On Not Talking about Gender in Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature

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As a graduate student in Russian literature, I wrote a dissertation and eventually a book about the body and the grotesque in nineteenth-century realism. As I look back, I can’t help but think that mine was a book that desperately sought to be about gender and sexuality. And it would have been about those things, if I were comfortable writing about gender or had the training then to do so. But the field of nineteenth-century Russian literary studies has tended to be more conservative about theory. I read Judith Butler and Foucault in grad school, but felt too intimidated to work with them, let alone Jack Halberstam and others. Instead, since I knew Bakhtin (nashi), I relied on his theory of the grotesque to talk about the body and not talk about sexuality. I talked about protruding bodies seeking to connect with the world, being integrated into other bodies — all the while dancing around and keeping at bay the menacing, actual penetration…of intercourse.

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The Yogis of the Arbat

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In August 1918, Andrei Bely wrote a short story called “The Yogi.” I recall this fact when, one early morning exactly one hundred years later, I find myself outside a business center on Moscow’s famous Arbat Street contemplating how to get in.

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Entirely Different: When Feminist, LGBTQIA+, Inclusive, and Environmental Activism Meets Science Fiction

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In spite of its rich history, emerging from nineteenth-century utopian narratives, Russian-language science fiction has long resisted discussion of women’s issues and non-normative expressions of gender and sexuality. It was not until 2018 that a full-fledged collection of feminist and queer-themed science fiction appeared in Russian. Titled “Entirely Different,” the book includes short stories, Wikipedia- and encyclopedia-style entries, fictionalized interviews, and illustrations by feminist, LGBTQIA+, inclusive, and environmental activists from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and the United States.

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Re-Imagining Women at War: Kantemir Balagov’s “Beanpole” (2019)

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Inspired by Svetlana Alexievich’s “The Unwomanly Face of War” (1985), an oral history of women who served in the Red Army during the Great Patriotic War, Kantemir Balagov’s arresting 2019 film, “Beanpole [Dylda]”, challenges the patriarchal images of womanhood and motherhood as peddled by the Soviet regime and, today, by Vladimir Putin’s politics of neo-traditionalism. 

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How to Make Precarious Russia Habitable – or, What Russians Want in Putin’s Fourth Term

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An enduring irony of life in small-town Russia, according to Morris, is that the structural causes of its fragility and decline – dependent on a single-Soviet-era company – are also the cause for its resilience. Morris referred to this phenomenon as “compressed social geography,” which emerges from the overwhelmingly blue-collar nature of this town that sustains solidarities, networks and moral values inherited from the socialist period.

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War and Pestilence: The Epidemiological Motif in L. N. Tolstoy’s Historical Epic

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In the motivic structure of “War and Peace,” the “mythical” French “grippe” of Anna Petrovna Scherer occupies a unique position. It is a simultaneously socio-linguistic, satirical, historical, moral, and providential detail that, beneath the mask of fashionable high-society argot, foreshadows a glorious and terrible epoch, in which Tolstoy’s heroes must live, perish, act, endure, and overcome.

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Announcing: Working Group on 19th-century Russian Culture and Literature

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Dostoevsky + 11 time zones: it’s why Russian studies is never going away. Or at least that’s what I was taught in graduate school—and indeed the brilliant cultural production of the nineteenth century has long drawn students and scholars to the Russia field. But as the literature of this period grows more distant from our own moment (is the nineteenth century the new eighteenth century?), we encounter both framing challenges and intellectual opportunities. What does nineteenth-century culture mean for us today?

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Why We Should be Paying Attention to Russian Economic Statecraft

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The rise of corruption and kleptocracy associated with right-wing populism only gives Moscow further opportunities to use economic levers to pursue foreign policy goals. As new tools of financial globalization make it easier for states, firms, and powerful individuals to obfuscate the scope of their activities, Russia has begun to reap the rewards of its investments in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and beyond.

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All the “Pravda” about International Women’s Day

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Examining March-8th dispatches in Pravda between 1920 and 1991 reveals a gradual shift in the official feminine ideal: at first, women were glorified as fellow workers and builders of socialism; in time, however, Pravda began promoting first female patriots and peace advocates, then figures representing motherly love and care.

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Gesamtkunstwerk Putin?

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In today’s Russia, can we really speak of a new official art, constructed on the model of “Gesamtkunstwerk Stalin [Total Art of Stalinism],” whose legacy was still influential at the end of the Soviet period? This is the question at issue in “Phantasie an der Macht. Literarische und politische Autorschaft im heutigen Russland [Fantasy in Power. Literary and Political Authorship in Contemporary Russia],” forthcoming in 2020 with Matthes & Seitz.

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Soft Power Within – State Socialism and the Modern Everyday

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The consumerism of modern everyday life as it developed in post-1956 communist Hungary is not merely the story of the Kádárian “carrot” gradually replacing Mátyás Rákosi’s “stick.” It is also the story of an emerging vision of the “good life,” shared and pursued by rulers and ruled alike. This was the soft power within — an embarrassing fact for Viktor Orbán and his court historians, who are trying to reduce the history of communist rule to a tale of oppression and resistance.

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Why the US Should Normalize Relations with Syria

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US challenges in the Middle East are complex and years in the making. They will require equally complex and protracted solutions, for which success is by no means assured. But allowing Russia to continue to take advantage of a rapprochement with Syria would be a mistake from the perspective of US foreign policy. 

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