Imperial Knowledge: Russian Literature and Colonialism

By Ewa M. Thompson | Go to book overview

2
Engendering Empire

The first archive or cultural descriptions that begin to define the Russians as successful imperialists consists of Russian Romantic writings about the Caucasus. Literary representations of Caucasus natives contained in these writings entered the canon of Russian literature, contributed to Russian self-perception, and influenced attitudes toward the Caucasus dwellers. The Romanticizing of colonialism in the works of Pushkins and Lermontov had its parallels in Orientalist literature of Western Europe. However, while Western Orientalism relied largely on expository writings, in Russia the role of poets and novelists was preeminent. Orientalist-style expository writings were limited to secret papers and memoranda prepared by Russian diplomats for the benefit of the crown.1

That this literary archive was created relatively late in Russian imperial history was due to the specificity of Russian cultural development that lagged behind territorial development. Before Pushkin and Lermontov appeared on the literary scene, Russia was not sufficiently literate to transform imperial experience into textual authority. In sixteenth and seventeenth-century Muscovy, secular literature had been meager, and cultural records had been largely religious, written in a language and an alphabet accessible to only a few hundred people in the realm. One of the few secular works of that period, a book of household rules titled Domostroi, focused on individual households rather than on society or politics.2 The first part of Domostroi instructs the reader in how to believe in God and how to honor the tsar, but the remainder is devoted to family relations and household chores, such as pickling cucumbers for winter.3 Side by side with this nonhegemonic view of the world, however, there existed secrecy, maintained under several tsars, about the conquest of Siberia: the Dutch traveler Isaac Massa speaks about it in his book on Russia.4 Partly due to that secrecy, the conquest of Siberia in the seventeenth century generated no great literary lore, and writers' visions of their country continued to be isolationist, introverted, and timid.

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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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