For many Amherst students the first encounter with Russian culture takes place in a course taught in English

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with all readings in translation and no previous knowledge of Russian language or history expected.

The Russian department offers a variety of these courses:

From first-year seminars and surveys of major eras in cultural history to courses that focus on specific authors (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Nabokov) or larger problems, such as revolutionary thought and aesthetics; film and media; theater and performance; private experience and cultural institutions; contemporary geopolitics; and various contested relationships between self and society: class; gender; race, etc. Some of the students who take these courses become Russian majors. Others simply take them to enrich their liberal-arts experience and explore an interest in the culture that has been singularly influential in shaping the modern world: its politics, its imagination, its anxieties, and its aspirations.

COURSES FOR NON-MAJORS

Courses for Non-Majors • Fall 2018


Interested in taking a liberal-studies course in the humanities that looks beyond literature originally created in English?  Ready to expand your horizons? Considering dipping your toe in the study of Russian literature and culture?

How about any one of these courses in culture and literature — appropriate for students at any point in their academic career and offered in English, with no expectation of previous acquaintance with Russian history or Russian language!  

Strange and wonderful books, images, films and sounds await.


Strange Russian Writers: Gogol, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov, Nabokov, et al
RUSS-217 • Stanley Rabinowitz

A course that examines the stories and novels of rebels, deviants, dissidents, loners, and losers in some of the weirdest fictions in Russian literature. The writers, most of whom imagine themselves to be every bit as bizarre as their heroes, include from the nineteenth century: Gogol (“Viy,” “Diary of a Madman,” “Ivan Shponka and His Aunt,” “The Nose,” “The Overcoat”); Dostoevsky (“The Double,” “A Gentle Creature,” “Bobok,” “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man”); Tolstoy (“The Kreutzer Sonata,” “Father Sergius”), and from the twentieth century: Olesha (Envy); Platonov (The Foundation Pit); Kharms’ (Stories); Bulgakov (The Master and Margarita); Nabokov (The Eye, Despair); Erofeev (Moscow Circles); Pelevin (“The Yellow Arrow”). Our goal will be less to construct a canon of strangeness than to consider closely how estranged women, men, animals, and objects become the center of narrative attention and, in doing so, reflect the writer Tatyana Tolstaya’s claim that “Russia is broader and more diverse, stranger and more contradictory than any idea of it. It resists all theories about what makes it tick, confounds all the paths to its possible transformation.” All readings in English translation.


Nabokov's Art and Terrors
RUSS-225 / ENGL-315 • Michael Kunichika

This course undertakes a sustained examination of the works of Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977). Drawing on the literary masterpieces of Nabokov’s Russian and English periods, we seek to gain a critical appreciation of his literary art and the cultural and aesthetic contexts from which they emerged. Throughout the course, we will consider his abiding themes such as the complex relationship between art and life, and between the poet, the state, and society; the narration of the experience of time; metafiction, its possibilities and constraints; bad art; the experience of exile; and the privileged position of art and aesthetics. The latter are variously inflected as refuge, asylum, or a space of revolt, as well as what enables the artist to counter, but also to inflict, cruelty. The course will also situate Nabokov’s work with the currents of literary modernism; to that end, readings are also drawn from such figures as Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, and Virginia Woolf. Our access into these themes and the author’s narrative art will be through attentive reading, itself a preeminent theme of Nabokov’s work. No familiarity with Russian history or culture expected.  All readings in English.


The Soviet Experience
RUSS-234 • Boris Wolfson

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the great utopian experiment of the twentieth century–a radical attempt to reorganize society in accordance with rational principles–came to an end. This course explores the dramatic history of that experiment from the perspective of those whose lives were deeply affected by the social upheavals it brought about. We begin by examining early visions of the new social order and attempts to restructure the living practices of Soviet citizens by reshaping the concepts of time, space, family, and, ultimately, redefining the meaning of being human. We then look at how “the new human being” of the 1920s is transformed into the “new Soviet person” of the Stalinist society, focusing on the central cultural and ideological myths of Stalinism and their place in everyday life, especially as they relate to the experience of state terror and war. Finally, we investigate the notion of “life after Stalin,” and consider the role of already-familiar utopian motifs in the development of post-Stalinist and post-Soviet ways of imagining self, culture, and society. The course uses a variety of materials–from primary documents, public or official (architectural and theatrical designs, political propaganda, transcripts of trials, government meetings, and interrogations) and intimate (diaries and letters), to works of art (novels, films, stage productions, paintings), documentary accounts (on film and in print), and contemporary scholarship. No previous knowledge of Soviet or Russian history or culture is required; the course is conducted in English, and all readings are in translation.


Related Courses -- Fall 2018