Slot: 29A-4 Dec. 29, 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Panel: Recent Writing and Interpretations
Title: The Turn from Textuality: Changes in the Reception of Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Author: Lisa Ryoko Wakamiya, Florida State University
Evaluations of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's work traditionally focused on its broader humanistic implications, connecting the reader's experience of world of his texts with universal values of democracy and human rights. These universal values gave way to more localized concerns in Solzhenitsyn's work written since the early 1990s, changing the public perception of the writer in Russia and the West. George Steiner described the reception of his work as "distantly respectful" or "hostile," while Russian critics tended toward utopian or dismissive readings.
More recently, the critic Viacheslav Kuritsyn questioned the content of Solzhenitsyn's work while noting, "We love him because he is our Solzh and no one else has a Solzh like we do." In recent months, Liudmilla Ulitskaia and Eduard Limonov have similarly criticized Solzhenitsyn's work while expressing appreciation for him as "the last, great Russian writer" and "nash velikii chelovek." While it is difficult to find anything resembling public consensus about Solzhenitsyn, the current tendency to view him as a public persona representative of localized concerns — cultural conservatism and literariness among them — suggests that the localized system of values characteristic of his recent work finds greater acceptance as it becomes disconnected from issues of textual interpretation.
My presentation aims to account for the shift from textuality to extratextual concerns in the reception of Solzhenitsyn's work. Drawing from Arjun Appadurai's Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, I examine how Solzhenitsyn's perceived need to protect Russian culture from "internal deformation and external aggression" (Rossiia v obvale) may find greater acceptance among audiences attuned to globalizing trends. I will also consider how Solzhenitsyn's extraliterary work, such as his screenplay for the 2006 television adaptation of V kruge pervom, facilitates this shift by rigidly defining the role of the empirical author while stimulating extratextual interest in the system of ideas associated with his work and public persona.
Title: Postmodern Parody with a Twist: Andrei Iakhontov’s Uchebnik zhizni dlia durakov
Author: Erika Haber, Syracuse University
According to Mark Lipovetsky, Russian postmodernism “consciously brings about the temporary death of culture; through a strategy of dialogue with chaos during the process of this global rite of passage postmodernism models a liminal liberation from all versions of structural order” (240). This definition—especially the phrase “dialogue with chaos”—perfectly describes both the style and content of Andrei Iakhontov’s 1996 Uchebnik zhizni dlia durakov.
The editor’s blurb claims that Iakhontov’s ideas parody those of Andrew Carnegie and other such successful, self-made men. With suggestions for living a “better” life, Iakhontov’s text tackles every sphere of life from family to friends, school to work, childhood to adulthood. The parody in this self-help text is complex and plays out on the stylistic, narrative and thematic planes of the work. But there is a significant departure from the usual self-help text: Iakhontov’s work is actually a novel complete with character development, plot line and dialogue. However, instead of Andrew Carnegie’s rags-to-riches story of accomplishment, philanthropy and keys to success, Andrei Iakhontov tells the tale of a man who promotes disdain for books, high culture, and the rules of polite society.
By closely examining how Iakhontov creates a novel out of a self-help textbook, I plan to analyze the different levels (stylistic, narrative, thematic) of parody in this text. In the process, I will show precisely how Iakhontov’s darkly comic work serves as an improbable primer for getting ahead. Ironically, the “lessons” taught in this witty romp of a novel provide brutally honest, practical guidance for life in our complex and chaotic 21st-century society.
Iakhontov, Andrei. Uchebnik zhizni dlia durakov. Moskva: Samotsvet: 1996.
Lipovestsky, Mark. Russian Postmodern Fiction: Dialogue with Chaos. Eliot Borenstein, ed. NY and London: M.E. Sharpe, 1999.
Title: The New Nabokovs? Shteyngart, Vapnyar, Bezmozgis, Grushin, and the Wave of “Russian Debutantes”
Author: Adrian J. Wanner, Penn State University
This paper is devoted to four writers who were all born in the former Soviet Union and have received lavish critical praise and major awards for their literary débuts in America: Gary Shteyngart with his novels The Russian Debutante’s Handbook (2002) and Absurdistan (2006), Lara Vapnyar with There are Jews in My House (2002) and Memoirs of a Muse (2006), David Bezmozgis with Natasha (2004), and Olga Grushin with The Dream Life of Sukhanov (2006). These authors are part of a growing phenomenon of Russian émigrés who have become bestselling writers in the language of their adopted homelands. Reviewers have compared them to Vladimir Nabokov as well as other classics of Russian literature. In spite of common thematic materials, the four authors have quite different individual styles. Shteyngart cultivates a genre of fast paced satirical grotesque, while Vapnyar and Bezmozgis resort to humor of a more gentle and muted nature. Grushin stands out with an ambitiously “high literary” prose. Despite these differences, there is considerable overlap in the way the publishers of all four authors use their “Russianness” as a promotional tool.
This paper investigates the complexity of the identities of these “Russian Debutantes.” In addition to being Russian and American, Shteyngart, Vapnyar and Bezmozgis are Jewish, with Bezmozgis also buttonholed as Latvian and Canadian. Based on their literary work and interviews with print and electronic media, this paper explores the attitude of the four authors toward their multiple identities. It also analyzes the reception of the “Russian Debutantes” in their former homeland, where their work has been criticized for indulging in clichés and stereotypes and dismissed as “typically American.” In this sense, the ambivalent status of the “Russian Debutantes,” who are perceived as “foreign” both in their current and former countries of residence, presents an interesting case of transnational cultural hybridity.