I am honored to be part of the Slavic Department — and grateful. The Michigan Society of Fellows gave me an opportunity to advance my research while teaching a small number of courses in the Slavic Department over the next three years. I am using my first semester at U-M to write about the archival research and interviews I conducted over the summer and to teach a first-year seminar. I am catching up on some translation projects, sending out an academic article and, after an inspiring and productive retreat with the Society of Fellows, starting to chart my book.
Developing my work in this supportive environment makes it feel like it’s writing itself. I also have a sense of urgency and timeliness. The project on anarchism in Russian culture, coincides with a rising mainstream interest in anarchists (both positive and negative!) and with increased government reaction to anarchist organizing in Russia as in the United States. As I imagine it, my book would move from the late nineteenth century to the contemporary moment, contextualizing and historicizing it. Some of the stops (chapters) along the way include: Tolstoy’s affinity to anarchism; the radical politics of Soviet-era absurdists; the similarities of horizontal undertakings in culture — for example, in independent theater networks — to anti-statist and mutual aid organizing. The premise for the book is that radical ideas did not simply evaporate when governments censored, criminalized, and purged them; rather, they seeped into (underground, informal, dissident) culture. By bridging the gaps between radical art, writing, and radical politics, I want to make the case that anarchism is continuous. In my research this summer, I saw many manifestations of anarchist ideas among contemporary artists. My interviewees were quick to connect their anarchist practices to literary predecessors, in particular. This alone complicates our picture of anarchism (“equals chaos” or, alternatively, “violence”).
In my teaching this semester, I share the broader context of my project — the history of political art and thought in Russia. I teach this first-year seminar, called “Radical Russia,” from primary source documents: we start with the Emancipation Manifesto that freed the serfs, and end with the trial of Pussy Riot. The course is structured around famous manifestos, whether written by tsars, revolutionaries, or artists. I was especially interested to see students’ sympathy toward tsarist-era revolutionaries (we read a chapter from Katerina Breshkovskaia’s memoir), the students’ reenactment of Futurist manifestos, and their debate on Lenin’s April Theses. In November, the students will write and present their own manifestos.
As I start to learn more about the vast array of departments and programs at the U-M, the Fellows’ Society serves as a compass. So far, presenters in our colloquium have talked about the physics of galaxy formation, the destruction of urban villages in China, the search for new solar cells, and the influence of management theory on fiction. It’s been an invaluable introduction to fascinating research happening across the university.