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Encounters and Extensions
The Russian Avant-Garde in the Early Soviet Era, 1918-1928
Making Modernism Soviet provides a new understanding of the ideological engagement of Russian modern artists such as Kazimir Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko, and Vera Ermolaeva with the political and social agenda of the Bolsheviks in the chaotic years immediately following the Russian Revolution. Focusing on the relationship between power brokers and cultural institutions under conditions of state patronage, Pamela Kachurin lays to rest the myth of the imposition of control from above upon a victimized artistic community. Drawing on extensive archival research, she shows that Russian modernists used their positions within the expanding Soviet arts bureaucracy to build up networks of like-minded colleagues. Their commitment to one another and to the task of creating a socially transformative visual language for the new Soviet context allowed them to produce some of their most famous works of art. But it also contributed to the "Sovietization" of the art world that eventually sealed their fate.
“Mandelstam had no teacher,” marveled Anna Akhmatova, reflecting on his early maturity and singularity. But Mandelstam himself spoke of the need and even duty to study a poet’s literary roots. So how did this consummately complex, compelling, multi-resonant poet navigate and exploit the burden of the Russian Symbolist movement from which he emerged? How did this process change and augment his poetry? Through a series of illuminating readings, Stuart Goldberg explores the ongoing role that the poetry of Russian Symbolism played in Osip Mandelstam’s creative life, laying bare the poet’s productive play with distance and immediacy in his assimilation of the Symbolist heritage. At the same time, Mandelstam, Blok, and the Boundaries of Mythopoetic Symbolism presents the first coherent narrative of the poet’s fraught relationship with Alexander Blok, the most powerful poetic voice among the Symbolists. This dialogue, which was largely one-sided, extended beyond poetic intertext into the realms of poetics, charisma, and personality. Goldberg’s study pushes theoretical boundaries, exploring the juncture between pragmatics and intertext, adapting and challenging Bloom’s anxiety of influence theory, and, ultimately, tracing a shift in the nature of sincerity and authenticity that divided poetic generations.
Experience and Memory in Moscow's Arbat
The Arbat neighborhood in central Moscow has long been home to many of Russia's most famous artists, writers, and scholars, as well as several of its leading cultural establishments. In an elegantly written and evocative portrait of a unique urban space at a time of transition, Stephen V. Bittner explores how the neighborhood changed during the period of ideological relaxation under Khrushchev that came to be known as the thaw.
The thaw is typically remembered as a golden age, a period of artistic rebirth and of relatively free expression after decades of Stalinist repression. By considering events at the Vakhtangov Theater, the Gnesin Music-Pedagogy Institute, the Union of Architects, and the Institute of World Literature, Bittner finds that the thaw was instead characterized by much confusion and contestation. As political strictures loosened after Stalin's death, cultural figures in the Arbat split-often along generational lines-over the parameters of reform and over the amount of freedom of expression now permitted.
De-Stalinization provoked great anxiety because its scope was often unclear. Particularly in debates about Khrushchev's urban-planning initiatives, which involved demolishing a part of the historical Arbat to build an ensemble of concrete-and-steel high rises, a conflict emerged over what aspects of the Russian past should be prized in memory: the late tsarist city, the utopian modernism of the early Soviet period, or the neoclassical and gothic structures of Stalinism. Bittner's book is a window onto the complex beginning of a process that is not yet complete: deciding what to jettison and what to retain from the pre-Soviet and Soviet pasts as a new Russia moves to the future.
While scholars have chronicled Czesław Miłosz’s engagement with religious belief, no previous book-length treatment has focused on his struggles with theodicy in both poetry and thought. Miłosz wrestled with the problem of believing in a just God given the powerful evidence to the contrary in the natural world as he observed it and in the horrors of World War II and its aftermath in Poland. Rather than attempt to survey Miłosz’s vast oeuvre, Łukasz Tischner focuses on several key works—The Land of Ulro, The World, The Issa Valley, A Treatise on Morals, A Treatise on Poetry, and From the Rising of the Sun—carefully tracing the development of Miłosz’s moral arguments, especially in relation to the key texts that influenced him, among them the Bible, the Gnostic writings, and the works of Blake, Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Schopenhauer. The result is a book that examines Miłosz as both a thinker and an artist, shedding new light on all aspects of his oeuvre.
Stylizing Life, Literature, and Costumes in Russia
Masked and costume balls thrived in Russia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries during a period of rich literary and theatrical experimentation. The first study of its kind, The Modernist Masquerade examines the cultural history of masquerades in Russia and their representations in influential literary works.
A 19th-Century Ethnography from Central Asia
Muslim Women of the Fergana Valley is the first English translation of an important 19th-century Russian text describing everyday life in Uzbek communities. Vladimir and Maria Nalivkin were Russians who settled in a "Sart" village in 1878, in a territory newly conquered by the Russian Empire. During their six years in Nanay, Maria Nalivkina learned the local language, befriended her neighbors, and wrote observations about their lives from birth to death. Together, Maria and Vladimir published this account, which met with great acclaim from Russia’s Imperial Geographic Society and among Orientalists internationally. While they recognized that Islam shaped social attitudes, the Nalivkins never relied on common stereotypes about the "plight" of Muslim women. The Fergana Valley women of their ethnographic portrait emerge as lively, hard-working, clever, and able to navigate the cultural challenges of early Russian colonialism. Rich with social and cultural detail of a sort not available in other kinds of historical sources, this work offers rare insight into life in rural Central Asia and serves as an instructive example of the genre of ethnographic writing that was emerging at the time. Annotations by the translators and an editor's introduction by Marianne Kamp help contemporary readers understand the Nalivkins' work in context.