Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute




Beyond Nostalgia: How Russia Under Putin Has Imagined the Soviet Past
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Please join the Harriman Institute for a Director’s Seminar with Tatiana Efremova, Mellon Teaching Fellow at the Harriman Institute. Moderated by Harriman Director, Valentina Izmirlieva.

Nostalgia for the Soviet past has been a dominant discourse in the Russian public space, beginning in the 2000s and throughout the 2020s. Indeed, the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 seems to be a direct consequence of this universal infatuation with the past, which in its radical, militant shape resulted in the aggressive desire for the reconstruction of the Soviet borders. But was this reconstruction fantasy the only way of thinking about the past that Russian culture produced during the last two decades?

This talk will focus on alternative ways of engaging Soviet history and discuss whether they bear any potential for taking us beyond nostalgia, in the direction of processing the demise of the Soviet project. We will look closely at the experimental project Dau presented by the film director Ilya Khrzhanovsky in 2019. Balancing on the border between observational documentary and feature film saga, the project involved non-professional actors who spent up to two years living in a functioning replica of a Soviet scientific institute. I examine how Khrzhanovsky’s multimedia simulation of a Soviet reality presents a chance of critical engagement with the past, while offering participants and spectators an opportunity to build their own narrative through an affective engagement with Soviet history (an opportunity the context of the post-Soviet nostalgia has always promised but seldom delivered).

Working across film, television, multimedia art, and fashion studies, Tatiana Efremova explores the relationship between cultural memory and embodiment in contemporary Russian culture. Her first book project, provisionally titled Beyond Nostalgia: Remediating the Soviet Body in Russian Culture under Putin, probes the gendered body as a productive analytical tool for understanding post-Soviet engagement with the Soviet past. The project puts the scholarship on post-Soviet nostalgia in dialogue with the discourses of embodiment that take place within visual and film studies, gender studies, and performance studies in order to rethink the significance of repetition lying at the core of nostalgic appeal. Approaching repetition as a constituent element of the production of gender, the study demonstrates how nostalgic reinventions of the Soviet body negotiate gender and nationhood in contemporary melodrama, fashion a visual niche for projecting models of queerness in streetwear clothing, capitalize on transgression in the multimedia experiment Dau, and serve as a vehicle of protest in radical performance art by Pussy Riot. Tatiana Efremova received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, with emphasis in Slavic Studies and a minor in film, at New York University in 2022. Her work has appeared in the academic journals Digital Icons, Kinokultura, and Senses of Cinema. She has also written on contemporary Russian culture for the online Moscow-based platform The Village.