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Resistant Postmodernisms: Writing Postcommunism in Armenia and Russia


Many postcolonial scholars have questioned the ethics of postmodern cultural production. Critics have labeled postmodernism a conceptual dead end - a disempowering aesthetic that does not offer a theory of agency in response to the workings of empire. This dissertation enters the conversation about the political alignment of postmodernism through a comparative study of postcommunist writing in Armenia and Russia, where the debates about the implications and usefulness of postmodernism have been equally charged.

This project introduces the directions in which postcommunist postmodernisms developed in Armenia and Russia - in locally unique ways that reflected both the problems of the Soviet past and the post-Soviet present. It then moves on to an analysis of the work of five playwrights and novelists: Aghasi Ayvazyan, Perch Zeytuntsyan, Gurgen Khanjyan, Victor Pelevin, and Vladimir Sorokin. In reading the plays and novels of these authors, this study identifies several formal and stylistic connections between the post-Soviet renditions of the theater of the absurd and postmodernism: a resistance to interpretation accomplished by indeterminacy; a desire to push beyond the limits of logic; an emphasis on signs and symbols as opposed to their referents; and a rejection of well-made generic forms through the incorporation of intertextuality and textual play. On the thematic level, these plays and novels employ madness and confinement as metaphors for the problems of postcommunist nation building and politics. Through these images, the seemingly random, absurd texts of postcommunist postmodern culture unrelentingly interrogate the state apparatuses of the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia; they insist upon a confrontation with Soviet history as a means by which to recognize the Soviet Union and, in the post-Soviet era, Russia as empire. Through the suggestion that the post-Soviet period entails a process of post-Sovietization rather than a radical break from the Soviet period, these texts challenge past and present power structures in the newly emerged post-Soviet nations. Taken together, the contemporaneous works of Armenian and Russian authors of the post-Soviet period offer a productive site for understanding resistant postmodernisms - that is to say, the politically subversive dimensions of postmodern literature and its critical power.

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