Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Russia: A Long-Shot Romance

Jo Durden-Smith

This travel account is from the late twentieth century, showing an American’s experiences in Russia just as the Soviet Union collapsed. Quite different in tone than most of similar works described above, partly because of era, partly by the specific situation of the author and the tone he adopts. Certainly after a certain point he becomes less a descriptor of Russia as a static, surveyed thing, and is more a witness to major change. Nevertheless some similar motifs continue, enough to make use of the account to shine comparative light on other accounts.

Most notably, Durden-Smith is utterly explicit in how directly he eroticizes Russian women and uses sexual encounters as metaphors for the basic character of Russian civilization and its encounter with the West. "And when I get back, Yelena is beneath the sheets in the big bedroom, naked and languorous: smiling. As I put down the bags I think for some reason of something I’ve read: that the Russians, as well a having had no Renaissance, Reformation, or Enlightenment, have no tradition of romantic love. I wonder whether it matters as I take off my jacket. It’s created nothing but trouble in the West. "(Jo Durden-Smith, 84)

The claim to special insight and representation as directly accompanying sexual conquest is one of the creepiest, most colonial things I’ve seen in a travel account on Russia, and signals a continuance of certain lines of traveler perspectives up to the end of the Cold War. I’m definitely planning to give some weight to this aspect of things, possibly to the extent of having a dissertation chapter focs on the later manifestations of this kind of thing.

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