Smolny Beyond Borders

A Liberal Arts Initiative

War and the Decay of Language

War And the Decay of Language


Course Schedule:

Nov. 10 – Dec. 8 | Thu. 15:00-18:00 UTC

Language shapes reality and reflects it. Crisis worldview can be traced in the tendencies of language disintegration: public (censorship), rhetorical (euphemisms, “aesopization”), lexical (the appearance and disappearance of specific words). It is possible to identify a number of trends in the disintegration of the Russian language following the collapse of social institutions and peacetime realities. These include the disappearance of letters from words (“*** *****” spring antiwar posters, for which the police arrested people); Russian-Ukrainian hybrids, as if provoking the Russian language (“ымперцы”); the invasion of Z in the Cyrillic (pozor, bezumie, zache?, not afraid of zla ). This course will trace these and other tendencies of language disintegration in contemporary Russian poetry through the methods of “exopoetry” (Varvara Nedeoglo), “bukvoshum” (Aristarkh Mesropyan), and “interbukvia” (David Umrulia). 

The course will take a close look at the contemporary Russian situation and turn to the previous experience of wartime poetic practices. The fracture of familiar linguistic forms was characteristic both of modernist poetry (Ford Medoc Ford, T.S. Eliot, Georg Trakl, Guillaume Apollinaire), which was influenced by World War I, and of “poetry after Auschwitz” by Paul Celan, Czeslaw Milosz and Charles Reznickoff. The mask principle, the reference to myth, and the intertextuality in their texts testified to an identity crisis and the need to regain new foundations. The origins of Lettrist experiments can be traced back to Apollinaire’s modernist texts. Charles Resinkoff develops principles of docupoetry, later expressed in the radical quotation practices of Kenneth Goldsmith, Vanessa Place and Bob Fitterman.

The course analyzes the response of language to the socio-cultural fractures of war and shows the ways in which it is expressed in poetry.


The course involves  reading of poetic texts and the analysis of artistic works. As a prerequisite, students are required to be willing to create individual and group creative projects in class and as homework. 

The grade for the course will be given on the basis of the performance of creative works. To successfully complete the course and receive a certificate, the student must complete all creative tasks.

Language of instruction: Russian

Maximum group size – 25 participants. 
Registration to this course is closed.