Beyond Postmodernism: Russian Literature and Theater in the 1990’s

Nicholas Rzhevsky, State University of New York- Stony Brook

In the 1990’s theaters in Russia rediscovered literature as a primary source of cultural inspiration and retrieval. The end of history, as least in its post-Communist variant, created a new aesthetic space in which politics and ideology took on secondary roles. Literature served as a civilizing influence in a newly uncivil society and as a reminder of Russian culture’s past strengths in ethical explorations and artistic form. In my talk, I will note some of the ways in which leading directors such as Anatoly Vasiliev, Kama Ginkas, Mark Zakharov, Lev Dodin, and Yury Liubimov pushed Russian theater into postmodernism and beyond.

Among other examples, I briefly explore how Vasiliev’s adaptation of Onegin’s Journey demonstrates the continued efficacy of Pushkin’s language as a primal source of energy and meaning for performance in the face of the commodification of the writer. Liubimov’s Eugene Onegin makes commodification itself a subject in the various forms of popular culture, including rap music, which has appropriated Pushkin, inviting the audience to regain the lost author. Zakharov’s adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Gambler as Petr Fomenko’s Chichikov. Dead Souls. Volume Two, on the other hand, use the texts to question Russia’s social course from an ethical perspective. Dodin’s productions take yet another tack by introducing a field of social critique on which to create aesthetic play and a new type of Brechtian distancing without ideology. A general tendency suggested in the paper, is that such theatrical responses to canonical texts and contemporary writers, use the familiar postmodern strategies of quotation, parody, irony, and eclectic play but ultimately subvert postmodernism from within by resurrecting the author and the aesthetic self.