Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Writing at Russia's Border

Writing at Russia's Border by Katya Hokanson

Good for what it sets out to do, if a little plodding and narrowly focused. That's not to downplay the accomplishments of the work--it offers a well researched, effectively expressed and compelling argument into the role of tsarist-era Russian literary writing connecting with discourses of power and ambition. The underlying concepts of this book are far from new, but in its specifical application to eighteenth/nineteenth century Russia and the Caucaus it provides a direct association with cultural productions and the aggressive military expansion. The connections between gendered components and forms of poetry work the best, for my reading, and there are a number of interesting links made by Hokanson.

The biggest issue I had with it overall was too much relative focus on Pushkin. He was a significant literary force of the period, and a necessary component to look at the main argument of the piece. There's certainly grounds for focusing more attention on him than any other single figure. Even with that, though, it seemed to go on at a bit too much length at the expense of other figures, past the point where the conclusions seemed surprising or even particularly necessary. That's a minor quibble on the larger piece, however.

Better than: Portraits of early Russian liberals by Derek Offord

Worse than: Russian Thinkers by Isaiah Berlin

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