Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute




Book Talk. Recording Russia: Trying to Listen in the Nineteenth Century by Gabriella Safran
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Location Note

1219 International Affairs Building
420 W 118th Street, 12th floor

This is a hybrid (in-person/virtual) event. Registration required for attendance. Please note that all attendees must follow Columbia’s COVID-19 Policies and Guidelines. Columbia University is committed to protecting the health and safety of its community. To that end, all visiting alumni and guests must meet the University requirement of full vaccination status in order to attend in-person events. Vaccination cards may be checked upon entry to all venues. All other attendees may participate virtually on Zoom or YouTube.

Please join us for a discussion with Gabriella Safran, author of Recording Russia: Trying to Listen in the Nineteenth Century (Cornell University Press, 2022). Moderated by Mark Lipovetsky, Professor of Slavic Languages. This event is part of our Contemporary Culture Series.

Recording Russia examines scenes of listening to “the people” across a variety of texts by Russian writers and European travelers to Russia. Gabriella Safran challenges readings of these works that essentialize Russia as a singular place where communication between the classes is consistently fraught, arguing instead that, as in the West, the sense of separation or connection between intellectuals and those they interviewed or observed is as much about technology and performance as politics and emotions.

Nineteenth-century writers belonged to a distinctive media generation using new communication technologies — not bells, but mechanically produced paper, cataloguing systems, telegraphy, and stenography. Russian writers and European observers of Russia in this era described themselves and their characters as trying hard to listen to and record the laboring and emerging middle classes. They depicted scenes of listening as contests where one listener bests another; at times the contest is between two sides of the same person. They sometimes described Russia as an ideal testing ground for listening because of its extreme cold and silence. As the mid-century generation witnessed the social changes of the 1860s and 1870s, their listening scenes revealed increasing skepticism about the idea that anyone could accurately identify or record the unadulterated “voice of the people.” Bringing together intellectual history and literary analysis and drawing on ideas from linguistic anthropology and sound and media studies, Recording Russia looks at how writers, folklorists, and linguists such as Turgenev, Dostoevsky, and Vladimir Dahl, as well as foreign visitors, thought about the possibilities and meanings of listening to and repeating other people’s words.



Gabriella Safran teaches Russian and Yiddish literature and folklore in the Slavic Department at Stanford University, where she is the Eva Chernov Lokey Professor in Jewish Studies and serves now as the Senior Associate Dean of Humanities and Arts. Her new book, Recording Russia: Trying to Listen in the Nineteenth Century, is coming out with Cornell University Press. Now that it is done, she is starting a new project about the transnational pre-history of the Jewish joke.





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