Literature


Literature
   The history of post-Soviet Russian literature is defined by the changes introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev as part of the perestroika process, as well as the long-ranging effects of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The period of glasnost led to a dramatic easing and eventual abolishing of censorship. Russian literary authors gained the opportunity to express their thoughts freely and to publish their works openly without the need to resort to samizdat practices. Citizenship was restored to émigré writers, and as a result, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russia’s most famous living writer, returned to the country. Literary works such as Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, banned under the Soviet regime, were finally published in Russia during the same period. The return of these works into the public domain had an immediate aesthetic effect on contemporary writing as the cultural tradition of Russian literature had finally been fully established. The division between official and unofficial literature, and between Soviet and émigré literature, became redundant. Russian literature suddenly lost its long-established status of political opposition, while simultaneously failing to any longer provide a moral compass for the Russian society.
   With the end of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the status of the Russian language and Russian literature had to be addressed. Furthermore, Russian readers gained access to literatures of other countries and they desired to absorb large parts of the world literary tradition that had previously been unavailable to them. During this period, writers and readers sought to understand the past, both historic and literary, and to comprehend the chaotic and often threatening present. Finally, both the readers and the authors found themselves in the new conditions of the market economy, whereby a financial viability of an artistic project mattered just as much as its aesthetic or ideological quality. If in the Soviet Union, the literary process was regulated through the means of political control of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the aesthetic control of the Writers’ Union, in post-Soviet Russia, these have been replaced by the control of the market and the politics of various literary prize committees.
   The end of the 1980s saw a boom in literary publications as authors attempted to rethink the past and provide accounts of reality that was in constant flux; literary journals became extremely important as they facilitated the speedy publications of new and newly discovered works. Ironically, this boom coincided with heated debates about the purported end of Russian literature; the debates took place in the same literary journals. Such pessimism accounted for the urgent need to produce a new literary style that would suffice to represent the new reality. It seemed for a while that postmodernism, with its interest in rewriting and reinventing the past, ironic discourse, obsession with cultural allusions, unreliable narratives, and so forth, would serve the purpose. Indeed, the most important authors of the period, including Vladimir Sorokin, Viktor Pelevin, and the poet Dmitry Prigov, utilized the aesthetic principles of postmodernism, producing a number of remarkable literary texts.
   The aesthetic pluralism that postmodernism propagated represented adequately the social and cultural disarray of the 1990s. New names quickly appeared on the literary horizon and disappeared equally fast; new publishing houses opened and closed, and new journals were launched and soon discontinued. However, some giants of the literary business prevailed such as Novoie Literaturnoie Obozreniie, an independent professional journal of literary studies, and Inostrannaia Literatura, a journal specializing in the publication of contemporary foreign literature. The publishing crisis of the early 1990s was soon replaced by a new publishing boom as there was an increasing interest in contemporary Russian literature. However, an aesthetic revolution did not occur; instead, Russian popular literature was reinvented as a lucrative business. Detective stories and thrillers proved a very successful genre of new Russian literature. Serial detective novels by Aleksandra Marinina, Polina Dashkova, and Daria Dontsova sold millions of copies. In the next decade, a more highbrow author, Boris Akunin (under the nom de plume Grigory Chkhartishvili), with his series about the 19th-century spy Erast Fandorin, became widely popular. Fantasy and science-fiction literature became increasingly marketable, with such best-selling authors as Sergey Lukyanenko and Maria Semionova gaining popularity. In the new millennium, Russian authors continued the postmodern project of questioning the boundaries of literary genres and the boundaries of literary activity, and, as a result, it is often hard to distinguish between writing proper and social activism. However, the realist tradition has also witnessed a revival, especially in its representation of the conflict in Chechnya (as in works by Vladimir Makanin), rural life (represented by the works of Aleksandr Titov and Lidiya Sychova), and the existential crisis of the new post-Soviet generation (best exemplified by Nikolay Kononov and Mikhail Shishkin). A wave of neo-sentimentalist authors emerged as well, including playwright Yevgeny Grishkovets, poet Timur Kibirov, and novelist Lyudmila Ulitskaya.
   While Moscow remains the center of the Russian literary process, there have also been regional groupings, most notably in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. There also appeared a new space for Russian literature: the Russian Internet (Runet). The financial constraints of the 1990s, as well as Russia’s lenient policy regarding intellectual property, resulted in a post-2000 shift of Russian literature toward cyberspace, with www.lib.ru (also known as the library of Maksim Moshkov) being the major portal where Russian classics and new titles have been published. There are also websites where alternative literary movements publish their manifestos and Russian literary critics examine theoretical issues of literary studies. However, the most important development of the recent decade is the active integration of new media into literary practice. Russian authors persistently engage with new media, especially the Internet, to create new cross-media, cross-genre forms. Most of these literary experiments take place in LiveJournal, which has been described as the primary web-based resource of the Russian intellectual elite. For example, Linor Goralik’s blog contains general postings related to her literary activities, but also samples of her writing, visual art, and other materials. It is virtually impossible to distinguish between her creative work posted in the blog and unrelated postings, prompting many literary scholars to speak about a new form of literary work that utilizes new media as a form of writing, publication, and distribution. This practice is destined to have a profound effect on Russian literature as it blurs the boundaries between the author and the reader, and conditions new temporal qualities of creative work.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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