Imperial Knowledge: Russian Literature and Colonialism

By Ewa M. Thompson | Go to book overview

forward for sovereign existence. The Jews continue to be seen through imperial eyes. Late Soviet and early post-Soviet Russian literature displays an inability to recognize, let alone discuss, problems that have been on the Western intellectual agenda for half a century.

The refusal of Russian writers to take on problems of the empire is related to the conceptual impoverishment of the Russian language under communism. The simplistic sermonizing of Village Writers is a case in point. The village-oriented metaphors they use lost power through nineteenth-century overuse. The Village Writers appeal to Russian readers who have no loyalties beyond the biological and the tribal, reinforcing these attitudes rather than opening up new horizons. The kind of nationalism that these writers promote is not advantageous to Russians as individuals, but it is advantageous to the Russian state.

The rhetoric of power routinely used in Russian literature is accompanied by the rhetoric of benevolence toward the conquered territories. It is not natives but Russians who suffer because of Russia's territorial appropriations, as Rasputin suggests in his descriptions of the Russian settlements in Siberia. This is an innocent vision of imperialism, one that lacks an awareness of its own misdeeds. If Joseph Conrad's Negroes and Orientals remained mute, there was at least a suggestion in the narrator's tone that they might have a story to tell. Not even a hint of such a suggestion is present in Rasputin or Rybakov, Astaf'ev or Solzhenitsyn. In regard to Russia's imperial possessions, the Russian reader today faces a linguistic and literary scene dominated by a monologue of power unaware of itself. The Russian language is now at a stage where it excludes, organically rejects, as it were, concepts and ideas incompatible with the full acceptance of Russia as Imperium. It is implied that the source of all significant action and life within the "Russian" Federation is Russia, and that minority cultures are grateful to Russia for the many benefits they have received from it. The constancy and immobility of that one concept, Russia, is taken for granted by the late Soviet writers. These writers tell us that Russia is a magnet that attracts members of other ethnicities. As Homi Bhabha might say, the persistence of this argument is in itself an indication of the fracturing of imperial security. Somewhere behind the loud proclamation of unity lies an awareness that a territory so vast and so heterogeneous cannot be long maintained as a unitary state in conditions of democracy and universal literacy. The desire to defend the unity no matter what, and creation of texts aimed at preventing or delaying its disintegration, may stem from this fearful realization.


NOTES
1
E. M. Thompson, Understanding Russia: The Holy Fool in Russian Culture ( Lanham, MD: Univ. Press of America, 1987), 101-2.
2
Victor Mote, Siberia ( Boulder, CO: Westview, 1998), 39.
4
George Kennan, Siberia and the Exile System, vol. 2 ( London: James Osgood, 1891), 266.
5
V. S. Novikov, Il'ia Glazunov ( Leningrad: Avrora, 1989).

-150-

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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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