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Isaac Babel and the Self-Invention of Odessan Modernism

Rebecca Jane Stanton

Publication Year: 2012

In what marks an exciting new critical direction, Rebecca Stanton contends that the city of Odessa—as a canonical literary image and as a kaleidoscopic cultural milieu—shaped the narrative strategies developed by Isaac Babel and his contemporaries of the Revolutionary generation. Modeling themselves on the tricksters and rogues of Odessa lore, Babel and his fellow Odessans Val­entin Kataev and Yury Olesha manipulated their literary personae through complex, playful, and often subversive negotiations of the boundary between autobiography and fiction. In so doing, they cannily took up a place prepared for them in the Russian canon and fostered modes of storytelling that both reflected and resisted the aesthetics of Socialist Realism. Stanton concludes with a rereading of Babel’s “autobiographical” stories and examines their leg­acy in post-Thaw works by Kataev, Olesha, and Konstantin Paustovsky.

Published by: Northwestern University Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

I am hugely indebted to the many people and institutions whose help and support have made this book possible. The research and writing of it were supported in part by a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, and a Title VIII Combined...

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Notes on Translation and Transliteration

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p. xi

Throughout my text, I give quotations from Russian (and other foreignlanguage) works in English translation. Unless otherwise specified, all translations into English are my own. For Russian names, in the notes and bibliography, I have used the Library of Congress transliteration system, without...

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Introduction: Stories that Come True

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pp. 3-16

This is a book about stories that come true. Stories can "come true" in a variety of ways, and these selfsubstantiating (or self-instantiating) stories belong to a variety of genres: there are popular myths that prove more enduring than scientific efforts to debunk them, clever lies that effectively alter the fabric of reality to...

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1. City Through the Looking-Glass: Literary Odessa

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pp. 17-42

THE RUSSIAN CULTURAL IMAGE of Odessa is a kind of mirror image, a faithful but inverted reflection of the "abstract and intentional" Petersburg. Each of the two cities, marking a highly prized seaport, stands as an architectural monument to the martial triumph of a...

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2. Isaac Babel: Stories That Lie Like Truth

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pp. 43-73

With these words, Isaac Babel begins his short story "In the Basement" ("V podvale," 1931), one of a cycle of childhood stories ostensibly narrated by, and starring, the young Isaac Babel himself. As indicated in notes Babel appended to the stories as they were published, this cycle includes four...

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3. Babel's Bildungsroman and Odessan Modernism

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pp. 74-101

The questions Babel raises in "Childhood" and "Dovecote" about the aesthetic qualities, epistemological status, and ethical boundaries of fiction remain on center stage in the three stories that complete the childhood cycle: "First Love" ("Pervaia liubov'''), "In the Basement"...

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4. Reinventing the Self: Valentin Kataev and Yury Olesha

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pp. 102-142

ALTHOUGH IT WAS Isaac Babel who, in his essay "Odessa" and the fictional works that followed it, defined the idea of an Odessa writer, his trajectory was actually not a typical one for writers of the Odessa or "South -West" school. Other Odessa writers of Babel's...

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Conclusion: The Odessan Self

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pp. 143-146

IN THE PRECEDING pages, I have posited that the literalY projection of a specifically Odessan self-consciousness is characterized by several interrelated discursive features: paradox, multivocality, and camivalesque inversion; a sense of exile in both time and space, often manifested...


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pp. 147-176


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pp. 177-190


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pp. 191-205

E-ISBN-13: 9780810166158
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810128323

Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 830022922
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Isaac Babel and the Self-Invention of Odessan Modernism

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Babelʹ, I. (Isaak), 1894-1940 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Kataev, Valentin, 1897-1986 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Olesha, I͡Uriĭ Karlovich, 1899-1960 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Russian literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Russian literature -- Ukraine -- Odesa -- History and criticism.
  • Modernism (Literature) -- Russia (Federation).
  • Odesa (Ukraine) -- In literature.
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