4. The Land of Milk and Money
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C H A P T E R F O U R THE LAND OF MILK AND MONEY 1. THE E X TI NCT ION OF T HE FAMILY Friedrich Engels projected that the end of private property would entail a release from the private household:“The coming social revolution will reduce to a minimum all this anxiety about bequeathing and inheriting.”1 Although capitalism was more resilient than Engels expected, the Soviet Union in its first and most radically utopian years represents a unique attempt to establish a society in which reproduction of labor would take place outside the horizon of the family. The state aimed to accomplish this especially by appropriating the function of providing food to children. This shift is central to Yuri Olesha’s 1927 novella Envy, which concerns the construction of a gigantic cafeteria called the Quarter Ruble. Like many other texts of the 1920s, Envy articulates alternative versions of the kinship created by the care of infants. A coherent set of metaphors of the nurturing body presents a locus of resistance to Soviet ideology on the one hand; on the other, utopians were enlisting the same metaphors, on a grand and industrial scale, in the service of an imagined socialist society. For the most part this imagined society was gendered as male and grounded in a discourse of production explicitly opposed to that of reproduction. Engels discriminates between these concepts as “the production of the means of existence, of food, clothing and shelter and the tools necessary for that production” and“the production of human beings themselves,the propagation of the species.”2 The distinction is key in works like Envy, whose figurative structures consistently oppose economic substances like food (production) and biogenetic substances like DNA (reproduction). As Sylvia Yanagisako and Jane Collier-­ Fishburne have observed, production and reproduction “stand in a means-­ end relationship to each other.”3 Work in production enables the material well-­being and reproduction of a society and its institutions, the family among them; sexual reproduction and the care of children in the family provide labor and markets. 112  C h a p ter F our Thus the care of children in infancy is a precondition of what Engels calls the “propagation of the species,”but—as starkly illustrated in Bunin’s Dry Valley—it is also implicated in a system of economic relationships usually brought under the category of production. Because noble infants in prerevolutionary Russia were typically fed by peasant nursemaids, because village women were commonly paid to take in nurslings from foundling homes, and because peasant mothers often nursed one another’s babies, the socially necessary act of feeding reinscribes economic relations of exploitation and cooperation in every generation. Conversely, even these apparently “economic” links constituted a metaphorical kinship system , as witnessed by the existence of the terms “milk sister” (molochnaia sestra) and“milk brother” (molochnyi brat), which refer to the relations between individuals nursed by a single woman. Commonly known in anthropological literature as “fictive” or “metaphorical” kinship, such relations play essential roles in social life (adoption or stepchildren , for example) as well as in works of imaginative literature that enlist them as tropes. While genealogical and metaphorical kinships typically coexist, there are communities in which genealogical kinship is immaterial, like monastic brotherhoods .4 Anthropologists have moved away from treating metaphorical kinships as figurative extensions of a genealogical norm, instead stressing the multiple potential constitutions of kinship and its multiple points of entry into economic life. For example, Janet Carsten’s cross-­ cultural work in North America, Europe, and Southeast Asia demonstrates that birth is only one of many factors constitutive of personhood; among the Langkawi Malay, “fluidity of identity continues to a remarkable degree into adulthood” because kinship relations are conceptualized in large part through food, which creates “both persons in a physical sense and the substance—blood—by which they are related to each other.”5 While we are accustomed to figuring kinship through biogenetic substance, any number of real or imaginary substances might perform the same function, as spirit, food, breast milk, or blood have in various contexts.6 My point here is simply to emphasize how completely metaphorical kinships, like the milk siblinghood mentioned above, can be realized in social life. Envy depicts a clash between pre-­and postrevolutionary generations over the mechanisms by which identity is to be passed from one generation to the next. It figures the destruction of the bourgeois family as the relocation of cooking from the family...


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Subject Headings

  • Families in literature.
  • Kinship in literature.
  • Modernism (Literature) -- Russia -- History -- 20th century.
  • Modernism (Literature) -- Soviet Union.
  • Bely, Andrey, 1880-1934. Peterburg.
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