Slot:       28A-3          Dec. 28, 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.                                                

Panel:     Writing the Soviet Reader, 1917-1941

Chair:     Jenny Kaminer, Oberlin College


Title:       “Fact Into Truth, Outlaw Into Proletarian: Gorky, His Reader, And Realism”

Author:   Elizabeth Papazian, University of Maryland

"A fact is still not the whole truth; it is merely the raw material from which the real truth of art must be smelted and extracted…" – M. Gorky

This paper focuses on Gorky's literary activity during the period 1928-1936, in particular on his promotion of documentary genres, and connects this activity to the development of the official "method" of Soviet art, socialist realism.  Gorky's notion of "two truths" which coexist in the present – the truth of the past and the truth of the future – forms the basis of his conception of literary realism, in which literature both reflects reality and affects it. This conception applies equally to the documentary genres, which similarly aim both to document the course of history toward the inevitable triumph of Communism and to direct that course: Gorky does not differentiate between fiction and non-fiction in this sense. Gorky's particular interest in representing the reformation of criminals through labor serves to embody his conception of a specifically Soviet literary realism.

Works to be considered include Gorky's cycle of essays written after his first return to the Soviet Union, Po Soiuzu Sovetov (1929), in particular, the infamous essay about the Solovki labor camp, "Solovki," as well as Gorky's editorship of and/or introductions for various collections of literary works on a prison reform theme, and his unrealized screenplay, Prestupniki (1932).

Gorky's interest in representing the "reforging" of criminals, particularly juvenile offenders, parallels his commitment to the literary reformation of his reader – whether an intellectual and/or professional writer, non-professional "new" writer, or mass reader. This can in turn be linked to Gorky's attempt to "smelt" fact, particularly in documentary literature, into "truth," an operation normally considered to belong to the realm of fiction.


Title:       Reading vs. Writing in the Works of Il′f and Petrov

Author:   Anne O. Fisher, College of Wooster

The literacy campaigns of NEP failed to produce a mass readership capable of appropriately, or even successfully, consuming the rich cultural production of the time. Stephen Lovell has argued in his Russian Reading Revolution that Socialist Realism successfully bridged the gap between readers and what they read, and that it accomplished this neither by creating better readers, nor by simplifying the discourse of print culture (two extremes which had been hotly debated in the early 1920s), but by creating a middle ground, a middlebrow mass culture on which readers and discourse could meet.

It is against the background of the 1920s – early 1930s debate on how to achieve the union of the Soviet reader with Soviet literature that I map out the various kinds of fictional readers Il′f and Petrov create in their work.  Il′f and Petrov’s “reading characters” (Regine Robin) reveal the coauthors’ increasing conviction that the gap between ideal and real, at least as far as the Soviet reader was concerned, was not appreciably narrowing.

The coauthors’ writing reveals two strategies for addressing this gap. The first strategy was, predictably, to target the guilty with satiric exposes of the inept Soviet institutions and bureaucrats whose bungling helped keep the gap open. The second, more provocative strategy, found in The Golden Calf, was to suggest that readers subject to increasingly strident print messages would be more successful if they could appropriate writing and its technologies. I interpret the coauthors’ switch in emphasis - from the power gained by reading to the power gained by writing – not only as a proper reflection of the country’s transition from NEP to the Cultural Revolution, but also as a prescient survival strategy for a society increasingly dominated by the written, official word.

Title:       Feuilletons Don’t Burn: Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita and the Imagined Soviet Reader

Author:   Maria Isabel Kisel, Northwestern University

The well-known phrase “manuscripts don’t burn,” uttered by Woland in Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, expresses the poetic notion that great art is indestructible and eternal. A nearly identical quote, but endowed with opposite meaning appears in part two of Bulgakov’s semi-autobiographical Notes on the Cuff (1924). Here, the narrator describes his shame at having written a hack play out of financial desperation: “Я начал драть рукопись. Но остановился. Потому что вдруг, с необычайной чудесной ясностью, сообразил, что правы говорившие: написанное нельзя уничтожить! Порвать, сжечь…от людей скрыть. Но от самого себя --- никогда!”

This statement about the inescapability of one’s own literary creation could be applied to Bulgakov’s early feuilletons written for Gudok. Despite the fact that Bulgakov repeatedly described his career in Gudok as “work without distinction,” “torture” and “crudity,” versions of his early feuilletons reappear in the Moscow chapters of his masterpiece The Master and Margarita.

In this paper I will argue that Bulgakov’s work for Gudok, though distasteful to his intellectual sensibilities, nonetheless formed the author’s impressions of an imagined “Soviet reader.” Using the same satirical tools that he once used to appeal to the readers of Gudok, Bulgakov creates his own brand of Soviet literature, one that negotiates between Western European and Soviet culture. The satirical “Moscow chapters” of The Master and Margarita are a portal into the more complex “Jerusalem chapters” allowing even the most unsophisticated Soviet reader access into the realms of history, philosophy and religion. By considering an imagined, common reader as an influence on the writing of The Master and Margarita, I will explore Bulgakov’s complex role within Soviet culture of his time and how these issues of authorship are reflected in both the content and form of his “sunset” novel.