Reading Habits and Dissent (September 2013)

Although I’m breaking my rule of not posting more than once a month, I’d like to draw the attention of any readers (few and far between) to the newly-launched project Reading Habits and Dissent during Stagnation. In its own words, the project aims ‘to find out what dissenters were reading, why they were reading, what they were reading, and how their reading was reflected in their own texts.’ By focusing in on the specifics of reading as a part of intellectual life in the late Soviet period, Josephine von Zitzewitz (MML, Oxford) and Gennady Kuzovkin (Memorial, Moscow) hope to shed light on how texts shaped world-view, political opinion, religious vision and literary aesthetics.’ It is a great project and willbring interesting results, whether it be in connection with the Religious Seminar in Leningrad during the 1970s, or the sheer amount of literature referenced in the Chronicle of Current Events. ‘Reading Habits and Dissent’ is open to volunteers and is already working in partnership with the University of Toronto’s English-language database of samizdat, run by Ann Komaromi.

For my own part, I’m running up a list of references to literature, samizdat and otherwise, in the (extensive) memoir series of Anatolii Levitin-Krasnov published during the 1970s. Thankfully, it is available online through the efforts of the Krotov library. So far then, I’ve written up notes in a spreadsheet for two volumes of Levitin-Krasnov’s memoirs. His memoirs make for fascinating reading as they are an up-close account of the phenomenon variously known as the anti-stalinist or democratic movement during the 1960s. They are also full of literary references, acting as a kind of digest of what was popular in samizdat at the time. Perhaps what is most interesting is the breadth of material that Levitin-Krasnov was reading throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. The popular political-publicistic samizdat of the 1960s merges together with religious and philosophical works to create a picture of just how active Levitin-Krasnov was at the time. It also gives insight into Levitin-Krasnov’s perception of the world or, at least, how he would like it to look. The constant references to 19th century Russian literature bring us back to the idea that, for many, dissent and thinking for yourself was a reaction to reading.

In any case, I’m compiling similar spreadsheets for the memoirs of Natalya Trauberg and Viktor Krasin. Trauberg’s is an especially interesting case as she was involved in the translation of English-language texts for samizdat from 1959 onwards. Indeed, I hope to work further on her translation of C.S. Lewis’s essay ‘The Problems of Human Suffering’, made during the 1970s, as it seems to have been used in the correspondence between Father Sergei Zheludkov and Kronid Liubarsky, later published under the title Christianity and Atheism.

This is the kind of fascinating information available through working with memoirs. So if anyone is interested in getting involved, particularly in connection with writing up references from Levitin-Krasnov’s memoirs (as there is rather a lot of them), it would be great to hear from you!

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