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A Case of Canonical Limbo: Idealist and Materialist Interplay in Marietta Shaginian's "Hydrocentral"

Roese, Jill

Marietta Shaginian’s Soviet production novel, Hydrocentral (Gidrotsentral’), represents a case of canonical limbo. Without exception, the novel is listed as a Soviet literary classic in reference works and compendia of Russian literature since the time of its publication in 1931 up to the present day, and yet its fame as an exemplary work of socialist realism (the officially mandated artistic and literary method established by the Soviet government in 1934) was extremely short-lived. This dissertation attempts to explain the reasons for the novel’s “in-between” status as a Soviet “classic” work of literature, but not an exemplar of socialist realism.
Although Hydrocentral was published three years prior to the adoption of socialist realism, this dissertation argues that there is little doubt that Hydrocentral was one of a handful of Soviet literary works contributing to the formulation of its central tenets. Per the official definition, socialist realism “demands from the artist the truthful, historically concrete depiction of reality in its revolutionary development. At the same time, truthfulness and historical concreteness of the artistic depiction of reality must be combined with the task of ideologically remolding and educating [the working people] in the spirit of socialism.”
Shaginian’s novel did, in fact, fulfill all the official requirements of socialist realism: it is a concrete, historically-grounded portrayal of life in rural Armenia at the inception of the first Five-Year Plan (1928-1932) in which objective reality (bytie) is characterized as unceasing dialectical movement. As a paean to inspired, creative socialist labor, Hydrocentral was also written with the express purpose of inculcating a socialist work ethic in Soviet citizens.
Part I of this dissertation offers a structural explanation of the novel’s limbo status by demonstrating how the principle of multiplicity undergirds the novel’s structure at every level. Shaginian uses two types of multiplicity, conventional, as in artistic, not true-to-life (uslovnaia) and real, everyday (bytovaia) multiplicity, combining them in a way that achieves Shaginian’s to achieve unique vision of objective reality (bytie) as unceasing dialectical development.
Part II of the dissertation demonstrates how the nature of this objective reality (bytie) has its philosophical underpinnings in German Idealism as espoused by Hegel and Goethe, as well as in the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx. At the phenomenological level, Hydrocentral is, a Marxist, materialist philosophical overlay that conceals deeper Idealist – and even Modernist – epistemological undercurrents.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Slavic Languages
Thesis Advisors
Popkin, Cathy L.
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 17, 2017
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