Slot:       28D-4          Dec. 28, 3:45 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.                                                

Panel:     Violence and Texts

Chair:     Elizabeth Skomp, Sewanee: The University of the South


Title:       Violence, Metaphor, Recuperation: The Processing of Traumatic Experience in Two Russian Writers

Author:   Scarlet Marquette, Harvard University

Isaac Babel’s prose and Elena Shvarts’ poems impose immediately on even the most casual reader with the voluptuous force of their metaphors.  In their work, separated by almost a century, both writers attempt to process the violence of their respective historical contexts.  Babel’s Red Cavalry (1924), a fictionalized treatment of the author’s experiences serving the Bolsheviks, and Shvarts’ poem,“Portrait of the Blockade,” as well as the numerous poems about her mother’s death in Solo on a White-Hot Trumpet (1998) represent attempts to utilize metaphorical language to recuperate from trauma. These works provide an excellent test case for addressing contemporary debates in the field of cognitive science.  The fundamental question I wish to pose here is the following:  can the “rich structure” of these metaphors be translated into literal terms, or does there truly exist, in Max Black’s words, a “heresy of paraphrase”?  I will look at whether the ways in which theorists of metaphor, ranging from simile theorists to interactionists to Griceans, have described the functioning of metaphors are adequate to explain the kinds of metaphors we find in Babel and Shvarts.

After a thoroughgoing analysis of their cognitive content, I conclude that these metaphors represent the most cognitively efficient response to the sensory and psychological overload of the realia of Russian life. They express a genuine cognitive content that can not be fully reduced to a literal expression.  Whereas deconstructionists, treating metaphor at length, have argued that its presence in a text ultimately makes truly referential speech impossible, I propose that Babel and Shvarts undermine this formulation, accomplishing in their writing a recrafting of what cognitive science refers to as the “target domains” of conceptual metaphors, such that their original metaphors serve as forerunners of the literal language to come at the same time as they reconstitute cognitive reality as such.


Title:       The Broken Body: Sex, Martyrdom, and Poetry in Cvetaeva

Author:   Sibelan Forrester, Swarthmore College

This paper addresses two traditional objections to women's writing:  that a woman writer was morally loose (in Belinsky's phrase, "une femme emancipée"), and that a woman who published was really attempting to be a warrior. Cvetaeva explores both assumptions in related bodies of work on the consequences of sexual experience and on women warriors, particularly Joan of Arc.  Taking the ideas to extremes lets the poet at once exploit the taboo's energy and confront and exorcise the obstacles to creation that her own culture presents; the resulting texts function in her development of poetic seriousness.  The paper draws on studies of female roles in Cvetaeva by Antonina Gove, Laura Weeks, Jane Taubman and Alyssa Dinega, and on Laura Miler-Purrenhage's studies of Cvetaeva and trauma, as well as Irina Shevelenko's study of Cvetaeva's professional trajectory.

Cvetaeva's early poetry describes adult sexuality with mixed dread and interest; in 1916, her peasant personae move quickly from flouting local mores to death and an outcast's burial.  Tellingly, the speaker usually accepts and even invites retribution for her sins; later works (especially the long poem Molodets) involve men whose irresistible attractions tempt her into sin.  Although passion continues to be a motivating inspiration until the end of the poet's career, she resolves the authorial conflict by rejecting earthly passion in Poema gory and Poema kontsa.

Joan of Arc appears in three poems, but also in brief but telling references throughout Cvetaeva's opus.  The woman warrior becomes the poetic speaker in the long poem Na Krasnom kone.  Female speakers who suffer death and scapegoating for sexual activity share the fate of the virgin who dares to cut her hair short, don man's clothing and lead an army to victory -- only to be burnt at the stake for witchcraft. 

Title:       Representation of Rape and Female Subjectivity in Elena Glinka's Kolyma Streetcar

Author:   Lena Doubivko, University of Washington, Seattle

When Elena Glinka’s documentary short story Kolyma Streetcar was published in 1989, it stood apart from other documentary camp literature, creating a huge sensation among the reading public and arousing enormous interest in the media. Its success was due to the fact that it dealt with a previously taboo subject — a mass rape of women in the Gulag —and offered a graphic, albeit honest portrayal of victimization and subjugation of women prisoners raped by male prisoners and free men with the consent or perhaps even arrangement by camp guards and village authorities. Glinka’s breaking of predominant silence governing rape sharply differs from Evgeniia Ginzburg’s major autobiographical and memoir work Journey into the Whirlwind, which only briefly touches upon the mass rape of female criminal prisoners, yet was praised for representing her experiences in interpersonal, subjective and immediate ways.  Kolyma Streetcar, in contrast, paradoxically strikes the reader with its documentary, emotionless and even dry narrative style that seemingly falls within the masculine tradition of memoir writing, such as examples of Solzhenitsyn and Siniavsky illustrate.

 This paper uses feminist film theory in reading rape and argues that female aesthetic is strongly present in Kolyma Streetcar, although Glinka’s representation of the “feminine perspective” drastically differs from the one conveyed by Ginzburg. Unlike the dominant patriarchal convention, Glinka presents the rapes in their full social context, without a trace of the erotic. Instead of perceiving the victim’s body as a subjectless mass of matter, she articulates women’s physical violation by first firmly establishing the question of female subjectivity, expressed through female voice and body, and then by attaching the reader to the victim’s tortured body to focus on the victim’s pain. In the end, she maintains the embodied presence of the women survivors, thus preserving their subjectivity in the narrative.