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How the Soviet Man Was Unmade

How the Soviet Man Was Unmade: Cultural Fantasy and Male Subjectivity under Stalin

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    How the Soviet Man Was Unmade
    Book Description:

    In Stalinist Russia, the idealized Soviet man projected an image of strength, virility, and unyielding drive in his desire to build a powerful socialist state. In monuments, posters, and other tools of cultural production, he became the demigod of Communist ideology. But beneath the surface of this fantasy, between the lines of texts and in film, lurked another figure: the wounded body of the heroic invalid, the second version of Stalin's New Man.InHow the Soviet Man Was Unmade, Lilya Kaganovsky exposes the paradox behind the myth of the indestructible Stalinist-era male. In her analysis of social-realist literature and cinema, she examines the recurring theme of the mutilated male body, which appears with startling frequency. Kaganovsky views this representation as a thinly veiled statement about the emasculated male condition during the Stalinist era. Because the communist state was "full of heroes," a man could only truly distinguish himself and attain hero status through bodily sacrifice-yet in his wounding, he was forever reminded that he would be limited in what he could achieve, and was expected to remain in a state of continued subservience to Stalin and the party.Kaganovsky provides an insightful reevaluation of classic works of the period, including the novels of Nikolai Ostrovskii (How Steel Was Tempered) and Boris Polevoi (A Story About a Real Man), and films such as Ivan Pyr'ev'sThe Party Card, Eduard Pentslin'sThe Fighter Pilots, and Mikhail Chiaureli'sThe Fall of Berlin, among others. The symbolism of wounding and dismemberment in these works acts as a fissure in the facade of Stalinist cultural production through which we can view the consequences of historic and political trauma.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7343-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. 1 INTRODUCTION: ʺBodies That Matterʺ
    (pp. 1-18)

    What does the socialist realist hero look like? Is he strong and healthy, handsome and virile, broad shouldered and square chinned? Is he “stern,” “determined,” “shiny-eyed,” and “proud”?¹ Or does he resemble a “living skeleton covered with dark, seemingly charred skin”?² How do we begin to make sense of this double image that works like a double exposure, the one body overlaid on the other, the healthy and happy Soviet man obscuring the skeletal remains of this second fantasy, this “other scene” taking place in the unconscious?

    Fedor Gladkov’s 1925 novelTsement(Cement), opens with Gleb Chumalov’s return home from...

    (pp. 19-41)

    In 1938 the Leningrad branch of the State Publishing House of the USSR (Gosizdat) published a volume of critical essays on the image of the Bolshevik in Soviet literature, which included, among other works, an essay by I. Grinberg entitled: “Geroi sovetskogo romana” (The Hero of the Soviet Novel).¹ The essay covered Maksim Gor’kii’s volume of short storiesRozhdenie cheloveka(The Birth of a Man, 1927) that, according to Grinberg’s formulation (borrowed from Gor’kii’s own speech at the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers), demonstrated “the problem of ideological remaking and the growth of the working class in the spirit...

    (pp. 42-66)

    In 1994, director Leonid Trauberg opened his tribute to Ivan Pyr’ev with the following story. He wrote that whenPartiinyi bilet(Party Membership Card [The Party Card], 1936) first appeared in theaters in Moscow, the film caused a stir: “My friend, the Leningrad director F. Ermler, who, from the very beginning of the revolution had worked in the party, in the Cheka, secretly confessed to me: ‘You see, I saw this movie and now, more than anything, I’m afraid for my party card, what if someone stole it? You won’t believe me, but at night I check under my wife’s...

    (pp. 67-118)

    What does Ivan Pyr’ev’sThe Party Cardteach us about heterosexual love and conventional marriage? In a world where no spouse can be trusted and all subjects are guilty before the law (of Stalinism, of language, of universal castration), how do we avoid heterosexual desire and the trauma of sexual difference? Writing about the “deadlock” of sexuality, Jacques Lacan suggests that courtly love is “an altogether refined way of making up for the absence of sexual relation [l’absence du rapport sexuel] by pretending that it is we who put an obstacle to it.” He adds, “For the man whose lady...

    (pp. 119-153)

    Boris Polevoi’s novelPovest’ o nastoiashchem cheloveke(A Story About a Real Man, 1947) tells the story of a fighter pilot, Aleksei Meres’ev, who, after having his feet amputated at the shins, nonetheless returns to the front on prosthetic legs to fly combat against the German army.¹ Based on the biography of a real fighter pilot, Aleksei Mares’ev, a World War II airman decorated with the title of Hero of the Soviet Union,² and making explicit references to Nikolai Ostrovskii’s novelHow the Steel Was Tempered, as well as to the famous description of Ostrovskii himself as a “living mummy,”...

  6. 6 EPILOGUE: ʺFemale Masculinityʺ
    (pp. 154-174)

    The problematics of gender construction and identification, the historical contingencies of Stalinism, and the stakes of faith in and eventual abandonment of collective belief are played out in the literature and the film of the era. The conflict between the two types of masculinity produced by Stalinist culture are illustrated by these two descriptions, written six decades apart. First, a passage from Iurii Olesha’s diary from 1931:

    Saw a man at the barber’s, the kind I would like to have been myself. He was getting a shave. A peasant, probably. The face of a soldier, maybe forty years old, healthy,...