April 6, 2011

AMHERST, Mass. — Boris Wolfson, assistant professor of Russian, will deliver the annual Max and Etta Lazerowitz Lecture on Wednesday, April 27, at 4:30 p.m. in Amherst College’s Alumni House. The talk, titled “Secret Lives of the Stalinist Stage: Self and Theater in the Soviet 1930s,” will be followed by a reception. Both events are free and open to the public.

In his talk, Wolfson will discuss what it meant to live in the USSR in the Stalinist 1930s, an epoch intent on remaking the Soviet people through art. “The ornate rituals of the Stalin cult and the famous images of militarized, carefully choreographed athletes’ parades on Red Square point to a deep-seated theatricality of the Soviet experience,” explained Wolfson. “But a closer look at the workings of Stalinist culture reveals that Red Square parades failed to produce a disciplined citizenry, whereas many of those who invented and enacted Stalin’s cult saw these celebrations as deeply constitutive of their sense of self.” He will argue that the “theatricalized” history in which Soviet men and women took part cannot be understood without considering how theater itself was conceived and practiced at the time—that is, how Stalinist conceptions of art, authority and selfhood were reflected and produced on the Soviet stage. His lecture will use the theatrical careers of several prominent writers to show how their attempts to define their own identities as members of the Soviet cultural elite, and so survive the purges of the 1930s, informed their interest in using the stage to shape and reflect themselves and their spectators as Soviet people in a new age. “The Stalinist secret police may have been the ultimate provider of subtexts, but the production of subtexts—and of Soviet selves with subtexts—was what Soviet theater was all about.”

Wolfson joined the Amherst community in 2008. Prior to that, he taught at the University of Southern California and Middlebury College’s Kathryn Davis School of Russian. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Chicago and master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of California, Berkeley.

The Lazerowitz Lectureship is awarded each year to support and encourage members of the Amherst College faculty in their scholarly work. The dean of the faculty, in conjunction with the Lecture Committee, selects a member of the faculty below the rank of full professor to receive the prize and then present a talk on his or her research. The lectureship was established in 1985 to honor the parents of the late Morris Lazerowitz, professor emeritus of philosophy at Smith College.