Tag Archives: Russia

Staging the Forgotten

Today’s guest blogger is Alisa Lin, an assistant professor at Ohio State University who worked with us to publish a translation of Krzhizhanovsky’s That Third Guy.

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky is a name that stands out to most English-language ears. Seemingly long and convoluted, thrice studded with that uncommon “z,” it is memorable for its unusualness, with its odd spelling betraying the Russianization of an originally Polish name. For a few decades at the end of the 20th century, though, the name was a forgotten one. The writer who bore it was not remembered, and his life’s work of stories, plays, and essays largely remained unpublished.

And yet, Krzhizhanovsky’s writings, most of which weren’t published in their own day out of bad luck or misalignment with Soviet priorities, can be powerfully captivating to today’s English-language reader. I’ve seen this repeatedly in my Russian literature students who respond to his texts with wonder and enthusiasm. His tale of the room that expands infinitely, the one about the frog from the River Styx, the story of the tiny reflections of ourselves that live on in others’ pupils—these and many more offer richly imaginative worlds in which philosophically driven whimsy butts up against starvation, poverty, and death. Krzhizhanovsky, who was born in 1887 and died of alcoholism in 1950, drew such harshness from his own experiences.

Thus far, Krzhizhanovsky has been known in English only for his fiction (in award-winning translations by Joanne Turnbull for New York Review Books). But professionally he was a man of the theater, serving the eminent Moscow Kamerny Theater as a lecturer and consultant for over two decades. His many essays in theatrical theory and dramatic criticism convey the core of his creative worldview. Selections from these essays, along with Krzhizhanovsky’s unstaged comedic play That Third Guy (1937) will be published this week by University of Wisconsin Press in my translation.

The first actors to explore Krzhizhanovsky’s theater texts in English were a spirited group of students I co-taught at Princeton in 2015 together with director Tim Vasen and Slavic professor Caryl Emerson (who contributed a foreword and critical essay to this volume). With projections, film, finger puppets, dance, music, creative lighting, and an abundance of metaphor (including the Eiffel Tower reimagined as a coquettish pair of work boots), they designed and embodied the highly visual world of Krzhizhanovsky’s stories as informed by his theater essays.

That Third Guy, which I gave the class in draft translation, felt different to them at first. The play has a long literary heritage: the plot responds to Pushkin’s mythic poem about Cleopatra and the style parodies the Cleopatra plays of Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw. The play’s comedy draws on the low-brow culture of farce and sensational detective-adventure tales. Yet the dark side of Stalinism, from Krzhizhanovsky’s own reality, looms in the background. As the students experimented with staging scenes from the play, this mixture of styles and tones found their place, and the play’s layers of metatheatricality, reminding of Pirandello or Stoppard, emerged.

As the students observed, That Third Guy offers much to the reader—and spectator—of today. It champions the “little guy” trapped by a bureaucracy whose allegiances invert with little notice. It’s about power and the gendering of forms of power. It considers the meaning of fame and legacy, and the frustrations of their arbitrariness. Heroism and the dramatic canon are turned on their heads as the play marginalizes Cleopatra and Antony to foreground the Third, a thoroughly ordinary, unnamed poet. Theatrically, the play engages in Krzhizhanovsky’s modernist, phenomenological conception of what the theater does best: inventing something fresh, full of potential, self-aware of its own devices, and utterly unlike the everyday.

 

Alisa Ballard Lin is an assistant professor in the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures at the Ohio State University.

Archives of Terror: Reasons for Hope

Today’s guest blogger is Seth Bernstein, translator and editor of Alexander Vatlin’s Agents of Terror. The book is to be released in paperback this week.

Alexander Vatlin’s book Agents of Terror is one of the finest exemplars of Russia’s archival revolution. At the end of the Soviet Union and especially in its aftermath, Russian archives declassified millions of files and provided public access to the records. These documents remain the basis for thousands of scholarly and popular works that have appeared since the late 1980s. Vatlin, a Moscow State University professor, based his work on an especially coveted source—investigation files from Stalin’s Great Terror of 1937-38. Focusing on the lower ranks of Stalin’s secret police (the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, NKVD) and their victims in one district, it reveals the motivations and logistics of mass terror through a gripping micro-history.

[Above] A home in Kuntsevo District in the 1930s. The area faced repression from NKVD officers profiled in Agents of Terror.              

 Since the mid-1990s, declassification has slowed or reversed in some cases. Reclassification of documents primarily affected access to the archives of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Recently researchers have revealed disturbing news that the FSB has destroyed records from the GULAG administration.

There have been less publicized archival closings as well. In 2006, a Russian law forbid archives and other institutions from releasing files containing personal information for 75 years. The nominal aims of the law are laudable. In practice, however, archival administrators have limited access to files that reflect poorly on the Soviet state because of fear or their own convictions. Among these collections are the case files that Vatlin used in Agents of Terror, a collection of the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF). Two years after the original Russian text appeared in 2004, the research behind the book became impossible to replicate.

There is recent news that should encourage those who wish to see post-Soviet archives become more open, especially those who would like to see more research like Vatlin’s Agents of Terror. With the passing of 75 years on the dates of most of the archival files, a group of graduate students at Moscow State University (MGU) and the human rights organization Memorial agreed with GARF to digitize the entire collection of case files. Vatlin used roughly 500 case files from the terror from one district as a microhistory of Stalinist repression. In contrast, the MGU students are leading a team that will digitize approximately 100,000 files. The digitized collection will be published at the site Open List, a collaborative database of victims of Stalinist repression.

The project has great potential as a scholarly database, of course. For scholars working on the history of state repression, the history of Stalinism or using quantitative methods to explore other aspects of history and society, the collection promises to be a major source of data. More importantly, though, the database helps to fill a moral void that Vatlin exposed in Agents of Terror. In the conclusion, he states that his work is just a “fragment of an immense tragedy”:

 “In the fairy tale of the snow queen, a kingdom fell into an age of
darkness when a cursed mirror broke into myriad pieces, sowing
frosty indifference among its people. As in this fable, the living
fragments cast asunder in Soviet power’s war against its people
will weigh upon us until they are retrieved and placed into the light
of day—to the very last person.” (144)

Open List is one example of a group working to put these pieces back into place. Even as archival access has become more difficult in some instances, researchers, NGOs and state employees continue their work to bring new evidence to light about the Soviet past.

 

 

Seth Bernstein is assistant professor of history at Higher School of Economics in Moscow. He is the translator of Agents of Terror: Ordinary Men and Extraordinary Violence in Stalin’s Secret Police (University of Wisconsin Press, 2016) and Liudmila Novikova’s An Anti-Bolshevik Alternative: The White Movement and the Civil War in the Russian North (University of Wisconsin Press, 2018), and the author of Raised under Stalin: Young Communists and the Defense of Socialism (Cornell University Press, 2017).

 

THE AMBIGUOUS CLARITY OF THE OXYMORON

 

Today’s guest blogger is author Lyudmila Parts. Her new book In Search of True Russia: The Provinces in Contemporary Nationalist Discourse is published this week.

The oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms. It brings together (near) opposites, say, “open secret” or “new tradition,” and reveals the complexity of the thing through the layering of its meaning. It creates a paradox, and, paradoxically, makes complex things easier to understand. In working on the subject of the Russian provinces I had to address a great deal of opposites: center and periphery, Self and Other, past and future, spiritual and material. What makes this particular cultural myth so fascinating is not only how it operates by reversing the hierarchies inherent in these binaries, but also how it often collapses them into that clearly ambiguous entity, the oxymoron.

Rather than canceling each other out the opposites thus brought together create a thesis-antithesis-synthesis trajectory: by themselves the concepts of the center and periphery might mean little in today’s world, but a statement such as “the capital of the provinces” blends some of the old meanings into a new model.

As long as we imagine the map of our world in terms of the center and its opposite we live in the world defined and limited by binary thought. Elimination of the symbolic borderlines creates a new synthesized entity and moves us toward a fresh world vision. When the liberal media project Snob designates its target audience “Russian Europeans,” or the “global Russians” they create an oxymoron based on the readers’ deep-seated understanding of Russia and Europe as opposites. Were this oxymoron to cease to be perceived as such, were such thing as a global Russian to exist, it would put to rest old nationalists’ grievances and signal a more harmonious vision of the world. My book is about the kind of cultural and ideological situation that allows such paradoxical statements, the oxymorons, to become straightforward descriptions.

In the post-Soviet situation, these key concepts – Russia, the West, the center, and the periphery – enter into new configurations, both literally and rhetorically. Just like Russia and the West, the capital and the provinces always stand in opposition and can only be defined against each other: if one is the locus of meaning and goodness, the other is its reverse, the place of void or corruption. Can a place or a nation become a kind of third entity, taking only the positive connotations from the old binaries? If it ever happens that “the capital of the provinces” or “global Russians” do not sound controversial and oxymoronic, it would mean that Russian cultural imagination overcomes its reliance on opposites and binaries together with the conflicts inherent to them. The new nationalist thought might be willing to consider new versions of the Self and a new map of the world. How the new conceptual models are perceived, as oxymoronic or as straightforward, would determine Russia’s vision of itself and its relationship to the world.

Lyudmila Parts is an associate professor of Russian and Slavic studies at McGill University in Montreal. She is the author of The Chekhovian Intertext: Dialogue with a Classic and the editor of The Russian Twentieth-Century Short Story: A Critical Companion

 

 

A belief in jest: anarchic arts in postmodern Russia

Our guest blogger today is Alexandar Mihailovic, whose book The Mitki and the Art of Postmodern Protest in Russia is published this week. The art collective known as the Mitki emerged in Leningrad during the late Soviet period.

My road to writing The Mitki and the Art of Postmodern Protest in Russia was a circuitous one. I first discovered the Mitki by buying a pirated recording of their music at the Kiev train station in Moscow. Who were these satirical dabblers in paint, print, and sound? Like Yeats’s jester, the Mitki tossed up the gaudy “cap and bells” of their collective disinhibition to a public struggling to understand its sudden citizenship in a new country. Very quickly, other questions jostled for attention. How can artists categorize themselves as “non-conformist” while belonging to a movement?  And why do they occasionally regard alcoholism as a productive catalyst for artistic creation, while also acknowledging it as a social ill?

One of the artistic productions by the Mitki that first caught my eye was Olga Florensky’s remarkable 1994 claymation film A Story About the Miracle of Miracles (Rasskaz o chude iz chudes), a quasi-steampunk narrative of pre-Emancipation Russian military history that is also a reworking of Nikolai Leskov’s 1881 story “Lefty” [Levsha]. In Florensky’s film, a mechanical leg takes on a life of its own, separating from its owner, the military officer Major Propoitsyn. (Watch the short film on YouTube.)

Florensky wrote her first version of this story in July 1986, during Mikhail Gorbachev’s dry law and at the height of the Soviet military campaign in Afghanistan. She points to the ways in which the machines of war may contain sub-routines for renouncing their bellicose owners. The fact that the name of the Major, Propoitsyn, contains the word ‘drunkard’ (propoitsa) also suggests that imperial ambitions are expressions of unhealthy political passion.  As Florensky put it in the program essay for her 1999 exhibit Taxidermy, “the more I think about the role of effigies in the life of man, the more I find myself leaning toward the following idea: can it be that he doesn’t have to kill, in satisfying his despotic creative urges? Or, as one friend put it—a Russian born in Germany, with an uncertain grasp of the language of his ancestors—that he does not have to enmortify [primertvliat’] animals? Let the ARTIFICIAL ANIMAL be utterly artificial—may it go with God, in all its violations of anatomy and truth!”

Several nineteenth-century Russian writers—most notably Tolstoy and Saltykov-Shchedrin—famously regarded literature as a criticism of everyday life. In the work of the Mitki, we encounter the group practice of documenting dialectical shifts, of showing us just how states of servitude and conformity can give way to sunburst recognitions of freedom, how jingoism engenders pacifism, and how inebriation may be countered by a sobriety that is no less heady than the intoxication that preceded it. No wonder that Florensky’s original name for “Major Drunkard” (Propoitsyn) was Nepeitsyn (non-drinker).

The Mitki’s body of work speaks in a dizzying range of tones and moves along descending scales of affect—from punchy instruction to the sotto voce of a political unconscious begging to be heard.

Alexandar Mihailovic is a professor emeritus of comparative literature and Russian at Hofstra University and visiting professor of Slavic studies at Brown University. His books include Corporeal Words: Mikhail Bakhtin’s Theology of Discourse; an edited volume, Tchaikovsky and His Contemporaries; and a coedited book, Navid Kermani: Contemporary German Writers.

 

A Russian Revolution Reading List

In this centennial year of the Bolshevik Revolution, here is intriguing reading on political and cultural facets of the revolutionary era (1914-21).

AN AMERICAN DIPLOMAT IN BOLSHEVIK RUSSIA
DeWitt Clinton Poole
Edited by Lorraine M. Lees and William S. Rodner

“A fascinating edition of US diplomat DeWitt Clinton Poole’s oral account of his experience in revolutionary Russia from 1917 to 1919. . . . His views of the early Bolshevik government, like those of other Americans who were there, are critical as the centennial of the Russian Revolution approaches. Highly recommended, all levels/libraries.“Choice

“A historical treasure trove for an era that will never be short on paradoxes, colorful characters, brutal conflict, and harrowing circumstances. Poole, one of the last American diplomats in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution and before recognition in 1933, was a cool, detached observer of events, and rather prescient in his predictions.”Russian Life

 

THE BODY SOVIET
Tricia Starks

The Body Soviet is the first sustained investigation of the Bolshevik government’s early policies on hygiene and health care in general.”—Louise McReynolds, author of Russia at Play: Leisure Activities at the End of the Tsarist Era

“A masterpiece that will thoroughly fascinate and delight readers. Starks’s understanding of propaganda and hygiene in the early Soviet state is second to none. She tells the stories of Soviet efforts in this field with tremendous insight and ingenuity, providing a rich picture of Soviet life as it was actually lived.”—Elizabeth Wood, author of From Baba to Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia

 

FAST FORWARD
The Aesthetics and Ideology of Speed in Russian Avant-Garde Culture, 1910–1930
Tim Harte

“The book is well-written and richly illustrated. It is a pleasure to read both in the old-fashioned slow way and to browse in the accelerated fast-forward mode. This highly stimulating study responds to a long-standing need to address speed as an aesthetic category in modern Russian art and constitutes a very welcome and important contribution to the field.”—Nikolai Firtich, Slavic Review

Fast Forward reveals how the Russian avant-garde’s race to establish a new artistic and social reality over a twenty-year span reflected an ambitious metaphysical vision that corresponded closely to the nation’s rapidly changing social parameters.

 

WHEN PIGS COULD FLY AND BEARS COULD DANCE
A History of the Soviet Circus
Miriam Neirick

“A beautifully written, compact history of the Soviet circus.”—Janet M. Davis, author of The Circus Age: Culture and Society under the American Big Top

For more than seven decades the circuses enjoyed tremendous popularity in the Soviet Union. How did the circus—an institution that dethroned figures of authority and refused any orderly narrative structure—become such a cultural mainstay in a state known for blunt and didactic messages? Miriam Neirick argues that the variety, flexibility, and indeterminacy of the modern circus accounted for its appeal not only to diverse viewers but also to the Soviet state. In a society where government-legitimating myths underwent periodic revision, the circus proved a supple medium of communication.

EPIC REVISIONISM
Russian History and Literature as Stalinist Propaganda
Edited by Kevin M. F. Platt and David Brandenberger

“Platt and Brandenberger have collected first-rate contributors and produced a coherent and powerful volume that amplifies what we know about the uses and abuses of history in the Soviet 1930s.”—Ronald Grigor Suny, University of Chicago

“A boon to graduate students and a delight to aficionados of Soviet culture.”—Jeffrey Brooks, John Hopkins University

 

 

RUSSIA’S ROME
Imperial Visions, Messianic Dreams, 1890–1940
Judith E. Kalb

A wide-ranging study of empire, religious prophecy, and nationalism in literature, Russia’s Rome provides the first examination of Russia’s self-identification with Rome during a period that encompassed the revolutions of 1905 and 1917 and the rise of the Soviet state.

“Gives a new and significant context to the work of some of Russia’s major poets and prose writers of the early twentieth century. Kalb’s main contribution is to show that the interest in the Roman Empire was not an incidental part of Russian literature in this period, but a genuine obsession.” —Michael Wachtel, Princeton University

 

Burying the United Nations Genocide Treaty

This week, University of Wisconsin Press is pleased to release THE SOVIET UNION AND THE GUTTING OF THE UN GENOCIDE CONVENTION. After the staggering horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, the United Nations resolved to prevent and punish the crime of genocide throughout the world. The resulting UN Genocide Convention treaty, however, was drafted, contested, and weakened in the midst of Cold War tensions and ideological struggles between the Soviet Union and the West. Author Anton Weiss-Wendt presents a unique historical account of the failure of the genocide convention. 

Joseph Stalin is the most outstanding figure in Russia’s history, followed by Vladimir Putin and Alexander Pushkin, according to a poll of Russians released in June 2017 by the independent Levada center in Moscow. The 38% of Russians who gave their vote to Stalin clearly dismiss and/or trivialize the mass crimes committed by his regime.

Mine is a story of international criminal law through the prism of Cold War, a legal history of the Cold War. Click To Tweet

When I learned the word genocide, it was in Russian. My paternal grandparents spent nearly twenty years of their lives in Stalin’s Gulag, though they rarely spoke of it. For me, genocide is a personal story. But I am also a professionally trained historian. Hence, the objective of my book is not to condemn but to explain. Neither is it exclusively a story of the communist dictatorship and its crimes.

Unearthing a mass grave on the site of a Gulag camp at Chelyabinsk, east of the Urals, in 1990 (Scanpix)

The Soviets were certainly the biggest offenders in trying to hollow out the Genocide Convention during the UN debates in 1947–48, but they were not the only ones with a vested interest. Neither the Soviet Union nor the United States wanted political groups to be protected by the Genocide Convention. The two countries also reached an unlikely consensus that postponed indefinitely the establishment of an international criminal court. The British, for their part, never tried to conceal their dislike for the kind of international treaty they regarded as futile.

As I worked through documents in over a dozen archives in the United States and Europe, I have oscillated in my view of whether or not Stalin and his top diplomats/ accomplices Andrei Vyshinsky and Vyacheslav Molotov (the men on the front cover of the book) should have stood trial on charges of genocide. I conclude that, “under ideal circumstances, Stalin and the Soviet Union could no doubt be indicted for genocide,” yet I caution that this statement not be taken out of context.

Negotiators for the former Allies in World War II—the Soviet Union, the United States, the United Kingdom—were each conscious of cases of mass violence that they did not want to be covered by the convention. For the Soviets it was forced labor, ethnic deportations, and the destruction of political opposition in Eastern Europe. The Americans had on their minds racial discrimination at home and the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe. The British had yet the longest list of hot-button subjects: the treatment of colonial populations, American use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the treatment of Jews in Mandate Palestine, again the faith fate of German expellees, and so on.

A car owner in Moscow displays his admiration of Stalin, October 2015 (Photo: Ilya Varlamov)

The big question for me—and for all those who have examined or tried to apply the Genocide Convention in a court of law—is whether or not it is a useful legal tool. I am not optimistic. Cold War politics bankrupted the word genocide and ran aground the international treaty that was meant to stamp genocide out of existence. Stalin, and bloody dictators like him, care little for human rights law and are seldom brought to justice.

Stalin, and bloody dictators like him, care little for human rights law and are seldom brought to justice. Click To Tweet

Anton Weiss-Wendt directs research at the Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities in Oslo, Norway. He is the author of Murder without Hatred: Estonians and the Holocaust and Small-Town Russia: Childhood Memories of the Final Soviet Decade; editor of The Nazi Genocide of the Roma; and coeditor of Racial Science in Hitler’s New Europe, 1938–1945.

New books and new paperbacks, July 2017

We’re pleased to announce these new books, and titles new in paperback, debuting this month.

July 18, 2017
WISCONSIN AND THE SHAPING OF AMERICAN LAW
Joseph A. Ranney

“Not simply about Wisconsin’s legal history, for Ranney covers the sweep of state laws in American history from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 to recent legal questions of the twenty-first century. Impressively researched and invitingly written, this is a unique introduction to our states as laboratories of democracy.”—Lloyd C. Gardner,Rutgers University

State laws affect nearly every aspect of our daily lives—our safety, personal relationships, and business dealings—but receive less scholarly attention than federal laws and courts. Joseph A. Ranney looks at how state laws have evolved and shaped American history, through the lens of the historically influential state of Wisconsin.

 

July 18, 2017  NEW IN PAPERBACK
AMENDING THE PAST
Europe’s Holocaust Commissions and the Right to History
Alexander Karn

“Historical commissions, Karn argues, have brought expert historical practice to bear on complex questions, adding new meaning to facts that have either been debated or glossed over. These commissions matter because they serve to amend history in cases in which social memory has impeded understanding of historical injustices and begin the amelioration of past human rights violations.”Choice

“A very important contribution to the interdisciplinary scholarship on the broad theme of reckoning with histories of atrocity.”—Bronwyn Leebaw, University of California, Riverside

Critical Human Rights
Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

 

July 18, 2017 NEW IN PAPERBACK
SHAPING THE NEW MAN

Youth Training Regimes in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany
Alessio Ponzio

“Ponzio tells a nuanced story of the delicate and volatile relationship between interwar Europe’s two fascist regimes. . . . He highlights power struggles between leaders, curricula designed not to educate youth but to transform them into ideal representatives of their regimes, and strict gender policing within each of the organizations. Recommended.”Choice

“Ponzio provides, above all, valuable new perspectives on the tremendous influence of Italian Fascism on fledgling Nazi youth organizations, and the cooperative and reciprocal relationships that flourished between the two regimes.”—Michael Ebner, author of Ordinary Violence in Mussolini’s Italy

George L. Mosse Series in Modern European Cultural and Intellectual History
Steven E. Aschheim, Stanley G. Payne, Mary Louise Roberts, and David J. Sorkin, Series Editors

 

July 27, 2017
BEYOND THE MONASTERY WALLS

The Ascetic Revolution in Russian Orthodox Thought, 1814–1914
Patrick Lally Michelson

“Impressive in its analytical breadth and astute in its interpretive depth, this is an engaging, lucid, and original contribution to the history of modern Russian thought and modern Orthodoxy.”—Vera Shevzov, Smith College

“Reading this extraordinary book is like having missing pieces of a puzzle click together at last. Actors normally examined separately—radical socialists, theological academies, hermits, great writers, bureaucrats, lay intellectuals—emerge as part of the same religious culture that placed asceticism at the center of discourse and practice in imperial Russia’s defining century.” —Nadieszda Kizenko, University at Albany, SUNY

 

July 27, 2017
IF YOU DON’T LAUGH YOU’LL CRY 
The Occupational Humor of White Wisconsin Prison Workers
Claire Schmidt

“A lucid, compelling study of some very funny, compassionate corrections officers. Their intelligence and comic delight shine through on every page.”—Jackie McGrath, College of DuPage

America is fascinated by prisons and prison culture, but few Americans understand what it is like to work in corrections. Claire Schmidt, whose extended family includes three generations of Wisconsin prison workers, introduces readers to penitentiary officers and staff as they share stories, debate the role of corrections in American racial politics and social justice, and talk about the important function of humor in their jobs.

Folklore Studies in a Multicultural World

 

 

The History of Terrorism is Written in Blood

Today the University of Wisconsin Press releases Written in Blood: Revolutionary Terrorism and Russian Literary Culture, 1861–1881. Author Lynn Patyk reveals the spark hidden in Russian literature that ignited terrorism across history.

Another day, another attack. Somewhere in the world, a suicide bomber kills himself and countless others at a teeming market, in a subway car, at a pop concert. Terrorism seems so fundamentally a part of our reality and so numbingly endless that it is hard to imagine that it has a history, or that this history may even be told in the heroic mode. But, in fact, historians have traditionally credited Russian revolutionaries of the mid-nineteenth century—or “Nihilists” as they were called—with the invention of terrorism, which they deployed in their struggle with Russian autocracy. While the means (systematic political assassination) were morally odious, a significant segment of progressive public opinion in Russia and abroad could endorse the terrorists’ ends: the overthrow of tyranny and the introduction of Western-style freedoms.
In the case of nineteenth-century Russia, terrorism had a very particular and powerful impetus: the literary imagination. Writers in Russia served as social critics, moral authorities, visionaries, and prophets. As Russia underwent a wrenching transformation from a feudal society founded on serf labor to a modern industrializing society, literature undertook to portray new kinds of characters befitting the new reality: “men of action” in both literature and life. The necessary result in a largely untransformed and repressive political system was that this active hero would look remarkably like the modern terrorist.
19th century Russian literature's active hero, stifled by a repressive regime, anticipates the modern terrorist. Click To Tweet
Of Russia’s great realist novelists, Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821–1881) was uniquely positioned to observe and contribute to this phenomenon. Dostoevsky had himself been involved in political conspiracy, sentenced to death, and reprieved at the last moment, only to spend ten years in exile and hard labor in Siberia. These experiences gave him acute insight into tensions between the individual personality and any entity or system that tried to limit the expression of its free will, and thus into individual political violence as an emergent phenomenon.
If Dostoevsky’s novels, and in particular his terrorism trilogy of the 1860s–1880s (Crime and Punishment, Demons, and Brothers Karamazov), remain today so vitally relevant, it is because he recognized that these tensions were not peculiar to Russia and that the modern self was intrinsically terroristic. The modern self, bent on autonomy and self-realization, strains against all limitations—moral, political, religious, and aesthetic—and recognizes only itself as the highest, sovereign authority.
In the epilogue of Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky’s hero Rodion Raskolnikov has a terrifying nightmare: individuals and entire societies are infected with “trichinae,” causing them to fall prey to an unshakable self-righteousness and inevitably leading to mutual incomprehension, hatred, and a war of all against all. Dostoevsky clearly conceived this as a pathology of Western modernity, the irony being that it could just as easily manifest in the form of anti-modern ideologies (as in Dostoevsky’s case).
The modern self, bent on autonomy and self-realization, strains against all limitations. Click To Tweet
Despite his misgivings about the trajectory of modernity and the extreme individualism that it fostered, Dostoevsky rejected any external systematic constraints on freedom as a slippery slope to despotism and hegemonic state terror. When we lament the ineradicable evil that terrorism seems to be, Dostoevsky would have us recall that it is not a meaningless evil, but a profoundly meaningful one. It derives from the unprecedented freedom of modern societies, which empower individuals for maximum good or maximum harm. But this freedom has not yet given rise to a consciousness of our own individual and collective responsibility for pain and suffering in the world, which Dostoevsky saw as the key to staunching the bleeding wound that is terrorism. Instead of children at a concert, they (“the terrorists”) see “enemies.” Instead of our own culpability for violence and suffering, we see them as evil personified.

Lynn Ellen Patyk is an assistant professor of Russian at Dartmouth College.

New books in June 2017

We are pleased to announce six new books to be published in late June.

June 20, 2017
WRITTEN IN BLOOD

Revolutionary Terrorism and Russian Literary Culture, 1861–1881
Lynn Ellen Patyk

In March 1881, Russia stunned the world when a small band of revolutionaries calling themselves “terrorists” assassinated Alexander II. Horrified Russians blamed the influence of European ideas, while shocked Europeans perceived something new and distinctly Russian in a strategy of political violence that became known as “the Russian method” or “terrorism”.

“A superb model of interdisciplinary scholarship: highly original, subtle, thought-provoking, and a pleasure to read. Analyzing both word and deed, Patyk rewrites the history of modern terrorism showing why the Russian case was pivotal. A gripping story.”—Susan Morrissey, author of Suicide and the Body Politic in Imperial Russia

 

June 27, 2017
THE POX LOVER
An Activist’s Decade in New York and Paris
Anne-christine d’Adesky

Memories of the turbulent 1990s in New York City and Paris told by a pioneering American AIDS journalist, lesbian activist, and daughter of French-Haitian elites.

“In a voice both powerful and cool, The Pox Lover takes on a sprawling personal history, deeply aware throughout that it is the politics of anyone’s day—and how we respond to it—that shapes a life. Never far from the mad joy of writing, loving, and being alive, even as it investigates our horribly mundane capacity for horror, this book is a masterpiece.”—Michelle Tea, author of Black Wave

 

June 27, 2017
YOOPER TALK

Dialect as Identity in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Kathryn A. Remlinger

Yooper Talk explains linguistic concepts with entertaining examples for general readers and also contributes to interdisciplinary discussions of dialect and identity in sociolinguistics, anthropology, dialectology, and folklore.

“Although humorous songs poke fun at Yoopers’ words and customs, Remlinger takes this place and its people very seriously. She explains how history, ethnicity, environment, economic changes, tourism, and especially language have created a colorful and distinctive regional dialect and identity.”—Larry Lankton, Hollowed Ground: Copper Mining and Community Building on Lake Superior

Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest
Series Editor(s) Joseph Salmons and James P. Leary

 

June 27, 2017
THE LIMA INQUISITION

The Plight of Crypto-Jews in Seventeenth-Century Peru
Ana E. Schaposchnik

The Lima Inquisition reveals the details of the Americas’ most alarming Inquisitorial crackdown: the ‘Great Complicity’ and subsequent Auto de Fe of Lima in 1639. Schaposchnik convincingly shows that it was not an aberration or just another Baroque-era spectacle—it was the essence of what the Inquisition was and had been all about, from inception to abolition.”—Kris Lane, Tulane University

“An in-depth look at the trials of the Great Complicity in the 1630s, during which almost 100 people, overwhelmingly men and women of Portuguese origin, were accused of being crypto-Jews and detained and tried by the Inquisition. Recommended.”Choice

 

June 27, 2017
9XM TALKING 
WHA Radio and the Wisconsin Idea

Randall Davidson

This is the fascinating history of the innovative work of Wisconsin’s educational radio stations, from the first broadcast by experimental station 9XM at the University of Wisconsin to the network of stations known today as Wisconsin Public Radio. Randall Davidson provides the first comprehensive history of the University of Wisconsin radio station.

“An engaging, even engrossing, narrative about the station’s pioneering work in broadcasting. … A reader witnesses … the struggles that small and educational broadcasters faced in the early years in what was nearly a constant battle to maintain a foothold in the frequency spectrum.” Journalism History

 

 

June 27
FROM WAR TO GENOCIDE
Criminal Politics in Rwanda, 1990–1994
André Guichaoua, Translated by Don E. Webster, Foreword by Scott Straus

“A landmark in the historiography of the Rwandan genocide. No serious scholar writing about the genocide can afford to ignore this trailblazing contribution.”—René Lemarchand, author of The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa

Critical Human Rights   Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

New books, December & January

5498-165w

We are pleased to announce these new and soon-to-be-published books.

Published December 6
Inside Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts: Seeking Justice after Genocide
Bert Ingelaere
“This masterful study provides a balanced, nuanced assessment of Rwanda’s local courts, showing how diverse social dynamics influenced both the operations of gacaca and its outcomes in different local communities. Essential reading for anyone interested in transitional justice and conflict resolution, in Rwanda and beyond.”—Catharine Newbury, Smith College
Critical Human Rights   Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

 

To be published January 10Lamore-Reading-African-American-Autobiography-2016-c
Reading African American Autobiography: Twenty-First-Century Contexts and Criticism
Edited by Eric D. Lamore
“These provocative essays reveal the exciting state of African American autobiographical studies. The critical approaches explored here—from new-media studies and eco-criticism to reading the interplay between visual and verbal autobiographical acts—not only frame and interpret the life narratives proliferating within today’s digital and popular cultures, they enliven classic literary texts for a contemporary age.”—Angela Ards, author of Words of Witness
Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography   William L. Andrews, Series Editor

5526-165wTo be published January 10
American Autobiography after 9/11

Megan Brown
“Demonstrates how several American life-writing subgenres have reflected and responded to national and personal anxieties after 9/11. This accessible and well-argued book is an essential resource for understanding contemporary memoir.”—G. Thomas Couser, Hofstra University
Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography   William L. Andrews, Series Editor

 

To be published January 175415-165w
Understanding and Teaching the Cold War
Edited by Matthew Masur
“A superb collection of authoritative, imaginative, and even provocative essays on teaching the history of the Cold War, effectively merging historiography, methodology, and innovative use of primary documents.”—Jeremi Suri, author of Henry Kissinger and the American Century
The Harvey Goldberg Series for Understanding and Teaching History

John Day Tully, Matthew Masur, and Brad Austin, Series Editors

5493-165wTo be published January 17
Wisconsin Sentencing in the Tough-on-Crime Era: 
How Judges Retained Power and Why Mass Incarceration Happened Anyway
Michael O’Hear
“Serious students of modern sentencing reforms—as well as everyone eager to understand the roots of, and potential responses to, modern mass incarceration—must have this book on their reading list. O’Hear thoroughly canvasses the dynamic story of Wisconsin’s uniquely important sentencing reform history.”—Douglas Berman, author of the Sentencing Law and Policy Blog