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Lydia Ginzburg’s Alternative Literary Identities

A Collection of Articles and New Translations


Edited By Emily Van Buskirk and Andrei Zorin

Known in her lifetime primarily as a literary scholar, Lydia Ginzburg (1902–1990) has become celebrated for a body of writing at the intersections of literature, history, psychology, and sociology. In highly original prose, she acted as a chronicler of the Soviet intelligentsia, a philosopher-cum-ethnographer of the Leningrad Blockade, and an author of powerful non-fictional narratives. She was a humanistic thinker with deep insights into psychological and moral dimensions of life and death in difficult historical circumstances.
The first part of this book is a collection of essays by a distinguished set of scholars, shedding new light on Ginzburg’s contributions to Russian literature and literary studies, life-writing, subjectivity, ethics, the history of the novel, and trauma studies. The second part is comprised of six works by Ginzburg that are being published for the first time in English translation. They represent a cross-section of her great themes, including Proustian notions of memory and place, the meaning of love and rejection, literary politics, ethnic and sexual identities, and the connections between personal biography and Soviet history. Both parts of the volume aim to explore, and make accessible to new readers, the gripping contribution to a broad set of disciplines by a profoundly intelligent writer and observer of her times.


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Part 2 Narratives and Essays by Lydia Ginzburg


Alyson Tapp Ginzburg’s “Rational Impressionism”: A Translator’s Note on “The Return Home” In 1933, at the home of Anna Akhmatova, Lydia Ginzburg listened to Osip Mandelstam read aloud his newest prose work “Conversation about Dante,” an essay in praise of the language, rhythm and metaphor of Italy’s greatest poet, and simultaneously a commentary on its writer’s own poetic principles.1 Mandelstam’s reading of The Divine Comedy also becomes a great hymn to the poetry of walking: “Both the Inferno and, in particular, the Purgatorio glorify the human gait, the measure and rhythm of walking, the footstep and its form. The step, linked with breathing and saturated with thought, Dante understood as the beginning of prosody.”2 Ginzburg’s “The Return Home,” written between 1929 and 1934 but unpublished until the last decade of her life, of fers, in turn, a sustained meditation on the shapes and movements of thought that are inseparable from the experi- ence of physical motion.3 The sensory experience of the body is revealed, again and again, in the waters of the Black Sea, on the mountain roads of the Caucasus, on the long birch-lined roads of the north, and on the Neva’s embankments, as indissoluble from the intellectual and analytical 1 For Ginzburg’s account of this evening, see Ginzburg 2002: 119–20. 2 Mandelstam 2003a: 400. Karin Grelz, the Swedish translator of Ginzburg’s “Zapiski blokadnogo cheloveka” finds in that work too an af finity to Mandelstam, both in the form of intertextual allusion and, more broadly, in a...

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