Roundtable: The Futures of Slavic Studies

Roundtable Participants and Their Statements:

Panel Moderator: Dragan Kujundzic, Russian Chair, Foreign Languages and Literatures, The University of Memphis

The University in Ruins by Bill Readings draws attention to the fact that we live in an era of the end of the nation states which served as models for structuring and legitimizing the Foreign Languages Departments, the Humanities, and the University in general. This condition asks for rethinking and reconfiguring of the Slavic Studies, rethinking which would open them to other, alternative, non-national models for their founding and for their inscription in the contexts that are by now standard in other "national" literatures departments. The ethics of teaching, hospitality and the politics of friendship (along with deconstruction, interdisciplinary studies, psychoanalysis or any other non-nationally articulated strategy) become very desirable models for thinking the other in the times of the rising violent nationalisms (both within the nations represented, and the institutions which teach about those nations) which mark the end of the nation states and the end of the national language departments as we know them.

Sarah Pratt, Associate Dean, University of Southern California

Slavic Studies was an interdisciplinary field well before the current vogue for interdisciplinarity, but it was nonetheless monolithic in its fundamental outlook. The field was founded on the assumption that the position of the Soviet Union as a rival power justified virtually all forms of inquiry into the Slavic world. Funding agencies were convinced by this argument and the field rested comfortably for years on its original assumptions. The fall of the Soviet Union and the "crisis of the humanities" in the closing decades of the century have shaken these foundations. We have been prompted to reexamine the field's original monolithic vision and the presumption that we deserve funding simply because the Slavic world is out there waiting to be studied. We must nurture the disciplines that make up our field, summon up the energy inherent in interdisciplinary work that rests on the interaction between strong and well-defined disciplines, and branch out into still more areas perceived as crucial to the intellectual and political life of the twenty-first century.

Helena Goscilo, Slavic Department, University of Pittsburgh

My argument is that Slavic Studies has been and continues to be parochial, and that not only to survive, but also to inject some blood and fire into the field, we need to think more broadly, in terms of culture, and not merely dwell on single authors and specific texts. This extension of focus requires a tremendous amount of work, but is essential both to attract students and to forge connections with other fields, from which Slavic Studies has kept nervously separate. Slavic Studies has NOT undergone the desovietization that has taken place in its object of study; the field continues to counter-mirror a "reality" that no longer exists.

Tony Anemone, Slavic Department, College of William & Mary

The subject of my remarks will be rethinking and retooling the Slavic Curriculum within the department of Modern Languages and Literatures. How to respond to the restructuring of the humanities without losing your soul: how to differentiate between the necessary, the desirable and the unavoidable.

Harlow Robinson, Chair, Foreign Languages and Literatures, North-Eastern University

I'd like to talk about attracting and retaining students in Russian language classes through courses in cultural studies (film, music). Actually, I'd like to talk more generally about the rise of cultural studies and its limitations. Also, how we can better train graduate students to be able to teach those kinds of courses without completely sacrificing seriousness in literary training.

Dubravka Juraga, English and Comparative Literature, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Now, after the end of the Cold War, the time has come to examine socrealism as an approach to literature diametrically opposed to Western literary and aesthetic standards. Socrealism produced impressive accomplishments so far unknown to the West, so, there is a need to establish a new, unbiased perspective on socrealism that would both examine aesthetic premises of socrealism, and adequately introduce authors of socrealism and assign them their rightful places in the Soviet/Russian literary canon from which they have been unjustly excluded.

Thomas Lahusen, Slavic Department, Duke University

While the end of the cold war has clearly helped to depoliticize the debate on Soviet culture, the uncritical application of western concepts and analyses, such as "popular culture," "postcoloniality," "postmodernism," etc. to societies that have not undergone analogous economic, social, and political transformations is highly problematic, because it can lead to a new mythology and a new type of colonization: market economy and democratic values for the present, Western theory for a past in need of political (and sometimes academic) salvation. On the other hand, the acknowledgment of this problematic represents a historical chance for post-Soviet and Slavic studies: in responding critically to the western debates on "critical theory" they can revive not only themselves but also the global field which is itself becoming increasingly commodified.

Eric Naiman, Slavic and Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley

Russian Culture as a Special Case: In recent years there has been great interest in liberating Russian Studies from the theoretical narrowness of its past. This interest has produced two opposing reactions. On one hand, many scholars interested in colonizing Russian studies for western methodologies have imperialistically insisted on viewing Russian culture as virgin territory for the blind application of foreign methods. On the other hand, some scholars have responded with a rhetoric of purity, focussing on the necessity of protecting the integrity of the discipline from methodologies that do not stem from reverence for the Western liberal tradition. Russian Studies can survive as a dynamic discipline only if it welcomes new methods but insists on the recognition of its own perversities, the predominance of elements specific to Russian culture. One of these is the insistence on the absolute centrality of the word to cultural enterprises. Russian studies should build on this logocentrism to pioneer a new poetics of culture.