Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute

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Fish Idols and Red Gods: (Re)inventing the Literary Canon in the Soviet Indigenous North
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Please join the Harriman Institute for a lecture by Klavdia Smola, Visiting Scholar at the Harriman Institute. Moderated by Mark Lipovetsky.

The native peoples of the north – the Evenks, Nanai, Khanty, Nenets, Chukchi, Koryak or Eskimos – became objects of assimilation, extermination in the early Soviet era, and created their written culture from scratch. Their small numbers, remoteness from the cultural metropolises, in addition to the still strong ties to the traditions of their ancestors make their literary production a particularly controversial example of modernization and (post)colonial dependencies in the former Soviet state. Due to the lack of a pre-Soviet written literary tradition, “young” literatures (mladopis΄mennye literatury) were born as a symbiosis of folklore, beliefs, indigenous-Christian customs and the surrogate literary tradition of the Russian-European center: the Soviet “master plot.” Having graduated from universities in Moscow or Leningrad, the first generations of writers “(re)invented” a view of themselves as simultaneously native and Other.

What was the consequence of the fact that the Siberia’s native authors internalized the role of the youngest “brother” within the “family” of Soviet national literatures? How did the northern indigenous minorities manifest their own version of the Soviet literary canon and reflect on the “cultural clash” of Sovietization in the post-Thaw period? And what happened when the local authors had experienced a cardinal reevaluation of their values in the pre-perestroika time?

Klavdia Smola is professor and chair of Slavic Literatures at the Universität of Dresden (Germany) and a visiting scholar at the Harriman Institute, Columbia University. Her latest book, Reinventing Tradition: Russian-Jewish Literature between Soviet Underground and Post-Soviet Deconstruction, has been published in German (2019), Russian (2021) and English (2023). She (co-)edited a number of books and special issues of journals, among them are The Oxford Handbook of Soviet Underground Culture (2023); (Multi)national Faces of Socialist Realism: Beyond the Russian Literary Canon (special issue of Slavic Review, 2022), Russia–Culture of (Non-)Conformity: From the Late Soviet Era to the Present (special issue of Russian Literature, 2018), Jewish Underground Culture in the late Soviet Union (special issue of the journal East European Jewish Affairs, 2018), Postcolonial Slavic Literatures after Communism (2016); Jewish Spaces and Topographies in East-Central Europe: Constructions in Literature and Culture (2014, in German), and Eastern European Jewish Literatures of the 20th and 21st Centuries: Identity and Poetics (2013).


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