Silver Age poet Osip Emilyevich Mandelstam poses questions about the origins of art and the role of the poet in his cycle of eight-line lyric poems, Восьмистищия (Octaves). Invoking figures and landscapes both mythic and historical, Mandelstam keeps returning to the same fundamental questions: which came first, the poet or his art? Can a poet exist before a tradition of poesis? Can a poem exist without having been inscribed by someone upon something? This paper explores Mandelstam's treatment of these questions in three of the cycle's poems, with special attention to the recurring image of the cupola standing in relief against the vault of the heavens. In these three poems, Mandelstam begins by proposing an origin of poetry born from the image of masculine, phallic, and godly figure of the firmament impregnating the sensuous, earthly, and feminine figure of nature—and the subsequent birth of the poet, one of their offspring. He later rejects this vision for another mythic chronotope, as he tries to imagine a time before the written word, but he concludes that this period of time is already inscribed within poetry. Finally, he develops an eternal poetic chronotope, establishing the poet as a member of a tradition of artists and thinkers who are servants to their own work while trusting in their audience. For Mandelstam, the poet is metaphysically subservient both to his predecessors and to the products of his own endeavors, i.e., his own poems.
Tomes have been scrawled on the subject, but there remains no consensus on what constitutes "authentic" Russian identity. Ievgenii Ievtushenko confronts this ambiguity by pitting one pillar of Russian culture, the vast physical land, against the anti-Semitism that permeates both popular culture and official policy. His 1961 poem, Babii Iar, presents a paradox in which the state's failure to condemn or prevent the mass murder of European Jews is mourned by the anthropomorphized land. This representation calls into question the tradition of Russian literature to respect the physical land and anti-Semitism as separate and venerated national institutions.
Ievtushenko published Babii Iar during Khrushchev's Thaw, when a relaxation of censorship allowed artists to challenge standardized cultural tropes. His use of familiar nationalistic imagery evoking the physical environment is interwoven with rich historical and Biblical references to the suffering of the Jewish people. Why, the narrator asks, must this continue in the name of Russian identity? During an era of open questioning and reflection on the legacy of the Soviet Union, Ievtushenko's work presents a specific criticism of the failure of the Russian literary canon, the government, and the people to rectify the injustices of Russian anti-Semitism. Babii Iar liberates the Jews from the dark, cramped shtetl to which they were confined both in literature and reality by deconstructing the notion that "authentic" Russian identity is inseparable from anti-Semitism and ethnic discrimination.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was no longer the superpower the world once feared. Once the dominant head of a communist sphere composed of fifteen countries, it now faced economic instability, impending ethnic unrest, and mass emigration, all of which served to hamper the country's development as a free, democratic nation. Though Russia eventually learned to adapt to a new economic system, fallout from the post-communist transition was to dictate Russia’s political and business landscape for the next two decades. Several side effects of the transition to capitalism were the rise of the protection industry, widespread corruption in law enforcement organs, and mass center-periphery divergence. Though it was able to once control an entire network of subordinate satellite states, Russia found itself, upon transition, unable to control even its own borders, as well as unable to enforce law and order. In response to years of political sabotage by Russia's various regions, President Vladimir Putin made it a priority during his administration to implement reforms centered on the consolidation of power within the country’s administrative units. At the same time, however, the government began implementing a widespread transformation of energy firms, turning them into a state-controlled operation. While Russia has seen positive changes since the fall of communism, the business and legal environments have suffered at the hands of undemocratic policies and unsavory practices, often to the detriment of possible increased foreign investment. Government policy has therefore served to obstruct the creation of a fully transparent business environment and stable legal framework, and continues to do so today. The immense tension surrounding BP operations within Russia has further highlighted the institutional weaknesses that limit Russia's potential to build a more democratic society.
Christianity spent nearly a millennium as one of the most defining features of Russia and its culture. This spirituality transcended the bounds of simply being a religion: it permeated philosophy, high and low arts, and the overall atmosphere of the nation. This was impacted by the atheistic policies of the Soviet Union. This paper explores the effects of state-instituted atheism on the perception of spirituality. This is done through the analysis of two novels and one poetic cycle, each of which focuses on a different era in Soviet history.
In response to institutional anti-Semitism and rampant discrimination, an increasing number of Jewish Soviet citizens sought to emigrate out of the Soviet Union (USSR) during the 1970s and 1980s. With many obstacles in place, however, many would-be emigrants did not manage to obtain the necessary exit visas. Among these obstacles was the so-called "diploma tax," which aimed to force hopeful, highly educated Jewish emigrants pay back the money that the Soviet government spent on their higher education. In addition to the monetary hardships, any Jewish citizen who applied for an exit visa was to be stripped of their Soviet citizenship and labeled an "enemy of the people." Despite these obstacles, many Soviet Jews continued to apply for exit visas, in the search for a better life outside the USSR. Although the number of Jews who applied for exit visas during these two decades remained consistent, the number allowed to emigrate by the Soviet government fluctuated. This discrepancy was influenced by the trajectory of U.S.-Soviet relations concerning trade, arms control, and human rights. In addition to pressuring the Soviet government to make concessions with concern to Jewish emigration, the U.S. became a popular destination for Jewish emigrants. In order to obtain firsthand accounts of this emigration process, we conducted video interviews in Russian with Russian Jewish émigrés living in Los Angeles. Although the interviewees varied in age and background, all of their accounts suggest that leaving the USSR at that time was the best available option for Jews seeking a more promising life without discrimination. In this paper, we will analyze the social conditions in the post-Stalinist USSR that prompted thousands of Jewish citizens to desire a new life in the West, while also focusing on how they managed to emigrate.
In this paper I will explore the ideas presented in Mikhael Bakhtin’s Discourse in the Novel and Mikhael Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita to argue that while Bakhtin was a theorist and Bulgakov a novelist, both authors found the Soviet application of Marxism problematic and expressed this dissatisfaction through their writing. At a time when the regime supported socialist realism as the ideal form of artistic expression, one that portrayed socialist society in a clearly positive and optimistic manner, the works of these authors are considerably more complex. In Discourse in the Novel Bakhtin outlines his distaste for the monologic discourse, the importance of heteroglossia, and the integral processing involved between the speaker and the listener. I will argue that while Bakhtin’s Discourse in the Novel does have pro-socialist elements, such as his theory of heteroglossia, these also by definition function against the presence of a rigid regime and that an authoritarian government in general is counter to Bakhtin’s idea of an active interaction between the speaker and the listener. I will further illustrate that in his novel The Master and Margarita Bulgakov applies these same concepts, utilizing parody and satire to argue against the monologic and poke fun at socialist realism.
This essay explores the sexual politics of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, with a special focus on the female heroine Margarita. Despite her dynamic nature, suffering and display of bravery that supersedes many of the male character’s in the novel, she is denied the agency that she deserves based on her gender. Her main weapon that she uses to combat this unfair situation is her sexuality, which brings her not only to her Master, whose novel she adopts as a child and towards whom she acts in a motherly manner, but also to Woland. I argue that Margarita was a witch before she met the supernatural characters from Woland’s troupe and before she symbolically bathed herself in the ointment given to them. Because of her sexuality and internalized child-like behavior, she is an attractive character and hence she is both feared by and attractive to men. While it is never explicitly mentioned in the novel that she has sexual intercourse with Woland in order to save her beloved master, I argue that the textual evidence points towards this act, as she in some ways replaces Woland’s previous helper, Hella. This situates her in a position of a "holy whore" character, a kind of Dostoevskian prostitute. By being seen as this, Margarita provides a much needed female character similar to that of Mary of Magdala for the biblical Yeshua chapters of the book, which are missing a female element.
Virginia Woolf’s 1929 essay A Room of One’s Own emphasizes the necessity of private space in establishing a female writer, although spatial restraints made a physical "room of one’s own" impossible for female writers of the Soviet era. Galina Rylkova’s book The Archaeology of Anxiety: The Russian Silver Age and Its Legacy frames Silver Age poet Anna Akhmatova’s autobiographical information within Woolf’s thesis of private space as a necessity for female intellectual development. Ryklova notes that themes of asceticism, voyeurism, and collective versus individual conscience within Akhmatova’s life and works are the result of Akhmatova’s manipulation of physical private space into an intellectual construct. I will expand beyond autobiographical information and the information presented in Akhmatova’s memoirs to analyze her later poems within the framework of space and feminine identity. Most criticisms on Akhmatova concern only her major poems such as Requiem and Poem Without A Hero, so I plan to examine some of her lesser-known poems, This Cruel Age Has Deflected Me and Cleopatra, by examining her conceptions of the relationship between identity and space.
This paper deals with the nominal "Romanian New Wave" movement that emerged in the mid 2000s. The films come from a generation of directors that address issues of national identity before and after the fall of communism in 1989, with the overthrow of dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu. The stories focus on individual characters and the everyday effects of the dictator's reign. Specifically, this paper analyzes two films set in the final years of the regime that tackle different aspects of life in communist Romania.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days follows a young college student and her roommate who must have an illegal abortion upon her unplanned pregnancy, as all forms of birth control were illegal. Issues of lack of privacy and fear of persecution permeate the young women. The film is both stunning and shocking due to its detachment and lack of sentimentality, as the procedure is a necessary survival skill rather than a moral or ethical choice.
The Way I Spent the End of the World is centered on the socialist education system and the repercussions of the smallest act of dissent. A small suburban neighborhood on the outskirts of Bucharest serves as a microcosm for the Romanian population, with the Securitate (Romanian Secret Police, akin to Soviet KGB) as the dictator’s watchdogs. Once again, privacy is limited and life is dominated by the desires of the dictator.
These Romanian New Wave directors received critical acclaim for their first films as well several significant awards at Cannes Film Festival. In the past few years, the initial "buzz" faded yet the small group of directors continue to make honest films that confront the common identity crisis that Romanian citizens deal with in understanding the country's history and transition to a capitalist society.
This study attempts to address the reasons behind gender discrepancy in ballet by looking at social attitudes toward masculinity and the danseur—the male ballet dancer. A survey of seven questions was administered to an American and Russian sample to compare the attitudes between the two countries. Russia was selected as a comparison to the U.S. due to its esteemed history in ballet. The expected results were that Russian attitudes toward male ballet dancers would be more tolerant given the large number of famous danseurs originating from the former Soviet Union. Americans were expected to be less tolerant of the danseur, given the lack of male ballet participation in the U.S., perhaps because ballet is considered a feminine activity. The actual results of the study contradict the initial hypothesis. Russians, especially Russian males, were found to be less tolerant of male ballet participation, whereas Americans were more receptive to the idea. Neither country seemed to identify ballet as a feminine activity, so any opposition to the danseur does not seem to be linked to gender anxiety. Further research is needed to identify the reasons behind the lack of male interest in ballet.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the Soviet Union engaged in a series of purges to rid the Communist Party of certain members. Throughout these two decades, thousands of people were falsely imprisoned in the Soviet Gulag system and many were killed for their supposed anti-government sentiments. Yevgenia Ginzburg, a university professor, was one of those falsely imprisoned. In her non-fiction novel, Journey into the Whirlwind, Ginzburg recounts her eighteen-year ordeal in the Soviet Gulag system and her treatment as a political prisoner. While Ginzburg’s novel was arguably influenced by numerous works of literature, this paper focuses solely on the influence of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. This work of Italian fiction is the first of three parts of the Divine Comedy and describes the speaker’s descent through hell. When reading these works, one will initially notice the structural similarity between Ginzburg’s nine prison stays and Dante’s nine circles of hell. This paper also examines the similarities between Ginzburg’s three initial interrogators and the three beasts encountered before entering hell in Dante’s Inferno. These are two of the most important aspects of this analysis and are discussed further throughout the paper. The argument provided here is intended to demonstrate only some of the similarities between Ginzburg’s novel and Dante’s work. Ginzburg, with all her literary knowledge, appears to have chosen Dante’s work to relate her journey to a wider audience and give a voice to so many others who suffered alongside her.