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Empire, Tourism, Nostalgia
Expelled from the Soviet Union in 1972 and honored with the Nobel Prize fifteen years later, poet Joseph Brodsky in many ways fit the grand tradition of exiled writer. But Brodsky’s years of exile did not render him immobile: though he never returned to his beloved Leningrad, he was free to travel the world and write about it. In Brodsky Abroad, Sanna Turoma discusses Brodsky’s poems and essays about Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, and Venice. Challenging traditional conceptions behind Brodsky’s status as a leading émigré poet and major descendant of Russian and Euro-American modernism, she relocates the analysis of his travel texts in the diverse context of contemporary travel and its critique. Turoma views Brodsky’s travel writing as a response not only to his exile but also to the postmodern and postcolonial landscape that initially shaped the writing of these texts.
In his Latin American encounters, Brodsky exhibits disdain for third-world politics and invokes the elegiac genre to reject Mexico’s postcolonial reality and to ironically embrace the romanticism of an earlier Russian and European imperial age. In an essay on Istanbul he assumes Russia’s ambiguous position between East and West as his own to negotiate a distinct, and controversial, interpretation of Orientalism. And, Venice, the emblematic tourist city, becomes the site for a reinvention of his lyric self as more fluid, hybrid, and cosmopolitan.
Brodsky Abroad reveals the poet’s previously uncharted trajectory from alienated dissident to celebrated man of letters and offers new perspectives on the geopolitical, philosophical, and linguistic premises of his poetic imagination.
Alexander Pushkin’s lyric poetry—much of it known to Russians by heart—is the cornerstone of the Russian literary tradition, yet until now there has been no detailed commentary of it in any language.
Michael Wachtel’s book, designed for those who can read Russian comfortably but not natively, provides the historical, biographical, and cultural context needed to appreciate the work of Russia’s greatest poet. Each entry begins with a concise summary highlighting the key information about the poem’s origin, subtexts, and poetic form (meter, stanzaic structure, and rhyme scheme). In line-by-line fashion, Wachtel then elucidates aspects most likely to challenge non-native readers: archaic language, colloquialisms, and unusual diction or syntax. Where relevant, he addresses political, religious, and folkloric issues.
Pushkin’s verse has attracted generations of brilliant interpreters. The purpose of this commentary is not to offer a new interpretation, but to give sufficient linguistic and cultural contextualization to make informed interpretation possible.
In The Cultural Origins of the Socialist Realist Aesthetic, Irina Gutkin brings together the best work written on the subject to argue that socialist realism encompassed a philosophical worldview that marked thinking in the USSR on all levels: political, social, and linguistic. Using a wealth of diverse cultural material, Gutkin traces the emergence of the central tenants of socialist realist theory from Symbolism and Futurism through the 1920s and 1930s.
A Reading of Alexander Pushkin's Boris Godunov
In an ambitious reinterpretation of the premier work of Russia's national poet, J. Douglas Clayton reads Boris Godunov as the expression of Alexander Pushkin's thinking about the Russian state, especially the Russian state of his own time (some two hundred years distant from the events of the play), and even his own place within that state. Here we see how the play marks a sharp break with the Decembrists and Pushkin's own youthful liberalism, signaling its author's emergence as a Russian conservative. Boris Godunov, Clayton argues, can be best understood as an ideologically conservative defense of autocracy.
Most discussions of sexuality in the work of Dostoevsky have been framed in Freudian terms. But Dostoevsky himself wrote about sexuality from a decidedly pre Freudian perspective. By looking at the views of human sexual development that were available in Dostoevsky's time and that he, an avid reader and observer of his own social context, absorbed and reacted to, Susanne Fusso gives us a new way of understanding a critical element in the writing of one of Russia's literary masters. Beyond discovering Dostoevsky's own views and representations of sexuality as a reflection of his culture and his time, Fusso also explores his artistic treatment of how children and adolescents discover sexuality as part of their growth.
Reading Against the Grain
When Fyodor Dostoevsky proclaims that he is a "realist in a higher sense," it is because the facts are irrelevant to his truth. And it is in this spirit that Apollonio approaches Dostoevsky’s work, reading through the facts the text of his canonical novels for the deeper truth that they distort, mask, and, ultimately, disclose. This sort of reading against the grain is, Apollonio suggests, precisely what these works, with their emphasis on the hidden and the private and their narrative reliance on secrecy and slander, demand.