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RS200: Russia: Language, Literature, and Film

What’s to be done? Who is to blame? What is the Russian soul? These are the “cursed” questions the Russian writers, film directors, artists, and intelligentsia (интеллигенция) have been debating since the beginning of the 19th century. Why and how do these questions relate to us today? Russian culture has been perceived by the West as the Other and--often simultaneously-- as the repository of the West’s most cherished values. From Christianity to Marxism to postmodernism, Russia--its history and art--has embodied the crucial conflicts that characterize contemporary consciousness. In spite of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Cold War, much of the European and American intellectual landscape has been shaped by Russian writers, film directors, artists, and composers. Some of the most defining trends in European cultural history of the 20th century--Realism, Modernism, Existentialism , Symbolism, and Formalism--are inconceivable without Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Mayakovsky, Eisenstein, Tarkovsky, Nabokov, and other Russian writers and film directors. In this course, we will integrate the study of Russian language with the great tradition of Russian literature and film. We begin with the premise that each of these disciplines, i.e., the study of a language and the concomitant study of literature, film, and culture, infuses and cross-fertilizes the other. Major literary texts will be chosen from among Notes from Underground, The Gambler, The Cossacks, Fathers and Sons, and stories by Chekhov, Solzhenitsyn, Nabokov, and Tatyana Tolstaya. We will examine films by the Soviet and Russian classics—Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Tarkovsky, Riazanov, Mikhalkov, and others.