Construction of Individuality in Contemporary Russian Narratives about America

Sergei Sychov, University of Michigan

Opportunities for extensive travel along with considerable changes in socio-cultural and political spheres reinvigorated the seemingly fading interest of Russian literati in the United States, or just Amerika – as it is commonly referred to in Russia. As a result, the last few decades have witnessed the emergence of a significant number of literary accounts of diverse genres with America as their “object” of description.

This paper focuses on a number of texts (and particularly those by D. Kuz’min, L. Goralik, A. Tsvetkov Jr., D.A. Prigov, et al.) that made up the recently published collection of literary essays Russian Writers View the United States, as well as the essays that initiated the literary internet project (under the auspices of the on-line literary almanac of contemporary Russian literature Vavilon) “… v moei zhizni” and particularly its segment: “Amerika v moei zhizni” (

In most of these testimonials, the authors present their private views of America, where it is seen as both a “natural” topos and a theoretical construct. Produced against the backdrop of the popular discourse of anti-Americanism on the one hand, and the growing attention to auto-reflexive non-fiction on the other, these text lend themselves well to the analysis of construction of individuality in the contemporary Russian culture.

Most contemporary “American” narratives (a series of analogous works akin to a tradition of writing about the USSR, or what J. Derrida calls “back from USSR” type) , as much as their predecessors from the Soviet times, grew out of a certain discursive background supported or opposed by a predominant philosophical or political discourse(s). At the same time, these texts are products of the literary culture of the time when they were produced; and, most importantly, they are literary works that have their own specificity, such as diction, rhythm, tone, structure, etc.
My presentation will attempt to uncover the mechanisms of individuation the authors deploy in order to support the autonomy of the self (however often illusionary) by challenging the co-optive discourse of anti-Americanism while attempting to (re-)define the self through reflections on the “other” culture. I will also draw upon Iurii Lotman’s theory of ‘auto-communication’ to identify the influence of “external, non-homologous” codes (e.g. literary organization of the texts) on (properties of) the message that informs a ‘s/he’ addressee and redefines self as an ‘I’ addressee.


Derrida, J. “Back from Moscow, in the USSR.” In Politics, Theory, and Contemporary Culture. Ed. Mark Poster. Columbia U Press, 1993. (pp. 197-237).

Lotman, Iu. M. Universe of the Mind: a Semiotic Theory of Culture, (introduction by Umberto Eco), Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 1990.

Iossel, M. and Parker, J. Russian Writers View the United States. Dalkey Archive Press, 2004.