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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Recent Work

Cover page of The Poet of Fire: Aleksandr Skriabin’s Synaesthetic Symphony “Prometheus” and the Russian Symbolist Poetics of Light

The Poet of Fire: Aleksandr Skriabin’s Synaesthetic Symphony “Prometheus” and the Russian Symbolist Poetics of Light

(2009)

This paper discusses the synaesthetically informed metaphors of light, fire, and the Sun in Russian Symbolism and shows their scientific, technological, and cultural resonance in the novel experience of electric light in Russia. The essay studies the harmonic synaesthetics of Aleksandr Skriabin’s symphony “Prometheus, A Poem of Fire”—which also includes an enigmatic musically notated part for an electric organ of lights, along with Symbolist texts concerning light and electricity and the synaesthetic poetry of fire by Skriabin’s close associate Konstantin Bal’mont. The article investigates how Skriabin’s Mystic sonorities and his language of colored lights square with the peculiar Symbolist engagement with scientific notions of electricity and light at the Russian fin de siècle. Thus, it demonstrates the Russian Symbolists’ fascination not only with aesthetic synthesis and mystic transfiguration, but also with the sciences and technology: both with divine light and with electric light.

Cover page of “The Language of the Sword”: Alexksandr Bek, The Writers Union and Baurdzhan Momysh-uly in Battle for the memory of Volokolamskoe shosse

“The Language of the Sword”: Alexksandr Bek, The Writers Union and Baurdzhan Momysh-uly in Battle for the memory of Volokolamskoe shosse

(2009)

The Great Patriotic War served as a defining moment for the Soviet Union, changing the locus of legitimacy for both regime and individual and also the way that this multi-ethnic state defined itself. The following paper examines the conflict between two men who constructed narratives of this war, first collaboratively, then separately. Both aspired to create an authoritative, authentic version of events. One of these men, Aleksander Bek was a professional writer of Russified Danish origin. The other, Baurdzhan Momysh-uly, was a soldier and a Kazakh, representing a recently modernized, yet “backward” ethnic minority. Their story provides a window into the changing meaning of what it meant to be a Soviet person as well as the battle over who had the rights to tell the story of the war.

Cover page of Religiosity and Trust in Religious Institutions: Tales from the South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia)

Religiosity and Trust in Religious Institutions: Tales from the South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia)

(2009)

Abstract: The paper examines the determinants of trust in religious institutions in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia—three countries with low levels of religiosity as measured by attendance, prayer and fasting, yet high levels of trust in religious institutions. The analysis employs individual-level survey data from the Caucasus Research Resource Centers’ (CRRC) 2007 Data Initiative and uses OLS regression to show that while religious practices do not determine trust in religious institutions, the importance of religion in one’s daily life is a strong indicator of trust in religious institutions in each country. However, the results show some differences between the three countries with regard to two types of control variables—trust in secular institutions and socioeconomic factors. Georgia is the only country in which interpersonal trust is a significant indicator of trust in religious institutions. Residence in the capital is only significant in Azerbaijan. Armenia is the only country in which both education and age are significant. In addition, two theories of trust in institutions are tested: a cultural theory of interpersonal trust and secularization theory relating to declining religious authority. The results show that secularization theory has inadequately operationalized the concept of religiosity overwhelmingly as practice and as declining religious authority. The paper maintains that Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are considered secular under earlier secularization theories that viewed declining religious practices as a form of secularization. However, these countries are non-secular with respect to more recent adaptations of the theory that regard declining religious authority—measured by trust in religious institutions—as a form of secularization. Thus, the presence of both low religious practice and high trust in religious institutions challenges more recent reformulated secularization theories. Additionally, cultural theories of interpersonal trust

Cover page of Communism on Trial: The Slansky Affair and Anti-Semitism in Post-WWII Europe

Communism on Trial: The Slansky Affair and Anti-Semitism in Post-WWII Europe

(2009)

In 1952, hardly a decade after the Holocaust, Communist Czechoslovakia staged one of the post-WWII era’s most blatant acts of state-sponsored anti-Semitism. The Prague Political Purges put on trial fourteen defendants. Eleven of the fourteen were of Jewish origin. All were found guilty, and eleven of the fourteen were condemned to death. The remaining three were sentenced to life imprisonment. All of the defendants were devoted Communists, having shed any religious, ethnic, or national identity in their pursuit of a socialist utopia. Yet, the trial’s main ideological thrust was anti-Semitism. The Slansky Trial of 1952 came as a sharp blow to Jews across a spectrum of political, religious, and national affiliations. The Purge Trials forced many Jews to reexamine their positions vis-à-vis Zionism, Communism, and the Left as a traditionally popular choice for Jews. The trial held unique significance as Jews sought to redefine what it meant to be Jewish in a post-Holocaust world. Despite the trial’s overt use of anti-Semitic tropes, historians have yet to properly explore how Jews, both within and beyond the Iron Curtain, experienced the trial. The impact of the Slansky affair remains a glaring omission both in the history of post-war Jewry as well as post-war Eastern Europe. I will explore how Jews, in a post-Holocaust era, experienced and reacted to officially sanctioned acts of anti-Semitism.

Cover page of Civic Forum, Public against Violence, and the Struggle for Slovakia

Civic Forum, Public against Violence, and the Struggle for Slovakia

(2009)

Standard narratives of 1989 in Czechoslovakia maintain that the revolution brought two civic associations into being: the “Czech” Civic Forum (OF) and the “Slovak” Public against Violence (VPN). Thorough examination of relevant archival and newspaper evidence, however, demonstrates that this belief is mistaken; in the beginning, Slovaks were just as likely to found chapters of Civic Forum as they were to establish branches of Public against Violence. This article documents this initial situation and explains how Public against Violence came to achieve hegemony over the Slovak civic movement. The author argues that this achievement was the result of a struggle between activists in Bratislava and their colleagues elsewhere in Slovakia, where the prize was the power to represent Slovakia. Ultimately, it was a struggle over rival visions of the proper political organization of Slovakia, with crucial implications for the future of Slovakia within the Czecho-Slovak federation.

Cover page of Weaving Shuttles and Ginseng Roots: Commodity Flows and Migration in a Borderland of the Russian Far East

Weaving Shuttles and Ginseng Roots: Commodity Flows and Migration in a Borderland of the Russian Far East

(2008)

The breakdown of the Soviet Union has transformed the Russian Far East into an economic, national, and geopolitical borderland. Commodity flows and labor migration, especially from China, have created both economic challenges and opportunities for the local population. The article investigates the intricate relationships between commodities, migration, and the body in the borderland between the Russian Far East (Primorskii Krai) and northeastern China (Heilongjiang Province). Small-scale trade and smuggling in the Russian-Chinese borderland represent an important source of income for the local population. Especially tourist traders, the so-called chelnoki who cross the border on a regular basis, profit from the peculiar qualities of the region. The article explores how border economies entangle bodies and commodities on both material and conceptual levels. Chinese commodities and economic activities shape local perceptions as the experience of local Russians with migrant workers from China is mediated through encounters at open-air markets and regular shopping sprees to neighboring China. The intimate entanglement with the border and its commodity flows means that perceptions of, and involvement in, cross-border commodity flows are experienced in a very corporeal form. Chinese labor migration into the Russian Far East is perceived as a threatening consumption of one’s own land, population, and resources. The economic and social interchanges in the Far East blur the boundaries between objects and people and at the same time connect the economic actors to the unique geography, flora, and fauna of this borderland.

Cover page of Between “Europe” and “Africa”: Building the “New” Ukraine on the Shoulders of Migrant Women

Between “Europe” and “Africa”: Building the “New” Ukraine on the Shoulders of Migrant Women

(2008)

Female-led migration is usually explained by a “push-pull” framework. Poverty “pushes” Third World women into domestic labor in First World countries. In this paper I broaden this framework by thinking of gender as “constitutive” of migration and placing the migration of Ukrainian women to Italy in a larger context of post-Soviet transformation. The coming of capitalism has forced many women out of the labor market and necessitated a shift from extended families with working-mothers, peripheral men, and grandmothers as primary caregivers of their grandchildren to nuclear families with mother-housewives, father-breadwinners, and displaced grandmothers. Yet men’s salaries are unable to sustain this new gender order which relies on grandmothers, doubly marginalized from the labor market and their families, to work abroad. Gender is constitutive of migration and the construction the “new” Ukraine. At a time when the definition of Ukrainian nationhood is highly contested, migrant women are working towards a vision of Ukraine as “Europe,” a utopia of consumer capitalism. But the fear that Ukraine will instead become “Africa,” the underbelly of the global economy, is always looming. Migrant women bear the painful contradictions of this nation building project.

Cover page of Babushki as Surrogate Wives: How Single Mothers and Grandmothers Negotiate the Division of Labor in Russia

Babushki as Surrogate Wives: How Single Mothers and Grandmothers Negotiate the Division of Labor in Russia

(2008)

Much like husbands and wives, single mothers and grandmothers struggle over the sharing of paid work and “second shift” responsibilities. Using in-depth interview and ethnographic data from Russia, this article applies elements of Hochschild’s (1989) framework to illuminate sites of tension and reciprocity among single mothers and their children’s grandmothers, or babushki, demonstrating that women’s negotiations across the generational divide resemble those between husbands and wives across the gender divide. However, the rules of reciprocity are relaxed, women seldom opt out of domestic work entirely, and conflicts lead to diminished support rather than “divorce.” The author argues that both generational mothering ideologies and outer circumstances shape how women ultimately share responsibilities. When mothers and babushki pursue similar generational mothering strategies, conflict is minimized.

Cover page of Heroes, Cowards, & Traitors: The Crimean War & its Challenge to Russian Autocracy.

Heroes, Cowards, & Traitors: The Crimean War & its Challenge to Russian Autocracy.

(2008)

Russia's defeat in the Crimean War cast new doubt upon the fundamental political traditions, social structures, national myths of the Nikolaevan era. It precipitated wide-ranging reforms, including military reforms, which were predicated on a shift in mentality. This essay examines the new notions of heroism that circulated among Russia's emerging public sphere during and after the war. It analyzes the types of heroes that were celebrated as reflections of critical changes in attitude and mindset, which prefigured the liberalizing era of Alexander II.

Cover page of The Nineteenth-Century Russian Gypsy Choir and the Performance of Otherness

The Nineteenth-Century Russian Gypsy Choir and the Performance of Otherness

(2008)

As Russia’s nineteenth-century Gypsy craze swept through Moscow and St. Petersburg, Gypsy musicians entertained, dined with, and in some cases married Russian noblemen, bureaucrats, poets, and artists. Because the Gypsies’ extraordinary musical abilities supposedly stemmed from their unique Gypsy nature, the effectiveness of their performance rested on the definition of their ethnic identity as separate and distinct from that of the Russian audience. Although it drew on themes deeply embedded in Russian— and European—culture, the Orientalist allure of Gypsy performance was in no small part self-created and self-perpetuated by members of Russia’s renowned Gypsy choirs. For it was only by performing their otherness that Gypsies were able to seize upon their specialized role as entertainers, which gave this group of outsiders temporary control over their elite Russian audiences even as the songs, dances, costumes, and gestures of their performance were shaped perhaps more by audience expectations than by Gypsy musical traditions. The very popularity of the Gypsy musical idiom and the way it intimately reflected the Russian host society would later bring about a crisis of authenticity that by the end of the nineteenth century threatened the magical potential of Gypsy song and dance by suggesting it was something less than the genuine article.