The Self Under Stalin: a Genealogy of Soviet Subjectivity
Division I; Difference, Power, and Equity;
Cross-listed as COMP269 / RUSS277
In this course, students will explore a variety of cultural artifacts (literature, film, song, visual art, and architecture), personal documents (diaries and letters), and secondary literature, which speaks to the real, subjective experience of life in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Throughout his reign, Stalin spurned basic human values like freedom and democracy in favor of class hatred, discipline, and conformity. He unleashed unthinkable violence on the Soviet population, provoking mass famine and instigating campaigns of political terror, all in the name of transforming impoverished, agricultural Russia into the world’s first industrially advanced, socialist society. The underlying logic of this social experiment has been diagnosed as totalitarian, a distinction designating systems of governance in which the state uses a combination of coercion and propaganda to achieve total control over the thoughts and actions of its subjects. The opening of borders and archives since the fall of the Soviet Union, however, has shown the image of the passive, brainwashed automaton to be inadequate in relation to the everyday cares, aspirations, fears, joys and sorrows, ethical dilemmas, personal narratives, and forms of covert resistance that shaped the identities of ordinary Soviet people. Scholars of Soviet subjectivity have worked to bring these stories to light in an attempt to achieve a more nuanced understanding of the Soviet experience. Students will apply insight from this field to their own investigations of Soviet selfhood in discussions, short response papers, and a final research paper. All readings are in English.
The Class: Type: seminar
Requirements/Evaluation: class participation, short response papers, final paper
Enrollment Preference: Russian majors, History majors, Comparative Literature majors
Distributions: Division I; Difference, Power, and Equity;
Distribution Notes: DPE: This course is part of the Difference, Power, and Equity initiative not only because it explores the formation of identity in situations in which the state wields extreme power over the actions and speech of its subjects, but also because it confronts the limitations of the concept of totalitarianism in representing the experience of such subjects. Special attention will be devoted to issues of class, gender, ethnicity, and non-human actors as they relate to the problem of Soviet subjectivity.