All the Russias' Blog

A space for news and opinion, sponsored by The Jordan Center

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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