Economy and Family in Russian Modernism
Northern Illinois University Press 2017
New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Critical TheoryNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Literary StudiesNew Books in LiteratureNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Russian and Eurasian StudiesNew Books Network July 25, 2017 Nataliya Shpylova-Saeed
In Alternative Kinships: Economy and Family in Russian Modernism (Northern Illinois University Press, 2017), Jacob Emery presents literary texts as intersections of aesthetic, social, and economic phenomena. Drawing particular attention to the texts that emerge under the influence of burgeoning Soviet ideology, Jacob Emery discusses aesthetic developments and repercussions caused and initiated by the programs aimed at the redefinition of economy and society. The spheres of family and economy appear to not only absorb changes and transformations instigated by the strengthening of communist rhetoric, but also to exercise influences on the formation and on the development of Soviet literature, reshaping the aesthetic continuum and revealing the collision of paradigms and epistemes.
While focusing on the texts that illuminate the peculiarities of Russian Modernism (Andrei Bely’s Petersburg, Yuri Olesha’s Envy), Alternative Kinships also includes a detailed discussion of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, Miroslav Krleza’s The Return of Filip Latinovicz, and Isak Dinesen’s stories. This comparative attempt discloses intricate interconnections not only between literatures and cultures but between ideologies and political programs as well. Jacob Emery points out, “Like the authors of Russian modernism, Hawthorne, Krlea, and Dinesen are concerned with alternative kinships that take shape at a moment of crisis in the history of hereditary castes: the rise of Jeffersonian democracy, the fall of the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy, and, in Dinesen’s historical fiction, a preoccupation with inheritance mechanisms in the period just before and after the French Revolution “(10-11). Literature appears to respond to political developments, which bring forth crucial shifts, redefining the areas of the familiar and of the conventional.
As Alternative Kinships demonstrates, Soviet literature offers an array of intriguing possibilities for reshaping family relationships. In addition, these experiments are inextricably connected with the Soviet economic endeavors. One of the fascinating family experiments that Jacob Emery extensively comments on is “milk kinship,” which, under the Soviet regime,” aimed to replac[e] traditional ideas of kinship” (113). State-run milk banks, Emery argues, is “the metaphor of a transcendental mother supplying a universal family” (115). Russian modernism generates a number of scenarios, portraying not only the redefinition of social and economic relations but also the transformation of the individual: alternative kinships call for New Men and Women.
Alongside family relationships, which respond to economic, political, ideological modifications, Alternative Kinships also touches upon hereditary memory: family is inseparable from the memory that reveals itself in multiple ways. Aesthetic and literary interconnections that Jacob Emery outlines through the analysis of gothic and modernist texts initiate a conversation about cultural memory: literary texts demonstrate the interconnectedness of the aesthetics, history, society, and the individual. Literature as a complex construct that incorporates a number of components and fragments, which establish a variety of relationships, can be illustrated with the image of mirror, which is closely analyzed in Alternative Kinships. Mirror is actively employed to show family relationships and to reveal the potential of a literary text to absorb and to respond to the environment.
Revealing the dynamics of family and economy relationships across times and cultures, Alternative Kinships contributes to the discussion of international modernism(s), blurring the boundaries between literatures and cultures, political priorities and ideological programs. Literary texts appear to include multiple interinfluences, disclosing, most importantly, the fluidity of the individual.
Jacob Emery is Assistant Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature at Indiana University.