2020 Streams

In addition to regular conference panels and events, the AATSEEL conference program includes panel streams. The streams promote greater cohesion among conference panels and foster a broader dialogue throughout the conference. The result is a series of mini-conferences within the framework of our larger conference. There will be two stream sessions (“A” and “B”). The panels in each session will meet simultaneously, so members may apply for no more than one “A” stream and one “B” stream. All conference attendees are welcome to attend stream panels, but participants in a stream are expected to attend all of the panels in their stream.


The stream topics for 2020 are below. Scroll further down for each stream's description.

Friday, February 7th, 2020 ("A" Streams)
(1A) Tolstoy as a Reader
(2A) Soviet Literary Institutions
(3A) Performance after Communism
(4A) Visual Literacies
(5A) Critical Theory in Russian Texts and Contexts

Saturday, February 8th, 2020 ("B" Streams)
(1B) Dostoevsky Beyond Bakhtin
(2B) From the Outskirts to the Center: The Many Faces of Soviet Unofficial Culture
(3B) Science Fiction in Literature and Cinema
(4B) Gender and Sexuality in the Slavic World

Full descriptions of 2020 Streams:

Friday, February 7th, 2020

Tolstoy as a Reader (Stream 1A)
Lev Tolstoy has primarily been studied as a writer. However, he was also an avid reader of books covering a range of topics and genres from antiquity to modernity, from the East to the West, from high-brow to low-brow writings, and from originals to translations. More importantly, Tolstoy was never a “silent,” solitary reader. Intervening in variegated polemical issues with the church, with the state, and with other Russian and European intellectuals, he always loudly invoked what he read, explained his choice of reading materials, and demanded that others accept his interpretations of literature and philosophy. Revisiting Tolstoy’s colorful history of reading offers us a unique way to probe the vibrant intellectual history of 19th-century Russia. Approaching Tolstoy as a reader also enables us to explore the aforementioned phenomena as a question of reception and, in Tolstoy’s case, performance and writing as well. As such, this stream looks forward to submissions concerning the following topics as they relate to Tolstoy himself: reception of philosophical and religious ideas, book collections, editorial practices, thoughts on literacy and its role in society, interpretations of literary works, views on media and literary criticism, and other related intellectual areas. Ultimately, we would like to put together a collection of essays on Tolstoy as a Reader based on this stream.

Soviet Literary Institutions (Stream 2A)
This stream will be devoted to the study of Soviet literature through its institutions. The term “institution” may be taken broadly, to include objects such as “institutions of memory” or “genre as an institution,” although we hope to have a number of papers that address organizations, social networks, practices and structures—a more “bricks and mortar” conception of institution, in other words. Possible topics might include: journals, the Writers Union and its congresses, practices of translation, schools of creative writing, publishing houses, editions, book history and material texts, clubs, networks and practices of samizdat and tamizdat, readerships, literature in Soviet education, festivals, cultural exchange mechanisms, book markets and the economics of literary professions and organizations, censorship, “social order” (zakaz), organs of Party oversight. Proposals concerning literary institutions of the immediate pre-Soviet and post-Soviet eras will also be welcome, insofar as they contribute to understanding of Soviet institutions in their historical context. Papers on cultural institutions beyond the literary may also be considered for inclusion in the stream, space permitting.

Performance after Communism (Stream 3A)
Continuing conversations begun at ASEEES 2018, but also drawing on recent studies that deal with the subject of performance in Russia and East/Central Europe, this stream [2 panels and 1 roundtable] adopts a “broad spectrum approach” to performance to examine a wide range of practices that have emerged since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Familiar forms of performance such as theater and performance art will be analyzed together with newer or less commonly studied media and practices: e.g., performative poetry, mediatized performances, cultural performances, performing objects and documents. What new performance practices have emerged since the collapse of the Soviet Union? How do they reflect or respond to social and political change? What phenomena might be productively examined through a performance theory lens? Does performance cross boundaries (e.g., disciplinary, geographical, cultural) or does it establish and engrain new borders, distinctions, and limits?

The following research topics are of particular interest:
—performances of power and resistance
—performances of irony, sincerity, and authenticity
—performances of individual and collective identity
—performances of value (aesthetic, social, economic, etc.)
—performance and cultural / memory / bio-politics
—liveness and mediatized performance
—sites and institutions of performance
—new performance theories
—teaching and doing research on performance

Visual Literacies (Stream 4A)
While “literacy” in the traditional sense is certainly more complex than the simple mastery of reading and writing, the issues surrounding “visual literacies,” particularly with the rise of modern technologies of image production and dissemination, have raised a distinct range of challenges for research and theorization. Utilizing the metaphor of writing, we ask, what has it meant to be visually literate at various points in time and space in Russia and Eastern Europe? What has visual literacy made possible for makers and consumers of visual culture? What have been the stakes of encouraging visual literacy for cultural and state agents? As the Slavic field continues to take an increasingly interdisciplinary turn, this stream seeks to isolate and assess the many approaches to visual literacy shaping current scholarship. Visual Literacies offers ways to disrupt logocentric canons through encounters with (new) histories of technologies and media archeologies; hybrid visual/textual encounters; ideology and practice; notions of authorship/artistry. While medium specificity might be one way to organize the questions raised by visual literacies (including print and painting, film, and the digital), our hope is that the participants and proposals submitted will offer novel thematic or theoretical points of departure to enrich the discussion of visual literacies and the state of the Slavic field more broadly.

Critical Theory in Russian Texts and Contexts (Stream 5A)
In the history of philosophy Critical Theory has been defined in a broad and narrow sense. In the original, narrow sense the term refers to the work of a group of German philosophers associated with the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt beginning in the 1930s. A movement “born in the trauma of the Weimar Republic,” Critical Theory “is characterized by certain core philosophical concerns,” yet also “exhibits a diversity among its proponents” and “is still a vital philosophical and political perspective” (The Cambridge Companion to Critical Theory). According to Max Horkheimer, who led the Institute, a “critical” theory is distinguished by a specific practical purpose: a theory is critical to the extent that it seeks human “emancipation from slavery”, acts as a “liberating … influence”, and works “to create a world which satisfies the needs and powers” of human beings. The immense influence of the Frankfurt School, as the group came to be known, on subsequent philosophy, sociology, and literary and cultural studies, can be seen in the ubiquity of the term Critical Theory today. Critical Theory is now sometimes used in a broad sense, defined as “a philosophical approach to culture, and especially to literature, that seeks to confront the social, historical, and ideological forces and structures that produce and constrain it.” In our stream of panels, which we hope to turn into a volume, Critical Theory in Russian Texts and Contexts, we limit Critical Theory to its narrow definition as pertaining to the discrete body of works and ideas of the Frankfurt School (despite Hannah Arendt’s ambiguous relation to the Frankfurt School, essays on her work and thought will be considered). Our starting point is the belief that Critical Theory is fruitful “inter-text” or interlocutor for reading Russian culture, the recognition that ideas and values we now think of as emanating from the Frankfurt School can be found far from their German philosophical parameters—critical theory before and beyond Critical Theory, as it were. Our goal is to identify, analyze, and contextualize Russian cultural products that exhibit affinities with Critical Theory, exploring the extent and limits of congruences. We envision three sections. The first section, titled“Russian Texts and Critical Theory” will deal with affinities that exist between ideas of the Frankfurt School and texts of Russian literature before Critical Theory. Examples could be essays dedicated to the notion of a dialectic of enlightenment in Russian literature; comparative studies of the aesthetic theory of Adorno and Russian writers; concepts of evil and totality in the work of Arendt and Russian writers; and Walter Benjamin’s reading of Nikolai Leskov. The second cluster of essays, “Critical Theory in the Russian Context,” will be dedicated to the history of translation and Russian reception of the three generations of the Frankfurt School thinkers.The third section, titled “Russian Culture after Critical Theory,” will treat Critical Theory’s influence on late twentieth- and early twenty-first century Russian literature and thought.

Saturday, February 8th, 2020

Dostoevsky Beyond Bakhtin (Stream 1B)
Since the 1980s, the theories of Mikhail Bakhtin have dominated approaches to Dostoevsky's art and found productive applications in a vast variety of disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences. Without questioning either the legacy of this impact or the originality of the theories themselves, it is arguable that the firm hold of Bakhtinian paradigms over Dostoevsky studies at this point in time leads mostly to rote readings that reach predictable conclusions. This panel stream proposes that both Dostoevsky studies and the Slavic field more broadly stand to benefit from a more critical assessment of Bakhtin and a more robust, imaginative, and forward-looking debate about alternatives and future directions.

The stream seeks to initiate a vibrant scholarly conversation that would be structured around two specific questions. First, for all the acuity of his theoretical modeling, how may Bakhtin have been wrong about Dostoevsky? To what extent may Bakhtin's influential readings of specific works by Dostoevsky be actually seen as misreadings? Just how "unfinalized" are Dostoevsky's novelistic discourses and how open-ended is is "polyglossia"? To what extent may an implied reader that Bakhtin posits, and whose reading experience he claims to be reflecting, be too idiosyncratic to serve as a viable model of the reader of Dostoevsky's fictions?

Second, what new vision of Dostoevsky's art might emerge if we move beyond Bakhtin and no longer treat his exegeses as inviolable essential "truths" about the writer or an inescapable point of reference? What aspects of Dostoevsky's fictional universe - neglected narrative, ethical, psychological, and ideological dimensions - might then come into view? What new theoretical perspectives might productively assist us in this task? How might Dostoevsky's work be made relevant to current debates within the humanities?

From the Outskirts to the Center: The Many Faces of Soviet Unofficial Culture (Stream 2B)
This two-panel stream proposes to explore several facets of late-Soviet unofficial culture, with the aim of encouraging a more nuanced approach to the study of its literature and overall culture. While in their own time unofficial writers often defined their project as founded in a liberating socio-professional marginality that promised aesthetic and spiritual-intellectual freedom, our approach, focusing on the period of the 1960s-80s, will treat unofficial writers and culture as a fundamentally integral part, even an exemplary expression, of late-Soviet culture. Our primary focus will be two-pronged, embodied in our two panels: artistic experimentation and cultural self-definition. Our proposed panels will concentrate on how unofficial poets and writers transformed their marginality into a freedom to experiment in a variety of aesthetic modes that challenged and echoed, engaged and ‘overcame’ Soviet, Russian, and World traditions. Like the phenomenon it seeks to limn, our stream (our panelists, as we imagine them) will employ various approaches (formalist, semiotic, intertextual, biographical, etc.) to explore individual figures, aesthetic programs, and the institution of samizdat as a locus of literary-artistic pluralism. These two lively panels will analyze and open up both specific and general questions about unofficial culture in the Soviet Union.

Slavic Science Fiction in Literature and Cinema (Stream 3B)
Traditionally considered a minor genre, Science Fiction has produced some of the most exciting, unconventional, and engaging works in the literature and cinema of Eastern Europe and Russia for more than a century. Taking advantage of the genre’s supposed marginality, major artists like Karel Capek, Stanislaw Lem, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Aleksei German Sr. consistently raised important moral, philosophical, and political issues in works that also challenged traditional aesthetic norms and styles. Under socialism, Slavic Science Fiction was renowned throughout the world both for its serious engagement in the larger culture and its remarkable popularity among readers. As scholars in Europe and North America increasingly teach, translate, and research Slavic Science Fictions, a panel stream at AATSEEL consisting of 2 panels and one roundtable will allow these scholars to share their work, and move to new levels of understanding and future collaboration. We especially invite papers that explore:

1. the genre's complex uses under socialism as tool of ideology, critique, prognosis, and the imagination;
2. the cross-national dimensions or influence of Slavic Science Fictions; or
3. reflect upon the experience of teaching Slavic Science Fiction in the classroom.

Gender and Sexuality in the Slavic World (Stream 4B)
The Association for Women in Slavic Studies (AWSS) would like to organize a stream on gender and sexuality in the Slavic world. This stream of panels will focus on questions of gender and sexuality in the digital humanities, in news media, and in literature and film.

In particular, the stream seeks to draw attention to the multiple ways that Slavic Women’s and Gender Studies increasingly breaches national, disciplinary, and chronological boundaries. Scholars of Eastern Europe and Eurasia have long engaged in comparative work, enhanced of late with a focus on transnational and international linkages. We invite potential participants to address the notion of “crossing borders” understood in this broad literal and figurative sense.

We welcome papers that engage with these themes across disciplines; as examples, we hope to invite presentations focusing on creative works by women or non-cishet artists, works that feature diverse representations of gender and/or sexuality, the evolving views on gender in Russia, Central and Eastern Europe, and Eurasia, the role of gender in the classroom, and representations of masculinity and femininity in digital and print media.