Slot:       30B-3         Dec. 30, 10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.                                              

Title:       Representing the Siege: Narratives, Images, Sounds

Chair:     Boris Wolfson, University of Southern California


Title:       The Colorful Nights of the Siege: An Analysis of the Unexpected Reincarnation of the Petersburg Text

Author:   Polina Barskova, Hampshire College

This paper will consider reactions to the Siege that fall out of the previously defined spectrum that has at its poles the officially endorsed enthusiastic patriotism and the radically realistic gaze on the atrocities of the historical catastrophe. At the margins of the discourse of the Siege reception one can find paradoxical attempts to reveal the grandeur of the tortured cityscape.

The Siege poetry of Anna Akhmatova and Natalia Krandievskaia-Tolstaia, as well as the art of Tatiana Glebova, Pavel Shillingovskii and Mikhail Bobyshov create a new vision and sensation of the city and its citizens during that period. Some of those who survived the Great Terror came to experience the succeeding war era as the ultimate moment of truth, illuminated with tragic beauty and inspiration. For these artists, the Siege purged Petersburg of decades of ideological compromise and collaboration, returning the city to its original eschatological self.  Not without reason, it was during the nightmarish winter of 1941-42 that Mikhail Losinskii chose to translate the second part of Dante's oeuvre – Purgatorio, a work concerned with the redemptive power of suffering.

One of the principal questions is the relation of the discursive construct of the sublime beauty of Petersburg-Leningrad during the Siege to V. N. Toporov’s idea of “Petersburg text.” Oddly enough, the city that seemed to have lost connection to its literary and spiritual tradition in the 1930s managed to recover it in the 1940s – the catastrophe provided continuity to the disrupted myth of Petersburg. Artistic and psychological devices of the aestheticization of the radical historical experience comprise the core of the present study.


Title:       Sounding Catastrophe: Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony as/in Performance

Author:   Anna Nisnevich, University of Pittsburgh

Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony has by now become a fixed detail in the historical narrative of the Leningrad siege. Not unlike the contemporaneous photograph of the composer standing on the roof of some unidentified Leningrad building in a fireman cask, the story of the symphony’s creation and its first all-but-impossible performances routinely stands for the ultimate fusion of high art and heroism.

This paper proposes to step aside from this narrative highway and look at how the symphony was heard by some of its respective performers at home and abroad. Starting with the chain of its premieres in the USSR and the USA in the spring-summer of 1942 (Eliasberg, Toscanini), we will move on to the cold war performing dare (Mravinsky, Haitink), and finish with more recent post-Soviet renditions (Gergiev). Not only will re-visiting the same meaningful snippets of music in various interpretations, along with the scrutiny of the reviews of these interpretations, shed a new light on the shifting – and often conflicted – historical perception of one of World War II’s major catastrophes; it will also demonstrate once again how thin the line is between performing and hearing history.


Title:       Deteriorating Toward Humanity: The Transition to Blockade Life in Leningrad

Author:   Alexis Peri, University of California, Berkeley

This paper examines how individual Leningraders understood and described their personal experiences of life under siege.  Diaries are particularly useful for illuminating how the writers’ thoughts evolved in response to the radical changes brought about by the Blockade. This essay draws from five diaries kept by professional and amateur writers, who had various relationships to Soviet power. They include: Elena Kochina, Elena Skriabina, Georgii Kniazev, Vera Inber, and Aleksandr Dymov.  For the sake of brevity, the paper only discusses the transition to blockade life by analyzing journal entries from the first six months, September 1941 to February 1942.  This study approaches the diaries as “sense-making texts,” as conceptual spaces, where the struggle to adjust to life under siege took place.

A striking feature of the diaries is their authors’ desire to conceptualize and interpret the meaning of the Blockade.  This paper examines the major conceptual shifts that punctuate these accounts by discussing several categories that became problematic for and were consistently reworked by the diarists.  The categories describe characteristics that are often considered to be quintessentially “human” — the body, complex cognition, linguistic and emotional expressivity, and moral consciousness. The essay’s main objective is to show how human nature became a primary subject of investigation in these journals.  Here is just one example of how the diarists reconsidered basic human needs in light of the siege: Aleksandr Dymov’s hunger led him to draft a dialogue between himself and his stomach, which he represented as a callous, typically Soviet editor—an “editor of his senses”—who demanded that he discuss “fat pieces of roasted meat” in his diary (Blokadnaia Kniga, 304).   For Dymov, Soviet power controlled not only his private writings and thoughts, but also his relationship to his own body.   



Granin, Daniil and Ales Adamovich, Blokadnaia Kniga (Sankt-Peterburg: Pechantyi Dvor, 1994).


Title:       Crafted Characters in the Leningrad Blockade and the Making of Записки блокадного человека

Author:   Emily Van Buskirk, Harvard University

Записки блокадного человека is Lydia Ginzburg’s longest narrative work and has so far had a broader national and international appeal than her other prose.  The popularity of this text is significantly indebted to its subject matter, but also owes to its daring (especially in 1984, the time of its first publication) and original approach to a theme that has been numerously recounted and mythologized over the years.  Combining features of memoir, novel, philosophical essay, and even stenographic recording (especially in Part II, published in 1990) Ginzburg’s non-heroic account of the Leningrad blockade submerges and recasts personal travails in an effort to portray a collective experience.

Over the past year, I have been involved in editing and producing, together with Andrei Zorin, a scholarly edition of Записки блокадного человека (Moscow: Novizdat, anticipated 2006), and in the process I have unearthed a number of previously unpublished notes and sketches that Ginzburg wrote during the blockade.  In many of these notes, the author uses the “group situation” (where collective experiences of Leningraders greatly resembled one another) in order to make studies of the mechanics of individual self-assertion.  She analyzes and describes how people differentiate themselves within a social hierarchy, largely through dialogue and storytelling that incorporates techniques also found in art: effective images, humor, and the ability to rise above basic human needs.  What Ginzburg writes of food preparation in the published Записки can perhaps apply to these social situations—the poverty of the material lends a maniacal strain to the attempts to craft self-conceptions out of, for example, dystrophic states.

My paper will focus on these early notes, and how they were transformed in the making of the final narrative. I propose that many of the features of Ginzburg’s work, and especially the orientation away from autobiography, were designed in response to her observations during the blockade. I will pay particular attention to what Ginzburg analyzes as the aesthetics of daily life within the blockade and contrast these to the aesthetics of her own prose account, finished decades later. For instance, I shall ask, how does her written treatment of the blockade resist self-assertion? Does Ginzburg aestheticize the blockade experience?  I will also address the relationship of Ginzburg’s blockade writings to her overall oeuvre—exploring, for example, whether the blockade alters or merely confirms her theories on human behavior. Through my investigation, I hope to trace the lessons Ginzburg drew from the blockade, and the shifting accents in her portrayals of blockade life.