RESEARCH: PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE


When James Joyce (1882-1941) wrote that Ulysses (1921) would leave “the professors busy for centuries,” he did not think to factor in the exponential effort it would take to trace the novel’s effects on other authors. My book project, “Becoming Their Own Fathers: James Joyce’s Legacy in Russian Literature,” takes a significant step forward in explicating his impact in the little-studied Russian context.

Existing materials on this subject often address single writers and rarely in depth. Exceptions, such as Neil Cornwell’s James Joyce and the Russians (1992) and a series of articles by Emily Tall, tend to focus either on Joyce’s reception among critics or the history of translations of his works but offer very limited literary analysis. I instead examine how Joyce’s legacy radiated throughout Russian literature of the long twentieth century. To do so, I complete close readings of texts by five representative Russian authors who actively read Joyce: Yury Olesha (1899-1960), Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), Andrei Bitov (1937–2018), Sasha Sokolov (1943–), and Mikhail Shishkin (1961–). This project simultaneously fills a substantial gap in the history of Russian literary exchanges and provides new insights on several major writers. I consider each figure’s biographical, historical, and cultural contexts, while a set of shared themes, namely artistic identity, generational conflicts, and the influence of the past, unites their responses and shapes their dialogue with Joyce’s oeuvre and ideas.

An exhaustive analysis of all Russian authors who responded to Joyce lies beyond the scope of this, and likely any, study, but choosing key figures and texts from the broad twentieth century has allowed me to explicate the evolution of his position in Russian literature. Through these case studies, I reconsider a central issue in twentieth-century Russian literature: to use Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky’s phrase, the “Gorgon-like stare of history” that transfixed many authors. Joyce appears in connection with this overwhelming fascination with history, whether personal, national, or literary, in these disparate writers’ books. He stood as an alternative in life and literature, and he showed how an individual may reshuffle narratives to fashion a new identity. His work served as an impetus for their literary experiments, but it also functioned as a mirror by which their anxieties and goals can be perceived.

My research on Joyce and Russia has led to several related peer-reviewed articles published, forthcoming, and under review on topics in Russian modernist and postmodernist prose, including at least one on each of my monograph’s five primary authors. Additionally, I have published articles on the multilingual Czech surrealist poet Ivan Blatný and on Daniil Kharms's short story "Blue Notebook No.10" through the lens of cognitive linguistics. For a complete list of publications, including reviews, translations, and essays, please see my CV.

Now in its early stages, “The Poetics of Resignation in Russian Modernism” is the subject of my next manuscript-length project. I will explore why the trope of capitulation features prominently among authors including Evgeny Zamiatin (1884-1937), Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940), Daniil Kharms (1905-1942), and Boris Pasternak (1890-1960). This undertaking will map connections and contrasts with European and Anglophone works, while drawing on philosophical texts regarding resignation (e.g., Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard) to trace Russian modernists’ tendency toward capitulation.

Artists in Absentia opening. Madison, March 2016. Photo by Claire Mason.