On Not Talking about Gender in Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature



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



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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