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


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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Cultural Conversion: From Modernism to Socialist Realism (Boris Pasternak and Titsian Tabidze)


The writings of the Russian-Jewish poet and novelist Boris Pasternak (1890–1960) and of the Georgian poet Titsian Tabidze (1895–1937) in the 1910s and 1920s were influenced by the dominant modernist cultural tendencies – high modernism and avant-gardism. In their poetic works they dealt with the most sensitive problems of the modernist era – religious crisis, spiritual search, the refusal and, on the other hand, the striving for Christian belief, the quest for individual answers to existential questions. For both poets, the first period of their poetic activity was related with modernism, and by the 1930s both had to reshape their style and change their cultural choice under Soviet pressure. Right at this crossroad their ways intersected, their personal friendship started. In critical moments this connection became for both a ground for some moral, as well as cultural balance.

Titsian Tabidze

In the early twentieth century a new generation of Georgian writers started to seek aesthetic and philosophical support within European modernism. The elder group, the generation of the 1860s, under the leadership of Ilia Chavchavadze, laid the foundations for a modern Georgian national identity, and also consolidated realism as a dominant cultural style in Georgian literature. The new generation was opposed to realism, although they inherited the commitment to the ideas of the nation’s independence and statehood, as well as an interest for Western cultural and social values. Titsian Tabidze was one of the leaders of the Symbolist literary group of the “Blue Horns...

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