Russia: Its People and Its Literature

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Or the better, for the purposes of comedy. Batuman reads Red Cavalry while trying to cook a black forest gateau. But it isn't just a recipe for being silly about Russian lit. She is interested in finding words for a whole array of disparities, for the different emotional mixtures that coalesce when her teenage self reads Tolstoy in her grandmother's house in Turkey, when she's studying in Samarkand one hot summer where she has to pick ants out of the jam, when she's experiencing a collective infatuation at grad-school that mirrors her understanding of Dostoevsky's Demons.


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Funny is a constant but it isn't the goal. It's her means, her method, her chosen form of conversational naturalness, but her palette of intentions is much wider. The disparities between reading and its circumstances stand in for, provide the local embodiment of, the difference between novel-shaped experiences and life-shaped ones.

This is her serious theme; and her comic one too, both at once. When she's pursuing her formidable gift for the charmingly inconsequential — to the point where it sometimes feels as if she's got a slightly bored-looking guy with a bass drum and hi-hat permanently stationed behind her, ready to go ba-boom-tish!

Russian Literature: "A Hero of Our Time" by Mikhail Lermontov

As she puts it in the opening chapter: "Events and places succeed one another like items on a shopping list. There may be interesting and moving experiences, but one thing is guaranteed: they won't naturally assume the shape of a wonderful book. She could have closed the life-art gap the traditional way, by shaping life in art's image. The book includes a spectacularly unappealing comic summary of the contemporary American short story. Instead, she says, she chooses to live out the art, "by study instead of imitation, and metonymy instead of metaphor".

She'll go to the places and see the things and be true to what that feels like. It's a kind of manifesto, comical-scholarly-documentary. Well, there's true and there's true. It's a rare piece of even conventional non-fiction that doesn't steal from the coherence of fiction to glue its narrative secretly together, and this is no exception. The emotional strand we're following out here is the by-no-means-unheard-of autobiographical one in which a smart aleck with charm — in this case maybe a smart alexei — gets some wisdom.

Moreover though it seems churlish to point this out of something so beautifully made, paragraph by paragraph , where The Possessed doesn't work, it tends to be because, very conventionally, it isn't structured enough, it hasn't borrowed enough on the sly from the coherence of the novel. Beneath its eloquent skin, The Possessed is palpably a fix-up, rather than something devised from the start as a whole book-shaped book.

This largely defined the Russian culture of the next millennium as a synthesis of Slavic and Byzantine cultures. After Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in , Russia remained the largest Orthodox nation in the world and eventually claimed succession to the Byzantine legacy in the form of the Third Rome idea. An important period in Russian history was the Tsardom of Russia from until where many Russian cultural peculiarities emerged and developed. At different periods in Russian history, the culture of Western Europe also exerted strong influences over Russian citizens.

During the era of the Russian Empire which existed from to , the Tsar's title was abolished and the rulers of Russia were called Emperors.

Since the reforms of Peter the Great reigned in the Russian Empire, for two centuries Russian culture largely developed in the general context of European culture rather than pursuing its own unique ways. Although Russia has been influenced by Western Europe , the Eastern world , Northern cultures and the Byzantine Empire for more than years since ancient Rus' and is culturally connected with them, it is often argued that due to its history, geography and inhabitants which belong to different language families but were embedded in the Russian language and culture, the country has developed a character with many aspects of a unique Russian civilization which in many parts differs from both Western and Eastern cultures.

Nowadays, the Nation Brands Index ranks Russian cultural heritage seventh, [ citation needed ] based on interviews of some 20, people mainly from Western countries and from the Far East. Due to the relatively late involvement of Russia in modern globalization and in international tourism , many aspects of Russian culture, like Russian jokes and Russian art, remain largely unknown to foreigners.

Russia's ethnic groups speak some languages. Russian is the most geographically widespread language of Eurasia and the most widely spoken Slavic language.

Maxim Osipov finds inspiration in a rural Russian town.

Over a quarter of the world's scientific literature is published in Russian. New Russian folklore takes its roots in the pagan beliefs of ancient Slavs which is nowadays still represented in the Russian folklore. Epic Russian bylinas are also an important part of Slavic mythology.


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The oldest bylinas of Kievan cycle were actually recorded mostly in the Russian North , especially in Karelia , where most of the Finnish national epic Kalevala was recorded as well. Some Russian poets, including Pyotr Yershov and Leonid Filatov , created a number of well-known poetical interpretations of classical Russian fairy tales, and in some cases, like that of Alexander Pushkin , also created fully original fairy tale poems that became very popular.

Folklorists today consider the s the Soviet Union 's golden age of folklore. The struggling new government, which had to focus its efforts on establishing a new administrative system and building up the nation's backwards economy, could not be bothered with attempting to control literature, so studies of folklore thrived. There were two primary trends of folklore study during the decade: the formalist and Finnish schools.

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Formalism focused on the artistic form of ancient byliny and faerie tales, specifically their use of distinctive structures and poetic devices. Once Joseph Stalin came to power and put his first five-year plan into motion in , the Soviet government began to criticize and censor folklore studies. Stalin and the Soviet regime repressed folklore, believing that it supported the old tsarist system and a capitalist economy.

They saw it as a reminder of the backward Russian society that the Bolsheviks were working to surpass.

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The RAPP specifically focused on censoring fairy tales and children's literature, believing that fantasies and "bourgeois nonsense" harmed the development of upstanding Soviet citizens. Fairy tales were removed from bookshelves and children were encouraged to read books focusing on nature and science. In order to continue researching and analyzing folklore, intellectuals needed to justify its worth to the Communist regime. Otherwise, collections of folklore, along with all other literature deemed useless for the purposes of Stalin's Five Year Plan, would be an unacceptable realm of study. In , Maksim Gorky gave a speech to the Union of Soviet Writers arguing that folklore could, in fact, be consciously used to promote Communist values.

Apart from expounding on the artistic value of folklore, he stressed that traditional legends and fairy tales showed ideal, community-oriented characters, which exemplified the model Soviet citizen.

History of The Russian Literature

Yuri Sokolov, the head of the folklore section of the Union of Soviet Writers also promoted the study of folklore by arguing that folklore had originally been the oral tradition of the working people, and consequently could be used to motivate and inspire collective projects amongst the present-day proletariat.

The attitudes of such legendary characters paralleled the mindset that the Soviet government wished to instill in its citizens. The Union handpicked and recorded particular stories that, in their eyes, sufficiently promoted the collectivist spirit and showed the Soviet regime's benefits and progress. It then proceeded to redistribute copies of approved stories throughout the population.

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Meanwhile, local folklore centers arose in all major cities. Apart from circulating government-approved fairy tales and byliny that already existed, during Stalin's rule authors parroting appropriate Soviet ideologies wrote Communist folktales and introduced them to the population.

These contemporary folktales combined the structures and motifs of the old byliny with contemporary life in the Soviet Union. Called noviny, these new tales were considered the renaissance of the Russian epic. They also explained to the performers the appropriate types of Communist ideology that should be represented in the new stories and songs [36] As the performers of the day were often poorly educated, they needed to obtain a thorough understanding of Marxist ideology before they could be expected to impart folktales to the public in a manner that suited the Soviet government.

Besides undergoing extensive education, many folk performers traveled throughout the nation in order to gain insight into the lives of the working class, and thus communicate their stories more effectively. A number of them, despite their illiteracy, were even elected as members of the Union of Soviet Writers. These new Soviet fairy tales and folk songs primarily focused on the contrasts between a miserable life in old tsarist Russia and an improved one under Stalin's leadership.

These new folktales replaced magic with technology, and supernatural forces with Stalin. If the character followed Stalin's divine advice, he could be assured success in all his endeavors and a complete transformation into the "New Soviet Man. Descriptions of the Whites in noviny mirrored those of the Tartars in byliny. Once Stalin died in March , folklorists of the period quickly abandoned the new folktales.

Written by individual authors and performers, noviny did not come from the oral traditions of the working class. Consequently, today they are considered pseudo-folklore, rather than genuine Soviet or Russian folklore. Specialists decided that attempts to represent contemporary life through the structure and artistry of the ancient epics could not be considered genuine folklore.

Russian literature is considered to be among the most influential and developed in the world, with some of the most famous literary works belonging to it. This period and the Golden Age of Russian Poetry began with Alexander Pushkin , considered to be the founder of modern Russian literature and often described as the "Russian Shakespeare" or the "Russian Goethe". Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in particular were titanic figures, to the point that many literary critics have described one or the other as the greatest novelist ever.