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Persisting in Folly

Russian Writers in Search of Wisdom, 1963–2013


Oliver Ready

The theme of foolishness has long occupied an unusually prominent place in Russian culture, touching on key questions of national, spiritual, and intellectual identity. In literature, the figure of the fool – and the voice of the fool – has carried additional appeal as an enduring source of comic and stylistic innovation. Never has this appeal been stronger than in the past half-century, whether as a reaction to the «scientific atheism» and official culture of the late-socialist era, or as a response to the intellectual and moral disorientation that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Persisting in Folly traces three contrasting phases within this period: the «praise of folly» that underpins acknowledged samizdat masterpieces by Venedikt Erofeev, Yuz Aleshkovsky, and Sasha Sokolov; the sceptical appraisals of the Russian cult of the fool offered in the 1980s by Viktor Erofeev and Dmitry Galkovsky; and the legacy of this conflicted tradition in post-Soviet prose. By combining close readings with a rich comparative and contextual framework, this book charts a new path through recent Russian literature and offers a wide-ranging consideration of the causes and consequences of Russian writers’ enduring quest for wisdom through folly.

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Series index


Russian Transformations: Literature, Thought, Culture

Series Editor:

Andrew Kahn, University of Oxford

Russian Transformations publishes studies across the entire extent of Russian literature, thought and culture from the medieval period to the present. The series gives special emphasis to the kinds of transformation that characterise Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet writing. Transformation has often been under the stimulus of (and resistance to) foreign traditions. Acts of cross-cultural and cross-literary reception mark Russia’s sense of creative development and national identity. Transformation has often been the result of the on-going dialogues between writers working within the Russian literary tradition through polemic and subtle use of intertextuality. Similarly, the stunning political and social changes that have been characteristic of Russian history generated radical transformation in the institutions of literature and in forms of literature from Modernism to post-Perestroika as writers react to official policy on freedom of expression.

Proposals from established scholars, as well as more recent doctoral students, for single-author monographs and thematic collections are welcome. The series will publish works in English and Russian. For further information please contact Andrew Kahn (

Vol. 1 Andreas Schönle The Ruler in the Garden. Politics and Landscape Design in Imperial Russia. 395 pages. 2007. ISBN 978-3-03911-113-8

Vol. 2 Emily Lygo Leningrad Poetry 1953–1975. The Thaw Generation. 374 pages. 2010. ISBN 978-3-03911-370-5

Vol. 3 Emily Van Buskirk and Andrei Zorin (eds) Lydia Ginzburg’s Alternative Literary Identities. A...

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