Post-Communist Russian Literature, Film, and Society.


Instructor: Evgenii Bershtein

T,TH 2:40-4 PM VOL 302

Instructor’s Office: VOL 128

Office Hours: Mon, Wed 2-3 PM and by appointment


Content. In this course, we will examine main social, political and cultural developments in Russia since 1991. We will discuss heterogeneous materials: works of literature (both fiction and non-fiction), film, poetry, performance art, journalist and scholarly writing, TV and Internet texts. The course also incorporates (1) a scholarly conference on post-socialist cultures; (2) a guest appearance of Dmitri Prigov, a classic of contemporary Russian poetry and performance art; (3) screening of eight recent Russian films (one at the NW Film Center).

Workload: attendance of all classes, film screenings and course-related events (see above) is required; 5 brief position papers (about 2 pages each), and a final paper (10 pages). If you have to miss a screening, please make sure you watch the film on your own before the class. Most films are available on DVD or VHSß from the language lab reserve.

Evaluation. You will be evaluated on the basis of your class participation and written submissions.

Russian section. Students taking this course for Russian credit will read some of the texts in the original Russian and meet weekly to discuss the reading.

Electronic course reserve. Several required texts are available from the electronic course reserve. Please print out these texts and bring them to class.

Note. We will be examining and discussing a number of social taboos, mainly having to do with the human body and its functions: sex, excrement, “difference,” death. If you have any concerns regarding your level of comfort with such subject matter, come speak with me early in the course.

Film screenings:

“Burnt by the Sun” Wednesday, February 4.

“Russian Ark” Wednesday, February 25.

“Prisoner of the Caucasus” Wednesday, March 3.

“The War” Wednesday, Wednesday, March 10.

“Father and Son” Sunday, March 28, NW Film Center.

“Brother” Wednesday, March 31.

“Tycoon” Wednesday, April 7.

“Of Freaks and Men” Wednesday, April 21.

Books to buy:

Tatyana Tolstaya. Pushkin's Children : Writing on Russia and Russians.

Victor Pelevin. Homo Zapiens.

David Remnick. Resurrection: The Struggle for a New Russia.

Boris Akunin. The Winter Queen.

Victor Pelevin. Omon Ra.

Tatyana Tolstaya. The Slynx.

GLAS: New Russian Writing. #30. Nine of Russia’s Foremost Women Writers.




Tuesday, January 27



Dealing with the Past, Surviving the Transition


Thursday, January 29

Reading: Remnick, Resurrection: chapters “The October Revolution” (pp. 37-83), “Moscow, Open City” (pp. 158-183).

Tolstaya, Pushkin’s Children: “Misha Gorbachev’s Small World,” “In the Ruins of Communism,” “Russia’s Resurrection.”


Tuesday, February 3

Reading: Pelevin, Omon Ra

Turn in your position paper #1.


Wednesday, Feb 4

Film Screening: “Burnt by the Sun” (dir. Nikita Mikhalkov, Утомленные солнцем)


Thursday, February 5

Discussion of “Burnt by the Sun”

Reading: Irina Paperno, “Personal Accounts of the Soviet Experience,” Kritika, 2002:4, 577-610 [e-reserve].


Tuesday, February 10 Conceptualism. Vladimir Sorokin.

Reading: Sorokin, “Hiroshima,” “A Month in Dachau” [e-reserve]

Turn in your position paper #2.


Thursday, February 12 Conceptualism. Guest speaker: the poet Dmitri Prigov.

Reading: Prigov, selections [e-reserve]; Remnick, “Resurrection Everywhere” from Resurrection, pp. 214-240.


Friday, February 13 and Saturday, February 14

SOYUZ CONFERENCE “Memory and the Present in Post-Socialist Cultures” (See program at


Tuesday, February 17

Discussion of the Soyuz conference.

Reading: Tolstaya, “Pushkin’s Children,” “The Price of Eggs,” The Making of Mr. Putin” (from Pushkin’s Children).


Thursday, February 19

Reading: Tolstaya, Slynx (Кысь)


Tuesday, February 24

Tolstaya, Slynx (finish reading)

Turn in your position paper #3.


Wednesday, Feb 25

Film Screening: “Russian Ark” (dir. Alexandr Sokurov, Русский ковчег, 2002)


Thursday, February 26

Discussion of “Russian Ark”

Turn in your position paper #4.


Tuesday, March 2 No class


The War


Wednesday, March 3

Film Screening: “Prisoner of the Mountains” (dir. Sergei Bodrov, Кавказский пленник)

Reading: Remnick, Resurrection: chapter “Yeltsin’s Vietnam” (p. 261-291).



Thursday, March 4

Discussion of the film

Reading: Lev Tolstoy, “Prisoner of the Caucasus” (Кавказский пленник) [e-reserve]


Tuesday, March 9

Reading: Pushkin “Prisoner of the Caucasus” (Кавказский пленник), Vladimir Makanin “Prisoner of the Caucasus” (Кавказский пленный) [e-reserve]


Wednesday, March 10

Film Screening: “The War” (dir. Aleksei Balabanov, Война)


Thursday, March 11

Discussion of “The War.”

Turn in your position paper #5.






Tuesday, March 23

Pelevin’s Homo Zapiens (Generation П)


Thursday, March 25

Pelevin’s Homo Zapiens (finish reading)


Sunday, March 28

Screening at NW Film Center “Father and Son” (Dir. Aleksandr Sokurov, Отец и сын)


Tuesday, March 30

Discussion of “Father and Son”


New Economy: Violent Entrepreneurs, Oligarchs, and Others.


Wednesday, March 31

Film Screening: “Brother” (dir. Aleksei Balabanov, Брат)


Thursday, April 1

Discussion of “Brother.”

Reading: Vadim Volkov, “Violent Entrepreneurship,” Violent Entrepreneurs: The Use of Force in the Making of Russian Capitalism, pp. 27-63 [reserve].


Tuesday, April 6 The Oligrachs

Reading: David Hoffman, The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in the New Russia, chapters “Boris Berezovsky” (pp. 127-149) and “Saving Boris Yeltsin” (pp. 325-364).

Victor Pelevin, “Chelsea Hotel.” [e-reserve]


Wednesday, April 7

Film Screening: “The Oligarch” (dir. Pavel Lungin, Олигарх)


Thursday, April 8

Discussion of “The Oligarch.”


New Areas in Culture


Tuesday, April 13 New Women’s Writing I

Reading: Svetlana Aleksiyevich, Maria Arbatova, Nina Gorlanova, Anastasia Gosteva, Liudmila Petrusgevskaya – from Nine of Russia’s Foremost Women Writers, pp. 7-130.


Thursday, April 15 New Women’s Writing II

Reading: Olga Slavnikova, Natalia Smirnova, Luidmila Ulitskaya – from Nine of Russia’s Foremost Women Writers, pp. 131-282.


Tuesday, April 20 Shock and Glamour: Yaroslav Mogutin

Reading: selection of Mogutin’s poems; Masha Gessen, “Bad Generation,” Dead Again: The Russian Intelligentsia After Communism; Steve Lafrenier, “Slava, the Biggest Russian Export,” Index, 2002: February-March.[e-reserve]


Wednesday, April 21

Film screening: “Of Freaks and Men” (dir. Aleksei Balabanov, Про уродов и людей)



Thursday, April 22

Discussion of “Of Freaks and Men.”



Tuesday, April 27 What People Read: Boris Akunin

Reading: Akunin, The Winter Queen (Азазель).


Thursday, April 29

TV, Internet and the Other Media in Today’s Russia.

Reading and web-sites TBA


May 10, noon: final papers (ten-page long) are due in Prof. Bershtein’s office. E-mailed submissions are not accepted.



Suggested Secondary Reading


Politics and Society


Ames, Mark and Taibbi, Matt, Exile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia. NY: Grove Press, 2000.


Barker, Adele Marie, Consuming Russia: Popular Culture, Sex and Society since Gorbachev. Duke UP, 1999.


Hoffman, David. The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in the New Russia. NY: PublicAffairs, 2003.


Gessen, Masha. Dead Again: The Russian Intelligentsia After Communism. London: Verso, 1997.


Goldman, Marshall. The Piratization of Russia: Russian Reform Goes Awry. NY: Routledge, 2003.


Goltz, Thomas. Chechnya Diary: A War Correspondent’s Story of Surviving the War in Chechnya. Thomas Dunne Books, 2003.


Griffin, Nicolas. Caucasus: Mountain Men and Holy Wars. NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2003.

Kagarlitsky, Boris, Russia under Yeltsin and Putin: Neo-Liberal Autocracy. Pluto Press, 2002.


Handelman, Stephen. Comrade Criminal: Russia’s New Mafiya. New Haven: Yale UP, 1995.


Putin, Vladimir. First Person. NY: PublicAffairs, 2000.


Shevtsova, Lilia. Putin’s Russia. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2003.


Varese, Federico. The Russian Mafia: Private Protection in a New Market Economy. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001.


Volkov, Vadim, Violent Entrepreneurs: The Use of Force in the Making of Russian Capitalism. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2002.


Zassoursky, Ivan. Media and Power in Post-Soviet Russia. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharp, 2004.








Balina, Marina and Mark Leiderman, eds. Russian Writers since 1980.Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 285. Columbia, S.C.: Gale Group, 2003


Berry, Ellen E. and Anesa Miller-Pogacar, eds. Re-Entering the Sign: Articulating New Russian Culture. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.


Brown, Deming. The Last Years of Soviet Russian Literature: Prose Fiction 1975-1991. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.


Clyman, Toby W. and Diana Greene, eds. Women Writers in Russian Literature. Westport: Praeger, 1994.


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


Costlow, Jane T., Stephanie Sandler and Judith Vowles, eds. Sexuality and the Body in Russian Culture. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993.


Epstein, Mikhail. After the Future: Paradoxes of Postmodernism and Contemporary Russian Culture. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995.


Epstein, Mikhail, Aleksandr Genis and Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover. Russian Postmodernism: New Perspectives on Post-Soviet Culture. New York: Berghahn Books, 1999.


Erofeev, Viktor, ed. The Penguin Book of New Russian Writing. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995.


Freidin, Gregory, ed., Russian Culture in Transition: Selected Papers of the Working Group for the Study of Contemporary Russian Culture, 1990-1991, Stanford Slavic Studies, vol. 7 (Stanford, 1993)


Goscilo, Helena. Dehexing Sex: Russian Womanhood During and After Glasnost. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.

----. TNT: The Explosive World of Tatyana N. Tolstaya's Fiction. Armonk: Sharpe, 1996.


Goscilo, Helena, ed. Skirted Issues: The Discreteness and Indiscretions of Russian Women's Prose, a special issue of Russian Studies in Literature, vol. 28, no. 2 (Spring 1992).

----. Fruits of Her Plume: Essays on Contemporary Russian Women's Culture. Armonk: Sharpe, 1993.


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


Lahusen, Thomas, and Gene Kuperman, eds. Late Soviet Culture: From Perestroika to Novostroika. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993.


Lipovetskii, Mark. Russian Postmodernist Fiction: Dialogue with Chaos. Armonk: Sharpe, 1999.


Marsh, Rosalind, ed. Gender and Russian Culture: New Perspectives. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.


Ross, David A., ed. Between Spring and Summer: Soviet Conceptual Art in the Era of Late Communism. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990.


Sandler, Stephanie, ed. Rereading Russian Poetry. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.


World Literature Today, a special issue on contemporary Russian literature, Winter 1993.





Film Analysis (General Works)


Bordwell, David and Khristin Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction. 6th ed. NY: McGraw-Hill, 2001.


Gianetti, Louis. Understanding Movies. 9th ed.Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hill:, 2002.


Monaco, James. How to Read a Film: Movies, Media, Multimedia. NY: Oxford UP, 2000.


Salt, Barry. Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis. London: Starword, 1992.