Writing Between the Lines: Formal Discontinuities in Autobiographies of Ukrainian Writers, 1890s-1940s
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AbstractMy dissertation treats life-writing in Ukrainian literature from the 1890s to the 1940s. These texts are often marked by radical discontinuities: temporal, stylistic, ideological, linguistic, etc. Autobiographies tempt readers to imagine narrators in a straight teleological progression towards self-actualization. However, my research focuses on cultural and historical periods that render such teleological readings unattainable. Unable or unwilling to render intelligible or to impose totalizing cohesiveness on the tensions within the tradition, writers often put discontinuities in the forefront thematically and formally.
Chapter 1 offers an overview of the history of life writing in contemporary Ukrainian literature from the latter third of the 19th century to the present, with special attention to inconsistencies and breaks in continuities. Chapter 2 focuses on how Soviet questionnaires shaped authorial self-fashioning in the 1920s, and the avant-gardists creative responses to the form, based on the so-called Plevako Archives and the editorial crypto-autobiographies of the journal Literaturnyj Iarmarok. Chapter 3 delves on the pronoun trouble in The Enchanted Desna by Oleksandr Dovzhenko and in the short stories by Vasyl Stefanyk. Oleksandr Dovzhenko probes the boundaries of life writing as a genre, contending that a writer’s biography encompasses not his or her individual biography, but rather the history of the writer’s literary tradition. Therefore, first person singular pronouns incorporate a multitude of occasionally contradictory voices. Vasyl Stefanyk’s short stories, meanwhile, enact the drama of the narrator’s disappearance, pointing to the fact that his authorial positioning was rife with conflicts that he had for a while sought to reconcile through the medium of life writing. Chapter 4 offers an analysis of experiments with temporality in The Princess by Olha Kobylianska and The Master of the Ship by Iurii Ianovskii. Both of the novels are meta-autobiographical: they follow protagonists engaged in the act of life writing and explore the specificity of autobiographical texts. Kobylianska focused on the instability of identity constructs over time, questioning the possibility of a totalizing cohesive vision of selfhood. Meanwhile, Ianovskyi’s The Master of the Ship explored the possibility of life writing as the synthetic and collective art form, combining the expressive possibilities of fiction, cinema, and more.
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