines the two happily.
Both Galina Belaia in "The Crisis of Soviet Artistic Mentality in the 1960s and 1970s," which opens the book, and Cathleen Parthé in her "Village Prose: Chauvinism, Nationalism, or Nostalgia?" grapple with the [End Page 196] sad facts surrounding the considerable talents of such village writers as Rasputin, Belov, Astafyev, and others. In the 1960s, these writers managed to create a spiritual counter-world, untouched by Soviet falsity and demagogy, but gradually fell victim to the traditional Russian xenophobia and, specifically, anti-Semitism, thus rendering themselves practically irrelevant, perpetrating the ideal image of the old village that had never existed in reality.
"A Matter of (Dis)Course: Metafiction in the Works of Daniil Kharms" by Graham Roberts deals with perhaps the most famous member of Oberiu, a group of talented and delightfully diverse writers, dismantled after a vicious official...