Postcolonial Slavic Literatures After Communism

by Klavdia Smola (Volume editor) Dirk Uffelmann (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection 504 Pages


How postcolonial are the literatures of postcommunist countries such as Poland, Russia, and Ukraine? Are they postcolonial on the level of sociopolitical conditions, postcolonial modes of representation, or of a (post-)colonial mind? The contributors consider and respond to the heuristic questions and to the claim for accuracy which purports that Slavic literatures after communism are indeed postcolonial – in a no more metaphorical way than the «classic» cases of postcolonial literatures, whose postcoloniality can be traced to the colonialism of overseas empires. The contributions to this volume deal with the exploration of literary representation and hence of postcolonial textuality.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Postcolonial Slavic Literatures After Communism: Introduction (Klavdia Smola / Dirk Uffelmann)
  • (Post-/Anti-)Colonialism and the Soviet Imperial Heritage
  • The Progressor between the Imperial and the Colonial (Mark Lipovetsky)
  • “The Tranquil Lakes of the Transmontane Commune”: Literature and / Against Postcoloniality in Ukraine After (Marko Pavlyshyn)
  • Polish Narratives After 1989: A Case of Postcolonial Disavowal (Dariusz Skórczewski)
  • Conquest and Violence: Neo-Colonial Metaphors in Makanin’s Andegraund (Nina Wieda)
  • Ukraine’s Sleepwalking into the “Russian World” (Roman Dubasevych)
  • “The Long-Legged Time Is Fording the War”: The Postcolonial Condition of the Russian-Language Poetry of Ukraine (Ilya Kukulin)
  • Center and Periphery in the (Post-)Communist Empire
  • “Multinational Soviet Literature”: The Project and Its Post-Soviet Legacy in Iurii Rytkheu and Gennadii Aigi (Susi K. Frank)
  • Ethnic Postcolonial Literatures in the Post-Soviet Era: Assyrian and Siberian Traumatic Narratives (Klavdia Smola)
  • The Lowland’s Children: German Sadulaev as a Post-Soviet and (Post-)Colonial Writer (Yury Sorochkin [Stanislav Lvovsky])
  • “Love Is a Phenomenon from a Foreign Culture”: Il’dar Abuziarov’s Postcolonial Play with Nomadic Masculinity (Dirk Uffelmann)
  • The Mimic Muscovite: Strategies of Self-Colonization in Eduard Bagirov’s Novel Gastarbaiter (Madlene Hagemann)
  • Postcoloniality, Travel, and Migration
  • Identity Quests: Postcolonial Journeys in Contemporary Ukrainian Writing (Vitaly Chernetsky)
  • Imperial Legacies in Contemporary Polish Travel Writing (Monika Bednarczuk)
  • Escape to Russia: Postcolonial Constellations in Contemporary Czech and Polish Literature (Alfred Gall)
  • Of Subalterns and Hybrids, or: How Postcolonial Is Contemporary Polish Literature? (Mirja Lecke)
  • On the Slate of Memory: Postcolonial Strategies in Transcultural (Migration) Literature (Eva Hausbacher)
  • The Mimicry of The Lizard Man: Dariusz Muszer’s Narratives of Migration in the (Post-)Colonial Context (Jakub Kazecki)
  • Re-Writing Tolstoevskii: Postcolonial Narratives in Contemporary Russian-American Literature (Miriam Finkelstein)
  • List of Contributors
  • Index

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Klavdia Smola (Greifswald), Dirk Uffelmann (Passau)

Postcolonial Slavic Literatures After Communism:


Postcolonial Postcommunism

Attributing to the Slavic literatures of postcommunist times a postcolonial quality in practice means combining two research agendas—projecting the postcolonial paradigm as developed in literary and cultural studies onto postcommunist and / or postsocialist studies as put forward mainly in the social sciences.

The academic debates about postcommunist or postsocialist societies respectively have focused on several recurring features such as economic transition, unstable governments, corruption, the private-public divide, and warped memory about the traumatic past. Political leaders want to make the population fill the ideological void with neo-nationalism, neo-traditionalism, esotericism or revivified aspirations to be a (Eurasian) superpower. After the collapse of the “grand narratives,” the legacy of the communist past is also palpable in changed cultural constellations of the self and the other, i.e. the problem of cultural alterity; in the renegotiation of the cultural relationship between periphery and center; in the oscillation between an attempted return to a stable self-definition (by means of national mythologies) and plural reorientations; and in the (de-)construction of the historical past with the particular problematization of its “colonial” patterns of interpretation. Can these symptoms of postcommunism be interpreted as another historical and ideological face of postcolonialism? And how do they relate to postcoloniality as an expression of cultural displacement?

While research on postcommunism and postsocialism only very occasionally links the postcommunist situation with features of postcoloniality (Kandiyoti 2002, 242–245; Groys 2005, 44), the reverse vector has been conjured for 20 years. If one is to believe Violeta Kelertas, however, the exploration of this vector in research initially needed a double “external blessing,” first from a classic representative of postcolonial studies, and secondly from a Western Africanist not connected to any East-European diaspora (cf. Kelertas 2006, 3–4)—Gayatri Spivak and David Chioni Moore. In an interview from 1993/94 Spivak postulated: ← 9 | 10 →

Given the occasionality of this “postscript” to Spivak’s original interview, Kelertas’ reference to it looks more like the habitual quotes from Lenin in prefaces to Soviet books than a visionary guidepost.1 The second reference is much more substantial: in a PMLA article from 2001, which goes back to oral presentations that the author had given since 1995 (Moore 2001, 124), David Chioni Moore characterizes the post-Soviet sphere as being postcolonial, arguing for the concept of “post-Soviet postcoloniality” and proposing “simultaneous critiques of both too narrow postcolonial and too parochial post-Soviet studies” (Moore 2001, 112, 114). In contrast to these postulates Moore diagnoses the absence of a (post-)colonial perspective in current Eastern European Studies:

In view of these postcolonial-post-Soviet parallels, two silences are striking. The first is the silence of postcolonial studies today on the subject of the former Soviet sphere. And the second, mirrored silence is the failure of scholars specializing in the formerly Soviet-controlled lands to think of their regions in the useful if by no means perfect postcolonial terms developed by scholars of, say, Indonesia and Gabon. South does not speak East, and East not South. (Moore 2001, 115)

Since then similar laments have been reiterated by other scholars dozens of times until the early 2010s (for an especially extensive harangue, see Ștefănescu 2012, 10–34).

The debate that followed, however, did highlight the transfer of (post-)colonial models into the regions of contemporary Eastern Europe through various examples and across diverse academic disciplines. These discussions featured a strong meta-theoretical angle.

Janusz Korek, editor of one of the first collected volumes dealing with this topic, titled From Sovietology to Postcoloniality, articulated the following relativistic thesis: “The broadening of postcolonial research to embrace the countries of Central and Eastern Europe has been enabled by the fact that postcolonial theories still do not have a permanent and accurately defined field of research” (Korek 2007, 5). This led Korek to advocate for the extension of the classic field of postcolonial studies not only on a methodological, but also on a historical level. In addition ← 10 | 11 → to the imperialist ambitions of the Soviet State and more recent neo-imperial endeavors in post-Soviet Russia, new forms of racism in the postcommunist world make Korek move toward a historical criterion: “The racial arguments and criteria, moreover, have often been used by politics, culture and ideology […] both against white and ‘non-white’ groups and nations inhabiting the lands of Central and Eastern Europe” (Korek 2007, 7).

In 2009 Sharad Chari and Katherine Verdery2 made a bold plea for “thinking ‘between the posts,’ ” i.e. postcolonialism and postsocialism.3 In their view, postsocialist studies, which began with a merely temporal understanding of “post,” when informed by postcolonial categories, “[…] too came to signify a critical standpoint” (Chari, Verdery 2009, 11). Hence the traditional separation which “associates postcoloniality with a bounded space called the Third World and postsocialism with the Second World” cannot be accepted anymore; the “complementary tools” must be used “to rethink contemporary imperialism” across the world (Chari, Verdery 2009, 12). This inclusion of post-communist countries reads like a global political credo.

Against this backdrop the same-year contribution by Jill Owczarzak appears much less emphatic. In her introduction to a special issue of the journal Focaal entitled The East Speaks Back: Gender and Sexuality in Postsocialist Europe, Owczarzak links the notion of Orientalization to economic and social topics in the post-socialist era.4 In her view, “ ‘postsocialism’ has been used as a geographic label, not an analytic category,” while postcolonialism “has a rich history as a theoretical paradigm” (Owczarzak 2009, 4). Thus, for the anthropologist, postcolonial categories are capable of refining the undefined geohistorical label of postsocialism.

Two years later, Cristina Şandru argued in a much more balanced way, detecting a complementary potential for mutual enrichment of both paradigms: ← 11 | 12 →

Another Romanian scholar, Bogdan Ștefănescu, the author of the comprehensive political science and cultural studies book Postcommunism / Postcolonialism: Siblings of Subalternity, starts with a more one-sided diagnosis again; for him it is the “erratic ways in which the vocabulary of coloniality is used” (Ștefănescu 2012, 10) which has blocked the awareness of the—according to him very obvious—closeness of the two concepts. In order to bridge the gaps consisting of historical and local differences, Ștefănescu suggests an analogy between postcommunism and postcolonialism “in terms of the structure of their transformation” (Ștefănescu 2012, 37). The Romanian scholar summarizes: “One may, therefore, recognize a similar structure and situational value in the relationship between the two ideological discourses and the contexts of their occurrence” (Ștefănescu 2012, 40). This thesis minimizes the significance of historical and geographical differences and thus neutralizes the heuristic opposition between the (purely) methodological and the historical transposition of postcolonial categories onto postcommunist Eastern Europe. For Ștefănescu, structural homology implies a poststructuralist gesture of productive relativism: “The actors may be different, but the roles are the same” (Ștefănescu 2012, 44).

In the same year the editors of a special issue of the Journal of Postcolonial Writing,5 Dorota Kołodziejczyk and Cristina Şandru, plead for the “potential overlap” (Kołodziejczyk, Şandru 2012, 113) of both fields under consideration of the historical and cultural similarities and differences. This approach has the advantage of treating distinct historical realities with methodologically accurate and differentiated theoretical tools: a hybridizing procedure that allows for the application of postcolonial methodological instruments to historically comparable contexts. This cautious and differentiated approach is also chosen by Marcel Cornis-Pope, when he, with reference to Ion Bogdan Lefter’s early intervention from 2001, designates the ex-communist regions of East-Central Europe as “semi-colonies” (Cornis-Pope 2012, 146; cf. Lefter 2001, 119).

While Madina Tlostanova agrees that East-Central Europe displays in-betweenness (Tlostanova 2012, 135), she refers to Russia / the Soviet Union as a “Janus-faced empire” (Tlostanova 2012, 134). Both, however, are located ← 12 | 13 → at the “complex intersection of postcommunist, postimperial and postcolonial discourses” (Tlostanova 2012, 138). For Tlostanova, it is Walter Mignolo’s epistemological “decolonial option” (Mignolo 2011, 53–54) that allows for viewing coloniality globally and “can act as a common ground for postcolonial and postcommunist experiences” (Tlostanova 2012, 132).

For the editors of a volume on Postcolonial Approaches to Eastern European Cinema, Ewa Mazierska, Lars Kristensen, and Eva Näripea, it is exactly the postcommunist condition that justifies the continuous application of an encompassing notion of “Eastern Europe” which they regard as “[…] useful not only to describe the situation pertaining to the Cold War, but also after the fall of communism, as this region preserved many peculiarities from the communist period” (Mazierska, Kristensen, Näripea 2014, 1–2). For the film scholars, “[…] the Soviet Union was a colonial power” that “affected the politics, economy and culture in its sphere of influence.” This marks “postcolonialism as a (set of) theoretical concept(s) […] relevant in the postcommunist situation” (Mazierska, Kristensen, Näripea 2014, 12). For Mazierska, Kristensen, and Näripea it is postcommunism which appears as clearly defined in sociohistorical terms, while postcolonialism serves as a flexible heuristic tool.

Something comparable applies to Dobrota Pucherová’s and Róbert Gáfrik’s introduction to their edited volume Postcolonial Europe? from 2015. With regard to the continuous advancement of postcolonial conceptualizations of varied postcommunist situations, the Slovak scholars find proof for their claim

In her contribution to the same volume Cristina Şandru acknowledges that it is no question anymore “whether postcolonial modes of analysis are applicable in the wider post-communist context, but, rather, how they might be applied” (Şandru 2015, 67, emphasis in the original). Both Şandru and the Latvian contributor Benedikts Kalnačs subscribe to the joint vote of Madina Tlostanova (2012, repeated in the same volume in Tlostanova 2015, 30) and Bogdan Ștefănescu for pursuing postcolonial studies of postcommunist cultural phenomena under a global notion of “coloniality” (Şandru 2015, 69–70; Kalnačs 2015, 17). A new wild card is being played in the debate.

The aforementioned publications have impressively demonstrated the growing interest in (post-)communist societies from a postcolonial point of view and the productivity of this field of research. This interest has, among other focalizations, ← 13 | 14 → again and again concentrated on the postcoloniality of postcommunism; the habitual lament over the lack of research at the intersection of postcommunism and postcolonialism is thus no longer in place.6 Quite the opposite: the field has itself gone through several internal shifts. The dynamics inherent in this combinatory research focus can be illustrated by three conferences: while the Cambridge conference Postcolonial Approaches to Postsocialist Experiences7 in February 2012 still proposed testing a heuristic approach to the postcolonial description of postcommunist societies, our conference in Greifswald from October 2014, whose result is the present edited volume, already claimed the existence of Postcolonial Slavic Literatures After Communism. Another year-and-a-half later, in May 2016, the Princeton Conjunction Imperial Reverb: Exploring the Postcolonies of Communism8 applied a metacritical perspective, asking if the talk about postcolonial postcommunism should not be viewed as a cultural symptom in itself.

In What Respect Are Slavic Literatures After Communism Postcolonial?

What we propose to explore in this volume is not only the heuristic potential of postcolonial approaches to postcommunist cultures on the meta-theoretical level as discussed in the debate outlined above. Against the generality of this discussion we find it necessary to systematically focus on literature’s specific contribution. Here we ask a question that colleagues from history departments still often find a provocation: on what levels are the literatures of postcommunist countries postcolonial?

a) Are they postcolonial on the level of socio-political conditions?

b) Or are they, alternatively, postcolonial on the level of a (post-)colonial mind?

c) Or are they just postcolonial on the level of postcolonial modes of representation with the means of literature? ← 14 | 15 →

The contributors to this volume refer both to the cautious heuristic and to the stronger claim for the accuracy of the epithet “postcolonial” inherent in the volume title: that Slavic literatures after communism are postcolonial, that they are postcolonial in a no more metaphorical way9 than the allegedly “classic” cases of postcolonial literatures whose postcoloniality can be traced to the colonialism of oversea empires in contrast to the European and Eurasian contiguous empires.10 Postcolonial Slavic literatures after communism need not, however, necessarily be postcolonial in the same respect. According to the epistemology of cultural relativism, it cannot be assumed that the specific postcolonial dimensions of different branches of Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish contemporary literatures are to be found on the same level of a) sociopolitics, b) mind or c) representational modes. This is determined by the internal (self-)differentiation of Eastern European cultures from a postcolonial perspective alone.

In comparison to overseas colonialism, the postcoloniality of Slavic literatures might well be more complex due to the fact that we are dealing with neighboring cultures with mutual linguistic intercomprehension and cultural and religious similarities. What is more, Russia and Poland have been perceived both as colonizers (of the former Polish borderlands, the Baltic countries, Ukraine or the Caucasus region) and as colonized (Russia in relationship to the West, or Poland in relationship to Russia, the Soviet Union, Germany or the European Union). This ambivalent intermediate position of the respective Eastern European countries between the political constructions of the “First” and the “Third World,” the “West” and the “East”—multiple projections in different directions—has been reflected upon repeatedly in research studies (Korek 2007; Tlostanova 2012, 134–138; Kissel 2012, 11; Hladík 2011). The in-between position presupposes relational categories of modernity and of backwardness that therefore emerge as cultural simulacra even more clearly. This, too, is a component of the complexity and the ambiguity that distinguish the postcolonial setting in Eastern Europe. The perspectives of both the colonizer and the colonized are dealt with in literary texts that often overlap with postcommunist controversies about perpetrators and victims. ← 15 | 16 →

The Present Volume I: History vs. Heuristics

Two principal loci between which the contributors to the present volume oscillate are that of the historical interpretation of the term “(post-)colonial” on the one hand, and that of its metaphorical use on the other. The contributions to a varying extent both come close to and distance themselves from the respective poles.

Since the term colonialism had for a long time been reserved for the overseas case of colonial rule and postcolonial theories were developed first in English and Romance studies, the transfer of their analytical tools to East and East-Central Europe was often accompanied by proposals of deviating terminology.11 This assumption has propelled literary scholars to opting, in accordance with a practice adopted by historians,12 rather for the notion of (post-)imperiality than (post-)coloniality for the description of (post-)Soviet cultural history (Frank), arguing that—fortunately—(post-)imperiality triggers fewer emotional associations (Dubasevych). While such emphases on the peculiarity of the East and East-Central European experience strive to avoid excessive metaphoricity, they maintain a distance from the overseas “original” of colonialism.

Certain political and cultural relations that used to be “internal” in the Soviet Union like Russian-Ukrainian relations, some scholars argue, appear as non-colonial in the strict sense because of the overlap between internal and external aspects of colonialism. This might make the term dependence an alternative choice for post-Soviet studies, especially if dependence is viewed as something reciprocal (Kukulin). In contrast to this, the Russian conquest of the Caucasus displayed indisputably hegemonic features, and the contemporary conditions and literary production from this region and its respective diasporas deserve the epithet “postcolonial” also in a strictly temporal sense of being after (incomplete) decolonization (Sorochkin [Lvovsky]). By analogy, both the Soviet internal Orientalization of indigenous peoples (Smola) and the internal colonialist attitude of the Soviet (and post-Soviet) intelligentsia toward “the people” (Lipovetsky) appear as veritably colonialist. The flipside to the cultural hegemony claimed by the intelligentsia is the post-Soviet continuous self-colonization applied by descendants of the victims of Soviet rule (Hagemann). ← 16 | 17 →

Since, however, not all authors and not even all texts by the same post-Soviet author can be productively read within postcolonial categories, a definition of postcoloniality as a reservoir of motifs that can be used in literature (or also not be used) seems to be in place (Uffelmann). Literary texts also feature transitions from the object level of (post-)colonial motifs to the metalevel of postcolonial concepts; scholars need to increasingly reckon with the authors’ familiarity with postcolonial debates, especially in Slavic migrant writing from the US or Western Europe which applies comparable devices of re-writing as classic postcolonial literature (Finkelstein).

Such a strategic use of postcolonial re-writing induces an axiological element: postcolonial attitudes, which have from the very start been politically engaged,13 can be enriched with an explicitly ethical position. In this respect postcolonial dialogical negotiations complicate the former anti-colonial agonal attitudes (Pavlyshyn).14 The presence of an axiological dimension is further illustrated by the fact that postcoloniality can turn from a desirable epistemological virtue into an inevitable mental state of mind after colonial deformation. In this case postcoloniality stands for a negative psychological legacy that justifies pathology as a mode of description (Skórczewski). Given such polemical implementation, the axiological vector inserted into postcolonial criticism by far needs not be affirmative; the use of postcolonial theory can be understood as a performative critical practice which, in the felicitous case, reinstitutes agency (Chernetsky); postcolonial literary writing then occurs in a critical “contact zone” (Kazecki).

Literary works that engage in such a critical contact zone can themselves be motivated by an author’s interpretation of his condition as being after colonialism. Authorial meta-reflection on postcolonial criticism, however, is no precondition for the strictly heuristic transfer of classic postcolonial categories to the new ground of the former Second World. What is more, such a heuristic transfer may well be only partial: for East and East-Central Europe, it might be useful to stress selected concepts of postcolonial studies such as hybridity or inbetweenness that are compatible with interpretative routines such as deconstruction (Gall) or global paradigms such as transnationality or world literature (Hausbacher). Postcolonial tools may prove especially useful for certain thematic sectors, e.g. for literature that deals with geography more than history (Lecke) or for the constructions of the “wild” external other (Bednarczuk). ← 17 | 18 →

Interestingly, not only culturally distant and external phenomena are prone for postcolonial heuristics in Slavic literary studies: the same is true for “internal colonization.” Advocates of projecting this concept onto Russia’s cultural history have argued for the metaphorical nature of the internalization of the overseas notion of colonization.15 But internalization can go even further: colonialism leaves individual mental traces which, in a peculiar loop of interpretation, can again be conceptualized with metaphors of colonization: hence the possibility of a deliberately metaphorical analysis of literary tropes such as personification and miniaturization with the help of the concept of internal colonization (Wieda).16

The Present Volume II: Historically and Spatially Defined Thematic Blocks

The volume’s first thematic block, titled “(Post- / Anti-)Colonialism and the Soviet Imperial Heritage,” is defined rather historically, while blocks two and three are assembled in more spatial terms, the second from an “internal” post-Soviet perspective, the third with regard to oscillations between “internal” and “external.”

The contributions of the first block demonstrate that postcolonial features can be traced from the communist heritage through the 1990s to the 2000s and 2010s. An internally colonialist attitude can be detected in the attitude of the progressive intelligentsia toward the “unenlightened people of the woods” as depicted in the Sci-Fi novels of the brothers Strugatskii form the 1960s to 1980s and reemerging in post-Soviet Russian literature from Dmitrii Bykov, through Viktor Pelevin, to Sergei Luk’ianenko (Lipovetsky). A comparable continuity goes for the anticolonial attitudes that can be diagnosed in Ukrainian anti-Soviet writing which still contaminates the possibly-less-binary postcolonial poetics of Iurii Andrukhovych and other authors in post-Soviet Ukrainian literature and only takes them to be “postcolonial presentiments” (Pavlyshyn). In the Polish case, the former Soviet hegemon continues to exert his influence on the Polish postcolonial mentality, even if the anticolonial reflex can in some cases, such as that of the Muslim writer Piotr Ibrahim Kalwas, be redirected to other objects of anti-hegemonic criticism such as the Catholic Church (Skórczewski). Given such intriguingly complex mental ← 18 | 19 → repercussions, the macro-prehistory of Russia’s internal colonization17 helps to interpret the literary presentation of private micro-constellations that are burdened with the Soviet heritage as staged in post-Soviet novels such as Vladimir Makanin’s Andegraund (Wieda). The related strategy of the ideological internalization of external colonies such as Ukraine in Russian hegemonic attitudes,18 which used to be advocated by writers no less significant than Aleksandr Pushkin, continued to meet Ukrainian cultural counter-reactions in the 1990s and 2000s. They co-paved the way to the armed conflict that started after the “postcolonial revolution”19 on Kyiv’s Maidan Square in 2014 (Dubasevych) and brought Russian-language poets of Ukraine such as Anastasiia Afanas’eva, Boris Khersonskii, Igor’ Lapinskii, and Il’ia Rissenberg into a situation where they faced the challenge to deconstruct collective ideologies and inimical binarisms one more time (Kukulin).

The second thematic block of this volume, “Center and Periphery in the (Post-)Communist Empire,” investigates postcolonial imaginations from inside the former Soviet empire. The prehistory of the present postcolonial situation that ethnically non-Russian writers face in post-Soviet Russia goes back to the Soviet invention of a “multinational Soviet literature” which produced conformist indigenous writing (Iurii Rytkheu), but enabled also paradoxical, non-conformist poetics such as that of the Chuvash avant-garde poet Gennadii Aigi (Frank). Against this backdrop, communist hegemonic attitudes toward indigenous peoples still contaminate the post-Soviet writing of the representatives of small peoples such as the Assyrian writer Il’ia Vartanov and the Siberian Eremei Aipin when they retell Soviet history as an autobiographical trauma (Smola). Even more ambivalent forms of narration are produced by the traumatic consequences of post-Soviet postcolonial wars such as the wars in Chechnya for the Russian-Chechen author German Sadulaev, which resurface in his unreliable narration (Sorochkin [Lvovsky]). The centuries-long history of military and cultural conflicts between Moscow and its “peripheries” form an ample reservoir also for imaginings of anti-civilizational violence as can be observed in the literary play with nomadic masculinity in the Tatar-Russian writer Il’dar Abuziarov (Uffelmann). The old cultural conflicts re-emerge even when a subaltern migrant in contemporary Moscow such as the Azeri-Russian Eduard Bagirov from Turkmenistan attempts to present himself as a member of the metropolitan society, which produces a hybrid amalgam of Sovietness and post-Sovietness (Hagemann). ← 19 | 20 →

The third block of contributions, entitled “Postcoloniality, Travel, and Migration,” explores imaginations from outside, be this “outside” Ukrainian self-inscriptions into (Western) Europe, Russian and Polish migrant literature or Czech and Polish writing about provincial Russia. Ukrainian contemporary literature, especially the imagined geography in Iurii Andrukhovych’s and Serhii Zhadan’s writing about Berlin, strives for a new cognitive mapping of Europe beyond any historical imperial realms (Chernetsky). The opposite vector can be found in Polish travel writing that accomplishes a positive Orientalization of the Russian provinces and thus counteracts Polish historical anti-Russian / anticolonial habits (Bednarczuk). Such a confrontation with the Other, however, tends to disorient the narrative perspectives applied in both Polish and Czech literature about the East (Gall). In Andrzej Stasiuk’s travelogues a peculiar sort of postcolonial mimicry reevaluates both the neglected periphery of Central Europe and of “Dojczland” when the author rewrites the stereotypical geosophy of “East” and “West” (Lecke). Literary narratives by female migrants from the former Soviet Union such as Olga Martynova or Julia Kissina redress the traditional patterns of Soviet historical memory while proposing their own alternative history (Hausbacher). Whereas the hybrid phantasmagory of the Hanover-base Polish migrant writer Dariusz Muszer reads as a revenge for all the traumas of Polish-German entangled history (Kazecki), the re-writing of classic Russian literature in American-Russian migrant narratives by Gary Shteyngart, Lara Vapnyar, and Irina Reyn presents attempts at emancipation from the former colonial mindsets as futile (Finkelstein).

As it turns out, post-1990 writing from East and East-Central Europe struggles with exploring literary spaces that would be free of the remnants of colonial history. Practically none of the contributions of this or the two previous thematic blocks shows the reader an exit from the tunnel of postcommunist postcoloniality; it continuously produces new re-writings.

The Present Volume III: Modes of Writing Postcoloniality

As the three thematic blocks demonstrate, imperial empowerment and political exploitation are inextricably, but in manifold ways connected to geography and history. In accordance with the main subject of this volume, all contributions deal with the exploration of the cultural (here literary) representation and hence with the literary performance of the postcolonial. This is why all contributors link their diverging concepts of postcoloniality to the research of postcolonial textuality—of poetics, text structures, rhetoric, and tropes.

For more than 20 years, literature in contemporary Russia, Ukraine, and Poland has placed itself in the context of postcolonial liberation, uncertainty, and ← 20 | 21 → pluralization and contributed impulses to these processes. A common denominator of similar texts is their ability to make contact zones effective as literature.20 These zones are projected onto the structure of fictional characters, textual spaces, and narrative structures: the marginality and dividedness of the figures is accompanied by various techniques of subversive “rewriting.”

Bearing this in mind, the components of literary analysis in this volume overlap and relate. First of all, the contributions explore the spatial structure that postcolonial literatures often share with migrant literature texts (Kazecki)—for instance the doubling and division of geographical and memory spaces (Hausbacher); border crossings on the level of geography, space semantics, episteme, and realities (Bednarczuk); the questioning or inversion of spatial hierarchies (Chernetsky, Lecke); and the development of varying, often conflicting geocultural and geopoetic concepts (Uffelmann). Further strategies of representation are particular narrative structures—the unreliability and hybridization of the narrator (Sorochkin [Lvovsky]); ironic narrative masks (Dubasevych); carnivalization (Pavlyshyn); and the alienation of traditional narrative perspectives (Gall). This ambivalence is enhanced by particular sorts of narratives characterized by bi- or multilingualism (Finkelstein); by the contamination of hegemonic languages with “alien” elements (Skórczewski); the mimicry of the hegemonic (Hagemann) or the subaltern voice (Kukulin); and the indigenization of writing (Frank, Smola).

Precisely through the use of these literary devices, (post-)colonial phenomena such as Orientalization, hybridity, auto- and hetero-stereotypes, and techniques such as mimicry or writing back manifest themselves. Therefore, the Slavic literatures after communism as explored in this volume constitute a wide field of postcolonial cultural representations and techniques,21 inviting further research.

The Emergence of This Volume: Acknowledgements

This collective volume contains papers that were presented at the international conference of the same name in Greifswald, Germany from October 15 to 18, 2014. The conference was organized by the editors and took place at the Alfried Krupp Wissenschaftskolleg Greifswald. ← 21 | 22 →

Alongside substantial support from the Alfried Krupp Kolleg, namely from Christian Suhm and Stefan Henkel, neither the conference nor the volume would have been possible without generous funding from both the Stiftung Alfried Krupp Kolleg Greifswald and the German Research Foundation [Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft]. We are extraordinarily grateful for their joint support of our project. We would also like to thank the Society of Friends and Patrons of the University of Greifswald [Gesellschaft von Freunden und Förderern der Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität Greifswald e.V.] for the partial covering of the printing costs for this volume. The native editing of all contributions was financially supported by the University of Passau. We would like to express gratitude to the editors of the book series Postcolonial Perspectives on Eastern Europe, especially Alfred Gall and Mirja Lecke, who also supported us with helpful advice, for including this volume in the publication program.

Our special thanks go out to Madlene Hagemann for her careful formatting of some of the texts in this volume, to Michelle Morgenstern and Monika Hilbert for their double-checking of quotations, and to Melissa Favara for her invaluable native editing of all contributions. All remaining errors are exclusively our responsibility.


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ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (November)
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 504 pp.

Biographical notes

Klavdia Smola (Volume editor) Dirk Uffelmann (Volume editor)

Klavdia Smola is Visiting Professor in the Department of Slavic Studies at the University of Greifswald. Her scholarly interests include Eastern-European-Jewish culture, Russian and Polish literatures of the 19th-21st centuries, postcolonial literatures in Eastern Europe, and late-Soviet underground culture. Dirk Uffelmann is Professor of Slavic Literatures and Cultures at the University of Passau. His research interests are Russian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Ukrainian, and Central-Asian literatures, philosophy, religion, migration, masculinity, and Internet studies.


Title: Postcolonial Slavic Literatures After Communism
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504 pages