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Stalin’s Ghosts

Gothic Themes in Early Soviet Literature

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Muireann Maguire

Stalin’s Ghosts examines the impact of the Gothic-fantastic on Russian literature in the period 1920-1940. It shows how early Soviet-era authors, from well-known names including Fedor Gladkov, Mikhail Bulgakov, Andrei Platonov and Evgenii Zamiatin, to niche figures such as Sigizmund Krzhizhanovskii and Aleksandr Beliaev, exploited traditional archetypes of this genre: the haunted castle, the deformed body, vampires, villains, madness and unnatural death. Complementing recent studies of Soviet culture by Eric Naiman and Lilya Kaganovsky, this book argues that Gothic-fantastic tropes functioned variously as a response to the traumas produced by revolution and civil war, as a vehicle for propaganda, and as a subtle mode of unwriting the cultural monolith of Socialist Realism.

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Chapter 3 Gothic Bodies

Extract

In 1880, the zoologist E. Ray Lankester published a lecture on the potential role of degeneration within Darwinian evolution. His essay provoked fear and horror among biologically aware echelons of the public. Not only did Lankester unambiguously state that degeneration af fected contemporary humanity, he explained the term with the aid of an example drawn from human nature: Any new set of conditions occurring to an animal which render its food and safety very easily obtained, seem to lead as a rule to Degeneration; just as an active healthy man sometimes degenerates when he becomes suddenly possessed of a fortune; or as Rome degenerated when possessed of the riches of the ancient world. The habit of parasitism clearly acts upon animal organization in this way.1 Parasitism, as a symptom of degeneration, was a resonant term in radical politics, and especially in Communism: Marx had used it again and again to describe the French imperial bureaucracy (‘this fearsome parasitic body which traps French society like a net and chokes it at every pore’).2 Lenin in Gosudarstvo i revoliutsiia [The State and Revolution] (1917) directly cited this passage, quoting Marx’s term ‘parasite’ to describe not only bureau- crats, but industrial capitalists and other exploiters (‘the mechanism of 1 E. Ray Lankester, Degeneration: A Chapter in Darwinism (London: Macmillan, 1880), p. 33. 2 Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, in Marx, Later Political Writings, ed. and trans. Terrell Carver (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 31–127 (p. 115). Marx...

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