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A History of Russian Literary Theory and Criticism

The Soviet Age and Beyond

edited by Galin Tihanov and Evgeny Dobrenko

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.

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The Holocaust Object in Polish and Polish-Jewish Culture

Bożena Shallcross

In stark contrast to the widespread preoccupation with the wartime looting of priceless works of art, Bożena Shallcross focuses on the meaning of ordinary objects -- pots, eyeglasses, shoes, clothing, kitchen utensils -- tangible vestiges of a once-lived reality, which she reads here as cultural texts. Shallcross delineates the ways in which Holocaust objects are represented in Polish and Polish-Jewish texts written during or shortly after World War II. These representational strategies are distilled from the writings of Zuzanna Ginczanka, Władysław Szlengel, Zofia Nałkowska, Czesław Miłosz, Jerzy Andrzejewski, and Tadeusz Borowski. Combining close readings of selected texts with critical interrogations of a wide range of philosophical and theoretical approaches to the nature of matter, Shallcross's study broadens the current discourse on the Holocaust by embracing humble and overlooked material objects as they were perceived by writers of that time.

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The House of a Thousand Floors

Jan Weiss

A man with no memory wakes up on the deserted staircase of a gigantic building. Gradually he learns about his identity and mission: he is Petr Brok, a detective sent to rescue Tamara, the princess kidnapped by the ruler of the monstrous Mullerdom, the house of a thousand floors. Ohisver Muller is a ruthless tyrant with many faces, eyes and ears in the most remote corners of his empire. But a revolution is spreading through the floors. Yet Petr Brok soon realises that, parallel to his Mullerdom adventure, he is living another life into which he keeps drifting against his will. What is dream and what reality? What is the flickering light inside a skull he sees in the darkness? And what is Mullerdom, a nightmarish reality or a figment of a fevered imagination, an allegory of the capitalist world or a dystopian vision of the future? With its humanistic message and imaginative power, Weiss’s The House of a Thousand Floors, first published in 1929, is a masterpiece of many genres, both unconventional and still contemporary, that has withstood the test of time for close to a century now.

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How Russia Learned to Write

Literature and the Imperial Table of Ranks

Irina Reyfman

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How the Russians Read the French

Lermontov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy

Priscilla Meyer

Russian writers of the nineteenth century were quite consciously creating a new national literary tradition. They saw themselves self-consciously through Western European eyes, at once admiring Europe and feeling inferior to it. This ambivalence was perhaps most keenly felt in relation to France, whose language and culture had shaped the world of the Russian aristocracy from the time of Catherine the Great.
            In How the Russians Read the French, Priscilla Meyer shows how Mikhail Lermontov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Lev Tolstoy engaged with French literature and culture to define their own positions as Russian writers with specifically Russian aesthetic and moral values. Rejecting French sensationalism and what they perceived as a lack of spirituality among Westerners, these three writers attempted to create moral and philosophical works of art that drew on sources deemed more acceptable to a Russian worldview, particularly Pushkin and the Gospels. Through close readings of A Hero of Our Time, Crime and Punishment, and Anna Karenina, Meyer argues that each of these great Russian authors takes the French tradition as a thesis, proposes his own antithesis, and creates in his novel a synthesis meant to foster a genuinely Russian national tradition, free from imitation of Western models.
 
Winner, University of Southern California Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies, American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies

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The Imperative of Reliability

Russian Prose on the Eve of the Novel, 1820s-1850s

The Imperative of Reliability examines the development of nineteenth-century Russian prose and the remarkably swift emergence of the Russian novel. Victoria Somoff identifies an unprecedented situation in the production and perception of the utterance that came to define nascent novelistic fictionality both in European and Russian prose, where the utterance itself—whether an oral story or a “found” manuscript—became the object of representation within the compositional format of the frame narrative. This circumstance generated a narrative perspective from which both the events and their representation appeared as concomitant in time and space: the events did not precede their narration but rather occurred and developed along with and within the narration itself. Somoff establishes this story-discourse convergence as a major factor in enabling the transition from shorter forms of Russian prose to the full-fledged realist novel.

 

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The Imperial Sublime

A Russian Poetics of Empire

Harsha Ram

The Imperial Sublime examines the rise of the Russian empire as a literary theme simultaneous with the evolution of Russian poetry between the 1730s and 1840—the century during which poets defined the main questions facing Russian literature and society. Harsha Ram shows how imperial ideology became implicated in an unexpectedly wide range of issues, from formal problems of genre, style, and lyric voice to the vexed relationship between the poet and the ruling monarch.

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Imre Kertész and Holocaust Literature

Edited by Louise O. Vasvári and Steven Totosy de Zepetnek

Imre Kertész and Holocaust Literature, the first English language volume on the work of the 2002 Nobel Laureate in Literature contains papers by scholars in Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Hungary, New Zealand, and the USA, as well as historical papers about the background of the Holocaust in Hungary

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Isaac Babel and the Self-Invention of Odessan Modernism

Rebecca Jane Stanton

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.

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Jews and Ukrainians in Russia's Literary Borderlands

From the Shtetl Fair to the Petersburg Bookshop

Amelia M. Glaser

Studies of Eastern European literature have largely confined themselves to a single language, culture, or nationality. In this highly original book, Glaser shows how writers working in Russian, Ukrainian, and Yiddish during much of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century were in intense conversation with one another. The marketplace was both the literal locale at which members of these different societies and cultures interacted with one another and a rich subject for representation in their art. It is commonplace to note the influence of Gogol on Russian literature, but Glaser shows him to have been a profound influence on Ukrainian and Yiddish literature as well. And she shows how Gogol must be understood not only within the context of his adopted city of St. Petersburg but also that of his native Ukraine. As Ukrainian and Yiddish literatures developed over this period, they were shaped by their geographical and cultural position on the margins of the Russian Empire. As distinctive as these writers may seem from one another, they are further illuminated by an appreciation of their common relationship to Russia. Glaser’s book paints a far more complicated portrait than scholars have traditionally allowed of Jewish (particularly Yiddish) literature in the context of Eastern European and Russian culture.

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