Imperial Knowledge: Russian Literature and Colonialism

By Ewa M. Thompson | Go to book overview

1
The Problem

The subject matter of this book is the massive infusion into Russian cultural discourse of Russia's great-power status. This infusion has been obscured by a lack of intellectual habits of detection. While readers of Western literatures have been sensitized to the literary presence of the mediating techniques of power, no similar process has taken place with regard to Russian letters. When anticolonial consciousness surfaced in the West's colonies and among Western intellectuals, Russia was excluded from consideration, because Russian imperialism seemed to have been a matter of its pre-communist past. The focus of postcolonial discourse was on the West's former colonies and the help they received from Soviet Russia rather than on tsarist and Soviet engagement in a similar colonial enterprise. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the rejoicing over the fall of an oppressive system took precedence over other considerations, and again the residue of Russian colonialism in Russian letters faded from view. Entire libraries of books and journals inscribed a noncolonial image of Russian culture upon the memories of Western readers. The present book is pitted against this overwhelming authority of texts and testimonies.

Several other issues mitigate the perception of Russia as a colonial power. The first is the location of Russia's colonies. In postcolonial theory and criticism, it is usually assumed that colonies are remote from the metropolis and their conquest requires travel overseas. In the Russian case, they have been contiguous to ethnically Russian lands. The violent transformation of the Russian empire into the Soviet Union further obscured the colonial nature of the Russian-dominated state. That state was enlarged by a series of wars, annexations, and diplomatic maneuvers that were not unlike the overseas ventures of the Western European powers. But because of the proximity of Russia's colonies to ethnic Russia, the borderline between the two blurred and screened in Russian and foreign memory the nature of the relationship between metropolis and periphery. In the 1990s, imperial territories have shrunk to the "Russian" [Rossiiskaia] Federation, which contains various peripheries in search of sovereignty and identity.

-15-

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Imperial Knowledge: Russian Literature and Colonialism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgment vii
  • Introduction: - Nationalism, Colonialism, Identity 1
  • Notes 12
  • 1 - The Problem 15
  • Notes 47
  • 2 - Engendering Empire 53
  • Notes 81
  • 3 - The Consolidating Vision: War and Peace As the New Core Myth Of Russian Nationhood 85
  • Notes 106
  • 4 - The Central Asian Narrative In Russian Letters 109
  • Notes 125
  • 5 - Imperial Desire In the Late Soviet Period 129
  • Notes 150
  • 6 - Scholarship and Empire 153
  • Notes 193
  • 7 - Deconstructing Empire: Liudmila Petrushevskaia 199
  • Notes 221
  • Selected Bibliography 223
  • Index 233
  • About the Author *
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