by MARGARITA VAYSMAN
Every April, the annual Princeton-Columbia Graduate Student Conference brings together Masters and PhD students from the two Slavic departments. This year, the conference was organized by Natalia Klimova (Princeton) and Eliza Cushman Rose (Columbia) and covered a remarkable range of subjects from early nineteenth-century poetry to post-Soviet advertising, addressing issues of literary and discourse analysis, philosophy of language, art history and popular culture.
As usual, graduates from both universities welcomed a chance to discuss their work in progress with fellow students in a friendly and stimulating atmosphere. An opportunity to get feedback on their papers from both Princeton and Columbia faculty (this year represented by Professors Liza Knapp, Tatiana Slmoliarova and Edward Tyerman (Columbia) and Caryl Emerson, Michael Wachtel and Serguei Oushakine (Princeton)) was another added benefit of this engaging one-day gathering.
The conference opened with a panel on nineteenth-century literature, chaired by Massimo Balloni (Princeton). Emily Wang’s (Princeton) paper on the reception of Byron in the Decembrist poetry instigated a lively discussion of the role of English Romanticism in nineteenth-century Russia. Erica Drennan’s (Columbia) take on Leskov’s frame narratives offered a close reading of a short story Voitel’nitsa and examined the struggle for discursive power between the narrator and the main character. As a discussant, Professor Knapp draw the audience’s attention to the particular role that Byron played in Pushkin’s poetic development and suggested several methodological frameworks suited for close readings of Leskov. The panel was followed by questions and comments from the audience.
The second panel on metanarratives in literature and theater also featured a mix of Columbia and Princeton students. My own paper on nineteenth-century Russian metafiction offered a reading of Nikolai Chernyshevskii’s and Alexei Pisemskii’s novels, based on their engagement with self-conscious narrative strategies. Alisa Ballard’s (Princeton) interpretation of Nikolai Evreinov’s Theory of the Theatrical Instinct provided a fascinating glimpse into the world of the modernist Russian theater. Will Hanlon’s (Columbia) reading of Nabokov’s fictional universes in Ada engaged with the often elusive difference between real and imagined in the writer’s late prose. Professor Emerson’s insightful contribution as a discussant included remarks on Evreinov’s role in the development of Russian performative arts, the ever-present metafictional dimension of Nabokov’s texts and inherent theatricality of self-referential literary narratives. Professor Wachtel joined the discussion of papers with further notes on performative nature of metafiction.
The papers of the third panel, “Critical Approaches to Culture” examined such diverse subjects as philosophy of love, the discursive practices of the Bakhtin circle, and post-Soviet advertising. Victoria Juharyan’s (Princeton) skillful presentation contrasted cognitive value of love in Tolstoi and Bakhtin, analyzing the evolution of this concept in fiction and philosophical prose. Irina Denischenko (Columbia) discussed the concept of zhivoe slovo (“the living word”) as the original alternative to the resurrection paradigm developed in Bakhtin’s circle. Elizaveta Mankovskaya (Princeton) shared an engaging interpretation of Timur Bekmambetov’s adverts as examples of mechanisms of cultural memory at work. Professor Tyerman’s discussion of the papers brought together various issues raised by the panelists’ presentations such as the difficulty of applying analytic frameworks to philosophical texts as well as possibilities for further interpretation of Russian cultural artefacts the 1990s.
The first paper of the fourth panel, Maria Lechtarova’s (Columbia) comparative study of post-soviet national identities, continued examining popular culture of the twentieth century’s last decade. Maria offered a vivid account of popular visual narratives in Russia and Bulgaria. Gabriella Ferrari (Princeton) presented a reading of body gestures in Komar and Melamid’s art, viewed through the lens of Bakhtin’s theories. Finally, Bradley Gorski (Columbia) discussed Aleksei Ivanov’s fiction and non-fiction in the context of the developing geopoetics of the Ural region. In his closing remarks, Professor Oushakine raised important questions of sincerity and authorial intent in conceptualist art, discussed geopoetics as a discipline, and stressed the importance of careful matching of analytical frameworks and actual data.
The conference was brought to a close by Natalia Klimova (Princeton), thanking the participants and the audience for continuing to make this annual event such a success.