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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 3.4 (2002) 631-651



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Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times:
Chronicles of the Quotidian in Russia and the Soviet Union

Catriona Kelly


Vladimir Ivanovich Bedin, Meri Moiseevna Kushnikova, and Viacheslav Veniaminovich Togulev, eds., Kemerovo i Stalinsk: Panorama provintsial'nogo byta v arkhivnykh khronikakh 1920-1930-kh godov. Kemerovo: Kuzbassvuzizdat, 1999. 631 pp. ISBN 5-202-01653-0.
Sheila Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times. Soviet Russia in the 1930s. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. xi + 288 pp. ISBN 0-19-505000-2 (cloth); 0-19-505001-0 (paper). $14.95 (paper).
Nataliia Borisovna Lebina, Povsednevnaia zhizn' sovetskogo goroda: Normy i anomalii. 1920-e-1930-e gody. St. Petersburg: Zhurnal "Neva" and "Letnii sad," 1999. 317 pp. ISBN 5-87516-133-7 and 5-87940-004-0.
Timo Vikhavainen [Vihavainen], ed., Normy i tsennosti povsednevnoi zhizni: Stanovlenie sotsialisticheskogo obraza zhizni v Rossii, 1920-1930-e gody. St. Petersburg: Zhurnal "Neva," 2000. 479 pp. ISBN 5-87516-185-X.

The historiography of everyday life is inextricably intertwined with the history of classic literary realism. Chroniclers of the quotidian share many of realist novelists' narrative strategies and their sense of time: both are employed in a "prosaics" of small details, tolerant inclusivity, mistrust of the extraordinary as of the metaphysical, and sense of the infinitesimal slowness of change. 1 As Peter Ackroyd rather beautifully puts it, the time-span of such writings is "not the eternity vouchsafed to the mystic, who ascends from the body to glimpse the soul of things, but one immured in sand and stone so that the actual texture or process of life is afforded a kind of grace." 2 In contradistinction to mythic histories of city life, such as Nikolai Pavlovich Antsiferov's Soul of St. Petersburg, which [End Page 631] shows a place trapped in a fateful, abstract, destiny, chronicles of the everyday such as Ackroyd's are concerned with small continuities and microscopic reorderings: an East End Huguenot church that becomes a synagogue and then a mosque, or a medieval stew that becomes an 18th-century whorehouse and subsequently a studio turning out movies for "adult viewers only." It follows that aesthetic and ethical systems driven by mythic concerns have had little tolerance for the myopic preoccupations of everyday history, and that the era of Socialist Realism (an aesthetic system whose relationship with classic realism was at best tangential) also saw a suppression of the history of everyday life that had begun flourishing in Russia during the late 19th century, as manifested, say, in Ivan Egorovich Zabelin's studies of medieval byt, in Mikhail Ivanovich Pyliaev's books on St. Petersburg and Moscow, 3 or the opulent civic-patriotic journal, Moskva v ee proshlom i nastoiashchem, published in the 1910s. The fashion for commemorating the small material signs of the past, one of many phenomena giving the lie to the cliché that Russian intellectuals are constitutionally uninterested in byt, had enough popular resonance to inspire contemporary memoirists. The civil servant Sergei Fedorovich Svetlov specifically intended his reminiscences of St. Petersburg realia, from pissoirs to policemen's uniforms, to act as a future historical source: "Being an amateur of the history of everyday life [liubitel' bytovoi istorii], I wish to carry out a small service to it and to give aid to some person who may, in the future, decide to describe the daily life [byt] of our times, that is, the last decade of the 19th century." 4

Literary realism, autobiography, and narrative history are not, to be sure, the only genres wherein the history of everyday life has been represented. Indeed, in many ways a more important driving force for interest in quotidian details was Slavophile ethnographers' concern with "customs" (obychai) as a distinguishing trait of national identity. Writers such as Aleksandra Iakovlevna Efimenko and Ol'ga Semenova Tian-Shanskaia meticulously recorded the details of a traditional peasant culture held by many observers to be under threat from urbanization and the "bestialization of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-5000
Print ISSN
1531-023x
Pages
pp. 631-651
Launched on MUSE
2002-11-27
Open Access
No
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