Imperial Knowledge: Russian Literature and Colonialism

By Ewa M. Thompson | Go to book overview

6
Scholarship and Empire

RUSSIAN IDEOLOGY IN SOVIET LITERARY SCHOLARSHIP: VIKTOR SHKLOVSKII AND DMITRII LIKHACHËV

It has been noted that authority once achieved must have a secure and usable past.1 The permanence of imperial rule has to be protected not only by military force but also by the prestige of historiography and remembrance. In tsarist Russia, the primary means of protecting the empire were military force, literature, and the arts, rather than discursive writings. But the latter were not entirely neglected. In Soviet Russia, the production of texts useful to the empire involved enhancing, foregrounding, interpreting, and reinterpreting Russia's past and present in the writings of historians and literary critics. In particular, Russia's Muscovite past was subjected to novel interpretations imbued with the selfconfidence that earlier Russian commentators did not possess.

The first case study of these imperial reinterpretations has to do with Viktor Shklovskii, a noted Formalist critic and a survivor of the Soviet purge of Formalism in the 1930s. Unlike fellow critics who moved on to other occupations when Formalism became politically incorrect, Shklovskii did not abandon his profession. Instead, he modified his Formalism to suit the wishes of the powers that were.2 Taking advantage of the demand for reinterpretations of Russia's past that would concur with the country's superpower status, he used his considerable talents to create a new vision of Russian technology and science under Peter the Great. Here is how it happened.

In 1963, the Nestor of socialist realist theory, L. I. Timofeev, thus defined the goals of socialist realism in the Soviet Russian context: "The method of socialist realism manifests itself primarily in interpreting events of the past in the light of those problems which are relevant for us today; in the selection [italics added] of those events of which we should be aware today."3Shklovskii obliged. In On Old Masters: 1714-1812 [ O masterakh starinnykh 1714-1812] ( 1951), he

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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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