Smolny Beyond Borders

A Liberal Arts Initiative

Unofficial Late Soviet Culture

Unofficial Late Soviet Culture


Course Schedule:

Spring 2023 | Wednesday Friday 10.10 - 11.30 EST

Semester: Spring 2023 | Monday, January 30 – Tuesday, May 23
Schedule: Wed Fr 10.10 – 11.30 New York 
Language of Instruction:
Course Prerequisites: English B2 / Equivalent or higher
Subject: HIS (History) | Cross-Listing(s): RES (Russian and Eurasian Studies)
Distribution Area: Historical Analysis
Max Enrollment:
Level: 200
4 US / 8 ECT
Course Time Zone: Eastern Time (US/NY)
Professor’s Location: Tübingen, Germany

Course Description
The history of the underground is one of the key themes of late socialism. Samizdat, ‘black humor’, religious syncretism, dissidence, apolitical bohemianism, the pathos of freedom of individuality, and the mechanics of literature are closely interlinked with the cultural mythology of that era. This course will offer an introduction to its central figures, such as Andrei Bitov, Erik Bulatov, Joseph Brodsky, Sergei Dovlatov, Arkadi Dragomoschenko, Ilya Kabakov, Dmitry Prigov, Oscar Rabin, and Lev Rubinstein, along with the artists who still await recognition. Beginning with a critique of the Soviet underground’s identification with political dissidence as a mode of living autonomously from the state, it will also view the unofficial culture as a late Soviet reflection of the Western underground in the 1950s-1960s. The readings will follow the community’s genesis from its Thaw-initiated appearance all the way to Perestroika, when the underground dissolved, building the historical portrait of the community from the perceptions of its members regarding aesthetic practice and rhetorical approaches to self-expression. Four main representations will be discussed: privacy, deviancy, criticism, and irrationality, along with the understanding of art as a private affair, the neo-avantgarde deviancy in social and literary behavior, and the pathos of the artists’ critical relationship with officialdom

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