With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the great utopian experiment of the twentieth century–a radical attempt to reorganize society in accordance with rational principles–came to an end. This course explores the dramatic history of that experiment from the perspective of those whose lives were deeply affected by the social upheavals it brought about. We begin by examining early visions of the new social order and attempts to restructure the living practices of Soviet citizens by reshaping the concepts of time, space, family, and, ultimately, redefining the meaning of being human. We then look at how “the new human being” of the 1920s is transformed into the “new Soviet person” of the Stalinist society, focusing on the central cultural and ideological myths of Stalinism and their place in everyday life, especially as they relate to the experience of state terror and war. Finally, we investigate the notion of “life after Stalin,” and consider the role of already-familiar utopian motifs in the development of post-Stalinist and post-Soviet ways of imagining self, culture, and society. The course uses a variety of materials–from primary documents, public or official (architectural and theatrical designs, political propaganda, transcripts of trials, government meetings, and interrogations) and intimate (diaries and letters), to works of art (novels, films, stage productions, paintings), documentary accounts (on film and in print), and contemporary scholarship. No previous knowledge of Soviet or Russian history or culture is required; the course is conducted in English, and all readings are in translation.
Fall semester. Professor Wolfson.