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Competing giants: The subversive counter-performance of the Soviet writer

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Herber Y.
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  1. Introduction
  2. Stalin's appropriation
  3. Delineations of Soviet literary authority
  4. Participants of the Russian modernist movement
  5. Subversive counter-performance
  6. The case in 'Hope Against Hope'
  7. The dilemma of the nonconformist writer during the Stalinist period
  8. Yeshua Ha-Nostri's final words
  9. Conclusion
  10. Bibliography

The early twentieth century poet Osip Mandelstam postulated that, ?Poetry is respected only in [Russia] ? people are killed for it. There's no place where more people are killed for it.? Mandelstam, who himself fell victim to the Stalinist regime for his subversive prose, was commenting on the principal role that the writer played in Russian society as the moral tribune of his or her age and the great hero of Russian culture. The written word served a profound social function; it was an instrument for the judicious assessment of Russia's political and social institutions as well as the search for profound existential and ontological truths. With the rise of Joseph Stalin, however, the role of the writer was wholly transmuted as Stalin himself became the chief ?engineer of the human soul? and literature gradually developed into an instrument of the military and state bureaucracy.

[...] Consequently, critics mercilessly disparage the writer and accuse him of being a militant Old Believer who is trying to ?sneak into print an apologia for Jesus Christ.?[26] Indeed, the plight of the Master could very well be distillations of Bulgakov's own denouncement by critics who perceived the subject matter of his plays as incompatible with the ideals of Soviet morality promoted by Stalin.[27] For example, after he was effectively banned from Soviet theaters in 1930, Bulgakov began to burn a number of his manuscripts, just as the Master does upon realizing that there is no place for his novel in contemporary society.[28] Like Bulgakov, the Master discovers that in a totalitarian world implicitly destructive to art, the true artist remains virtually powerless and exceedingly vulnerable to unjust persecution. [...]


[...] Wachtel, Andrew Baruch & Vinitsky, Ilya. Russian Literature: Cultural History of Literature. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009) Babel, Isaac. Collected Stories. Ed. Nathaniel Babel. (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2002) 4. Bulgakov, Mikhail. [...]


[...] Indeed, following the state's appropriation of the writer's role, the new Soviet reader became the ?outstanding people of the nation, the shock worker,? the Party secretaries and, most important of all, the chief engineer of the human soul Joseph Stalin.[32] These, of course, were not the imagined readers that Bulgakov and Mandelstam had in mind when enacting their literary counter-performances. Although these subversive texts were often only shared with a very limited audience, or even ?written for the drawer,' it is likely that these artists were attempting fulfill their social function as moral witnesses. [...]

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