Russia Eternal: Recalling The Imperial Era In Late- And Post-Soviet Literature And Culture

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Comparative Literature and Literary Theory
Eastern European Studies
English Language and Literature
European History
European Languages and Societies
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The return of Tsarist buildings, narratives and symbols has been a prominent facet of social life in post-Soviet Russia. My dissertation aims to explain this phenomenon and its meaning by tracking contemporary Russia’s cultural memory of the Imperial era. By close-reading both popular and influential cultural texts, as well as analyzing their conditions of production and reception, I show how three generations of Russian cultural elites from the 1950s until today have used Russia’s past to fight present-day political battles, and outline how the cultural memory of the Imperial epoch continues to inform post-Soviet Russian leaders and their mainstream detractors. Chapters One and Two situate the origin of Russian culture’s current engagement with the pre-Revolutionary era in the social dynamic following Stalin’s death in 1953. I first discuss how the pre-Soviet past was inherited by the post-Stalin liberal elites and amplified by the expansion of a mass ‘technical intelligentsia,’ the burgeoning of media, and the growth of political and affective links between the educated masses and the cultural elites who would represent them. I then examine how late Soviet conservatives used the pre-Soviet past to dispute the liberal hegemony and to forge anti-liberal alliances with state power. Chapter Three shows how the memory of the late Imperial era and its Revolutionary terminus has informed the capitalist, liberal-conservative ‘homo faber’ rhetoric of the anti-Soviet intelligentsia coalition that brought first Yeltsin and then Putin to power, and legitimated an undemocratic and increasingly repressive post-Soviet state. Chapter Four examines several vectors of a more thoroughly liberal humanist counter-discourse on the pre-Soviet past. I claim that this counter-discourse was always productively skeptical of Soviet liberal and conservative models of historical inheritance, and that it arose simultaneously with the Perestroika and proceeded to reappear for two decades, though more in a potential, rather than a fully articulated way. I conclude by suggesting that in the wake of the 2011-2012 mass protests, the pre-Soviet past has lost its consensus appeal, indicating the end of a sixty-year-long Russian discursive trend and the beginning of a new, more future-oriented form of mainstream liberal politics.

Kevin M. Platt
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