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Models of Personal Conversion in Russian cultural history of the 19th and 20th centuries

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Edited By Jens Herlth and Christian Zehnder

This volume offers a view of modern Russian intellectual culture as shaped by the dynamic of conversions. The individual contributions examine a rich variety of personal conversions occurring in a culture in which the written word enjoyed a privileged status and, historically, was closely linked to the sacred. However, the essays presented go beyond the original meaning of conversion as a change of religious beliefs. They address shifts in style, aesthetic outlooks, and mindsets, political and ideological transfigurations as well as religious conversions in the true sense of the term.
Whether at the level of culture, society or biography, the study of conversions opens the way to profound reflections about questions of identity, cultural ruptures, and continuity. The awareness of former conversions and the possible «convertibility» of one’s own ideological, spiritual or social stance has been among the central traits of Russian intellectual culture during the last two centuries.
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Valerii Briusov’s Shift from Symbolism to Proletarian Culture

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Despite a heated discussion in 1910 about the end of Russian Symbolism, it still had an enormous impact not only on post-Symbolist schools in poetry (such as Acmeism, Futurism and Imaginism) or on prerevolutionary realism but also on the proponents of the “Proletkul’t” movement. This movement arose after the October Revolution and it proclaimed a truly “proletarian art” in form and content, according to the orders issued by the new political authorities. It was only in the first postrevolutionary year when members of the LEF literary group (Left Front of the Arts) and other representatives of the avant-garde art ran the show. In 1918 Lenin and the Bolshevik elite started to propel a sharp turn towards the classical canon.

The literary works of the Russian realists were understood as classical works of art but not all of them were selected for the new literary canon. For instance, Lev Tolstoy’s works were taken into account, but not those by Fedor Dostoevsky, and even Anton Chekhov’s works were chosen with cuts. We can remember a postrevolutionary production of the Cherry Orchard (Vishnevyi sad) by Chekhov at the Moscow Art Theatre staged by Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko (1928). As Aleksandr Skaftymov pointed out (Skaftymov, 1972: 339–380) the genre of comedy was chosen here to follow Chekhov literally – in opposition to Konstantin Stanislavskii’s first-night production of 1904, when the play had been staged not as a comedy but as a drama, against the author’s will. All prerevolutionary realities were portrayed as...

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