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CASI Literature Week: "The Insomniac Bolshevik and the Sleeping Native: Post-coloniality in post-socialist literature of Russia and Uzbekistan"

December 5, 2017

Literature Week is a part of CASI’s Workshop on Literature and History. Supported by a generous contribution from Matthew Nimetz, the aim of the workshop is to create a community of junior scholars and advanced graduate students committed to studying literature and to applying literary tools and methodologies to the study of literary art in the Central Asian past.

SPEAKER: Christopher Fort, University of Michigan

Abstract: Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, historians of Central Asia and the Soviet Union have frequently asked to what extent the post-colonial theory developed by writers of Africa and Asia can be applied to Soviet Central Asia. In answering this question, most have reexamined the founding moments of the USSR under Lenin and Stalin. In this presentation, I turn our attention to the 1990s and the breakup itself, comparing post-Soviet independence to anti-colonial revolution. I argue that the post-Soviet states in the 1990s underwent an experience unique from that of African and Asian post-colonial independence in the 1960s because the former rejected not only what they saw as colonial authority in Moscow, but also socialism itself, which had often served as an anti-colonial ideology in the third world. This unique combination of politics led to a common metaphor in literature. Because most of Soviet literature (Socialist Realism) featured a socialist hero coming to (class) consciousness, post-socialist writers rejected socialism and searched for post-Soviet identities through the metaphor of unconsciousness, specifically dream. The presentation takes as its case studies Uzbek writer O'tkir Hoshimov's Lives Passed in Dream (1992) and Russian writer Viktor Pelevin's Chapaev and the Void (1996), demonstrating how both these texts manipulate Socialist Realist tropes through the language of dream in order to arrive at a fractious post-Soviet identity critical of (neo-)coloniality.

Bio: Christopher Fort is a PhD Candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Michigan. He is currently a Rackham Predoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan, where he is finishing his dissertation on the intersections of Russian and Uzbek literature of the 20th century. He spent 2015-6 in Uzbekistan on a Fulbright grant, conducting research for his dissertation. He has published on Tolstoy and on Uzbek 20th-century literature.

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