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Russian Graduate Seminar Group
c/o The Slavonic Department
Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages
University of Cambridge
Sidgwick Avenue,
Cambridge, CB3 9DA



Lent 2010

January 19 - Simone Chung (PhD Architecture, Cambridge)
Title: Dancing Across Time in 'Russian Ark'

Sokurov's film Russian Ark (2002) which takes the form of a semi-documentary is one of few films that have managed to recognise the
prerogative of architecture as instrumental in dictating the film's narrative. Whilst the invisible Russian narrator and his historical European
counterpart traverse the Winter Palace (now part of the Hermitage State Museum) in one continuous shot, the cinema audience revisit St. Petersburg's past through their eyes. The paper proposes that a coherent understanding of the film is to be read through the buildings of the Hermitage, grounded in the museum experience as its narrative medium. The notion of time and space, being firmly entrenched in museology, allows the film to explore the effects of historical traces in the temporal dimension and the spatial qualities experienced through the senses of sight and touch.

February 2 - Louise Hardiman & Galina Mardilovich (PhD Art History, Cambridge)
An Evening with the Art Historians (exact titles TBA)

Tues. February 16 - Olga Grinchenko (PhD, Oxford) & Alexandra Vukovich (MPhil in Russian Studies, Cambridge)
An Evening in Byzantine Russia (exact titles TBA)

Michaelmas 2009

21 October 2009, 3:45 pm for a 4:00 pm start
Ola Pienkowska (Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw)
Herbert: Reporting from a Besieged City

« During my studies in Ireland I noticed that Zbigniew Herbert is one of the best-known Polish poets next to the Nobel Prize winners Milosz and Szymborska. Is this because his poetry is translatable into English, or rather because the themes on which he chose to write appeal to English-speaking audiences? Writing about life in a corrupt totalitarian country, Herbert touched upon the universal values of freedom and dignity. He created the character of Mr Cogito, a loser, who despite his clumsiness, remained unwavering just like the poet himself. In my talk I shall aim to describe the features of Herbert's poetry that make him unique on the Polish literary scene and famous abroad. »

4 November 2009, 3:45 pm for a 4:00 pm start
Samantha Sherry (University of Edinburgh)
Mediating the Foreign: Censoring Translated Literature in the Soviet Union

« This paper examines the actions and interactions of the various censorial agents in translated literature in the Thaw-era Soviet Union, by describing the hierarchy of agents involved in censorship. It seeks to situate the analysis of censorship practices in a theoretical framework heavily influenced by the work of Pierre Bourdieu. By doing so, I hope to highlight the complexity of censorship, describing it as a form of cultural control characterised by mediation.»

24 November 2009, 5:30 pm (5:15 pm for Pre-Seminar Refreshment)
Rosie Baker (University of Durham)
Internal vs. External: A Case of Revolutionary Justice in Lev Kuleshov's 'By the Law' (Po Zakonu, 1926)

« According to Sergei Tret´iakov, ‘By the Law was worked out in the spirit of an algebraic formula, seeking to obtain the maximum of effect with the minimum of effort’. This paper will explore the ways in which the least expensive film ever produced in Russia presents the relationship between internal and external spheres in an environment where official institutions of administering justice are absent. I will primarily concentrate on how the narrative, aesthetic, and ideological programme for By the Law was shaped, subverted, and otherwise complicated by the filmmakers’ refusal to distinguish between opportunities for individual interpretation and the explicit promotion of state views for public consumption; as co- scriptwriter Viktor Shklovsky retrospectively declared, ‘Kuleshov did more with this film than I expected’. »


East Term 2009

28 May 2009
Claudia Cialone (Russian Dept., Cambridge)
Making Things Strange: A New Russian Audiovisual Poetry?

«However 'strange' it may seem at first glance, the concepts of Russian literary critic Viktor Shklovskii serve as a useful paradigm to interpret a postmodern and 'uncanny' example of Russian audiovisual art - Andrei Bakhurin's Bloody Circus of Scary Doll (1999 - 2006). By 'making things strange' the postmodern Russian webdesigner seeks unexplored digital strategies to awaken us from automatism so that we see reality with 'childish' stupor, rendering the world anew. Is it not on this receptive ground that the purpose of poetry lies? Adopting a Formalistic approach, my investigation will explore the basic ideas of form and sound behind the creation of a digital work.»

14 May 2009
Jenny Tennant (Russian Dept., Cambridge)
Magic Mushroomed: the occult in the novels of Vladimir Sorokin and Viktor Pelevin

«What do fly-agaric mushrooms, werewolves, Ishtar, ouija boards, and hypnosis by tail bring to mind? How about clones of Dostoevsky, heart language, ice hammers, and giant babies from 2028? The first is Pelevin, cult author of Generation 'P' and Sviashchennaia kniga oborotnia (The Sacred Book of the Werewolf); the second, Vladimir Sorokin, author of Goluboe salo (Blue Lard) and Led (Ice).
Sorokin and Pelevin are two of Russia's best known contemporary authors. What is the secret behind their success? How have their novels managed to make their way simultaneously into academic journals and cult websites (copies of Goluboe salo were also flushed down a giant toilet in the centre of Moscow -- but that's another story)?
I will give a short talk on my research this term, touching on the occult in Russia, conspiracy theories, sects, and -- what else? -- the Russian soul.»

Lent 2009

12 March 2009
Robert Harris (New College, Oxford)
Out of the Ashes: Herzen, Isaiah Berlin, and the Ideology of Redemption

«The fortuitous constellation of man and moment occurred when a rising Oxford academic of Russian origin, with a specialty in philosophy and a penchant for the history of ideas, was appointed to serve at the British Embassy in Moscow for a brief spell in autumn 1945. Only months after the denouement of history's most catastrophic war and horrific evil, Isaiah Berlin's brief encounter with the grim reality of Stalin's regime sparked an interest in streams of thought that offered an alternative to those that had led Europe to the brink of destruction and Russia into "darkness". We explore Berlin's lionisation of Herzen and his turn to the liberal humanist current in Russian thought, in which, it will be argued, he searches for an "antidote" to the ideological malaise of both East and West.»

Ahmed Mehdi (St Antony's College, Oxford)
Isaiah Berlin's 'Russianness' and the development of his interest in Russian intellectual history

«I aim to examine the relationship between biography and intellectual history and to what extent the former influenced the latter, in Isaiah Berlin's case. I will consider how far Berlin's Russianness was a 'conscious construct' (a term used by Andrzej Walicki) and what role this played in his aim to draw links between pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary Russian thought. Why did Berlin decide to ressurect, even animate, the intellectual works of his key protagonists — Herzen and Turgenev? Ultimately I aim to situate Isaiah Berlin's political philosophy in the context of his Russian background and to contribute to a wider debate about his legacy, particularly for Russianists working in the field of Russian intellectual history.»

26 February 2009
Boram Shin (Russian Dept., Cambridge)
Post-Soviet Cheburashka, with a film screening afterwards!

«Come watch Cheburashka and its friend Crocodile Gena! Cheburashka i Krokodil Gena is a hugely popular Soviet classic created in 1971 by Soyuzmultfilm. The film, which still airs off prime-time in Russia, is a prominent part of Soviet and post-Soviet Russian culture — the two main heroes are made into stuffed animals, featured on postcards, posters, candy wrappings, and frequently talked about in anecdotes. However, this talk will focus less on the charming innocence of the cartoon and more on the (arguably) uglier transformation it went through in the post-Soviet world. After a brief overview of the history of Soviet animated films, I will be showing the original Soviet version of Cheburashka i Krokodil Gena (with English subtitles) and two post-Soviet spoofs where the two Soviet childhood heroes are placed in their post-Soviet "adulthood".»

12 February 2009
Adele Pearson (Russian Dept., Cambridge)
Moldova: Between East and West - Russian-Language Media and the Politics of Identity

«A former Soviet Republic currently under Communist leadership, Moldova is a small country in Eastern Europe torn between Russia and the emerging influence of the EU. Language has always been a controversial issue following Russification attempts in Soviet times, together with the Soviets' insistence that Moldovan is a separate language from Romanian. I will focus on the influence of Russian-language media in contemporary Moldova, in order to ascertain how Moldovan identity is changing and what the likely political repercussions will be. This talk will be based on my own experiences of living in Moldova, Moldovan media coverage of the politically contentious CIS summit in Chişinău in November 2008, and recent interviews with Moldovans.»

Michaelmas Term 2008

27 November 2008
Maria M. Pasholok (Screen Media and Cultures, MML, Cambridge)
The Pasternak Case: Now you are invited to my execution.

«In 1957, in his country house in Peredelkino, Boris Pasternak handed over the manuscript of his novel Doctor Zhivago to Italian journalist Sergio d'Angelo with the words: "This is Doctor Zhivago. Let him see the world". After that moment, the triumphant 'world tour' of one of the best works of Russian literature started. After that moment, hunting for Pasternak started in the Soviet Union. "Now you're invited to my beheading": this is what Pasternak said to Sergio d'Angelo taking farewell of him on that fatal day in Peredelkino. Betrayals of best friends having to discredit the novel in public, and advocacy of famous writers all over the world, Nobel Prize and unanimous exclusion from the Union of Writers, the signature of letters dictated on pain of death and faked telegrams, deprivation of fees and possible deprivation of citizenship... Did the poet imagine all the consequences of his decision? What made Pasternak take a step that would put his whole life upside down? Through documents, letters, testimonies of eyewitnesses, opinions of friends, relatives and researchers of the writer's works, reproducing the chain of events that happened half a century ago, we will try to answer these questions.»

13 November 2008
Daniel Wolpert (Screen Media and Cultures, MML, Cambridge)
1946: After the Inferno and before the Freeze - The first films out of the rubble in Berlin

«This talk will explore the role of GDR cinema in establishing a national mythology of anti-fascism and moral absolution through socialism. It will also consider the first so-called Trümmerfilme ('rubble films', showing the post-war ruins) made in the Soviet sector of Berlin in 1946. These are the main issues:
1. The predicament of German film-making post-UFA/UFI and the ‘Dream Factory’ of the Third Reich
2. ‘Cinema Front’: How and why the Soviet sector cultural commissariat chose to support German film makers in the aftermath of the war
3. How physical destruction, moral salvation and a conflation of all suffering under fascism were grounding ideas for both DEFA and the East-German state.»

30 October 2008
Bob Henderson (Queen Mary, University of London)
The Agentura: The Russian Secret Police in Late 19th Century London

«Although much has been written on the pre-revolutionary activities of the tsarist Department of Police in mainland Europe, the operations of the Zagranichnaia agentura's spies in London during this period have been almost completely overlooked.
The talk will attempt to fill that gap with reference to a number of recently discovered Russian, French and British archival documents.»

16 October 2008
Luis Sundkvist (Russian Dept., Cambridge)
Aram Khachaturian's ballet Spartacus

«Extracts of the 1977 film of this most popular of Soviet ballets will be shown, together with an account of its creation for the stage in 1968 by the Bolshoi Theatre's ballet-master Yuri Grigorovich and the company's leading dancers: Vladimir Vasiliev (Spartacus), Maris Liepa (Crassus), Natalya Bessmertnova (Phrygia), and Nina Timofeyeva (Aegina)»


East Term 2008

20 May 2008
Kiersten Burge-Hendrix (Faculty of History, Cambridge)
Rigorous Mortis: The Posthumous Life of V.I. Lenin

«What is the connection between the embalmed body of Lenin and the totalitarian power of Stalin? This paper explores the relationship between the Communist Party of 1922 and their use of Lenin as a source of legitimation; not just his philosophical and political legacy, but his actual dead body.»

6 May 2008
Daniel Green (Russian Dept., Cambridge)
Clothing laid bare in Gogol's Petersburg Tales

«What is the significance of the clothing in Gogol's Petersburg Tales? Characters fall in love with overcoats, clothes are created and wear out, and social structures could not be enforced without their material symbolism. In the talk I will explore how clothing is portrayed and what role it plays in the stories.»

Lent Term 2008

13 March 2008
Catherine Brown (Faculty of English, Cambridge)
Why the Soviet Government Fell Out with the Avant-Garde

28 February 2008
Maria Ryabova (European University, St Petersburg)
Health & Safety domination in the modern education system: the example of the European University of Saint Petersburg

21 February 2008
Lyudmila Lugovskaya (Judge Business School, Cambridge)
Lending to small business in Russia: the role of institutional factors

Michaelmas Term 2007

27 November 2007
Vanessa Rampton (Russian Dept., Cambridge)
"Are you gangsters? No, we're Russians": The Brat Films and the Question of National Identity in Russia

«The enormous popularity of Aleksei Balabanov's films Brat (Brother, 1997) and Brat-2 (Brother-2, 2000) has turned them into milestones of post-Soviet cinema. Yet what are we to make of their success? Do they represent the birth of a new genre, a gangster film noir, with its inverted morality tale about the outsider who stands for rough justice in an immoral world? What can the success of films that have been dismissed by some critics as 'racist' or even 'fascist' contribute to the discussion of national identity in Russia today?»
A more detailed version of Vanessa's talk was later published in a special issue of the University of Glasgow's electronic journal eSharp, containing various papers read at the BASEES postgraduate conference held in Glasgow on 8 December, 2007. To access the article, please click here.

13 November 2007
Claire Knight (Russian Dept., Cambridge)
Poster of a Girl: Soviet propaganda & combatants of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45)

«Nearly one million women fought with the Soviet Red Army during the Second World War. How can we explain this unprecedented phenomenon? Did wartime propaganda have anything to do with it? During this, the second talk in the Russian Grad Seminars series, we'll examine the representation of women in wartime films and propaganda posters to determine whether they may have inspired the enlistment of 'Red Army girls'.»