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A History of Russian Literary Theory and Criticism

The Soviet Age and Beyond

edited by Galin Tihanov and Evgeny Dobrenko

Publication Year: 2011

This edited volume assembles the work of leading international scholars in a comprehensive history of Russian literary theory and criticism from 1917 to the post-Soviet age. By examining the dynamics of literary criticism and theory in three arenas—political, intellectual, and institutional—the authors capture the progression and structure of Russian literary criticism and its changing function and discourse. The chapters follow early movements such as formalism, the Bakhtin Circle, Proletklut, futurism, the fellow-travelers, and the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers. By the cultural revolution of 1928, literary criticism became a mechanism of Soviet policies, synchronous with official ideology. The chapters follow theory and criticism into the 1930s with examinations of the Union of Soviet Writers, semantic paleontology, and socialist realism under Stalin. A more "humanized" literary criticism appeared during the ravaging years of World War II, only to be supplanted by a return to the party line, Soviet heroism, and anti-Semitism in the late Stalinist period. During Khrushchev's Thaw, there was a remarkable rise in liberal literature and criticism, that was later refuted in the nationalist movement of the "long" 1970s. The same decade saw, on the other hand, the rise to prominence of semiotics and structuralism. Postmodernism and a strong revival of academic literary studies have shared the stage since the start of the post-Soviet era. For the first time anywhere, this collection analyzes all of the important theorists and major critical movements during a tumultuous ideological period in Russian history, including developments in émigré literary theory and criticism.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Front Cover

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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-vi

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p. vii-vii

Among the many people who have contributed to the success of this project, we are especially grateful to the translators of the chapters written in Russian; thanks are also due to the University of Manchester and Sheffield University for translation grants. The editors are also grateful to the Leverhulme Trust and the John Simon ...

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pp. ix-xvi

“We must perceive a past age as relatively unified if we are to write literary history; we must perceive it as highly diverse if what we write is to represent it plausibly”— this is how David Perkins formulates the dilemma of the literary historian.1 That “plausible history,” however, has lost its previous appeal in recent years. Today, ...

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1. Literary Criticism during the revolution and the civil war, 1917–1921

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pp. 1-16

The landscape of Russian criticism in the early post-October years is exceptionally variegated. Present throughout this period were almost all the artistic and literary trends, schools, and orientations of the previous era. They would come to be determined by their relationship to the October Revolution and the political ideology ...

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2. Literary Criticism and Cultural Policy During the New Economic Policy, 1921–1927

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pp. 17-42

In no other period in the history of Russian literature did the political moment play such a decisive role for the fate of literature as during the years of the New Economic Policy (NEP). Literary criticism, too, reached an unprecedented level of importance during this very “current moment.” In fact this was the formative period of ...

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3. Literary Criticism and the transformations of the literary field during the cultural revolution, 1928–1932

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pp. 43-63

In the large body of literature on the time between 1917 and 1932 it has become the norm to regard this period as some kind of unified “age of the 1920s” that is associated with revolutionary culture. Revolutionary culture is contrasted with Stalinist culture, the beginning of which is defined as 1932, when all literary organizations ...

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4. Literary theory in the 1920s

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pp. 64-109

In 2001, the prominent post-Soviet journal of scholarship in the humanities, Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie (New Literary Review, NLO), ran a retrospective forum on “1920-e gody kak intellektual’nyi resurs: V pole formalizma” (The 1920s as an Intellectual Resource: On the Field of Formalism).1 The image of a field—conceptual ...

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5. Soviet literary criticism and the formulation of the aesthetics of social ist realism, 1932–1940

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pp. 90-108

The resolution of the Central Committee of the All-Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) “O perestroike literaturno-khudozhestvennykh organizatsii” (On the Restructuring of the Literary-Artistic Organisations) on 23 April 1932 marked the beginning of a new era in Soviet cultural history.1 The liquidation of artistic ...

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6. Soviet literary theory in the 1930s

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pp. 109-143

In this chapter we explore the process of establishing a Soviet Marxist canon in aesthetics during the 1930s, the attending methodological polemics in left-leaning literary studies and cultural theory, as well as the trends that diverged from them. In the polemics of the 1930s genre became a foremost preoccupation; its role as a complex ...

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7. Russian émigré literary criticism and theory between the world wars

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pp. 144-162

Writing the history of Russian émigré literary criticism and theory between the First and Second World Wars confronts us with a set of challenges. To begin with, we still know relatively little about the ways in which émigré writing began, over time, to interact with the various host cultures and what implications this interaction ...

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8. Literary criticism and the institution of literature in the era of war and late stalinism, 1941–1953

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pp. 163-183

The war era can be divided into two periods: pre- and post-1943. In the first period, party control over literature was noticeably weakened; celebrations of the party and Stalin were muted, and literary policy, unaccompanied by noisy ideological campaigns, personal denunciations, and attacks, became more benign in comparison ...

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9. Literary criticism during the thaw

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pp. 184-206

While the beginning of the post-Stalin era is clearly marked as March 1953, its end is less clearly defined. Although the political end of the Thaw was announced by the resolution of the October plenary session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1964 to remove Nikita Khrushchev ...

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10. Literary criticism of the long 1970s and the fate of soviet liberalism

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pp. 207-229

The debate on the function and tasks of literary criticism raged throughout the entire period of the “long” 1970s—from the changes in the political climate induced by the intervention in the Prague Spring to the early months of perestroika (1968–1985). In 1972 the Central Committee of the Communist Party issued a special ...

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11. Discoveries and advances in literary theory, 1960s–1980s

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pp. 230-249

The post-Stalin years in Soviet literary theory constitute a historical moment in the way that Roman Jakobson or Pierre Bourdieu have analyzed such synchronic slices, namely as force fields in which certain vectors are more vital and productive than others and where certain trajectories irrupt from the past and others will erupt ...

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12. Literary criticism and the end of the soviet system, 1985–1991

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pp. 250-268

At the Twenty-Seventh Party Congress in 1986, which, as it turned out, was the ruling party’s penultimate, Mikhail Gorbachev, elected general secretary of the Central Committee of the CPUSSR a year ago, raised the question of broadening the policy of glasnost. The task of bringing about a “genuine revolution in ...

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13. The alter ego

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pp. 269-386

World War II marked a watershed in the history of the Russian emigration and fundamentally altered the conditions and institutions that gave shape to its intellectual life. The conflict brought a second wave of emigration from Russia. Considerably smaller than the first, post-revolutionary wave, the second wave was made up of ...

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14. Post-soviet literary criticism

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pp. 287-305

The 1990s were a decade when, for the first time in seventy years, Russian literature and criticism (outside of émigré or unofficial semi-underground circles) were able to develop without the censor’s interference. Most assessments of the literary output of this era (ranging from Andrei Nemzer’s “remarkable decade” to Alla ...

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15. Post-soviet literary studies

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pp. 306-322

In the 1990s, three fundamental shifts took place in Russian academic and intellectual cultures, contributing to formations that were at the same time disruptive and newly determinate of one another. The first of these shifts concerned the forum for scholarship. As argued in the preceding chapter, journal culture for the academic, ...


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pp. 323-327


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pp. 329-390


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pp. 391-394


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pp. 395-406

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780822977445
E-ISBN-10: 0822977443
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822944119
Print-ISBN-10: 822944111

Publication Year: 2011