Brian Baer, Open Seminar 2022


Queer(ing) Slavic and East European Studies: Theories, Terminologies, Methods
Brian James Baer / Kent State University

Since the publication of Simon Karlinsky's The Sexual Labyrinth of Nikolai Gogol in 1976, the study of queer sexuality in Slavic and East European literature and art has evolved and expanded exponentially, shaped by major historical research as well as developments in the field of sexuality studies and queer theory. (Karlinsky's earlier writings on gays and lesbians in Russian history and culture were first published in non-academic venues; and so, his book on Gogol, published by Harvard University Press, could be said to represent the official entrée of a queer perspective in the field of Slavic Studies.)

The central question addressed in the workshop involves how to approach the study of queer sexuality in the cultures of Eastern Europe and Russia in ways that are neither anachronizing (projecting contemporary understandings onto earlier periods) nor colonizing (projecting contemporary conceptions of sexual identity from the Global North onto other socio-cultural contexts) while avoiding claims of radical alterity and untranslatability. To that end, the workshop begins by situating queer Slavic Studies within the fraught, centuries long relationship between Russia and the Anglophone West, often characterized by accusations of sexual licentiousness that were made by both sides and that accelerated in the context of the Cold War, assuming a symbolic dimension. More specific challenges related to the study of queer sexuality in Eastern European and Russian art and literature will be discussed, ranging from terminological confusion to competing theorizations of sex and sexuality (e.g, minoritarian vs. universalist; identitarian vs. queer). All these issues will be discussed in relation to queer life writing, investigated from the point of view of poetics, framing and translation.