January 2013

Anna Dvigubski, “‘And what of my Onegin?’ Displacement and Reinvention of the Hero in Eugene Onegin”

In discussions of Eugene Onegin, the role of the author-narrator often presents particular difficulty.  Critics have tried to explain the contradictions underlying Pushkin's construction of this character, which appears to occupy simultaneously a fictional and a biographical plane in the work. In this paper, I propose an interpretation of this figure as a competitor to Onegin for the status of the hero.  I argue that by including the author-narrator in the work, Pushkin challenges the genre conventions of the romantic poem, first distancing and parodying the Romantic hero Eugene and then replacing him with the author-narrator who represents a new kind of hero.  Parallel to this experimentation with genre conventions is Pushkin's interest in reshaping the Russian literary language.  As Onegin is succeeded by the author-narrator as the hero, the Russian poetic conventions of Pushkin's time are similarly distanced and replaced by Pushkin's (and the author-narrator's) verbal inventions. Finally, I suggest that the author-narrator is an example of a new complex consciousness, specifically in his ability to recreate the voices of other poets in contrast to his own poetic discourse, which shows a movement in the direction of the Russian realist novel, specifically Dostoevsky's polyphonic model of consciousness.

Megan Swift, “The Bronze Horseman Rides Again: The Stalinist Reimaging of Alexander Pushkin’s Mednyi vsadnik, 1928-53”

In this article I explore how book illustrations played a crucial role in the emergence of Alexander Pushkin’s Mednyi vsadnik (The Bronze Horseman, 1833) at the heart of Stalin-era literary culture and public education. A contested part of the Soviet canon in the 1920s, The Bronze Horseman made a remarkable come-back in the 1930s thanks to the Stalinist campaigns to exalt Pushkin in fanatical jubilee celebrations of 1937 and 1949, reclaim Russian classical literature and rehabilitate heroes from the national past such as Peter the Great. This article looks at how six illustrated versions of the poem by five different artists reflected, and were manipulated to reflect, Stalin-era cultural messaging. I discuss how editors and publishers strategically re-positioned the modernist Bronze Horsemanillustrations by World of Art leader Alexander Benois, recasting them as children’s literature. I go on to examine the complicated relationship between three new socialist realist illustrated versions of The Bronze Horseman in 1949, by Igor’ Ershov, Mikhail Grigor’ev and Mikhail Rodionov, and competing values placed on Siege of Leningrad commemoration, the ban on Leningrad exceptionalism and the 1949 Pushkin jubilee itself. Finally, I comment on the pivotal role played by the Stalinist era in the inception of The Bronze Horseman as illustrated literature for mass consumption and a core part of the public school curriculum.

Rebecca Reich, “Madness as Balancing Act in Joseph Brodsky’s ‘Gorbunov and Gorchakov’”

This article examines the psychological connotations of Joseph Brodsky’s “art of estrangement” in light of the psychiatric evaluations the poet underwent in 1963 and 1964 and his depiction of madness in the poem “Gorbunov and Gorchakov” (1965-68). Several years before the punitive uses of Soviet psychiatry came to the attention of samizdat readers, Brodsky was forced to weigh the dangers and benefits of psychiatric diagnosis in his dealings with the state. The balance that he struck is mirrored in “Gorbunov and Gorchakov,” in which the state’s claim that “being determines consciousness” and Brodsky’s claim that the “estranged” consciousness determines being are personified and placed in dialogue. The poem, which is set in a psychiatric hospital, indicates that the “art of estrangement” can lead to madness if consciousness strikes out too far on its own. By engaging with being in life and work, Brodsky kept consciousness grounded for the sake of sanity and self-definition.

Konstantin Kashin and Ethan Pollock, “Public Health and Bathing in Late Imperial Russia: A Statistical Approach”

Going to the Russian bathhouse (bania) helped people preserve their health, at least according to common idioms and many medical doctors at the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. Yet the thousands of public bathhouses across the empire were often damp, dank, and overcrowded places conducive to the spread of infectious diseases. Were Russian Imperial bathhouses healthy or dangerous? Did they prevent and cure ailments or did they foster the spread of sickness and in turn increase mortality and incidence of disease? Qualitative reports from the period are inconclusive: some cite the benefits of bathhouses, others cite their threat to public health, and many note both. In this paper we use data from reports produced in the 1890s and early 1900s to undertake a statistical analysis of the health effects of public bathhouses in late Imperial Russia. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt to apply modern statistical techniques to questions of Russian health and hygiene in this period.  We find no evidence to support doctors' claims that banias were beneficial to public health and instead find some evidence that banias were associated with higher incidence of disease.

Christopher Stroop, “Nationalist War Commentary as Russian Religious Thought: The Religious Intelligentsia’s Politics of Providentialism”

Exploring the prominent role that the concept of Providence played in the worldview of Russian religious philosophers including Nikolai Berdiaev, Sergei Bulgakov, Vladimir Ern, Prince Evgenii Trubetskoi, and the Symbolist Vyacheslav Ivanov, this article demonstrates that their Christian Providentialist thinking was inherently political. One significant expression of these intellectuals’ “politics of Providentialism” was the controversial commentary they produced on the First World War, which must be confronted and construed as operating within the discourse of Russian religious philosophy. Examining the concept of Providence represents a new approach to the study of Russian religious philosophy as Christian ideology, one that highlights the social significance of Russian religious philosophy in late imperial Russian civil society and that allows us to situate Russian religious thought in international and interconfessional comparative perspective, as one part of a broader twentieth-century European and American manifestation of politicized traditionalist Christianity that arose in response to the perceived cultural threat of nihilism.

Wilson T. Bell, “Was the Gulag an Archipelago? De-Convoyed Prisoners and Porous Borders in the Camps of Western Siberia”

This article focuses on the issue of de-convoyed (raskonvoirovannye) prisoners in order to argue that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s enduring analogy for the Gulag—the archipelago—is, in many instances, misleading. The practice of allowing significant numbers of prisoners to move, unguarded, outside of the camp zones was widespread throughout the Stalin era, and is especially interesting as a topic of study for Western Siberia, an area where the largest camp subdivisions were located within the city limits of major urban centers, such as Novosibirsk and Tomsk. This article is the first systematic study of the phenomenon during the Stalin era, and assesses the rules of and reasons for de-convoyed status, prisoners’ thoughts concerning unguarded movement, and problems and opportunities (including black market activity) arising from the widespread presence of unescorted prisoners. Ultimately, the Gulag’s porous borders meant that Gulag space was not separate, isolated space, despite the best intentions of the regime.


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