Matters of Life and Death: The Living Corpse in Early Soviet Society
Tullock, Stephen Alexander
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CitationTullock, Stephen Alexander. 2019. Matters of Life and Death: The Living Corpse in Early Soviet Society. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThe living corpse is not merely a trope in Russian literature; as Andrew Wachtel notes, it is a “cultural paradigm” that “influenced not just Russian literature but Russian history in general.” My dissertation addresses the appearance of the living corpse in the first decades of the Soviet era as it becomes the locus of multiple discourses—including history, art, and belief—during a period of cultural disruptions. Soviet scholars have long been fascinated by the topics of immortality and resurrection, often emphasizing its intellectual origins in proto-utopian narratives or in the idiosyncratic philosophy of Nikolai Fedorov. Others have located a Gothic strain of literature conditioned by the abrupt shifts in power in the social and political world. Building on this scholarship, I argue that the trope of the living corpse is a salient metaphor for exploring what it means to be “alive” after 1917. Bound to certain defamiliarizing aesthetic strategies, it reveals how artists engaged with the promises and problems of a new Soviet life in which death would be conquered by resurrecting its subjects on earth, rather than in Heaven. This resurrection is not literal; instead, it is involved with redefining life and death as political and social categories for “conscious” and “unconscious” individuals. The dead body becomes a site for considering the rhetoric and ideologies of life and death in the aftermath of the Revolutions of 1917, and the vital role of art in elucidating these new forms of experience. To that end, I read the trope in the works of Andrei Platonov, Dziga Vertov, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, teasing out the multiple layers of meaning given to the living corpse based on its context within the work itself, within the particular author’s oeuvre and thought, and within the historical period.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42029569
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