Russia was launched on a unique path by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917: it was intended to become the first Communist society in history. The Cultural Revolution that followed sought to remake institutions and even persons in the name of realizing a classless society. This utopian project came up against the actual history of the twentieth century not just in Russia but internationally: world wars, the collapse of empires, and the victory of “capitalism” over “communism.” Much of the best Russian literature and film of the twentieth century addresses the tensions of this historical period. We will trace these tensions in landmark texts, grouping them around particular moments of catastrophic change – the Revolution, the Civil War, the “internationalizing” of non-Russian peoples, collectivization and famine, Stalin’s purges, World War II and the siege of Leningrad, urbanization, and the collapse of the Soviet empire. We will consider, among other texts, Esther Shub’s “The Fall of the Romanovs,” Isaak Babel’s Red Cavalry, Nadezhda Mandelstam’s Hope Against Hope, the poetry of Anna Akhmatova, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, Lydia Ginzburg’s Blockade Diary, Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker,” Alexander Sokurov’s “Russian Ark,” and the installation art of Ilya Kabakov. All readings and discussion in English. No familiarity with Russian history and culture is assumed. Three meetings per week.
Spring semester. Professor Ciepiela.