William Mills Todd III
Todd III
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Russian Literature: Projects For the Future

My subtitle recalls an intercalated manuscript from Alexander Radishchev's Journey from Petersburg to Moscow (1790). The manuscript, left by an anonymous traveler, proposes an end to the moral, psychological, and economic devastation occasioned by serfdom, and an end to hereditary nobility and court ranks. Like many such documents its warnings and call to action are more stirring than its sketchy proposal for a gradual end to the institution of serfdom. I invoke it here for several reasons. First, because it is one of the more famous and daring calls to future action in Russian literature. Second, because its questioning of established hierarchies and power relationships offers notions that might guide a reexamination of the Slavic field. Third, because the history of this book figures so centrally in discussions of the particular institutional aspects of Russian literature: printed on one of Russia's first private presses, it was immediately banned and remained so until 1905; most copies were destroyed at the orders of Catherine the Great, and the author was arrested and exiled to Siberia; the book later suffered a second death in the Soviet school system, which bowdlerized the text and transformed its author's far-ranging mind into that of a precursor of Soviet ideologists. It has yet to appear in English in a complete well-annotated translation; its convoluted syntax and antiquated vocabulary make it difficult reading for all but our most advanced students.1 Much of my paper will concern such institutional issues, ones related to Radishchev's homeland and to the study of Russian literature in North American universities.

Finally, I invoke Radishchev because the vision for the future of this most radical of eighteenth-century Russian thinkers refracts with charming directness the author's own social position as a member of the non-hereditary nobility. My own vision of the future will be no less a refraction of past and present interests, I am sure, and I will take the liberty of outlining this personal past in institutional terms. Like most boys in the Sputnik era, I was encouraged to

Casper David Fiedrich, Winter.
Courtesy of Bayerische Staatsgemalde-sammlungen (destroyed 1930)
specialize in math and science. I came to the Russian language as an eighteen-year-old mathematics student who needed to read Russian research in this area. I came to Russian literature when I could not share my English professors' enthusiasm for Henry James; his dismissal of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy in the famous terms "fluid puddings" and "baggy monsters" made them sound wonderfully attractive to a child of the 1960s, who would not be deterred by the constricting "fallacies" and "heresies" of the then-regnant New Criticism, and I soon found in Russian novels more of the "felt life" that Henry James treasured than in James's own fictions. Once captivated by the literature, I surrendered to academic institutions: an area studies major at Dartmouth, a rigorous medieval program at Oxford, shaped by the traditions of Slavic philology, a year in the literary salons and archives of Leningrad, and a PhD in Columbia's Slavic Department, with its primary focus on modern Russian literature, its new minor program in comparative literature, and its incipient interest in the continental literary theories that were overwhelming American literary scholars in all fields. This experience is sure to color the vision of the past, present, and future which follows.

The field I entered, regularly called "Slavic Languages and Literatures" in American universities, has grown and changed since its inception some two centuries ago. Like other areas of the humanities which came to prominence as academic disciplines during the age of romantic nationalism, it set itself the goal of preserving and studying the language and cultural monuments of a set of peoples whose modern languages were thought to share a common origin. In the case of the Slavic peoples, who found themselves under the political domination of three multi-national empires (Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian), this philological mission encompassed not merely the preservation of written documents, but sometimes the creation of them, as not all of the Slavic peoples had well-developed or long-standing written literary traditions.2 It is, for instance, still hotly debated whether the Russian "national epic," The Tale of Igor's Campaign, may have been the creation of a pioneering antiquarian of the eighteenth century. Slavic philology found itself the willing servant of politics, then, in ways not unakin to those which animate the ethnic studies programs in modern American universities, and the prominent place of notable early Slavists in movements of national and Pan-Slavic self-determination testifies to the young field's vital cultural force. By the early twentieth century this cultural force had gained academic expression in the products of a normal discipline: serious scholarly monographs, bibliographical and publishing ventures, and university departments throughout Europe.

The three-fold mission to preserve, create, and study the documents of ethnic or national identity in turn found its place in American universities, although the third aspect has predominated. Nevertheless, the expansion of the Soviet empire into the former territories of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires lent a new urgency to the first and second aspects, preservation and creation, during the post-1945 period. The tendency of some American programs to favor Russian studies at the expense of the study of other Slavic languages and cultures—a pattern encountered, not surprisingly, in Soviet universities—provoked among other Slavists fears of cultural imperialism, or "Russocentrism." This dispute is unresolved to the present day, as graduate programs tend to adhere either to the Russocentric or philological model.

The orderly narrative of the migration of scholarship to the new world, the translatio studii that I have been constructing, glides over other rough spots. "Chance" (sluchainost'), an unplanned and unpredictable mixture of old and new, somehow trying to respond to the demands of the present, characterized the early periods of Russian publishing, according to M. N. Kufaev, author of a classic study of the Russian book.3 The same quality, much neglected by historians, characterized the study of Slavic literatures in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. Few American universities—Harvard, Columbia, Berkeley were exceptions—could offer graduate and undergraduate programs. Elsewhere, a Russian specialist might well be alone in the field—"odin v pole" as the Russian proverb puts it: Leo Wiener at Harvard, Helen Muchnik at Smith, Vladimir Nabokov at Wellesley, Dimitri von Mohrenschildt at Dartmouth, and Henry Lanz at Stanford spring to mind as such lone pioneers. Sometimes students could study Russian literature only in translation, taught by English professors armed with good will and Constance Garnett translations. Critical approaches to this literature ranged from the archaic to the modern: nineteenth-century philology alongside, for example, the structuralism taught by Roman Jakobson at Harvard. When universities did offer graduate programs in Russian literature, these programs followed the philological model established by romantic nationalists in nineteenth-century Central Europe. By the time that a future scholar of Russian literature finished his or her courses in Common Slavonic, Old Church Slavonic, West and South Slavic, and early East Slavic literature, there was little time left for Pushkin, Tolstoy, Tsvetaeva, or Mandelstam. These young American Russianists of the 1950s and 1960s were the first to participate in scholarly exchanges with the Soviet Union, and, like subsequent young Americans, they were likely to receive much of their training in Russian literature from official and unofficial Russian scholars, in Soviet classrooms and around dissidents' kitchen tables. This engagement with Russian critics has been a mixed blessing. On one hand it has involved American scholars more intimately in the Soviet literary process than is common for scholars, especially young ones, in other literary fields. There can be no doubt that much of our work has gained immeasurably from the extraordinary generosity of our hosts. But the "Eastern-directedness" of American Russian studies has, as both Gary Saul Morson and Peter Steiner have noted, insulated us from—or perhaps inoculated us against—American literary debates.4

The launching of Sputnik I in October 1957 had an immediate impact upon American Russian studies. It may be true that political revolutions do not immediately produce literary change, as Pushkin noted, and neither do scientific and technical revolutions. But American awareness that Russian space technology had "overtaken and outdistanced" American efforts made Russian a "critical language." Massive government and private support made it possible for the Russian language to be widely taught in American colleges and universities by the mid-1960s, greatly increasing the number of students, graduate students, teachers, and faculties of Russian. Meanwhile, the immense popularity of Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago and Nabokov's Lolita, both American best-sellers in 1958, and the no less striking impact of Solzhenitsyn's novels and Bulgakov's Master and Margarita a few years later built upon the prestige already enjoyed by the great nineteenth-century writers. The trials of Joseph Brodsky, Andrei Siniavsky, and Iurii Daniil stimulated interest in Russian literature, as did well-publicized tours by young Russian poets, such as Evgenii Evtushenko and Andrei Voznesensky. Students fascinated with this new literature could now study it in the Russian language. Three new subfields entered the American university curriculum of Russian literature, somewhat displacing older philological topics: émigré literature, recent Soviet literature, and unofficial (or samizdat) writing. There were, and still are, many elements of "chance" involved in Slavic studies for the would-be students of Russian literature: funding for fellowships fluctuated, there were not always enough teaching positions for new PhDs, some programs shrank as others grew. But "chance" began to operate within the more narrow asymptotes of a humanities discipline by the early 1970s.

At the same time, the study and teaching of Russian literature have spilled across departmental and program boundaries in many of our colleges and universities, illuminated by the aspirations of academic enterprises that have arisen in the postwar period. Slavic departments, incorporating the national strivings of the Slavic peoples, the traditions of romantic philology, and such twentieth-century critical theories as formalism, semiotics, and Bakhtinian discourse analysis, represent but one academic homeland of Russian literature, albeit the principal one. The "great books" programs of the 1950s, such as Stanford's graduate program in the Humanities, place the Russian prose classics in the context of canonical Western literature, as it is variously constituted. Programs in comparative literature confront Russian texts and theories with those of other literary traditions, although Paul de Man's Gallicism, his "ignoring" Russian, is all too often realized in comparative literature programs in the normal English meaning of the verb "to ignore"—i.e., "to disregard willfully."5 Area studies programs, most of them established at the height of the Cold War, offer at their best still a fourth disciplinary perspective, that of history and the social sciences, as they draw upon Russian literature as historical evidence, political manifestation, and social phenomenon. Although they served as conduits for federal funding that was to help us know our enemy, the "Evil Empire," these programs served not infrequently as cover for studying the cosmopolitan Pushkin, the pacifist Tolstoy, the cosmic ironist Gogol, and other unruly aesthetic phenomena. Most recently Russian literature has appeared in the course offerings of our new programs in women's studies, although the process is only beginning.

This plethora of academic possibilities has come to offer students, graduate and undergraduate, the opportunity not just to do interdisciplinary work, but to explore the humanities through a variety of approaches that had been developed at different times and in terms of different conceptions of humanistic study. If the humanities developed in some sort of linear fashion, instead of revisiting problems and approaches, such a range of programs would be an extravagance. Instead, it is a source of vitality and renewal.

Turning from the past to the present state of Russian studies, particularly the study of Russian literature, it is difficult to imagine how future scholars will be able to operate with anything less than a similarly full array of historical, comparative, theoretical, and disciplinary perspectives. This is true, I would imagine, for literary scholars in any national literature, but particularly in Russian studies, where, both in Russia and in American universities, such fields as social history have but recently begun to develop and where sociology and cultural anthropology are still in their infancy; in American universities such indispensable subfields as Russian philosophy, art, music, and film are rarely taught by full-time faculty members in these disciplines. Scholars of Russian literature, no less than scholars of other literatures, are responsible for far more than fiction, poetry, and drama. A narrow specialization is, consequently, a handicap in one's teaching and research and a disservice to one's university.

Not only are scholars of Russian literature asked to illuminate their subject from a variety of perspectives, but the object of their study, Russian literature within the unfolding history of Russian culture, is now projected onto rapidly changing backgrounds. The past nine years of the perestroika and post-perestroika period have brought extraordinary change and have begun to invite Russian scholars to rethink their conceptualizations of Russian culture. At the risk of oversimplification, we might say that Russian culture has presented itself to American scholars and been presented by them as highly centripetal, whether this "center" consists in the agency of a heroic author, the seriousness of the reading public, the malevolence of the censor, the power of the canon, the importance of the questions this literature raises, or the appropriation of literature by a central government or ideology. It is indicative of the power of the centripetal mentality that deconstructive critical methods have been largely unthinkable, not only to Russian critics but to Russian specialists in the American academy. As Caryl Emerson puts it in summarizing the scholarship on Pushkin's Eugene Onegin:

    there is no deconstructionist impulse, no suspicion or subversion of the author's intent or of the capacity of words to mean. Formalist critics did question the autonomy of the author, to be sure, but even the most doctrinaire of them generally conceded that properly chosen devices would have their calculated verbal effect, however temporary. Russian literary critics tend not only to be solicitous of the author, however; they are enormously protective of the canon as well.6

The outlines of this centripetal orientation are generally familiar, and I have already rehearsed some of them in introducing Radishchev: an autocratic or totalitarian government confronts the great writer who, in the words of one of Solzhenitsyn's fictional characters, constitutes a "second government," one lacking repressive state apparatuses, to be sure, but armed with moral force and "truth." The writer-witness—one recalls that "martyr" in Greek means witness—is persecuted by Tsarist or Soviet authorities, but the work lives on, and the writer enters the calendar of writer-saints celebrated by chroniclers as disparate as Pushkin, Herzen, and Roman Jakobson: Pushkin in his 1822 notes on Russian history, Herzen in his 1851 book on the development of revolutionary ideas in Russia, and Jakobson in his famous article, "On a Generation that Squandered its Poets," first published in 1931. The writer works in harmony with a reading public of which the critic Belinsky began to dream in 1840: a public for whom literature would be "not relaxation from life's cares, not a sweet slumber in a soft armchair after a rich dinner...but a res publica, great and important, a source of lofty moral enjoyment." Such a public, he continued, would be "a single living personality, historically developed, with a certain direction, taste, and view of things."7 Such a public would, in fact, come to be during the ensuing century and a half, if largely in the dreams of the pre- and post-revolutionary intelligentsia and in the policies of the Soviet government. In this century its unity was reinforced by the government's centralized control of publication, dissemination, libraries, and education and by the dissident intelligentsia's opposition to that government. Pioneering sociologists of literature, both pre- and post-revolutionary, would slant their surveys to demonstrate the moral seriousness of the reading public, its demands for a literature purveying moral profundity and lessons for living.8 As late as the 1970s and 1980s literary sociologists would tiptoe gingerly around such problems as a decline in the reading of canonical literature, book shortages, and the public's growing attraction to such suspicious genres as detective fiction and adventure stories. The Russian reading public remained, in General Secretary Brezhnev's words, the "samyi chitaiushchii narod," a phrase that defies smooth English translation—the "most active reading public," perhaps; the Russian reader, unlike his or her Western equivalents, did not turn to "escapist" dross. 9 The view of literature that accompanied this elevation of writer and public centered on great issues and central problems. For its canon, as Jeffrey Brooks has suggested, the great narratives and lyric poems of the nineteenth century were selected, in opposition both to a rising flood of popular fiction and to an elitist culture of high modernism.10 The criticism which mediated between work and public also concentrated on current events and "burning questions," helping to constitute literary life as, in Habermas's terms, a "literary public sphere" in the midst of an autocratic state. As such, literature offered literary critics (broadly defined) an arena where all issues could be discussed, and where small victories could be won over the often understaffed and overworked imperial censorship for the benefit of a minuscule reading public. Even the censors contributed to the centripetal nature of classical Russian literature, as their very presence strongly encouraged readers to translate the literary text into a veiled commentary on socio-political issues. George Steiner's grandiloquent characterization of Russian literature is symptomatic of this effect: "all of Russian literature...is essentially political" because "it is produced and published, so far as it can be, in the teeth of ubiquitous censorship."11 In light of this tendency to read politics or sociology between the lines, one can but partially agree with Michael Holquist's intriguing suggestion that censorship creates sophisticated audiences.12 The Russian or Soviet reader may have learned to read for supplementary or alternative meanings, but they were all too often rather predictable. The "surplus of the signifier," to resurrect a phrase from the 1970s, became negligible in the presence of such narrowly socio-political decoding.

Soviet literature from the 1930s on seemed equally centripetal, and Western scholars directed their research and the university curriculum toward the study of this monolithic official literature, which was supported by the state's centralized educational apparatus, controlled publishing industry, well-funded Writers' Union, and well-staffed censorship board (Glavlit).13 Western scholars participated in this focus on literature by carefully monitored "thaws," defended dissident writers from abroad, and celebrated their feats. As in the days of Catherine the Great or Nicholas I, rulers took a direct interest in the development of Russian literature. So did the dissident intelligentsia and educated Soviet citizens in general. The centrality of literature was reinforced by its scarcity: during the 1980s, for instance, the number of titles produced for the "most active reading public" was roughly half that produced in the United States, one third that of Germany and Great Britain.14 Under the administrative-command literary economy, press runs were often inversely proportional to reader interests. The extraordinary "book hunger" that resulted from this shortage of books and from the concomitant prestige of literature led to what Valeriia Stel'makh, one of Russia's leading sociologists, has called "an abnormal deformed status-symbolic mechanism of social differentiation. Once a person possessed a certain book that was difficult to get, he was identified with a certain prestigious group...and it was absolutely unimportant whether he actually read the book or not."15 In her analysis, literature functions as "cultural capital," although in a more physical, fetishized sense, perhaps, than John Guillory had in mind in developing Bourdieu's use of the term.16 It is noteworthy that even a sociologist such as Stel'makh, who looks forward to the disappearance of the Soviet literary monopoly and of the literature-centered culture of post-medieval Russia, imagines the future at least partly in terms of the past:

    At present the normal development of different social spheres—economy, history, law and information systems free from the censorship and state dictatorship gradually shift literature to the periphery of social life. It is possible that literature will rid itself of its "substitutive" functions and occupy its rightful position in cultural life. Reading then will lose its superficial symbolic prestige, but will acquire real social significance. It will start working for economic and social progress, becoming an impetus for the country's development and a condition for professional success. It will become economically profitable and will be provided by guaranteed state support.17

Here still figure the traditional notions of state participation in the literary process, of a role for literature in a Whig narrative of social progress, and the idea that there can be a defined "rightful position" of literature. In these resides a certain "disciplining literature," and not in the academic sense of the word "discipline."

The present reversal of forces in this variously centripetal institutionalization of literature at times defies belief for those who matured during the "epoch of stagnation"; it has been a process that accelerates with every year in the post-perestroika period. We could survey the instances of institutional fragility—the failure of state-subsidized publishing houses, the splintering and near bankruptcy of the Writers' Union, paralysis in the educational system, continuing shortages of the canonical works that figure in the school curriculum, the impoverishment of literary people who cannot find a way to earn money abroad or to take some part in private enterprise. However, there is a way of depicting more concisely the changes in Russian literary life, namely, by cataloguing the wealth of reading material on the tables outside a Moscow metro station or spread out on the floors inside it: native and translated detective fiction, first and foremost, and books on business management; multivolume editions of modernist poets of the early twentieth century, such as Mandelstam; classical philosophers, such as Vladimir Solov'ev; spiritual writing from the same period, Mme Blavatsky, for instance; memoirs from the Stalinist period; pornography of breathtaking vulgarity; fiction by Nabokov and Solzhenitsyn, although overproduction has made them something of a drug on the market; dictionaries and grammars of English and German; historical romances; expensive art books for foreigners; if there is any Pushkin, Russia's national poet, it is his juvenile, if not puerile, erotic poem, "The Shade of Barkov," recently published for the first time; none of the classical nineteenth-century Russian authors, no translated literature from Cuba or the fraternal socialist countries, no Lenin, no speeches of Brezhnev, once published in millions of copies.18 The logic of this flea-market activity is, of course, the return of the repressed. Gogol once commented that "More events take place in Russia in ten years than occur in other states in half a century."19 Here, on the booksellers' tables and cloths, we can see a similarly striking set of literary events as the Russian reader encounters nearly two centuries of suppressed culture—émigré, underground, pre-revolutionary, Soviet. For anyone who can afford them, modernism, post-modernism, and mass culture swirl together with spiritual and practical guides, a heady mixture that only members of the cultural elite with Western friends could encounter before the advent of perestroika.

As heretofore dominant images in Russian culture fly apart centrifugally, research agenda spring to mind, the "projects for the future" of my title. All six projects that I will suggest can involve the multidisciplinary, comparative, and theoretical illuminations that a modern university has to offer. Some of them will sound very familiar to scholars of other literatures, but I will try to avoid a "me too" mentality; because our colleagues in other literary disciplines are doing something is sufficient reason to be aware of it, not to pursue it. If, for instance, some of Foucault's methodological suggestions for rethinking the genealogy of discourses seem pertinent here (reversal, discontinuity, specificity, exteriority), it is because the stories we have been telling have often been relentlessly linear, literary history too transparently the creation of individual geniuses, be they writers or critics, censors or tsars.20 Alternative stories will foreground different and neglected events, outcomes, agents. I must also add that in each case, the ground has begun to be broken, sometimes in American university research, sometimes in the former Soviet Union, sometimes before the fall of the Soviet Union or even before the coming of perestroika. I will neglect to mention projects that American Russianists are doing well already—producing indispensable editions of Russian modernist literature, for instance, or producing rigorous readings of classical works or theories—but by no means do I mean to imply that the possibilities for such work have been exhausted. We still do not have, for instance, a comprehensive, illuminating study of Pushkin's lyrics, while our colleagues in other national literatures have filled entire shelves with books on the corresponding monuments of their chosen cultures.

The first such project for the future would involve a series of detailed studies of the social construction of literary roles and discourses in Russian culture: it would study the centripetal model with particular attention to the roles of "author," "critic," "censor," and "reader." It would attempt to define the functions and aims of literature as these have been variously articulated during the post-medieval period, and in this regard it would find that institutionalization has produced strange bedfellows. As disparate as the fundamental cultural and political orientation of Lenin and Solzhenitsyn might be, such a project would discover a series of remarkable similarities between Solzhenitsyn's Nobel Prize acceptance speech (1972) and Lenin's famous essay on "Party Organization and Party Literature" (1905): contempt for entertainment literature, the use of "crisis" to legitimate controls on literature, distrust of individual experience, notions of the writer's social responsibility, rejection of any aesthetic of autonomous art. Such research would look for alternative models of literary life, not only from disruptive writers, such as Abram Tertz, who has had the temerity to remove Pushkin's martyr's crown, but has won the right to do so by being a martyr himself; it would also look to such writers as Edward Limonov, who celebrates the individual, private experience that the centripetal model has so often distrusted and unashamedly celebrates his participation in literary commerce. Valuable preliminary work on such subjects has been done by several American scholars, such as Donald Fanger, Svetlana Boym, Gregory Freidin, Paul Debreczeny, David Kropf, and Kathryn Henry. 21 Studies of literary festivals, memorials, and museums—the mechanisms of canonizing the classical writers in pre- and post-revolutionary Russia—have begun to help us understand Russian literature as an institution.22 Other studies could address individual moments in the establishment of the centripetal vision; Irina Reyfman's book on Trediakovsky as the comic foil in myths of the creation of secular Russian literature is an imaginative and rigorously researched example of such work.23 Last, but not least, in this cluster of institutional studies would be a critical history of the Slavic field in this country.24

A second general project for the future would address the literature that the centripetal narrative has excluded, namely: popular literature, whether the proto-rapsters of the middle ages, the Skomorokhi; the chapbooks that constituted the bulk of Russian literature from the seventeenth century to 1917, when Lenin's new government closed down this trade; the penny dreadfuls and penny newspapers that became popular in the decades before the revolution; or the entertainment literature of the 1920s and 1990s. All of these eruptions have called forth highly negative reactions, if not outright persecution—sometimes from the church, sometimes from the state, and sometimes from the intelligentsia, whose centripetal vision of Russian literature these popular products seemed to threaten. Sometimes the state tried to coopt these popular forces, as a recent exhibition of totalitarian mass culture at the State Russian Museum in Petersburg ("Agitation for Happiness") chillingly documented. Yet it is such eruptions, Bakhtin has argued, that provide the non-teleological dynamism of the literary process; it is from Bakhtin, by the way, that I have borrowed the terms "centripetal" and "centrifugal." His sense of the primeval power and variety of speech, captured in his term "heteroglossia," is strangely prefigured in a comment by the Emperor Alexander II about the "dangers which are the result of the ungovernability and excesses of the printed word."25 Jeffrey Brooks's splendid book, When Russia Learned to Read: Literacy and Popular Culture, 1861-1917 (1985) has to a large extent set an agenda here; his content analysis of the literature of banditry, national identity, science, and success outlines a mentality that was only beginning to gather strength as the Revolution of 1917 interrupted its development. We see in this analysis the possibility of projects which will contrast the attitudes of the newly literate public with those refracted in the literary canon, which was constituted in opposition to them; which will pursue such themes into the popular culture of the 1920s and 1990s; and which will extend the discourse analyses to new areas and new genres, such as television soap operas. Anyone familiar with contemporary Russian popular culture will be aware that the most captivating of these seems to be not our American "Santa Barbara," but a Mexican soap opera, "Simply Maria," and, more recently, Brazilian ones.26 Walter Benjamin's famous essay on the work of art in the age of mechanical reproducibility suggests, in connection with such literature, that we consider the possibility that while deprived of the "aura" of traditional high culture, this incipient popular culture may play a critical function in helping Russians come to grips with their new world.27 The provenance of these soaps suggests, in turn, a new comparative agenda: not only the traditional comparisons of Russian and Western European literatures, but now Russia and the United States, Russia and other countries undergoing cultural modernization.28

The third project for the future turns toward an area, that of private life and attendant topics involving sexuality and gender, which is almost terra incognita in Russian studies. The terms "privacy" and "private life" defy adequate translation into Russian, as Svetlana Boym has noted, and topics which have obsessed scholars in other literary fields have barely begun to dent the Russian studies curriculum or research agenda.29 Until Laura Engelstein's book on sex and the search for modernity appeared in 1992 and until Costlow, Sandler, and Vowles published a collection of articles on sexuality and the body in Russian culture in 1993, women's studies in our field had hardly surpassed Kate Millett's Sexual Politics (1969) in critical sophistication. 30 Just recently, as I was beginning to prepare this paper, an indispensable bibliography of Russian women's writing appeared, as well as a comprehensive history of it and an insightful study of two important writers of the Stalin period, Lidiia Chukovskaia and Nadezhda Mandelstam. 31 As literature's traditional role in constituting a public sphere in Russia yields much of its hegemony to television and the newspapers, and as elective politics assume a greater burden of the country's political energies, it is likely that literature will focus more and more upon such domestic and intimate problems, which are already the topics of philosophical and sociological discussion.32 Increasingly active centrifugal forces will advance such themes, sometimes as pornography and sometimes as provocation. The weakening of repressive state apparatuses in Russian life (the police, the censorship) will inevitably call increasing attention to forces which secure the replication of patterns of social domination, including those of gender. The traditionally critical role of literature in Russian culture is finding a large arena in the private sphere.

A fourth project might develop one of the themes from Brooks's study of popular culture, namely science and technology. Literary scholars will not have to write histories of Russian science; historians have already given us a number of specific and general studies.33 But literary scholars can study in a serious way the relationships of literature and science during the past two centuries.34 In the nineteenth century most novels were published alongside scientific articles in the Russian journals. How did these discourses differ, how did they interact? How, in the Soviet period, did literary discourse address such problems as ecological disaster? How has imaginative literature helped produce the Russian sense of nature as, in large part, something to be tamed, a hostile, threatening, or indifferent force?35

A fifth project would involve cutting across the grain of a tendency that John Guillory has outlined in Cultural Capital, namely that processes of canon revision involve a shift in the syllabus from older works to modern ones.36 The changes in Russian culture that we witness every day will, no doubt, bring a new set of works to the fore, many of them modern. Yet there remain important questions to be asked of earlier periods of Russian literature, questions involving alternative forms of national identity, of literature's function, and of the possibility of subcultures. Boris Eikhenbaum once reminded us of a familiar problem in historiography in saying that history is a science of complex analogies between the past and the present.37 Drawing such complex analogies will call for a reexamination of literary processes in earlier periods. As we do so, we will discover entire critical traditions that have been neglected by both Soviet and Western scholarship: not so much conservative writers and thinkers (however we may define "conservative" in a Russian context), but ones in the middle, whose writing may have lacked the maximalist fire that carried the day in the nineteenth century and in most of the twentieth, but who constituted a sizable portion of the literary population, as readers, writers, and critics. Not coincidentally, many of these literary people will turn out to be women. In studying the literary world in 1879, the first year in which The Brothers Karamazov was serialized, I discovered that at least a third of the fiction reviewed that year was written by women; I say "at least a third" because many of their names were concealed behind grammatically masculine pseudonyms.38 This literature is utterly ignored in our literary histories, even in histories of women's writing, which see women's writing as primarily realized in autobiography and lyric poetry. I suggest that we study this fiction not because I am trying to impose American liberal pluralist politics on Russian culture, but because this fiction may show us that the centripetal version of Russian literary culture has obscured alternative thematics and ways of writing.

A final project would involve the role of the aesthetic in Russian culture. This is a phenomenon that I have not touched upon during the first parts of this article, in large part because the images of Russian literature crafted by the nineteenth-century intelligentsia and by the Soviet educational system seem to have neglected it. The aesthetic is by its very nature notoriously difficult to define, and I will not do so here, except in a minimal way, as the sense of playfulness, experiment, artifice, and unpredictability that calls for correspondingly creative ideational activity on the part of readers. The aesthetic has been, in the centripetal vision of Russian culture, a minimal presence, often scorned or ignored. It has, in recent Russian literature and criticism, made something of a comeback, not only in the work of such older subversives as Abram Tertz, but also, prominently, in some of the best contemporary writing. Several new journals, such as De Visu or Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie (New Literary Review), devote themselves unashamedly to imaginative literature. In an illuminating article on women's fiction, Helena Goscilo has demonstrated that the most striking examples of women's writing—by writers such as Tatiana Tolstoia or Ludmila Petrushevskaia—are those which have avoided direct political commentary and given free rein to unliterary obscenity, unstable focalization, multiple perspectives, and other subversions of literary tradition and the literary language.39 It is one of the ironies of an alternative literary history of Russia that the "aesthetic," dismissed as reactionary or irrelevant by Russia's critical intelligentsia, should bear the burden of fostering a critical, illuminating vision of Russian society and culture. We may be sure of one thing, however: as this disruptive set of practices becomes accepted, it will in turn be challenged or displaced by new eruptions.

We may be even more sure of another outcome: looking back at Radishchev, whose daring proposals for radical reform were steadily overtaken and made obsolete by historical events, we may surmise that my own projects for the future will be realized and surpassed in changed curricula and unfolding research projects. The speed with which this occurs will depend considerably upon the ability of our universities to support the flexibility and multiplicity of educational programs that I celebrated at the beginning of this paper.

William Mills Todd III



(1) An adequate English translation is, however, available: A. N. Radishchev, A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, trans. Leo Wiener, ed. Roderick Page Thaler (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1958). The best Russian edition, which includes a detailed history of the text's composition, is A. N. Radishchev, Puteshestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu. Volnost', ed. V. A. Zapadov (St. Petersburg: Nauka, 1992).

(2)  Alexander M. Schenker and Edward Stankiewicz, eds., The Slavic Literary Languages: Formation and Development (New Haven: Yale Russian and East European Publications, 1980).

(3)  M. N. Kufaev, Istoriia russkoi knigi v XIX veke (Leningrad: Nachatki znanii, 1927) 20.

(4)  Peter Steiner, "Slavic Literary Studies Yesterday and Tomorrow," in Profession 87 (1987): 9; Gary Saul Morson, "Introduction: Russian Cluster," PMLA 107.2 (March 1992): 226-31.

(5)  Paul de Man, "Dialogue and Dialogism," in his The Resistance to Theory (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986) 107.

(6)  Foreword, Russian Views of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, trans. Sona Stephan Hoisington (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1988) xiii.

(7)  V. G. Belinsky, "Russkaia literatura v 1840 godu," Sobranie sochinenii v deviati tomakh, 9 vols. (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1976-82) 3: 195-98.

(8)  See, in this regard, B. S. Meilakh's account of an 1899 survey of the peasantry on its knowledge of Pushkin's life and work, "Pushkin v vospriiatii i soznanii dorevoliutsionnogo krest'ianstva," in Pushkin: Issledovaniia i materialy, vol. 5, Pushkin i russkaia kul'tura (Leningrad: Nauka, 1967) 61-112. A similar solemnification of the peasant reader appears in the questionnaires and description of sampling procedures in A. M. Toporov, Krest'iane o pisateliakh: Opyt, metodika i obraztsy krest'ianskoi kritiki sovremennoi khudozhestvennoi literatury (Moscow-Leningrad, 1930).

(9)  For English translations of such studies, see William Mills Todd III, ed., Soviet Sociology of Literature: Conceptions of a Changing World, special issue of Soviet Studies in Literature 25.3 (Summer 1989): 21-82.

(10) Jeffrey Brooks, "Russian Nationalism and Russian Literature: The Canonization of the Classics," in Ivo Banac et al., eds., Nation and Ideology: Essays in Honor of Wayne S. Vucinich (Boulder: East European Monographs, 1981) 315-34.

(11)  George Steiner, "Under Eastern Eyes," The New Yorker (11 Oct. 1976): 159; quoted in Donald Fanger, "Gogol and His Reader," in William Mills Todd III, ed., Literature and Society in Imperial Russia: 800-1914 (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1978) 75.

(12)  Michael Holquist, "Introduction: Corrupt Originals: The Paradox of Censorship," PMLA 109.1 (Jan. 1994): 114.

(13) On these phenomena see John and Carol Garrard, Inside the Soviet Writer's Union (New York: Free, 1990); Martin Dewhirst and Robert Farrell, eds., The Soviet Censorship (Metuchen: Scarecrow, 1973); and Gregory Walker, Soviet Book Publishing Policy (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1978).

(14)  V. D. Stel'makh, "Moscow. Lenin State Library of the USSR. Sector of Sociology of Reading and Librarianship," unpublished paper, 1992.

(15) Stel'makh.

(16) John Guillory, Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1993) ix.

(17)  Stel'makh.

(18)  For a somewhat different listing of what is to be found in these popular book distribution points see Nancy Condee and Vladimir Padunov, "Perestroika Suicide: Not by Bred Alone," Stanford Slavic Studies 7 (1993): 104-9.

(19) N. V. Gogol, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 14 vols. (Moscow: Nauka, 1937-52) 8: 369.

(20)  Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language (New York: Harper Colophon, 1976) 229.

(21)  Donald Fanger, The Creation of Nikolai Gogol (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1979), and "Conflicting Imperatives in the Model of the Russian Writer: The Case of Tertz/Sinyavsky," in Gary Saul Morson, ed., Literature and History: Theoretical Problems and Russian Case Studies (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1986); Svetlana Boym, Death in Quotation Marks: Cultural Myth of the Modern Poet (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1991); Gregory Freidin, "Authorship and Citizenship: A Problem for Modern Russian Literature," Stanford Slavic Studies 1 (1987): 361-78; Gregory Freidin, "By the Walls of Church and State: Literature's Authority in Russia's Modern Tradition," Russian Review 52 (April 1993): 149-65; Paul Debreczeny, "'Zhitie Aleksandra Boldinskogo': Pushkin's Elevation to Sainthood in Soviet Culture," South Atlantic Quarterly 90.2 (Spring 1991): 269-92;  David Kropf, Authorship as Alchemy: Subversive Writing in Pushkin, Scott, and Hoffman (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1994); and Kathryn Henry, "Between Cultures: Third-Wave Russian Fiction in Russian and English," diss., Stanford University, 1990.

(22)  See, for example, Marcus C. Levitt, Russian Literary Politics and the Pushkin Celebration of 1880 (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1989); Steven Moeller-Sally, "Gogol Redux: Inventing a Classic in Late Imperial Russia," diss., Harvard University, 1992.

(23)  Irina Reyfman, Vasilii Trediakovsky: The Fool of the 'New' Russian Literature (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1990).

(24) A useful preliminary article toward such a volume is Horace Lunt, "On the History of Slavic Studies in the United States," Slavic Review 46.2 (Summer 1987): 294-301.

(25) Charles A. Ruud, Fighting Words: Imperial Censorship and the Russian Press, 1804-1906 (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1982) 186.

(26)  Alessandra Stanley, "Russians Find Their Heroes in Mexican TV Soap Operas," New York Times 20 March 1994.

(27) Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in The Age of Mechanical Reproduction,"Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken, 1969) 231.

(28)  Two recent articles show the potential of such comparative work: Nancy Ruttenburg, "Silence and Servitude: Bondage and Self-Invention in Russia and America, 1780-1861," Slavic Review 51.4 (Winter 1992): 731-48; and Dale E. Peterson, "Justifying the Margin: The Construction of 'Soul' in Russian and African-American Texts," Slavic Review 51.4 (Winter 1992): 749-57.

(29)  Svetlana Boym, Common Places: Mythologies of Everyday Life in Russia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1994) 73-88.

(30)  Laura Engelstein, The Keys to Happiness: Sex and the Search for Modernity in Fin-de-Siècle Russia (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992); Jane T. Costlow, Stephanie Sandler, and Judith Vowles, eds., Sexuality and the Body in Russian Culture (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1993).

(31)  Marina Ledkovsky, Charlotte Rosenthal, and Mary Zirin, eds., Dictionary of Russian Women Writers (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1994); Catriona Kelly, A History of Russian Women's Writing, 1820-1992 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994); Beth Holmgren, Women's Works in Stalin's Time: On Lidiia Chukovskaia and Nadezhda Mandelstam (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993). See also the important recent collection: Helena Goscilo and Beth Holmgren, eds., Russia—Women—Culture (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1996).

(32)  The traditional interaction between literature and politics, with each having a representational relationship to the other, lives on. For examples from the time of the 1991 coup, see Victoria E. Bonnell and Gregory Freidin, "Televorot: The Role of Television Coverage in Russia's August 1991 Coup," Slavic Review 52.4 (Winter 1993): 810-38.

(33)  Loren R. Graham, Science in Russia and the Soviet Union: A Short History (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993); Alexander Vucinich, Science in Russian Culture, 2 vols. (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1963, 1970); Kendall E. Bailes, Science and Russian Culture in an Age of Revolutions: V. I. Vernadsky and his Scientific School, 1863-1945 (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990).

(34)  For two valuable preliminary studies see Michael Holquist, "Bazarov and Sechenov: The Role of Scientific Metaphor in Fathers and Sons," Russian Literature 16.4 (1984): 359-74; Katerina Clark, "The Changing Image of Science and Technology in Soviet Literature," in Loren R. Graham, ed., Science and the Soviet Social Order (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1990) 259-98.

(35)  For a provocative examination of American and Russian attitudes see Rachel May, "Wilderness vs. Heartland: The Hunt for National Self-Definition," Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (forthcoming).

(36)  Guillory 15.

(37) Boris Eikhenbaum, Moi vremennik: Slovesnost', nauka, kritika, smes' (Leningrad: Izdatel'stvo pisatelei v Leningrade, 1929) 49.

(38) William Mills Todd III, "Contexts of Criticism: Reviewing The Brothers Karamazov in 1879," Stanford Slavic Studies 4.1 (1991): 297, 308n10.

(39) Helena Goscilo, "Domostroika or Perestroika? The Construction of Womanhood in Soviet Culture under Glasnost," in Thomas Lahusen with Gene Kuperman, eds., Late Soviet Culture: From Perestroika to Novostroika (Chapel Hill: Duke UP, 1993) 233-56. See also her earlier article, "Body Talk in Current Fiction: Speaking Parts and (W)holes," Stanford Slavic Studies 7 (1993): 145-77, and Andrei Zorin's article on the broadening of the literary language through obscenity, "Legalizatsiia obstsennoi leksiki i ee kul'turnye posledstviia," Stanford Slavic Studies 7 (1993): 123-44.

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