By Sword and Word: Literature, Violence, and Religion in the North Caucasus
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CitationBreininger-Umetayeva, Olga. 2019. By Sword and Word: Literature, Violence, and Religion in the North Caucasus. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractFor over a century and a half, Russia has exercised a narrative monopoly on the Caucasus War. Both in fiction and in scholarship, the understanding of one of the most prolonged conflicts in Russian history has been largely mediated by the Russian perspectives. Voices and perspectives from the Caucasus, thus, have remained essentially unheard. This is precisely the gap my dissertation intends to solve. It presents a comparative study of Russian and Arabic-language sources, written, respectively, in Russia and locally in the Caucasus.
Chapter One is dedicated to the history of Islam in the Caucasus and the history of Arabic-language literature in the Caucasus. Chapter Two discusses Arabic-language works by three authors from the Caucasus: The Shining of Dagestani Swords in Shamil’s Selected Gazavats by Mukhammad Takhir Al Karakhi, the novella Gazimukhammad by Khasanilav Al Gimravi, and poetic works by Gadzhi-Iusif Al Iakhsavi. Chapter Three investigates and reads against the grain three classical Russian texts about the Caucasus War: Aleksander Marlinskii’s Ammalat-bek, Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time and Lev Tostoi’s Khadzhi-Murat.
The concluding chapter provides an analytical account of the ways in which the Caucasus War was portrayed in Russian literature and that written in the Caucasus. Using the theoretical framework of performance, I suggest that due to the unique sociocultural circumstances in Russia and in the Caucasus in the 19th century, literature on both sides came to acquire a performative function. This encounter of two totally incommensurable models of literary performativity, shaping two national imaginaries of conflict, is what I call the “performative front.” These two completely different modes of representing and normalizing violence in the Caucasus, distilling national cultural imaginaries over the past two centuries, have combined to exacerbate and perpetuate the violence on the ground. The chapter ends with a case study, where I use the image of a severed head (one of the most frequent images of violence in the fiction of the Caucasus War) as an example of the co-production of violence and literature through performance.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42029629
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