Literary Constellations. The Case of Armenian Authors Writing in Russian Today
From Firenze University Press Book: Contributi italiani al XVI Congresso Internazionale degli Slavisti
Irina Marchesini, University of Bologna
Since 1991, the dissolution of the Soviet Union raised problems once hidden behind the veil of national unity. This is particularly true not only from a geopolitical point of view, but also from the standpoint of literary, cultural and linguistic identity. Indeed, during the Soviet times, literature produced in Russian language was regarded as the product of a pan-Soviet identity. To recall the words Maksim Gor’kij (1953: 324) pronounced in 1934, “I think it is necessary to point out that Soviet literature is not only Russian language literature, it is a pan-Soviet literature”.
Soviet literature was a fundamentally supranational artistic phenomenon, which supposedly expressed the vision of people united under the same flag. Nowadays, with the abandonment of a politically imbued art imposed by the State, the paradigm has radically shifted. Yet, although the Soviet Union’s flag does not exist anymore, a considerable number of non-ethnic Russian writers still choose Russian to compose their narratives. Such choice, determined by a multitude of factors, has a significant impact on the definition of the post-Soviet Russian literary canon. In this respect, the Armenian case seems to be particularly interesting, given the fragmented nature of the nation and its literature.
The presence of a large, “internal” Armenian diaspora living in the Russian soil has given Russian literature a copious amount of writers throughout history. Notably, after the fall of the Soviet Union, migratory fluxes enlarged the pre-existing diaspora, creating a “hybrid” one (Spivak 2005: 828). In this hybrid context, literature produced by second, third or “nth” generation of Armenians born in Russia (or Soviet Union) cohabits with that written by Armenians born and raised in (Soviet) Armenia, who emigrated at some point in their lives.
Inevitably, those artists, whose umbilical cord is still closely connected to the homeland, inject their cultural patrimony in the circulatory system of Russian literature. As a result, this type of literature can be regarded as a product of both Russia and Armenia. Pertinently, Anahit Avetisyan and Mkrtich Matevosyan (2015: online) maintain that “many Armenian writers — or writers of Armenian origin — present their work as just as much a product of their adoptive culture as of their Armenian roots”. In keeping with Hall (1990: 226), comparison with other cultural models unavoidably shapes one’s identity, which is characterized by “unstable points of identification or suture”. It is a game of loss and gain. Indeed, according to Eric J. Leed (1991: 177), “[t]he transformations of social being […] suggest that there is no self without an other; and that, at bottom, identity is done with mirrors.
With a change, a twist, a distortion of those reflections, an identity is transformed”. As a matter of fact, the encounter between the Armenian and the Russian cultural heritage changes both their identities. In light of these assumptions, embracing Caffee’s definition of ‘Russophonia’, this research concentrates on the development of contemporary Russian literature during the last couple of decades. Special attention is devoted to the contribution writers of Armenian origin are giving to the on-going formation of the post-Soviet literary canon in Russia. This line of critical inquiry encourages a serious reflection on the role of the ‘rossijane’, and Armenians in particular, in the construction of contemporary Russian literature, an issue hitherto neglected both in Russian and Armenian studies.
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