The Soviet Imaginary

RUSS 26701 01


Prof. Robert Bird


M 7-10, Screening Cobb 425

      * 5pm on November 27 at Cobb 307

TTh 3-4:20 Class Cobb 304


* On October 26 and November 9 class will be held at Special Collections in the Regenstein Library.




“The Soviet Imaginary” is a study of the structures and themes of Soviet culture over its duration. In an attempt to avoid simplifying Soviet culture into rigid periods, dichotomies, or stereotypes, at the beginning of the quarter we will have several theoretical texts on the concept of the Imaginary, which will help us to establish working definitions for such key terms as ideology, utopia, fiction and satire. The rest of our texts are samples of literary works and films from the entire length and breadth of Soviet culture (and into the post-Soviet period), from satire and dissidence to children’s books and school readings. Insofar as the Soviet Imaginary was rooted in European modernism and was forcibly imposed on other countries in the Eastern Bloc, the participation of non-Russian specialists is especially encouraged; readings and screenings may be adjusted to reflect the complexion of the course. Key authors include: Aleksandr Bogdanov, Evgenii Zamiatin, Andrei Platonov, Il’ia Il’f and Evgenii Petrov, Valentin Rasputin, Evgenii Evtushenko, and Sergei Dovlatov. Films include classics of the 1920s, the Stalinist period, the Thaw, and late- and post-Soviet cinema. Insofar as some texts have never been translated and some of the films are available only without subtitles, some knowledge of a Slavic language would be very helpful.



Books available at Seminary Co-op:

Aleksandr Bogdanov, Red Star (Indiana UP).

Andrei Platonov, The Fierce and Beautiful World (New York Review of Books) 0940322331

Evgeny Dobrenko and Eric Naiman, eds., The Landscape of Stalinism: The Art and Ideology of Soviet Space (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003). 0295983418


Suggested texts (in Russian or English translation):

Evgeny Zamiatin, We

Valentin Rasputin, Farewell to Matyora (Northwestern, 0810113295)



For class on 10/26 you will be asked to prepare a short presentation on one of the children’s books in the U of C collection (details to follow).

At the end of the quarter you will be asked to write a short paper (15pp for grad students, 10pp. for undergraduates) and to present your findings to the group.



40% class participation

10% presentation

50% paper and presentation



Preliminary Schedule

First meeting/screening: October 2, 7pm, C425

The phenomenon of Arkadii Gaidar

The phenomenon of Valerii Chkalov: Valerii Chkalov by Mikhail Kalatozov (1941, 82m); Andrei Tarkovskii, Mirror (excerpts); Maksim Pezhemskii, Perekhod tovarishcha Chkalova cherez Severnyi polius (1990, 20m).


Week 2: Modernist Imaginary and Utopian fiction

Aleksandr Bogdanov, Engineer Menni

Fedor Sologub, excerpts from Dym i pepel/Smoke and Ashes (vol. 3 of Tvorimaia legenda), chapters 80-81; (ER).

Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror Stage” (Handout).

Cornelius Castoriadis, “The Imaginary: Creation in the Social-Historical Domain,” 3-18. (ER)


Week 3: The Imaginary Revolution

Evgenii Zamiatin, My / We.

Paul Ricoeur, “The Social Imaginary” and “On Utopia” (ER).

Screening 10/9: Aelita, dir. Iakov Protazanov ( 111m) (FSC DVD328); Oblomok imperii (A Fragment of the Empire), dir. Fridrikh Ermler (1929, 75m.)


Week 4: Imaginary Networks (Radio, Transportation)

Vladimir Maiakovskii, “Radio-agitator” (Handout).

Andrei Platonov, “The Fierce and Beautiful World.”

Andrei Platonov, “Svet i sotsializm” (ER)

Il’ia Il’f and Evgenii Petrov, Zolotoi telenok (Golden Calf), parts 1 & 3 (Library).

Susan Buck-Morss, “On Time,” 42-69. (ER)

Emma Widdis, “To Explore or Conquer? Mobile Perspectives on the Soviet Cultural Revolution,” The Landscape of Stalinism, 219-240.

Screening 10/16: Shagai Sovet! (Stride, Soviet!), dir. Dziga Vertov (1926, 55 min.); Turksib, dir. Viktor Turin (1929, 57 min.).


Week 5: Narrative, Aviation, Exploration (Thursday meeting in Regenstein)

Nikolai Oleinikov, “Polet parashiutista Evseeva,” Boevye dni (Leningrad: Detskaia literature, 1991) 110-114. (ER)

John McCannon, “Tabula Rasa in the North: The Soviet Arctic and Mythic Landscapes in Stalinist Popular Culture,” The Landscape of Stalinism, 241-260..

Screening 10/23: Odna (Alone), dir. Grigorii Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg; Semero smelykh (The Brave Seven), dir. Sergei Gerasimov (1936, 92m.)


Week 6: Nature as Hydraulic System

Samuil Marshak, “Voina s Dneprom” (ER).

Andrei Platonov, “Dzhan,” in The Fierce and Beautiful World.

Arsenii Tarkovskii, “Povest’ o sfagnume” (ER).

Vasilii Kamenskii, “Kamstroi” (ER).

Evgeny Dobrenko, “The Art of Social Navigation,” The Landscape of Stalinism 163-200.

Screening 10/30: Michurin, dir. Aleksandr Dovzhenko (1948, 101 min.); excerpts from Poema o more (A Poem of the Sea), dir. Aleksandr Dovzhenko and Iuliia Solntseva; Cosmic Flight, 70 min., presented by Scott Palmer


Week 7: Reconstruction and the GULag

El Lissitzky, “The New City,” 59-63. (ER)

Maksim Gor’kii, excerpts from “O kochke i o tochke” (ER)

Andrei Platonov, “Sredi zhivotnykh i rastenii”/”Amongst Animals and Plants” (ER)

Konstantin Simonov, “Belomortsy,”129-136. (Chalk)

Katerina Clark, “Socialist Realism and the Sacralizing of Space,” Landscape of Stalinism 3-18; Jan Plamper, “The Spatial Poetics of the Personality Cult: Circles around Stalin,” 19-50; Boris Groys, “The Art of Totality,” The Landscape of Stalinism, 96-122; Mikhail Ryklin, “’The Best in the World’: The Discourse of the Moscow Metro in the 1930s,” The Landscape of Stalinism, 261-276.

Screening 11/6: two of the following: Volga Volga, dir. Grigorii Aleksandrov (1938, 106 min.); East Side Story (1997, 78 min.); Novaia Moskva (New Moscow), dir. Aleksandr Medvedkin (1938, 70 min.); Zakliuchennye, dir. Evgenii Cherviakov (1936, 95 min.).


Week 8: War (Civil, Spanish, Great Patriotic)

Andrei Platonov, “The River Potudan’” and “Aphrodite,” The Fierce and Beautiful World.

Mikhail Prishvin, “Kladovaia solntsa”/”Sun’s Storehouse” (ER).

Aleksandr Tvardovskii, excerpts from Vasilii Terkin (ER).

Screening 11/13: Chapaev, dir. Vasilev and Vasil’ev (1934, 93 min.); Vertikal’ (The Vertical Slope), dir. S. Govorukhin (1966, 72 min.)


Week 9: The Thaw

Evgenii Evtushenko, excerpts from Bratskaia GES (ER).

Valentin Rasputin, Proshchanie s Materoi/Farewell to Matyora (library).

Vladimir Vysotskii, selected songs (ER)

Screening 11/20: Ia shagaiu po Moskve (I Stroll around Moscow), dir. G. Danelia (1963, 73 min.); Kryl’ia (Wings), dir. Larisa Shepit’ko (1966, 82 min.).


Week 10: The Death of an Imaginary?

Dovlatov; Prigov

Mikhail Epstein, “Russo-Soviet Topoi,” The Landscape of Stalinism, 277-306.

Screening 5pm 11/27 at Cobb 307: from Solaris, dir. Andrei Tarkovskii.


Other possible films (additional screening?):

Traktoristy-II, dir. Gleb Aleinikov (1992, 85 min.)

Man of Marble (Czlowiek s marmaru, dir. Andrzej Wajda, 1977; The Structure of Crystal (Struktura krysztala), dir. Krzysztof Zanussi, 1969; Camera Buff (Amator), dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1979.




The Imaginary

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, 2nd ed. (New York: Verso, 1991).

Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society, trans. Kathleen Blamey (Oxford, 1987).

Cornelius Castoriadis, World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis and the Imagination, ed. and trans. David Ames Curtis (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1997).

Sigmund Freud, “Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming”

Wolfgang Iser, The Fictive and the Imaginary: Charting Literary Anthropology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993).

Fredric Jameson, “Imaginary and Symbolic in Lacan,” The Ideologies of Theory: Essays 1971-1986 (Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 1988) vol. 1 pp. .

Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror Stage,” Écrits, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1977) 1-7.

Paul Ricoeur, “Imagination in Discourse and in Action,” From Text to Action. Translated by Kathleen Blamey and John B. Thompson. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1991) 168-187 (181-87 = “The Social Imaginary)

Paul Ricoeur, “Ideology and Utopia,” From Text to Action. Translated by Kathleen Blamey and John B. Thompson. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1991) 308-324 (318-324 = “On Utopia”).

Jean-Paul Sartre, The Imaginary: A Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination, Revisions and Historical Introduction by Arlette Elkaim-Sartre, Translation and Philosophical Introduction by Jonathan Webber (London: Routledge, 2004).


Modern Imaginary

Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity (New York: Penguin, 1982, 1988).

Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane, eds., Modernism: A Guide to European Literature, 1890-1930 (London: Penguin, 1976, 1991).

Susan Buck-Morss, Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Utopia in East and West (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000).

Felix Philipp Ingold, Literatur und Aviatik: Europäische Flugdichtung 1909-1927. Mit einem Exkurs über die Flugidee in der modernen Malerei und Architektur (Basel, Stuttgart: Birkhäuser Verlag, 1978.

Elena Petrovskaia, Chast’ sveta (Moscow: Ad marginem, 1995).


Soviet Culture

Mikhail Anikst, ed., Soviet Commercial Design of the Twenties (New York: Abbeville, 1987).

Marina Balina et al, eds., Politicizing Magic: An Anthology of Russian and Soviet Fairy Tales (Evanston: Northwestern UP, 2005).

Mark Bassin, “I Object to Rain That Is Cheerless’: Landscape Art and the Stalinist Aesthetic Imagination,” Ecumene 7, no. 3, July 2000.

Victoria E. Bonnell, Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters under Lenin and Stalin (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).

Eliot Borenstein, Men without Women: Masculinity and Revolution in Russian Fiction, 1917-1929 (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2000).

John Bowlt and Olga Matich, eds., The Laboratory of Dreams ()

Joseph RBrodsky, “Catastrophes in the Air.” Less Than One: Selected Essays (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1986) 268-303.

Edward J. Brown, The Proletarian Episode in Russian Literature, 1928-1932. New York: Columbia UP, 1953.

Edward J. Brown, Russian Literature since the Revolution. New York: Collier, 1963.

Matthew Cullerne Brown, Socialist Realist Painting (New Haven: Yale UP, 1998).

Matthew Cullerne Brown and Brandon Taylor, eds., Art of the Soviets: Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in a One-Party State, 1917-1992 (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1993).

Kak my pishem. Leningrad: Izdatel’stvo pisatelei v Leningrade, 1930.

Kate Brown, “Gridded Lives: Why Kazakhstan and Montana Are Nearly the Same Place,” American Historical Review 106, no. 1, 2001, 17-48.

Katerina Clark, The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual (Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1981; Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2000).

Nancy Condee, ed., Soviet Hieroglyphics: Visual Culture in Late Twentieth-Century Russia (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995).

Evgeny Dobrenko, The Making of the Soviet  Reader: Social and Aesthetic Contexts of the Reception of Soviet Literature, trans. Jesse M. Savage (Stanford UP, 1997).

Evgeny Dobrenko, The Making of the Soviet Writer, trans. Jesse M. Savage (Stanford UP).

Evgeny Dobrenko and Hans Günther, eds., Sotsrealisticheskii kanon (St. Petersburg: Akademicheskii proekt, 2000).

Evgeny Dobrenko and Eric Naiman, eds., The Landscape of Stalinism: The Art and Ideology of Soviet Space (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003).

David Elliot, New Worlds: Russian Art and Society, 1900-1937 (New York: Rizzoli, 1986).

Herman Ermolaev, Soviet Literary Theories, 1917-1934 (Berkeley: U of California Press, 1963).

Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Cultural Front: Power and Culture in Revolutionary Russia (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992).

Sheila Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times. Soviet Russia in the 1930s (New York: Oxford UP, 1999).

Sheila Fitzpatrick, Tear off the Masks: Identity and Imposture in Twentieth-Century Russia (Princeton: Princetone University Press, 2005).

Sheila Fitzpatrick, ed., Stalinizm: New Directions (London: Routledge, 2000).

Michael S. Gorham, Speaking in Soviet Tongues: Language Culture and the Politics of Voice in Revolutionary Russia (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2003).

Boris Groys, The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant-Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship and Beyond, trans. Charles Rougle (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992).

Hans Günther, ed., The Culture of the Stalin Period (New York: St. Martin’s, 1990).

Jochen Hellbeck, “Fashioning the Stalinist Soul: The Diary of Stephen Podlubnyi, 1931-1938,” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 44, no. 3, 1996, 344-73.

Catriona Kelly, Comrade Pavlik: The Rise and Fall of a Soviet Boy Hero (London: Granta, 2005).

Christine Kiaer and Eric Naiman, eds., Everyday Life in Early Soviet Russia: Taking the Revolution Inside (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2006).

Matthew Lenoe, Closer to the Masses: Stalinist Culture, Social Revolution, and Soviet Newspapers (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004).

Jay Leyda: Kino: A History of Russian and Soviet Film (New York: Macmillan, 1960).

Nicholas Lukas, ed., An Anthology of the Classics of Socialist Realism (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1988).

John McCannon, Red Arctic: Polar Explorationo and the Myth of the North in the Soviet Union, 1932-1939 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

John McCannon, “Positive Heros at the Pole: Celebrity Status, Socialist-Realist Ideals, and the Soviet Myth of the Arctic, 1932-1939,” Russian Review 56, no.3, July 1997, 346-365.

Louise McReynolds and Joan Neuberger, eds., Imitations of Life: Two Centuries of Melodrama in Russia (Durham and London: Duke UP, 2003).

Frank Miller, Folklore for Stalin: Russian Folklore and Pseudofolklore in the Stalin Era (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1990).

Mike O’Mahony, Sport in the USSR: Physical Culture—Visual Culture (London: Reaktion, 2006)

Scott W. Palmer, Dictatorship of the Air: Aviation Culture and the Fate of Modern Russia (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006).

Vladimir Papernyi, Kul’tura dva (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1985; 2nd ed. Moscow: 2006).

Karen Petrone, “Imagining the Motherland: The Celebration of Soviet Aviation and Polar Exploits,” Life Has Become More Joyous, Comrades: Celebrations in the Time of Stalin (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2000) 46-84, 221-6.

Kevin F. M. Platt, History in a Grotesque Key: Russian Literature and the Idea of Revolution (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997).

David Shepherd, Beyond Metafiction: Self-Consciousness in Soviet Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).

A. A. Sherel’, A. A. “Radio i stanovlenie sovetskogo mifa.” Audiokul’tura XX veka: Istoriia, esteticheskie zakonomernosti, osobennosti vlianiia na auditoriiu. Ocherki. Moscow: Progress-Traditsiia, 2004. 58-94.

Richard Stites, Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution (New York: Oxford UP, 1989

Andrei Sinyavsky [Abram Tertz}, The Trial Begins, and On Socialist Realism. Introduction by Czeslaw Milosz. Trans. Max Hayward and George Dennis. Berkeley: U of California Press, 1982.

Brandon Taylor, Art and Literature under the Bolsheviks, vol. 1, The Crisis of Renewal, 1917-1924 (London: Pluto Press, 1991).

Nina Tumarkin, Lenin Lives! The Lenin Cult in Soviet Russia (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1983).

James on Geldern, Bolshevik Festivals (Berkeley: U of California Press, 1992).

James von Geldern and Richard Stites, eds. Mass culture in Soviet Russia : tales, poems, songs, movies, plays, and folklore, 1917-1953 (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995).

Vyacheslav Zavalishin, Early Soviet Writers (New York: Praeger, 1958).

Emma Widdis, Alexander Medvedkin (London: I. B. Tauris, 2005).

Emma Widdis, Visions of a New Land: Soviet Film from the Revolution to the Second World War (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003).