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Russia’s Dangerous Texts

Russia’s Dangerous Texts: Politics Between the Lines

Kathleen F. Parthé
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Russia’s Dangerous Texts
    Book Description:

    Russia's Dangerous Textsexamines the ways that writers and their works unnerved and irritated Russia's authoritarian rulers both before and after the Revolution. Kathleen F. Parthé identifies ten historically powerful beliefs about literature and politics in Russia, which include a view of the artistic text as national territory, and the belief that writers must avoid all contact with the state.Parthé offers a compelling analysis of the power of Russian literature to shape national identity despite sustained efforts to silence authors deemed subversive. No amount of repression could prevent the production, distribution, and discussion of texts outside official channels. Along with tragic stories of lost manuscripts and persecuted writers, there is ample evidence of an unbroken thread of political discourse through art. The book concludes with a consideration of the impact of two centuries of dangerous texts on post-Soviet Russia.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13822-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. Chapter 1 Literature and Politics in Russia
    (pp. 1-50)

    Over the course of a century and a half from Pushkin’s time until the late Soviet period, intense interaction between literature and state power became a distinctive feature of Russian civilization. Both the government and those who opposed it believed that the artistic text could be a powerful force for good or ill and for that reason gave it serious and sustained attention. By the 1860s, Dostoevsky feared that despite the empire’s watchful eye, Russia was being undermined by a progressive ideology widely supported in the literary world, although an official censor felt that books were “merely thermometers of ideas...

  6. Chapter 2 The Disappearing Text: Reading Subversion Between the Lines
    (pp. 51-74)

    Having identified core beliefs about the state’s encounter with writers and texts, and having followed the historical patterns of this relationship, we are ready to construct a paradigm and to see how its existence is confirmed in the mirror of parody. The dangerous message—whether there by authorial intention or the echo of material deleted by the censor, whether an invention of the state, the wishful thinking of a disenfranchised reader, or the partially hidden agenda of a social critic—is not immediately visible. Pushkin feared that the state would read too much into artistic texts, turning poetic trees and...

  7. Chapter 3 The Dangerous Narrative of the Russian Village
    (pp. 75-101)

    During the Thaw, at a time when traditional rural communities had all but vanished from the Russian landscape, they put in a strong appearance on the pages of prose fiction. Of all postwar literary movements, Village Prose (derevenskaia proza) was the largest, the longest-lasting (1956–80), and the one most often subject to political readings. The village and its inhabitants achieved a higher profile in Soviet literature after 1953 than did cities and urban dwellers, factories and their workers, or battlefields and soldiers. Writers of canonicalderevenskaia prozaenjoyed an immediate legitimacy because of their rural background, and they used...

  8. Chapter 4 Russians and “Others”: The Text as Territory
    (pp. 102-131)

    A strong sense of territoriality has influenced the reception of literature in Russia. This is not unexpected because the Russian land, texts, and state authority all have been marked as potentially sacred or demonic.¹ The most striking instance of this linkage involves the seventeenth-century Old Believers, who began by rejecting corrected versions of the holy texts, then denied the legitimacy of state authority, and then finally questioned whether what had clearly become the domain of the Antichrist could still be Holy Russia. After the disputed reforms were approved by a church council and confirmed by Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, many schismatics...

  9. Chapter 5 Righteousness and the Value of Suffering
    (pp. 132-159)

    The willingness to suffer for truth and justice played an enduring, at times controversial, role in Russian culture as righteous people walked through both Russia’s texts and Russia’s territory. Authors and their characters provided examples of a loyalty that could not be bought other than with the truth—was this sufficient to make them a potential danger to the state? How did the fact of a writer’s suffering at the hands of the government itself come to be politicized? Finally, what do the tribulations of writer or text have to do with a given work’s lasting value?

    Thepravednik(righteous man)...

  10. Chapter 6 The End of Soviet Literature and the Last Dangerous Text . . .
    (pp. 160-205)

    The last fifteen years of the twentieth century marked a profound shift in how the government read writers’ lives and works, as the Gorbachev era brought promise and possibility, along with upheaval and uncertainty, to the literary world. In 1985, Socialist Realism was moribund, Village Prose had ceased to function as a powerful movement, and a number of talented writers had recently left the country, or had died, further reducing ranks seriously thinned by emigration and expulsions in the 1970s. But as the old prohibitions evaporated, the country was treated to new works, to a wealth of formerly “dangerous texts,”...

  11. Afterword Dangerous Texts in the New Russia
    (pp. 206-218)

    The old paradigm survived the demise of the Soviet Union primarily in the pages of the ultranationalist and Communist press, where artistic and critical prose was still seen as a political weapon. The newspaperDenand its successorZavtra,and the journalsNash sovremennikandMolodaia gvardiia,among others, marked literary texts, writers, and critics as either patriotic and Russian, or cosmopolitan and a danger to the nation. Attempting to adapt to the reality of political choice in the mid-1990s, the values of the Red-Browns were transformed into campaign rhetoric.

    During the December 1995 Duma elections and the two rounds...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 219-266)
  13. Index
    (pp. 267-284)