Changes in the Russian Literary Process 1985–1995

The decade since the beginning of the perestrojka is a period of unprecedented change in Russian literature. From a medium entirely controlled by the party and, except for the forbidden and persecuted samizdat, exclusively published by state publishers, it developed into a completely free medium, not hampered by any censorship or interference by the authorities.

In this process of emancipation we can establish several phases:

1. 1985–1987. The first years of perestrojka. Books and periodicals have published a lot of materials with new and “shocking” themes (the years of Stalin terror in Rybakov’s Deti Arbata, drugs smuggling in Ajtmatov’s Plaxa, etc.)

2. 1988–1991. The great “catching up maneuver.” Everything that had been forbidden in Soviet times (Nabokov, Brodskij, Pasternak’s Doktor Živago, Solženicyn, Berdjaev, etc.) is published in periodicals that are rapidly becoming more and more free. Enormous print runs of literary magazines; literary criticism looses its bearings; the Writers’ Union is splitting up definitely; independent publishers appear.

3. 1991–1995. A new and free literature establishes itself. Its primary aim is not “to tell the truth” any more (this function is taken over by the mass media: the papers, radio and television), but simply “to be literature.” Hence the strong inclination to postmodernism.

In my contribution to the congress I will give an outline of the great changes that have taken place in recent Russian literature and present tentative periodization of these 10 years. The guiding principle is the rapid transition of the literature function (literary magazines as a basic form) in Russia: from the very truth-telling (openly as well as between the lines) to being literature per se.