From the collapse of the Soviet Union until the end of Putin’s second term as President, Russia has been through a transition process affecting all aspects of social, economic and cultural life. This project will examine one aspect of this transition: post-Soviet revisions to the canon of twentieth-century Russian poetry. Key issues for discussion will be the changing position of figures and groups who have either been ‘canonised’ or ‘de-canonised’, including those thought to represent the heritage of ‘classic’ Soviet poetry and the variety and experimentation of the Silver Age. Those poets who have no strong affiliation either to ‘official’ or ‘unofficial’ Soviet culture will also be considered.

The project will explore issues of canonicity in relationship to the prominent role that continues to be ascribed to high literary culture as a focus for educated values and national identity, while also assessing the extent to which the very idea of a canon has become contested. The project will examine the relationship between changes to the canon and the search for a post-Soviet identity, at a time when Russian nationalism started to make itself more widely felt in the cultural, as well as in the political sphere. Through its investigations of the extent and nature of changes to the canon, the project will provide a new, post-Soviet perspective on twentieth-century Russian literary history, and explore the relationship between cultural memory as expressed through the canon, and post-Soviet Russian identity.

The project is led by Katharine Hodgson, who is researching the place in the canon of poets associated with official Soviet literature by examining post-Soviet anthologies and journal publications. Alexandra Smith is the co-investigator, and her work focuses on the integration of émigré poets into the post-Soviet canon, with reference to the canon-forming influence of documentary film and TV broadcasts, and exploring the role of memoir literature in the canonization of selected figures. Joanne Shelton is conducting research into educational institutions’ role in canon formation process, and the canon-forming role of publishers and development of market-driven publishing. The project also supports two PhD students, Aaron Hodgson, whose thesis explores the process by which Joseph Brodsky’s work was given canonical status, and Natalia Karakulina, who is researching the extent to which Vladmir Maiakovskii has retained his canonical status.

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