Music from a Speeding Train: Jewish Literature in Post-Revolution Russia

By Harriet Murav | Go to book overview

Eight
Afterwards

Those forces which put Soviet literature in motion ceased long
ago. What remains are only the ruins of words.

Aleksandr Genis, “A View from the Cul-de-Sac”

In reflecting on the literature of the recent period, one wants to
pause precisely on the category of the ‘last.’… The last cannot be
defined in terms of the category of time: it is after time… The
new literature is last, not because of the moment of its appear-
ance, but because of its makeup, its essential ‘beyondness.

Mikhail Epshtein,
“After the Future: On the New Consciousness in Literature”

Jewish authors, artists, and theorists contributed to the development of socialist realism as a literary and artistic practice; their writing shaped the narrative of the Second World War; they helped to formulate the version of Soviet universalism that gave them a major role as culture bearers and translators of Soviet civilization, in which the Russian artistic canon was key. At the same time, Jews also kept the backwardglancing calendar of remembrance; their work marked the destruction that piled up on the way to the ever-deferred bright future. The end of the Soviet Union made it possible for those who had been Soviet subjects to talk about, among many other things, the central role of Jews in Soviet civilization. These concluding pages provide an overview of responses to the collapse of the Soviet Union and its grand narratives, noting the parallels with earlier moments in Soviet history. I discuss how prominent writers, both Jews and non-Jews, interpret the end of Soviet history in philosophical terms; how they experienced the events of August 1991; and how literary and visual artists reacted to the collapse and the possibility of a new relation to the past. Three figures illustrate the range of responses: Alexandr Melikhov, a St. Petersburg writer; the visual artist Ilya Kabakov, who left Soviet Russia in 1988; and the poet and novelist Oleg Iur’ev, currently living in Germany. Melikhov reveals a deep and melancholic attachment to the Soviet Jewish story; Kabakov

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