Slot:       29A-3          Dec. 29, 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.                                                

Panel:     The Peripheral Genre in Soviet Culture

Chair:     Marina Madorskaya, University of Michigan


Title:       Guitar Poetry and Anekdot as Anti-Genres of Soviet Literature

Author:   Rossen Djagalov, Yale University

The official method of Socialist Realism imposed on Soviet letters during the years of high Stalinism regulated and rigidified the relationship among genres. The epicized Soviet novel no longer had much in common with Bakhtin's idealized anti-genre, with its potential to assimilate, parody, and otherwise wage war against other genres. This paper argues that Bakhtinian novelness did not disappear but found temporary refuge, among other places, in the hitherto peripheral genre of guitar poetry. Taken as a whole, the poems of Okudzhava, Vysotsky and Galich not only demonstrate a generic heterogeneity unusual for the period as well as a capacity to parody official forms; they also profoundly challenge the highly hierarchical relationship among author, hero and audience maintained by Socialist realism. The orality of guitar poetry allowed it a greater measure of liberty from the ideological pressure that regulated the written word. Thus, when censorship—the mechanism through which ideology was applied to Soviet letters—subsided in the late 1980 and early 1990s, and the larger system of literary genres reclaimed its former dynamism, guitar poetry returned to the literary periphery, from where it had emerged in the late 1950s.

If thinkers of the Gramscian tradition are right to think of genre as an instrument of social repression at the hands of the dominant ideology (cultural hegemony), the unofficial guitar poetry, anekdot and Sots-art functioned as anti-genres in both senses of the word, anti-(other)genre(s) and anti-Soviet. Around them, alternative public spheres emerged, in the form of the Soviet kitchen, of the artist's studio, the campfire or the slet. Originating in the Soviet intellectual and creative classes, these anti-genres collectively represented a counter-language that deconstructed the logocracy (a system based on the power and consistent use of words rather than ideology, Arlen Blium's term) into which the Stagnation-era Soviet Union had evolved.


Title:       Bashlachev, Mirzayan, and the Limits of Melopoetic Genres

Author:   Constantine Rusanov, Yale University

Soviet folk and rock poetry have received considerable scholarly attention during the past several years. However, little has been written as regards their relationship to each other or their position vis-à-vis the spoken poetic word, i.e., verse unaccompanied by music. As a consequence, the limits of the two genres are defined vaguely if at all, most of the studies providing only intrinsic analyses of separate poet-performers’ texts or of their works’ reception.

This paper attempts to define the limits of melopoetic genres, primarily focusing on the output of the poet/bard/rock-musician Aleksandr Bashlachev. Bashlachev is situated at the very crossroads of folk and rock, and his name is inscribed in the pantheon of both traditions. A borderline case, Bashlachev’s output is especially illuminating insofar as folk and rock pundits, both claiming him as a model, evaluate his work according to different criteria. This difference in emphases will help delineate the specificity of each melopoetic genre. The area of overlap will, on the other hand, provide a frame of reference for the definition of, perhaps, a third, hybrid, genre – that of folk-rock poetry.

The paper draws on some of Aleksandr Mirzayan’s theoretical pronouncements. A prominent poet/bard himself, Mirzayan has lectured extensively on the interrelationship of word, music, and intonation and on the cross-fertilization of the so-called melopoetic and classical poetic traditions. Based on Mirzayan’s theoretical statements as well as his and Bashlachev’s output, the paper attempts to map out a hierarchy/family-tree of melopoetic genres, paying close attention to the dynamics of interchange and hybridization.


Title:       Generic Behavior: Mit′ki and the Public Sphere

Author:   Seth Graham, University College London

Established in the early 1980s by a group of Leningrad artists, the multi-media collective Mit′ki (named in honor of one of the founders, Dmitrii Shagin) achieved a measure of renown during perestroika, and (somewhat surprisingly) continues to exist today (  From their inception the Mit′ki have not merely engaged in collaborative art, music, and literary projects; they elaborated a comprehensive model of behavior and speech based on a particular aesthetic located on the cusp of the tongue-in-cheek and the sincere, of iconoclasm and humility.

This paper examines the place of the Mit′ki among other such poly-generic, multi-media collectives in the USSR and elsewhere in the Eastern Bloc, and concludes that such phenomena represent a redefinition—specific to the socio-cultural atmosphere of the time—of the concept of “genre.”  Also of interest in the context of this panel are the following issues: If the Mit′ki were firmly rooted in the rarefied atmosphere of the Leningrad creative intelligentsia, can it be said to have any relationship to the “public sphere”?  Why did the collective survive the end of Soviet power?  In addressing these points, the paper draws on and engages with the work of Alexei Yurchak, Boris Briker and Anatoly Vishevsky, as well as Linda Hutcheon’s writings on the nature of irony and parody. 



Briker, Boris, and Anatolii Vishevskii. “Iumor v populiarnoi kul′ture sovetskogo intelligenta 60-x—70-x godov.” Wiener Slawistischer Almanach 24 (1989): 147-70.

Hutcheon, Linda. Irony’s Edge: The Theory and Politics of Irony. London: Routledge, 1994.

Yurchak, Alexei.  Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation.  Princeton: Princeton UP, 2006.