Self and Story in Russian History

Self and Story in Russian History

Self and Story in Russian History

Self and Story in Russian History

Synopsis

Russians have often been characterized as people with souls rather than selves. Self and Story in Russian History challenges the portrayal of the Russian character as selfless, self-effacing, or self-torturing by exploring the texts through which Russians have defined themselves as private persons and shaped their relation to the cultural community. The stories of self under consideration here reflect the perspectives of men and women from the last two hundred years, ranging from westernized nobles to simple peasants, from such famous people as Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Akhmatova, and Nicholas II to lowly religious sectarians. Fifteen distinguished historians and literary scholars situate the narratives of self in their historical context and show how, since the eighteenth century, Russians have used expressive genres-including diaries, novels, medical case studies, films, letters, and theater-to make political and moral statements. The first book to examine the narration of self as idea and ideal in Russia, this vital work contemplates the shifting historical manifestations of identity, the strategies of self-creation, and the diversity of narrative forms. Its authors establish that there is a history of the individual in Russian culture roughly analogous to the one associated with the West.

Excerpt

Self and Story in Russian History began as a conversation between the editors about our two disciplines, history and literature. We realized that some of the theoretical issues most interesting to us in our separate disciplines were seldom illuminated with help from the other, and we decided to create an occasion for this kind of conversation for colleagues working in different periods of Russian history and across several media of cultural expression. the Social Science Research Council, through the Joint ACLS-SSRC Committee on the Soviet Union and Its Successor States, agreed to fund a working conference at which papers, distributed in advance, would be discussed. Our chosen focus, self and story, was meant to elicit basic principles about the ideas of identity, self-creation, and narrative as they have evolved in the modern period in Russia.

The Introduction speaks at some length about the ideas that emerged in our conversations, but perhaps it is worth adding in this Preface some sense of why the confluence of self and story appealed to us as a topic for a small conference and for this collection of essays. We wanted a focus that could draw on recent theoretical innovations in the humanities, particularly one that would push historians and literary scholars to question the premises of their own disciplines and to see the usefulness and limits of another discipline. We suspected that some theoretical innovations, particularly those associated with psychoanalysis and deconstruction, would have had more impact on the study of Russian literature than on the study of Russian history, whereas others—for example, the theories of Michel Foucault—would have affected the study of history much more. We were interested to discover what time periods or forms of cultural ex-

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