Polina Barskova, associate professor of Russian literature, received her B.A. from St. Petersburg State University and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. Her scholarly publications include articles on Nabokov, the Bakhtin brothers, early Soviet film, and the aestheticization of historical trauma.
She has also authored six books of poetry in Russian. Professor Barskova is currently working on a project entitled "Petersburg Besieged: Culture of the Aesthetic Opposition."
While Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in the 19th century and Socialist Realists in the 20th century defined form and content of the Russian and Soviet literatures, two writers whom we will read closely for this course observed, commented on and derided construction of the canon while sitting--as Cheshire cat once did--on the imaginary clouds of the self-imposed marginality. Both created their most famous works in the exile, both played with limits of language, traditional morale and gender, both were eccentric, provocative, unique and highly influential. In our readings we will move between the celebrated texts, such as Gogol's "Overcoat" and Nabokov's "Pnin" to the lesser known works of various genres: short stories, essays, letters and interviews. We will also watch several film adaptations of Gogol's and Nabokov's texts attempting to answer the question: how--if at all--notoriously playful stylistic literary choices can be "translated" for the screen? Our protagonists--who saw themselves as eccentrics and were seen in equal measures of awe and animosity by others--should help us define what it means to be different within a discourse and a culture.
In Russia, the beginning of the twenty-first century has witnessed enough change, upheaval, and controversy that we might start looking for the emergence of new modes of cultural representation. When the president of the country flies up to guide a herd of migrating cranes and dives down to discover archaeological artifacts, when the fathers of the Russian Orthodox Church focus on the interpretation of an all-girl punk group performance, when the popular protest against the Kremlin is led by popular writers and poets-how do all these and many other bewildering phenomena create texts and how do texts in turn shape them? Our course will attempt to create a map of contemporary Russian literature, exploring its institutions, major players and genres, as well as the modes of its interaction with other discourses and media. We will read novels and essays, poetry and drama; we will also contemplate the role of translation and criticism in the development of the Russian literary languages and strategies of today. Our research topics will include the ways in which Russian literature now reflects on its relationship with tradition and canon formation (just how new are much discussed movements like New Drama and New Left poetry and how do they relate to their predecessors?), the dialogue between East and West, new figurations of gender and class, of cultural and historical memory. In drawing our map, we will also explore new Russian writing in the diaspora, seeing how it creates a dialogue with-and a critique of-contemporary modes of textual production in the "metropole."
Modernity. Quest for the Divine. Scandal. Madness. Erotic Obsession. State Surveillance. These are a sampling of the topics found in two major Russian novels: "The Idiot" (1868) by Fedor Dostoevskii and "Master and Margarita" by Mikhail Bulgakov (1929-1940). Close reading of these texts within their historical, social, and cultural contexts will allow us to pose the following questions: What are the defining features of the novel genre in its Russian manifestation? What is the trajectory of the genre's development from the "great Russian novel" in the 19th century to Bulgakov's "great underground Soviet novel"? In our analysis, we will implement various Western and Russian theories of the novel and discuss the validity and intentions of various film adaptations of these texts. Students are expected to produce short response papers, longer analytical papers, and oral presentations for the class.
This course has an objective to introduce Russian literature in full bloom through the form of the utmost reactivity to the ideological and artistic issues of the day - that of the short story, one crucial genre practiced in various ways by such giants of Russian literature as Gogol, Chekhov, Babel, Nabokov, and others.Another aspect of this course will be the close analysis of the short story genre and its metamorphoses over the course of the 19th-20th centuries. In addition to completing an oral presentation, students will write three analytical essays (5 pp) and a creative assignment in which they are supposed to emulate the styles of the writers we analyzed before. For the final paper (8-10 pp), students will have two options: to rewrite one of their previous papers by incorporation of a comparative perspective into it, or to write a paper, using one of our later readings.
Associate Professor of Russian Literature
Mail Code CS
Adele Simmons Hall 107
893 West Street
Amherst, MA 01002