Apr 02, 2023  
College Catalog 2019-2020 
College Catalog 2019-2020 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

RUSS 255 - Fierce and Beautiful World: Russian Culture Before the Revolution

Like the legendary knight Ilya Muromets who lay still for decades, then arose and stunned the world with mighty feats, Russia is a force to be reckoned with again. In 2007, Vladimir Putin was Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. What do we know about his country, and about the people who chose him as their leader? When you think of Russia, what comes to mind? Slender birch trees or brutish bears? Do you imagine soulful wonder-working icons, finely-wrought samovars, onion-domed cathedrals, opulent palaces, folkloric lacquer boxes, whimsical nesting dolls, delicious pastries, delicate ballet dancers? Or do you picture revolutionary nihilists, vodka-soused ruffians, tyrannical tsars, masters flogging serfs, or a troika racing at breakneck speed toward an unknown destination? Only a country so vast could accommodate such contradictions. Studying Russian culture offers a way to confront the paradoxes of the human condition, in particular, the opposing yet complementary drives to create and to destroy. The great poet Tyutchev declared that “you cannot understand Russia with your mind.” In this course we’ll take his cue and approach Russia through the senses. Russian culture offers a feast for the eyes, in visual art from icons to popular prints, the work of realist painters and the pioneers of abstract art; decorative art from wood carving to Faberge eggs; churches built without nails and palaces made of ice; boisterous folk dances and the Ballets Russes. Sound, too, plays a major role in Russian culture, from church bells to balalaikas, bawdy chastushkas to Tchaikovsky. We’ll discover the cultural significance of tea-drinking, traditional foods, and most of all, alcohol. We will consider the ways in which Russian art and ideas made an indelible impression on world culture. As we examine case studies from medieval times through the end of the tsarist period, we will ask such “burning questions” as: why does art have such a privileged status in Russian society? What exactly is the Russian soul? What is Russia’s relationship to the West: does it belong to Europe, to Asia, or does it possess a unique essence and destiny? Russia embraces its duality, and this may account, in part, for the distinctiveness and the vitality of Russian culture. All readings will be in English. Occasionally offered. (4 Credits)