The Slavic Department had the fortunate opportunity to host distinguished guest lecturers from Russia, U.S., and Germany to discuss a wide spectrum of topics. These speakers had the opportunity to share their research on topics from sculpture to race in Russian media. These lectures attracted a diverse audience from many departments, programs, and the general public.
St. Petersburg, Sculptor
Alipov’s talk reflected on the highly contentious erection of new and removal of old public statues across the former Soviet Union—a process which has, in the last two decades, been one of the most visible signs of the ongoing disputes about history, responsibility, nationality, and identity. His talk provided the opportunity not only to reflect on these processes in the post-Soviet space, but also on somewhat analogous issues that are proving to be very contentious in the United States today.
Saint-Domingue by Way of Saint-Petersburg: Imagining the Haitian Revolution in Imperial Russia
University of Pennsylvania
This talk was an exploration of how the Haitian Revolution was covered in the Russian presses from 1802-1804. The primary focus was on how the presence of Polish forces in Haiti (who were sent by Napoleon to put down the slave rebellion ostensibly in exchange for the repatriation of Polish territory from Russia) contributed to Russia’s favorable coverage of the Black insurgency. Wilson also directed attention on how the then emerging discourse of romantic nationalism was used to portray Russia’s imperial practices in neighboring Slavic territories (like Poland) as somehow physiologically distinct from the French colonial presence in the West Indies.
Explodity: Sound, Image, and Word in Russian Futurist Book Art
The product of close collaborations between poets and painters, the Russian artists’ books created between 1910 and 1915 are like no others. In reference to “Explodity”, Perloff argued that Futurist books were meant to be read, looked at, and listened to. The advanced abstraction of Kazimir Malevich offers a crucial context for manifestos by avant-garde poets Velimir Khlebnikov and Alexei Kruchenykh that dismissed referentiality and advocated the new poetic and phonic language of zaum (beyond the mind). Futurist and Formalist theory provide the basis for close readings of word-image-sound interplay in several Futurist books, including Pomada (Pomade) and Mirskontsa (Worldbackwards). The talk concluded by considering the wide-ranging legacy of these works in the midcentury global movement of sound and concrete poetry.
Kafka’s Babylonian Homeland: Intellectual Traditions in Bohemian History and the Problem of Recognition
Institute of Musicology, Weimar-Jena
Kafka’s local as well as regional and national life was characterized by multilingual, multidenominational and multicultural experiences that dominated the political, journalistic and cultural-literary discourse since the mid-19th century. The lecture aimed to reconstruct an universalist concept that was determined by a late-Josephinian reform catholicism or Bohemism (Bernard Bolzano, Adalbert Stifter) inspired by Leibniz and which was able to develop its effects into the 20th century. This effect on the history of ideas were examined using examples from Prague’s German, Jewish and Czech modernism (including Max Brod, Emanuel Rádl) and then investigating the extent to which Kafka’s work could be read in the context of universalist positions.