My Scholarly Interests in Brief

(some articles available as PDF files)

Semiotics of Culture:

Application of Lotman & Uspensky's cultural typology to teaching about Russian culture. In various articles, but especially "The Semiotic Mechanism of Culture," the Russian semioticians define a cultural typology using evidence from medieval Russian culture. I have argued both that this typology is fruitful for teaching courses on Russian culture and that the typology can be expanded to explain some features of Soviet culture as well. Specifically both medieval Russian and Soviet culture are "cultures oriented towards expression," whereas modern Western culture is rather, in Lotman & Uspenky's terms, a "culture oriented towards content."

see "A Russian Culture Course Based on a Semiotic Pattern," Russian Language Journal, XLVII, Nos. 156-158 (1993), 3-15.


Censorship and Aesopian Language:

Of course this is a major topic in any discussion of Russian and especially Soviet literature. In "Bulgakov's Master and Margarita: Masking the Supernatural and the Secret Police," I examined the linguistic devices Bulgakov used to conceal the actions of the NKVD in Moscow in his novel. The use of passives, impersonal constructions, and indefinite-personal forms delete the logical subject of the actions of the secret police. This device is mirrored by another important device in the novel, the resurrection of dead metaphors about the Devil. "Go to the Devil" and "The Devil take him" are usually dead metaphors, but Bulgakov makes the conventionally empty agent node full, bringing the Devil himself whenever he is named.

see "Bulgakov's Master and Margarita: Masking the Supernatural and the Secret Police," Russian Language Journal, Vol. 38, Nos. 129-30 (1984), 115-131.

"A Russian Munchausen: Aesopian Translation," in Inside Soviet Film Satire: Laughter with a Lash, ed. Andrew Horton (Cambridge: 1993), 20-35.


Political and Sexual Dissidence:

When I began my work in gay studies and queer theory, I realized there were many parallels between the censoring of political dissidence I was familiar with in Russian and East European cultures and the censoring of sexual dissidence in Western culture. The devices Eve Sedgwick writes about as concealing the homosexual secret are the same as those used in the East to conceal secrets of a different kind.

see"The Underground Closet: Political and Sexual Dissidence in Eastern Europe," in Ellen E. Berry, ed., Genders 22: Postcommunism and the Body Politic (1995), 229- 251.


Construction of Identity

Parallels between national and sexual identity: Application of Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities to the construction of sexual identity, with material from Russia and Eastern Europe. I'm also interested in the political implications of the differences in construction of sexual identity: in Russia and Eastern Europe the hetero/homo binary seems not to apply, yet Westerners and East European gay activists continue to apply Western models. Local nationalists see the import of the homo/hetero construction and claim that it is homosexuality which is imported.


Olga Freidenberg:

I wrote my dissertation on Olga Freidenberg because the topic combines my interests in Russian and Classics. Freidenberg is a very original scholar, and some Russians consider that she is more important than Bakhtin, who was her contemporary and who covered some of the same material. Freidenberg's magnum opus, Image and Concept, describes the origins of Greek tragedy out of the mythological and pre-literary material. Only some poorly translated articles of Freidenberg's have appeared in English. My translation of her Image and Concept has at long last been published. (The translation was funded by the Joint Committee on Soviet Studies of the ACLS and completed several years ago, but publication has taken longer: Russian presses didn't want it because it's about Greek literature; Classics presses didn't want it because it's by a Russian author they don't know.)

see Response to Nina Perlina, "Ol'ga Freidenberg on Myth, Folklore, and Literature," Slavic Review, vol. 50, No. 2 (Summer 1991), 383-4

"Ol'ga Freidenberg i marrizm," Voprosy iazykoznaniia, 1994, no. 5 (Sept-Oct.), 98- 106.


Yevgeny Kharitonov:

Kharitonov was one of the first authors I began to investigate when I started my foray into gay Russian material. My translation of Kharitonov's "One Boy's Story: How I Got Like That" was included in the Penguin Anthology of International Gay Writing, edited by Mark Mitchell. I recently received an NEH grant to translate Kharitonov's prose (as much as admits translation!) and am beginning to look for publishers.

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