Imperial Knowledge: Russian Literature and Colonialism

Imperial Knowledge: Russian Literature and Colonialism

Imperial Knowledge: Russian Literature and Colonialism

Imperial Knowledge: Russian Literature and Colonialism

Synopsis

While Western literature has long reflected the techniques of power that privileged the colonial masters and their point of view, Russian fictional and nonfictional texts have escaped such scrutiny because Russia is not generally considered a colonial power. In arguing that Russia's long history of territorial expansion is a form of colonization, this book uses postcolonial theory to examine Russian literature and the power structures reflected in it. Among the authors discussed are Pushkin, Lermontov, Tolstoy, and Solzhenitsyn.

Excerpt

To introduce the subject of colonialism in Russian literature, a clarification of terminology is in order. This book argues that in contrast to Western colonialism, in which national concerns were often subsumed by those of race and overseas conquest, Russian colonialism leaned heavily on national identity and contiguous expansion. The book further argues that a distinction should be maintained between defensive nationalism, which is poised to defend identity, and aggressive nationalism, which strives to export identity and acquire land on which Others live. Russian nationalism is both aggressive and defensive, and in its aggressive mode it has transformed itself into an imperial appetite for colonial possessions contiguous to ethnic Russia. We may assume that to become a colony of another political and national power, a territory need not sign treaties acknowledging dominion status, as was the case with many British possessions. In the Russian case, territorial conquests were followed by incorporation into Russia or imposition of governments subservient to Russian interests. Russian literature mediated this process by imposing on the conquered territories a narrative of Russian presence that elbowed out native concerns and the native story.

Not only Central Asia and Central and Eastern Europe have been subjected to Russian colonialism but also Siberia, the Caucasus, and the Far East. While the collapse of communism brought sovereignty to Russia's European possessions and to Central Asia, in Siberia, the Caucasus and the Far East there is an increasingly uneasy relationship with Moscow. From the point of view of territory and population, Siberia and the Caucasus are distinct entities, comparable to the "white colonies" of the British, such as Canada or Australia. A devolution of power in Siberia and the Far East need not involve total separation from Moscow, and the book makes no recommendations as to how the process of decentralization should develop. What it tries to show is how Russian writers abetted the power of the center so as to prevent the periphery from speaking in its own . . .

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