Russian 419

Horror and the Sublime in Russian Culture

Full course for one semester. This course will examine the emergence, meanings, and functions of the concept of “horror” and the aesthetic category of the sublime in modern (i.e. post Petrine) Russian literature and art. We proceed from the premise that these categories enter Russian discourse as a consequence and symptom of westernization and, as elements of  “high” culture, are constitutive of a secular morality, i.e. a set of rules that form the background of individual activity by defining what is and is not acceptable. We will investigate how under the affect of western philosophical, ethical, and aesthetic ideas, Russian writers and artists map and remap the realms of the acceptable and the unacceptable in Russian reality, framing the latter as the “horrible” both in tradition (serfdom; tsarism; patriarchy; agrarianism) and in innovation (travel, fashion, secularism, cosmopolitanism). Finally, we will study the ways in which they adapt the Western aesthetic category of the sublime (in its rhetorical, epistemological, political, and moral dimensions) to the task of insinuating exposés and critiques of the “horrid” into the discourse of repressive regimes. Our theoretical framework will draw on canonical Western theories of the sublime. Primary texts include Radishchev, Karamzin, Pushkin, Gogol, Herzen, Turgenev, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Leskov, Chekhov, Garshin, Bely, Babel, Bulgakov, Nabokov, Evgeniia Ginzburg, Lidiia Ginzburg, Shalamov; paintings of the Peredvizhniki (The Wanderers) and twentieth-century documentary photographers. Students who take the course for Russian credit meet for an additional weekly session to read parts of the texts in the original. Prerequisite for Russian credit: at least four semesters of Russian language. Conference. Cross-listed as Literature 419.



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