Boris Wolfson (Section 01)
What gives force to our actions, our words, and our creations? How do their meanings shape our experience of ourselves and the world around us? We will examine these fundamental questions by drawing on two scholarly resources: the methods of performance studies and materials drawn from various points in Russia’s cultural history. The field of performance studies asks what makes performances matter, on stage and screen as well as in our daily lives, and radically expands our idea of what counts as performance, bringing together politics and material culture, psychology and sociology, the past and the present. Performances in this sense, broadly understood—from imperial rituals of power to avant-garde artists’ experiments, from early-Soviet public festivals to intimate diaries, poems to monuments, exquisite jewelry to medal ribbons—have been central to the story of Russia’s continuing transformation. Yet the Russian language has no single word that serves as an adequate equivalent of the English-language concept of “performance.” What, then, do the Russian performances we will examine together— a sampling of specific events, objects, and writings from a range of periods—illuminate for us about the promise, and the limits, of using the idea of performance to understand the complex connections between art and experience, creating and acting? Among our primary sources will be materials from the Amherst Center for Russian Culture; students will have an opportunity to work with rare publications and archival documents from the collection. No knowledge of Russian or previous study of Russian history or performance required; all materials in English. Two 80-minute meetings a week.
Fall semester. Professor Wolfson.