Theses Doctoral

The Soviet Exodic: Resistance and Revolution in Soviet Russian and Yiddish Literature, 1917 – 1935

Wilson, Elaine

This dissertation establishes a category of early Soviet “exodic” literature, which consists of works published in Yiddish or Russian between 1917 and 1935. Reading together texts by Peretz Markish, Andrei Platonov, Moyshe Kulbak, Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov, Yiddish texts are placed on equal footing with Russian texts to underscore the singular role of Jews in the early Soviet period and demonstrate shared anxieties and practices of resistance to hegemony among groups seemingly separated by language and culture. These anxieties and modes of resistance are what make the Soviet exodic a literature of revolution as it grapples with the complexity of the Soviet period and Soviet identity formation.

Drawing upon political theorist Michael Walzer and his text Exodus and Revolution as well as the critical response from Edward Said, this dissertation uses the biblical book of Exodus as a theoretical matrix for the identification and elaboration of narrative sequences and thematic material that constitute a revolutionary genre and applies it to the study of early Soviet literature. Because they are written and published between 1917 and 1935, exodic texts are positioned between the Bolshevik Revolution and the crystallization of high Stalinism. Therefore, they are situated within what is commonly known as the “interwar period.”

Such a definition relies upon absence (the absence of war). The Soviet exodic provides this historical moment and its attending texts a positive definition in deference to the revolutionary framework that guides it. This dissertation also considers how the texts enact revolution with the help of critical and queer theory, most notably Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology and Mary Rubenstein’s Pantheologies. These theoretical supports serve to articulate the various queer—that is, non-normative—ways that the selected texts engage pluralism to resist ideological regimes and forces of control as they re-evaluate social and political categories and norms. Queer theory also serves to express the entanglement of self, other, and place, and in so doing, brings ecological anxieties to the fore. Resistance in the Soviet exodic thus takes shape through the queering or misalignment of categories like space, language, or gender performance, and culminates in the figure of the Soviet trickster, who, by means of their unfinalizability, is the embodiment of revolution.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Slavic Languages
Thesis Advisors
Popkin, Cathy
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 26, 2023