ULBANDUS XVI - Hearing Texts: The Auditory in Slavic Cultures
Following last year’s issue on the visual (Ulbandus XV), this year’s edition of Ulbandus brings together ten articles and three short translations that explore aspects of aurality in Slavic languages, literatures, and cultures. In truth, the topic of aurality appears to have been gaining traction among Slavicists over the past few years. Several recent conferences have been organized around the theme of “sound” and other concepts of an auditory nature. The October 2013 issue of the Russian Review included a special section with four papers on “listening” in late imperial Russia. The May 2014 issue of the New Literary Observer included a section entitled “Toward a Theory of the Sounding Word,” which brought together three articles on the science of spoken literary language. We hope that Ulbandus XVI represents an interesting and valuable contribution to this exciting trend in Slavic scholarship.
Aurality here is represented in a variety of forms: natural and manmade sounds, utterances and spoken language, as well as folk songs, pop songs, symphonies, operas, and other genres of musical art. Some articles investigate the fascinating role of speech and conversation— speaking, hearing, and listening—in Slavic literatures, tackling the paradox of representing spoken language in written form. Other articles focus on the sounds of an environment, and the depiction and use of these sounds in the Russian and Soviet context. Although the musical arts, of course, feature predominantly in this issue, these articles explore the interactions between literature and music from a diverse range of perspectives. One article descends to the level of syllables to explore an author’s literary evocation of a particular piece of music, while another portrays the cultural impact of a new musical genre on an entire generation of Russian poets.
Quite diverse in approach and content, the articles in this issue also converge at several key points. I have organized the articles into four broad categories that highlight some of these convergences: “Speech and Conversation,” “Russian Modernists on Sounds and Music,” “Sounds and Songs in Constructing Identity,” and “Music on the Cultural Battleground.”
Part One, “Speech and Conversation,” opens with Daniel Schümann’s article, which investigates different modes of hearing, listening, and communicating in Crime and Punishment. This is followed by Anastasia Kayiatos’s article, which examines the role of silence versus “full” speech in Soviet-era constructions of otherness, marked by visual bodily difference such as race, deafness, and gender. In Robert Chandler’s translations of three poems by Georgy Ivanov, we see the theme of speech and conversation further explored by the speaker of the poems.
Part Two, “Russian Modernists on Sound and Music,” is organized thematically as well as chronologically, with articles that explore literary, linguistic, and musical texts associated with Russian Symbolism and Futurism. Offering a fresh approach and interesting insight into two of Zamiatin’s best-known works, Polina Dimova’s article explores the relationship between Scriabin’s music, as well as the philosophy behind it, and Zamiatin’s novel We and short story “The Cave.” Kerry Philben’s article discusses the significant role that Beethoven plays in Viacheslav Ivanov’s conception of music and its future, through a close reading of his two “Beethoven poems.” Boris Gasparov’s article takes up the Futurist legacy in Jakobson’s writing on language: while the first half of the article focuses on Khlebnikov’s experiments with language, the second discusses Jakobson’s continuation of Khlebnikov’s quest for internal, and hence universal, structures of language.
Parts Three and Four explore related ideas about cultural productions. Part Three, “Sounds and Songs in Constructing Identity,” juxtaposes two articles that may seem quite different at first glance. Joshua S. Walker’s article addresses the ways in which Gogol, Turgenev, and Tolstoy use the Russian folk song to establish their visions of Russian identity, drawing attention to the particular ability of the folk song to explore and define aspects of Russian identity. He argues that the literary imagining of the Russian folk song is constructed as “doubly ‘natural’” in that it opposes the imagined artificiality of gentry culture and also that of Western cultures, within and without Imperial Russian borders. Edward Tyerman’s article, on the other hand, takes us into China during the early Soviet period, to address how Soviet writers—not unlike the Russian writers before them—used song in the literary construction of identity: in this case, attempts to build internationalist aesthetics were based on the sounds, rhythms, and songs of oppressed Chinese laborers. Although concerned with different eras, both articles explore the significant role of aurality, or, more specifically, sound and songs, in the production of cultural identity.
Part Four, “Music on the Cultural Battleground,” further explores the intersection of aurality and culture, but with a more decided emphasis on the potential of music to effect cultural change—positively or negatively. Natalia Dame’s article discusses the coevolution of music and female sexuality in Tolstoy’s literary and critical prose, focusing on the author’s progressing control over the narrative and female representation. Sophie Pinkham’s article explores the careers of two Soviet performers of the criminal song (blatnaia pesnia), Leonid Utesov and Arkadii Severnyi. Pinkham frames popular music as a particularly difficult object for ideological control by Soviet authorities, despite their recognition of the importance of fighting this cultural battle. Part Four concludes with Margo Shohl Rosen’s discussion of the influence that jazz producer and radio personality Willis Conover had on Thaw era poets through his “Jazz Hour” radio program, broadcast over Voice of America. Through textual analysis of poetry by Brodsky, Naiman, and Rein, Rosen explores the impact of jazz music and culture on these poets and their circle.
This issue of Ulbandus involves more multimedia content than past issues, leading us beyond the visual of the journal’s printed page, to actually hear the materials discussed. To that end, several contributors have chosen to include auditory citations in their articles; these citations are indicated by an icon (depicted to the right) in the margins of the article, with a short link to the contributor’s page on the new ulbandus.org website, where you may listen to the citation. These citations include music clips, interviews, and other media, which, we hope, will enrich your experience of the article.
I want extend my deepest gratitude to the assistant, managing, and design editors of this issue, Molly Rose Avila, Marlow Davis, Irina Denischenko, Erica Drennan, Michael Gluck, Bradley Gorski, William Hanlon, Robyn Jensen, Inna Kapilevich, Ben Lussier, and Emily Traverse for their tireless and careful work. I also want to thank our contributors, whose compelling, insightful articles have made working on this volume so rewarding.
Holly Myers, December 2014