Writing at Russia's Borders

Writing at Russia's Borders

KATYA HOKANSON
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 336
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442689664
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    Writing at Russia's Borders
    Book Description:

    It is often assumed that cultural identity is determined in a country's metropolitan centres. Given Russia's long tenure as a geographically and socially diverse empire, however, there is a certain distillation of peripheral experiences and ideas that contributes just as much to theories of national culture as do urban-centred perspectives.Writing at Russia's Borderargues that Russian literature needs to be reexamined in light of the fact that many of its most important nineteenth-century texts are peripheral, not in significance but in provenance.

    Katya Hokanson makes the case that the fluid and ever-changing cultural and linguistic boundaries of Russia's border regions profoundly influenced the nation's literature, posing challenges to stereotypical or territorially based conceptions of Russia's imperial, military, and cultural identity. A highly canonical text such as Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (1831), which is set in European Russia, is no less dependent on the perspectives of those living at the edges of the Russian Empire than is Tolstoy's The Cossacks (1863), which is explicitly set on Russia?s border and has become central to the Russian canon. Hokanson cites the influence of these and other ‘periphera’ texts as proof that Russia's national identity was dependent upon the experiences of people living in the border areas of an expanding empire. Produced at a cultural moment of contrast and exchange, the literature of the periphery represented a negotiation of different views of Russian identity, an ingredient that was ultimately essential even to literature produced in the major cities.

    Writing at Russia's Borderupends popular ideas of national cultural production and is a fascinating study of the social implications of nineteenth-century Russian literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8966-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-22)

    Russia’s geographic expanse has always been one of its defining qualities, and conquest and annexation its mode of creation and development. As one historian puts it, ‘Russian expansion was overdetermined, driven by economic, ideological and security interests.’¹ A land that became a contiguous empire, Russia’s vast reaches are known for having helped defeat Napoleon and Hitler and for subjecting countless political and social offenders to distant exile and imprisonment. The Mongol invaders, who appeared suddenly from the steppes early in the second millennium, controlled much Russian territory in spite of the distances involved and left lasting marks on Russian language...

  5. 1 Pushkin, ‘The Captive of the Caucasus,’ and Russia’s Entry into History
    (pp. 23-72)

    The status of Pushkin in Russian literature and culture and the voluminous, frequently politicized critical literature about his work make it complicated to disentangle the various layers of interpretation surrounding any of his works. Yet the appearance of his narrative poem ‘Kavkazskii plennik’ (The Captive of the Caucasus), written in 1821 and published in 1822, was, for many contemporaries and later scholars, an undisputed turning point in Pushkin’s career and in the history of Russian literature. A unique group of factors led to the perception that ‘Kavkazskii plennik’ was the first truly national work of Russian literature and that Pushkin...

  6. 2 The Poetry of Empire: ‘The Fountain of Bakhchisarai’ and ‘The Gypsies’
    (pp. 73-107)

    Pushkin’s second published southern narrative poem, ‘The Fountain of Bakhchisarai,’ and ‘The Gypsies,’ Pushkin’s last ‘southern’ work, which create largely non-Russian worlds in works of Russian literature, both utilize collapsed and blended frames of space and time to create poetic effects of presence and distance. ‘The Fountain of Bakhchisarai,’ like ‘Kavkazskii plennik’ based on Byronic models, represents Russia in two registers: as historic victim of the Crimean khans and as contemporaneous victor over them. The Crimean palace is seen as a vibrant whole only by means of Russian poetry. The Russian conquest of the Crimea, militarily and poetically, is what...

  7. 3 Centring the Periphery: Eugene Onegin, ‘Onegin’s Journey,’ and ‘A Journey to Arzrum’
    (pp. 108-169)

    Eugene Onegin, arguably the most central text in the history of Russian literature, is heavily marked by Pushkin’s two southern experiences and by motifs of exile, whether Oriental or provincial. In three important and interrelated texts,Eugene Onegin, ‘Onegin’s Journey,’ and ‘A Journey to Arzrum,’ Pushkin treats Russian self-representation in terms of the interrelation between place and the written word.Eugene Oneginand the character of Onegin are in great part constituted by Russia’s relationship to its periphery and to its countryside, and in turn ‘Onegin’s Journey’ and ‘Journey to Arzrum’ are closely connected to the character of Onegin.

    Pushkin...

  8. 4 The Future of Russia in the Mirror of the Caspian: Hybridity and Narodnost’ in Ammalat-bek and A Hero of Our Time
    (pp. 170-197)

    This chapter shifts the exploration of narodnost’ and national literature to the view of the soldier, exploring the expansion of the empire and the assimilation of others into the empire. Bestuzhev-Marlinskii’s story of Ammalat-bek creates a justification for the ‘pacification’ of the Caucasus, while Lermontov’s Maksim Maksimych inA Hero of Our Timereassures the reader of the benignity of imperial representatives. Narodnost’ is explored in the idealized camp setting ofAmmalat-bek, while the hybrid native (whether Ammalat as re-educated warrior or Bela as native ‘bride’ of Pechorin) re-establishes the need to control the male other while co-opting the female....

  9. 5 Tolstoy on the Margins
    (pp. 198-223)

    InThe Cossacks,Tolstoy explores among other things the limits of the Russian word, of literacy. The epistolary connection linking centre and periphery is snapped in two metaphorically, as Olenin feels that his interlocutors in the metropole cannot understand him, even though the novella itself is surely written for that same audience. Tolstoy defamiliarizes narodnost’, portraying the Russian Cossacks as unfamiliar and unassimilable, yet intimately tied to Russian history and identity. The Russian self is the terra incognita, territory to be travelled and discovered.

    Tolstoy’sThe Cossacksis a novella in which no conflict of identity seems to be left...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 224-228)

    In this study I have argued that Russian literature, like Russian nationalism, was significantly constructed and shaped by its engagement with the southern border, the periphery of the burgeoning Russian empire. Even texts read as essentially separate from the classic texts of the Caucasian theme, such asEugene Onegin, are informed by, indeed are formed by, this dynamic. The powerful investment of meaning in ‘Kavkazskii plennik,’ a narrative poem that proved to be a turning point in Russian literature, created an important legacy. A return to this narrative was always a return to familiar ground, a revisiting of well known...

  11. Appendix: Aleksandr Pushkin’s ‘The Captive of the Caucasus’ – A Translation
    (pp. 229-254)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 255-282)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 283-296)
  14. Index
    (pp. 297-301)