Leviathan, directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev in 2014, depicts love, corruption, and tragedy in the modern Russian state.
Leviathan, directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev in 2014, depicts love, corruption, and tragedy in the modern Russian state.

Russian Culture Under Putin

Russian 390 with Prof. Zhenya Bershtein explores how artists and writers depict life in Putin’s Russia.

August 27, 2021

Prof. Zhenya Bershtein’s course Russian Culture Under Putin (Russian 390) examines cultural developments in Russia over the last two decades—developments that have taken place in a conservative social climate, under the pressure of increasingly repressive government policies.

Students will discuss a wide variety of materials, including works of literature, film, poetry, performance art, journalism, scholarly writings, and TV. (Check out a sampling below.) 

As they explore both Russian “highbrow culture” and “mass culture,” students will confront both the techniques of conformity and strategies of resistance, as adopted by the Russian creative class. They will address historical memory and its manipulations, new nationalism, corruption and its impact on society, economic inequality and cultural divisions, Russian versions of artistic and political postmodernism, and the cultural politics of gender and sexuality. 

The readings and discussions are in English; additional weekly session will be scheduled for students taking the course for Russian credit. 

Prof. Bershtein joined the Reed faculty in 1999 and teaches classes on twentieth-century Russian literature and culture, Russian and European Symbolism, Russian film, Pushkin, Tolstoy, Eisenstein, as well as the Russian language at the intermediate and advanced levels. 

He has published on eighteenth-century Russian poetry, the cultural and intellectual history of Russian modernism, and on Russian film (you can read some of his work here and here, in English and Russian). Most recently, he has edited the English translation of Yuri Lotman's Non-Memoirs (Dalkey Archive Press, 2014) and has been working on a project entitled Eisenstein, Sexuality, and Decadence. He grew up in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), graduated from Tartu University in Estonia, and earned his PhD from UC Berkeley. 

Selected Books

  • Timothy Colton, Russia: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford UP, 2016)
  •  Vladimir Sorokin, Day of the Oprichnik  (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011).
  •  Victoria Lomasko, Other Russians  (Penguin, 2017)
  •  Emmanuel Carrère, Limonov (Picador, 2015).
  •  Svetlana Alexievich, Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets (Random House, 2016).
  •  Victor Pelevin, Homo Zapiens (Penguin, 2002)

Selected Films

  • “Alexandra” (dir. Alexander Sokurov, 2007)
  • “State Funeral” (dir. Sergei Loznitsa, 2019)
  • “Elena” (dir. Andrei Zviagintsev, 2011) 
  • “Dear Comrades!”  (dir. Andrei Konchalovsky, 2020)

Selected Performances

  • Sergei Glinka’s opera “Ruslan and Liudmila”, directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov at the Bolshoi Theater  (2011)
  • Nikolai Rimski–Korsakov’s opera  “The Legend of the City of Kitezh”, directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov  at the Mariinsky Theatre (2001) and the Dutch National Opera (2012).

Selected Videos

Tags: Academics, Courses We’d Love To Take