History, Poetry, Politics of Moscow Discussed at Russian Conference

Renowned Russian poet Sergey Gandlevsky presented a poetry reading and memoir during a conference titled “Moscow in Russian Culture” at Russell House during a two-day, interdisciplinary conference held Sept. 19-20.

The Moscow-born Gandlevsky, who received the Little Booker Prize and the Anti-Booker prize in 1996 for his prose memoir, “Trepanation of the Skull,” is the author of several poetry books and a collection of essays. He has taught at the Russian State Humanities University and the Institute of Journalism and Creative Writing, both in Moscow, and is an editor at the Journal of Foreign Literature.

“Sergey Gandlevsky is on everyone’s short list of the best living Russian poets, and he is also a brilliant writer of prose,” says conference organizer Susanne Fusso, chair of the Russian Department and professor of Russian language and literature. “For the conference, he read vivid, complex poems with a Moscow setting, as well as a short memoir about the city.”

Gandlevsky has a long history with the Wesleyan Russian Department, and has given readings there multiple times over the past 10 years. This year, he read from his memoir, “The Monument.” Fusso translated the memoir into English and distributed copies to the audience.

The conference included scholars from Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, New York University and four Wesleyan alumni, who are now working in the field of Russian studies. Guest speakers read scholarly papers that discussed Moscow-related topics on history and politics, people and culture, architecture, Moscow as imagined space, and film, theater, music and poetry.

They continued discussions with each other and audience members during informal breaks and meals.

“We chose the theme of Moscow as a cultural phenomenon, not only because this subject is ripe for more in-depth investigation, but also because of the importance our connections with the literary and scholarly world of Moscow have had in our professional lives, and in those of our students,” Fusso explained. “The conference was successful beyond our expectations; it was an intellectually stimulating and fully packed two days.”

Gandlevsky’s reading was followed by Yuz Aleshkovsky’s recollections of Moscow’s Central House of Writers, Tsentral’nyi Dom Literatorov, in the 1950s and 60s. Aleshkovsky, a well-known novelist, is the husband of Irina Aleshkovsky, adjunct professor of Russian. The readings were attended by conferees and by Russian speakers from the Hartford area and were received with applause and laughter.

“Hearing from a member of the Dom Literatorov was very interesting because I have read about it, and heard about it from my parents but to have an actual member from the Dom Literatorov  speak somehow made the USSR condition and experience much more real to me,” said conference attendee Mari Saakjan ’12. “The account humanized the USSR.”

Additional speakers and their topics included Philip Pomper, the William Armstrong Professor of History, associate editor of History and Theory, “Moscow and the Nature of Russian Power;” Danielle Lussier ’98, University of California, Berkeley, “The Political Culture of the Modern Muscovite in Comparative Perspective;” Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, tutor in the College of Social Studies, “Moscow as the Capital of Russian Capitalism.”

Mikhail Epstein of Emory University, “Moscow Types:  An Introduction to a Lexical Typology;” Ian Lilly, of the University of Auckland, “Two Views of Moscow’s Social History: Mikhail Zagoskin and Vladimir Giliarovsky;” Julia Bekman Chadaga ’93 of Macalester College, “Crystal Palaces on Chicken Legs:  Osip Mandelstam and the Architecture of New Moscow;” Katerina Clark of Yale University, “The Rebuilding of Moscow, 1931-35.”

Joseph Siry, professor of art history, “The Architecture of the Revolution: Housing and Entertaining Moscow’s Workers, 1924-1930;” Julie Buckler of Harvard University, “The Contested Cultural Topography of Present-Day Moscow.” Caryl Emerson of Princeton University, “Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky and the Minus-Space of Moscow;” Vladimir Golstein of Brown University, “Temple Destroyed, Cathedral Restored: Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita;” Anne Lounsbery of New York University, “Chekhov’s Moscow.”

Brinton Tench Coxe of Drew University, “Virtually Moscow: Petr Khazizov’s Manga;” Katherine Lahti ’81 of Trinity College, “Some Thoughts on Psoy Korolenko;” and Matvei Yankelevich ’95 of Hunter College, “Subversion in the Capital:  Contemporary Moscow Poetry (Elena Fanailova, Dmitry Kuzmin, Kirill Medvedev).”

Conference moderators included Fusso; Pomper; Yuriy Kordonskiy, assistant professor of theater; Duffield White, associate professor of Russian language and literature; and Priscilla Meyer, professor of Russian language and literature. The conference was inspired by a 40-year anniversary of Russian studies at Wesleyan.

Saakjan, who is considering a triple major in economics, government and Russian and East European studies, was intrigued by the different view points presented on Moscow’s role in Russian culture.

“It’s interesting how Moscow is viewed by the provinces and that it is very much the cultural center, unlike a cultural center in the way that westernized St. Petersburg is,” Saakan said. “Moscow, rather, is much more authentic and uniquely Russian.”

The event was sponsored by the Russian Language and Literature Department, the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, a gift by the Reverend J. Henry, the dean of arts and humanities, the urban studies cluster, the Art and Art History Department and the Theater Department, and was coordinated by the Russian Department and Language Resource Center.