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Dostoevsky and the Problem of Genre in the 1870s
Scholars have long been fascinated by the creative struggles with genre manifested throughout Dostoevsky’s career. In The Novel in the Age of Disintegration, Kate Holland brings historical context to bear, showing that Dostoevsky wanted to use the form of the novel as a means of depicting disintegration brought on by various crises in Russian society in the 1860s. This required him to reinvent the genre. At the same time he sought to infuse his novels with the capacity to inspire belief in social and spiritual reintegration, so he returned to some older conventions of a society that was already becoming outmoded. In thoughtful readings of Demons, The Adolescent, A Writer’s Diary, and The Brothers Karamazov, Holland delineates Dostoevsky’s struggle to adapt a genre to the reality of the present, with all its upheavals, while maintaining a utopian vision of Russia’s future mission.
If I had let myself be ruled by reason alone, I would surely be lying dead somewhere or another in the Siberian frost.
The Siberian taiga: a massive forest region of roughly 4.5 million square miles, stretching from the Ural Mountains to the Bering Sea, breathtakingly beautiful and the coldest inhabited region in the world. Winter temperatures plummet to a bitter 97 degrees below zero, and beneath the permafrost lie the fossilized remains of mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses, and other ice age giants. For the Yukaghir, an indigenous people of the taiga, hunting sable is both an economic necessity and a spiritual experience—where trusting dreams and omens is as necessary as following animal tracks. Since the fall of Communism, a corrupt regional corporation has monopolized the fur trade, forcing the Yukaghir hunters into impoverished servitude.
Enter Rane Willerslev, a young Danish anthropologist who ventures into this frozen land on an idealistic mission to organize a fair-trade fur cooperative with the hunters. From the outset, things go terribly wrong. The regional fur company, with ties to corrupt public officials, proves it will stop at nothing to maintain its monopoly: one of Willerslev’s Yukaghir business partners is arrested on spurious charges of poaching and illegal trading; another drowns mysteriously. When police are sent to arrest him, Willerslev fears for his life, and he and a local hunter flee to a remote hunting lodge even deeper in the icy wilderness. Their situation turns even more desperate right away: they manage to kill a moose but lose the meat to predators and begin to starve, frostbitten and isolated in the frozen taiga.
Thus begins Willerslev’s extraordinary, chilling tale of one year living in exile among Yukaghir hunters in the stark Siberian taiga region. At turns shocking and quietly moving, On the Run in Siberia is a pulse-pounding tale of idealism, political corruption, starvation, and survival (with a timely assist from Vladimir Putin) as well as a striking portrait of the Yukaghirs’ shamanistic tradition and their threatened way of life, a drama unfolding daily in one of the world’s coldest, most enthralling landscapes.
The German Conquest of the Baltic Islands
In October 1917, an invasion force of some 25,000 German soldiers, accompanied by a flotilla of 10 dreadnoughts, 350 other vessels, a half-dozen zeppelins, and 80 aircraft, attacked the Baltic islands of Dago, Osel, and Moon at the head of the Gulf of Riga. It proved to be the most successful amphibious operation of World War I. The three islands fell, the Gulf was opened to German warships and was now a threat to Russian naval bases in the Gulf of Finland, and 20,000 Russians were captured. The invasion proved to be the last major operation in the East. Although the invasion had achieved its objectives and placed the Germans in an excellent position for the resumption of warfare in the spring, within three weeks of the operation, the Bolsheviks took power in Russia (November 7, 1917) and Albion faded into obscurity as the war in the East came to a slow end.
Glass, Vision, and Spectacle in Russian Culture
Julia Bekman Chadaga's ambitious study posits that glass--in its uses as a material and as captured in culture--is a key to understanding the evolution of Russian identity from the eighteenth century onward. From the contemporary perspective, it is easy to overlook how glass has profoundly transformed vision. Chadaga shows the far-reaching effects of this phenomenon. Her book examines the similarities between glass and language, the ideological uses of glass, and the material's associations with modernity, while illuminating the work of Lomonosov, Dostoevsky, Zamyatin, and Eisenstein, among others. In particular, Chadaga explores the prominent role of glass in the discourse around Russia's contentious relationship with the West--by turns admiring and antagonistic--as the nation crafted a vision for its own future. Chadaga returns throughout to the spectacular aspect of glass and shows how both the tendentious capacity and the playfulness of this material have shaped Russian culture.
If modernism marked, as some critics claim, an "apocalypse of cultural community," then Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938) must rank among its most representative figures. Born to Central European Jews in Warsaw on the cusp of the modern age, he could claim neither Russian nor European traditions as his birthright. Describing the poetic movement he helped to found, Acmeism, as a "yearning for world culture," he defined the impulse that charges his own poetry and prose. Clare Cavanagh has written a sustained study placing Mandelstam’s "remembrance and invention" of a usable poetic past in the context of modernist writing in general, with particular attention to the work of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.
Cavanagh traces Mandelstam’s creation of tradition from his earliest lyrics to his last verses, written shortly before his arrest and subsequent death in a Stalinist camp. Her work shows how the poet, generalizing from his own dilemmas and disruptions, addressed his epoch’s paradoxical legacy of disinheritance--and how he responded to this unwelcome legacy with one of modernism’s most complex, ambitious, and challenging visions of tradition. Drawing on not only Russian and Western modernist writing and theory, but also modern European Jewish culture, Russian religious thought, postrevolutionary politics, and even silent film, Cavanagh traces Mandelstam’s recovery of a "world culture" vital, vast, and varied enough to satisfy the desires of the quintessential outcast modernist.
Post-Communist Cultures through an East-West Gaze
"... a hot subject in today's scholarship... and a groundbreaking project of vital significance to the field of cultural studies at both 'western' and 'eastern' geographical locations." -- Elwira Grossman
Over the Wall/After the Fall maps a new discourse on the evolution of cultural life in Eastern Europe following the end of communism. Departing from traditional binary views of East/West, the contributors to this volume consider the countries and the peoples of the region on their own terms. Drawing on insights from cultural studies, gender theory, and postcolonial studies, this lively collection addresses gender issues and sexual politics, consumerism, high and popular culture, architecture, media, art, and theater. Among the themes of the essays are the Western pop success of Bulgarian folk choirs, the Czechs' reception of Frank Gehry's unconventional building in the center of Prague, bohemians in Lviv, and cryptographic art installations from Bratislava.
Sex and Violence in Contemporary Russian Popular Culture
Perestroika and the end of the Soviet Union transformed every aspect of life in Russia, and as hope began to give way to pessimism, popular culture came to reflect the anxiety and despair felt by more and more Russians. Free from censorship for the first time in Russia's history, the popular culture industry (publishing, film, and television) began to disseminate works that featured increasingly explicit images and descriptions of sex and violence.
In Overkill, Eliot Borenstein explores this lurid and often-disturbing cultural landscape in close, imaginative readings of such works as You're Just a Slut, My Dear! (Ty prosto shliukha, dorogaia!), a novel about sexual slavery and illegal organ harvesting; the Nympho trilogy of books featuring a Chechen-fighting sex addict; and the Mad Dog and Antikiller series of books and films recounting, respectively, the exploits of the Russian Rambo and an assassin killing in the cause of justice. Borenstein argues that the popular cultural products consumed in the post-perestroika era were more than just diversions; they allowed Russians to indulge their despair over economic woes and everyday threats. At the same time, they built a notion of nationalism or heroism that could be maintained even under the most miserable of social conditions, when consumers felt most powerless.
For Borenstein, the myriad depictions of deviance in pornographic and also crime fiction, with their patently excessive and appalling details of social and moral decay, represented the popular culture industry's response to the otherwise unimaginable scale of Russia's national collapse. "The full sense of collapse," he writes, "required a panoptic view that only the media and culture industry were eager to provide, amalgamating national collapse into one master narrative that would then be readily available to most individuals as a framework for understanding their own suffering and their own fears."
Novel and City, 1900–1921
Since its founding three hundred years ago, the city of Saint Petersburg has captured the imaginations of the most celebrated Russian writers, whose characters map the city by navigating its streets from the aristocratic center to the gritty outskirts. While Tsar Peter the Great planned the streetscapes of Russia’s northern capital as a contrast to the muddy and crooked streets of Moscow, Andrei Bely’s novel Petersburg (1916), a cornerstone of Russian modernism and the culmination of the “Petersburg myth” in Russian culture, takes issue with the city’s premeditated and supposedly rational character in the early twentieth century.
“Petersburg”/Petersburg studies the book and the city against and through each other. It begins with new readings of the novel—as a detective story inspired by bomb-throwing terrorists, as a representation of the aversive emotion of disgust, and as a painterly avant-garde text—stressing the novel’s phantasmagoric and apocalyptic vision of the city. Taking a cue from Petersburg’s narrator, the rest of this volume (and the companion Web site, stpetersburg.berkeley.edu/) explores the city from vantage points that have not been considered before—from its streetcars and iconic art-nouveau office buildings to the slaughterhouse on the city fringes. From poetry and terrorist memoirs, photographs and artwork, maps and guidebooks of that period, the city emerges as a living organism, a dreamworld in flux, and a junction of modernity and modernism.