Geography of the State and Geography of the Self: Czechoslovak Travel Notes from the Soviet Union

David Lightfoot, University of Toronto

In the years leading up to the Second World War, intellectuals from around the globe continued to report from the New World—what Julius Fučík called “the land where tomorrow is already yesterday.”

This presentation will look at inter-war travel writing from Soviet Russia, primarily by Czechoslovak and French writers. When foreigners first visited Soviet Russia, they found a world that was difficult to describe in the language of past and the present. What they saw before them was not only a new society, but a mirror. Today these texts are interesting not so much for the political messages they contain, but for what they say about the writer; about personal and geographical affiliations.

The last text of this kind to be published in this period was Jiří Weil’s Moscow the Border. This fascinating work not only gave its own account of Soviet Russia in the 1930s, but also provided an intriguing framework for reading Olbracht, Fučík, Istrati, Gide, and others. It is a novel where characters attempt to align themselves with a new land, a new philosophy, and a new geography of self.