Date of Award

Spring 5-13-2016

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Advisor

Carla Billitteri

Second Committee Member

Deborah Rogers

Third Committee Member

Laura Cowan

Abstract

This thesis draws attention to the ways in which memory was incorporated into the production of Soviet literature. The current discussion primarily focuses on the literary scene that was taking shape during the formative years of the USSR, 1920s-1930s. This time-period choice is conditioned by crucial social, political, and ideological decisions made by Soviet leaders and supporters in order to construct and organize “a new society.” In the process of the formation of a new state, society, mentality, which can be summarized and described as “Soviet,” the word—written and spoken—became one of the most powerful weapons to channel people’s thinking into the directions that would contribute to strengthening the Communist authority.

Although Soviet literature received much scholarly attention, its contours still remain rather vague. What is Soviet literature? What are its origins and roots? And what are the criteria of being and becoming a Soviet writer? The latter question reveals contradictions that Soviet literature hides and produces: How did the writers, born and educated before the Soviet Union establishment, become Soviet? And who is “the last Soviet writer”? The chronological boundaries that the term Soviet literature introduces had to be managed in this way or another. During the Soviet era, myth making and manipulation of historical and cultural facts appeared to be helpful for maintaining the authority of Soviet excellence and dominance and for eliminating possibilities to raise inconvenient questions. This thesis supports the revision of the formative years of Soviet literature from the viewpoint of memory construction and manipulation, which involved a selective approach to the past and aggressive production of “new”—Soviet—memories that would connect Soviet citizens.

The Soviet regime attempted to structure—via literature in particular—state artificial memory in order to legitimize its history and culture, which were heavily relying on a heterogeneous pre-Soviet past. Although Soviet literature demonstrated considerable progress in “producing” writers who would serve the regime agendas, its monolithic and homogeneous environment was interrupted by others’ voices who appear to defy the policy of construing memories that could be easily manipulated and controlled to meet the desired outcomes outlined by the government. To initiate a conversation about memory conflations that the Soviet era reveals, this thesis brings attention to Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, which is presented as a novel of and about memory.

Referring to memory theories outlined by Pierre Nora and Richard Terdiman, I discuss The Master and Margarita in the context of conflated and blended memories that mix and combine the past, present, and the future. In the context of Soviet regime that was exercising control over an individual’s memory and consciousness, Bulgakov’s novel emerges as a protest against elimination of an individual’s right to construe one’s own memory and history. The Master and Margarita provides an insight into the era when a new Soviet society was being produced: literature appears to construct new state memories and silence memories that will sustain links to the past that can be “harmful” for the development of A Soviet Man and Woman.

Promoting the idea of a new society, the notion of the new in Soviet society appears not only blurry, but manipulated and distorted. The research of recent years has shown that the Soviet regime was extensively exploiting the past of imperial Russia to mold “a new Soviet citizen.” I consider this process of consciousness manipulation as aggressive intervention into the cultural memory rather than memory erasure or destruction. In this process, literature appeared to be both objects and subjects of the intervention process, keeping traces and fragments of rhizomatic memory, which in the USSR was primarily presented as a one-dimension entity. In this regard, the 1920s and 1930s may seem particularly rich in hybrid interventions into the cultural memory through literature; however, subsequent decades still demonstrate a variety of manipulative strategies that vary from subtle to brutal and vandalizing.

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