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Maria Stepanova on Postmemory for Asymptote
August 17, 2023

Maria Stepanova (Harriman Writer in Residence, Spring 2022) in an extensive interview published by Asymptote, addresses such topics as post-memory and the literary texts she would have on her syllabus for a course about it; “writing for the drawer”; political poetry since the Silver Age; and Russian poets MarinaTsveteva and Osip Mandelstam.

Can you comment on what such critics have said—that you are “a product of a process of dismantling and reassembling the heritage of Soviet poetry”?

MS: Of course I am, as much as I am a product of Europe with its traumas and catastrophes—maybe a waste product, or at least one that is badly damaged. I am always feeling that my existence is a lucky chance, a coincidence, and in a way that could be said about all of us, those who survived the twentieth century. We are living in a world that had the potential to be very different, and in my part of the world it practically means that you inhabit this ghosthouse, a place where so many people were killed or displaced that there is not a single patch of space that fully belongs to you. You are always sitting in some other person’s chair, sorting out a memory deck that belongs to the past but haunts the present. So, Russia, as my own writing, is very much a territory of the uncanny. For a long time I used to think that working with the past, giving voice to the past, is a moral activity—that we are living in a time of post-catastrophe, when resurrecting the past is a personal duty. Now I understand that catastrophe is never a one-time event; it’s a sort of a pendulum, destined for a comeback. It makes me rethink a lot, including my relationship with the Soviet past.