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SL6: Russian Culture after 1953

This paper is suspended for the academic year 2023-24. It is still available as an optional dissertation.

Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 launched new eras in Soviet and Russian cultural history as artists confronted the past and looked for new means of self-expression. This paper examines literature, film, drama, and visual art produced from 1953 to the present day. It situates cultural texts in historical, social and political context while providing a range of theoretical tools for analysing late Soviet and contemporary works..


Texts listed below constitute a core ‘menu’ for each topic: you are not expected to read all of them, nor do you need to limit your reading to these texts. Your supervisor will help you select the works that are most suitable for your interests and facility with Russian.


Topic 1: Realisms

Grigorii Chukhrai, Ballada o soldate (film)

Мikhail Kalatozov, Letiat zhuravli (film)

Vladimir Pomerantsev, “Ob iskrennosti v literature”

Mikhail Sholokhov, ‘Sud’ba cheloveka’

Andrei Tarkovskii, Ivanovo detstvo (film)

Abram Terts (Andrei Siniavskii), ‘Chto takoe sotsialisticheskii realizm’


Topic 2: Testimony

Lidiia Ginzburg, Zapiski blokadnogo cheloveka

Varlam Shalamov, Kolymskie rasskazy

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha and selections from Arkhipelag GULag

Iurii Trifonov, ‘Dom na naberezhnoi’


Topic 3: City and Country

Fedor Abramov, ‘Dereviannye koni’

Natalia Baranskaia, ‘Nedelia kak nedelia’

Andrei Bitov. ‘Zhizn’ v vetrenuiu pogodu’

Marlen Khutsiev, Zastava Il’icha (film)

Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovskii, Asino schast’ie (film)

Kira Muratova, Korotkie vstrechi (film)

Poetry and songs by Bella Akhmadulina, Joseph Brodsky, Evgenii Evtushenko, Bulat Okudzhava, Robert Rozhdestvenskii, Andrei Voznesenskii, Vladimir Vysotskii and others.


Set Text 1

Venedikt Erofeev, Moskva-Petushki


Topic 4: Resistance

Sergei Dovlatov, ‘Kompromiss piatyi’ in Kompromiss

Abram Terts (Andrei Siniavskii), ‘Grafomany (iz rasskazov o moei zhizni)’, Liubimov

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, ‘Pis’mo s’’ezdu Soiuza pisatelei SSSR’, ‘Zhit ne po lzhi’

Vladimir Voinovich, Ivan’kiada

Songs by Aleksandr Galich


Topic 5: Speech

Viktor Pelevin, ‘Deviataia son Very Pavlovny’

Dmitrii Prigov, ‘Opisanie predmetov’

Liudmila Razumovskaia, Dorogaia Elena Sergeevna

Lev Rubinshtein, ‘Poiavlenie geroia’

Vladimir Sorokin, ‘Zasedanie partkoma’

Visual art by Erik Bulatov, Il’ia Kabakov, Vitali Komar and Aleksandr Melamid, Aleksandr Kosolapov, Andrei Monastyrskii, Viktor Pivovarov, and others.


Set Text 2

Liudmila Petrushevskaia, Vremia noch’


Topic 6: Identity

Aleksei Balabanov, Brat (film)

Vladimir Makanin, ‘Kavkazskii plennyi’

Zakhar Prilepin, ‘Serzhant’

German Sadulaev, ‘Odna lastochka eshche ne delaet vesny’

Tatiana Tolstaia, ‘Sonia’

Liudmila Ulitskaia, ‘Sonechka’

Poetry by Ol’ga Sedakova and Galina Rymbu

Preparatory reading: 

The following list includes Set Texts and background reading. Students are urged to buy and read both Set Texts during the summer before the course begins.

  • Dobrenko, Evgeny, and Mark Lipovetsky, eds. Russian Literature Since 1991. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015 (available online with Raven ID).
  • Evgeny Dobrenko and Marina Balina, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Russian Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011 (available online with Raven ID).
  • Venedikt Erofeev, Moskva-Petushki (Set Text)
  • Geoffrey A. Hosking. The First Socialist Society: A History of the Soviet Union from Within. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1992.
  • Andrew Kahn, Mark Lipovetsky, Irina Reyfman and Stephanie Sandler. A History of Russian Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.
  • Viktor Pelevin, Generation “P” (Set Text)
  • Tatiana Smorodinskaya, Karen Evans-Romaine and Helena Goscilo, eds. Encyclopedia of Contemporary Russian Culture. Routledge, 2006.
  • Ronald Grigor Suny, ed. The Cambridge History of Russia: The Twentieth Century. Vol. 3. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006.
Teaching and learning: 

The paper is taught through a combination of weekly lectures and fortnightly supervisions, with two lectures and one supervision allocated to each Topic and Set Text. All writing assignments are due 48 hours before supervision. The schedule of lectures and supervisions is as follows:

Michaelmas Term: 8 weekly lectures and 4 fortnightly supervisions

Lent Term: 8 weekly lectures and 4 fortnightly supervisions

Easter Term: 4 weekly revision seminars and 2 fortnightly revision supervisions

For the SL6 Moodle site, please see here. The password can be collected from the paper coordinator.


Students are assessed by examination at the end of Easter Term. The examination paper is structured as follows:

Section A: One essay or commentary on the Set Texts. Students may choose from one comparative essay question on both texts, one essay question on one of the texts, and one extract for commentary from the other text.

Section B: Two essays on the Topics. Students are presented with two questions for each of the six Topics. They may choose to answer those questions using primary material from the other Topics. However, all answers in Section B must refer substantially to works by two or more artists of any medium, at least one of which must be a written text.

Students in Part 1B may choose the Long Essay option in lieu of sitting the final examination.

Students in Part II may choose to submit an Optional Dissertation in lieu of sitting the final examination.

Course Contacts: 
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