The (Late)Soviet Public Sphere: Imitation, Mastery, Art

Guest Editors: Timur Atnashev, Mikhail Velizhev

Imitation of the Public

Thе article “Thinking Like Communists: The Minutes of Rural Party Organizations in the Era of Developed Socialism” by Tatiana Voronina and Anna Sokolova examines the narrative structure of the minutes of party meetings of rural party organizations in Northwest Russia during the period of developed socialism. The meeting reproduced established discourse, teaching it to participants in the meeting, and at the same time, they were means of communications between the local society and the state.

Olga Rosenblum in the article “‘There Were No Discussions…’: Open Letters in the Late 1960s as a Realm of Public Reflection” examines the types of open letters written in the Soviet dissident circle. Special attention is given to the late-1960s rise of this form of opinion journalism, which functioned as public discussion on the reevaluation of the Stalinist past and opposition to current political repressions. An analysis of the evolution of implicit addressees and the resulting types of open letters allows the author to examine their characteristics and the methods of conducting public discussion that they provoked.

Modes of Public Discourse in (Late)Soviet Culture and Art

Anna Ganzha in the article “‘And We All Look a Bit Like Children’: Working the Public in the Soviet Circus” examines strategies of working the Soviet circus audience, an audience who expected the circus not to entertain, but to demonstrate social norms and ridicule deviations from them. Building on the concept of the “theatrical public sphere” (Christopher Balme), the author studies the formation process of the Soviet circus as a public institution, which had completed by the 1960s.

Margarita Pavlova’s “The Genealogy of the Public Sphere in Late-Soviet Society: The Klub-81 and the Gruppa Spasenia Pamiatnikov Arkhitektury as Examples of Independent Self-Organization in Leningrad” examines the genealogy of the public sphere’s development in the context of late Soviet Leningrad through the lens of the independent cultural movement. One of the most prominent Leningrad initiatives, Gruppa Spaseniia Pamiatnikov Arkhitektury, supported by the influential platform for independent activism Klub-81, managed to hold several high-profile actions for the preservation of city’s historic buildings provoking public debate on the issues of the monuments’ protection.

Marina Maximova in the article “Curation as a Means of Creating the Public Sphere: Exhibitions of Alternative Art in Late-Soviet Moscow” studies artistic life in Moscow in the second half of the 1970s, and considers the role of exhibitions of alternative art in the creation and development of the public sphere in Soviet Russia. This study aims to show that on the one hand, art exhibitions relied on government resources, and on the other hand, they changed and undermined the working principles of Soviet art organizations.

Literary Canons in the USSR

The Valery Vyugin’s article “Who Wrote Nikolai Shpanov’s Incendiaries? (General Observations on a Particular Case)” is dedicated to the history of the creation of one most popular work of mass literature in the USSR of its time: the “political” novel Incendiaries by Nikolai Shpanov (1949). The topic is discussed in the context of Shpanov’s earlier works and littleknown archival documents. Based on this particular case, the article explores the question of the nature of authorship in literature that was created under the conditions of Stalin’s totalitarian regime.

The article “‘The Most Unknown Classic’: The Mechanisms of the Would-Be Literary Canonization of George Grebenstchikoff from 1990s—2010s” by Alexander Gorbenko is dedicated to the history of the failed literary canonization of George Grebenstchikoff, a Siberian writer who emigrated in 1920. Different attempts to place Grebenstchikoff among classic Russian literature had a scattered and non-systematic character. In addition, Grebenstchikoff’s image, created under the disconnected conditions of different intellectual groups was inevitably stripped of the coherence of his symbolic status necessary for a “classic author.” 

Anastasia Sysoeva in the article “The Militarization of Writers in Leningrad in 1931 as a Means of Creating Soviet Defense Fiction” discusses the militarization courses conducted by the Leningrad- Baltic Division of the Literary Association of the Red Army and Navy in April and May of 1931. It considers how Soviet writers were gradually and intentionally pressured by the organization to add to Soviet literature with works on themes related to defense. 

Literary Institutions in Imperial Russia

Guest Editor: Alexey Vdovin

Andrei Kostin in the article “Russian Mid-18th Century Printed Poetry and Consumption: Preliminary Notes” claims that the standard literary and historical narrative describes the culture of Russian poetry in the mid-18th century as developing without conflict to outward appearances. The return of subjectivity to the reader and the view of the history of Russian poetry from the 1720s through the 1750s as a changing social structure allow this narrative to be refined. 

The article “The Genealogy of School Historicism: Literary Criticism, Historical Scholarship and Literary Curriculum in Russian Highschool of 1860—1900s” by Alexey Vdovin and Kirill Zubkov discusses the origins of the idea of the development of literature prevailing in the modern school. The authors of textbooks consider literature to be simultaneously transcending its time and subject to historical study. This idea was affirmed during the reform of the school program (1903–1904) as a result of the complex interaction between the institutions of literary criticism, the scholarly history of literature and the school. 

In the article “Literature in the Service of Empire, Empire in the Service of Literature: Towards an Interpretation of the Final Scene of Ivan Goncharov’s The Precipice” Alina Bodrova and Sergei Guskov examine the evolution of the artistic intent of The Precipice as a function of Ivan Goncharov’s “double identity” and his path in overcoming the conflict between his roles as a literary figure and a bureaucrat, which the writer was dealing with in the second half of the 1850s through the 1860s. 

Readings Around Dostoevsky 

The aim of the Igor Nemirovsky’s article “The New Man” — Alexander Pushkin: Towards a Genesis of Kirillov in Dostoevsky’s “Demons” is to show the Pushkin “roots” of one of the central images of Dostoevsky’s novel Demons, Kirillov. Moreover, it appears that the “Pushkin presence” can be felt in the most unexpected places in the novel and defines Dostoevsky’s concept of the “new man.”

The article “The Death and “Disgrace” of General Ivolgin in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Novel The Idiot” reveals the source of a quote from Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot: “Disgrace follows me!”, which is said by General Ivolgin in his last moments of life. Enclosed in quotation marks by the writer himself, this text is an open quotation. Konstantin Barsht offers an analysis of the allusions of this line from the character, and also proof for an explanation that according to which this phrase is a translation of a declaration by Phaedra in Jean Racine’s tragedy of the same name. 

Konstantin Vaginov Revisited 

Dmitrii Bresler in the article “Soviet ‘Emotionalists’: Readings of Vaginov from the 1960s—1980s” examines the history of the discovery of K.K. Vaginov by readers of the late Soviet era. Due to the poetic focus of Vaginov’s work on reality beyond the fictional realm, in the 1960s and 1980s, familiarity with it provoked, on the one hand, source and biographical studies and interviews with “prototypes” and on the other hand, the conceptualization of the cultural distance between literary generations and the development of literary strategies that involve interaction with archives and meta-artistic texts. 

The title of Vaginov’s first novel famously translates from the Greek as “tragedy.” This genre has a direct relationship to the of Goat Song. In the core of the novel we find hidden mechanics of sacrifice  or, in fact, of sacrificial profaning. The goal of this ritual is an exit from a poetic crisis, the rebirth of writing itself. Its protagonists are the protagonist and the author. Thus, Igor Gulin in the article “The Poet and his Author: the Tragedy of The Goat Song” states that Vaginov’s novel enters into a dialogue with the works of his friends Mikhail Bakhtin and Lev Pumpyansky. 

Poetological Studies 

Elena Zeifert in the article “The ‘Moscow/ Moscow Region Text’ of Dmitry Garichev” studies texts by Dmitry Garichev, distinguished by a number of common characteristics, among which are the markings of the lower-class outskirts of the city, including the striving toward the “outskirts of the outskirts”; harshness; the extreme honesty of the characteristics of the trauma of the society; the mix of sacral and historically significant places from downtown to the periphery. 

Aleksandr Zhitenev in the article “On One Film Ekphrasis in Victor Krivulin” states that Viktor Krivulin’s poem “Approximation of the Face” (1975) is an example of film ephraksis in which the keys to the meaning of Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Mirror are literary and philosophical texts. Krivulin challenges Tarkovsky’s philosophical construct, considering the illusion of faith in the absence of insurmountable distances between eras and cultures and the possibility of finding identity in dialogue with them.