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Proletarian Imagination: Self, Modernity, and the Sacred in Russia, 1910-1925
     

Proletarian Imagination: Self, Modernity, and the Sacred in Russia, 1910-1925

by Mark D. Steinberg
 

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In fin-de-siècle and early revolutionary Russia, a group of self-educated workers produced a large body of poetry and prose in which they attempted to comprehend their rapidly changing world. Witnesses to wars and revolution, these men and women grappled on paper with the nature of civilization and the imperatives of ethical truth. In a strikingly original

Overview

In fin-de-siècle and early revolutionary Russia, a group of self-educated workers produced a large body of poetry and prose in which they attempted to comprehend their rapidly changing world. Witnesses to wars and revolution, these men and women grappled on paper with the nature of civilization and the imperatives of ethical truth. In a strikingly original approach to Russian culture, Mark D. Steinberg listens to their words, which are little known today. The results of their literary creativity, he finds, were frequently not what the new Soviet order was expecting from its workers, despite its celebration of the notion of a proletarian art.Through insightful readings of a vast fund of lower-class writings, Steinberg shows that the authors focused above all on the uncertain nature and place of the self, the promise and dangers of modernity, and the qualities of the sacred in both their lives and their imaginations. Like their counterparts in the intelligentsia, these worker writers were ambivalent about Marxist ideology's celebration of the city and the factory and even about modern progress itself. Drawing on vast research, Steinberg demonstrates the texts' significance for an understanding of Russian popular mentalities, indeed for the very meaning, philosophically and morally, of these years of crisis and possibility at the end of the old order and the early years of the Soviet regime.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Proletarian Imagination makes its presentation clearly and concisely. It is a thoroughly researched study. . . . It also has an extensive appendix, containing seventeen fascinating and very useful biographical sketches or writers discussed in the text."—Dennis Reinhartz, University of Texas at Arlington. History: Review of New Books, Spring 2003

"Anyone who thinks of 'the proletarian imagination' as a dull topic about which everything has already been said by Marxist critics will be astonished by the range and depth of topics Steinberg engages in his study of Russian worker writers during the intellectually and politically turbulent decades after the 1905 revolution. . . . One of the many virtues of Proletarian Imagination is Steinberg's contextualization, without condescension to less-gifted authors, of the work of the most acclaimed proletarian writer, Andrei Platonov. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty."—M. G. Levine, UNC-Chapel Hill. Choice, Sept. 2003.

"Mark D. Steinberg speaks to two issues in Russian cultural history in this important book: the relationship between high and low culture and the modernity of the lower classes. . . . This is a fine book from which scholars can learn much about Russian social life, culture, and the literary tradition."—Jeffrey Brooks, Johns Hopkins University, American Historical Review, February 2004

"Steinberg's book is a complex meditation on 'the modern' as perceived through the writings of an atypical group of workers. In search of an objective 'truth' they could embrace, these authors instead articulated an unsettling ambivalence. These were not the convictions that Bolsheviks wished for in their talented worker-intellectuals, particularly as the Revolution failed to resolve the dilemmas of mind-numbing factory labor or the depravity of the modern city. Nor were these the convictions that generations of observers ascribed to workers. Steinberg thus continues an historiographical trend that complicates any singular conception of proletarian Russia."—Heather Hogan, Oberlin College, The Russian Review 63:2

"Mark Steinberg has presented us with a detailed and subtle social history of early proletarian literature in Russia. The contours of these often tortured attempts as self-expression by semi-educated workers, along with their many contradictions and inner tensions, have seldom been laid out with such care and evident respect. This, along with the meticulous referencing of source material, will make Steinberg's book a valuable resource for cultural historians and literary scholars for some time to come."—Craig Brandist, Slavonic and East European Review, 2004

"Deftly interweaving literary analysis with social history, Steinberg suggests that workers understood their position in the modern city through a moral language about human rights and dignity; they understood their destiny through a quasi-Christian vision of revolutionary salvation, as articulated by a wide range of proletarian writers and poets."—Orlando Figes, Birbeck College, Slavic Review, Vol. 63, No. 3, Fall 2004

"Mark D. Steinberg's fascinating book analyzes a crucial aspect of the transition from Russian to Soviet culture. In so doing, it fills a significant void in Western historiography on the Soviet Union."—Katerina Clark, Yale University

"Mark D. Steinberg has written one of the most original books of Russian history to appear for many years. He has combed the writings of creative worker intellectuals in search of their special sensibility and imagination and found some wonderful affinities with his own. The result is an outstanding work of scholarship, one that illuminates important parts of the past that were previously in shadow."—Reginald Zelnik, University of California, Berkeley

"This ambitious, pathbreaking exploration of the Russian proletarian 'voice' distills a carefully read literature into the complex themes of self, modernity, and the sacred. Mark D. Steinberg's prodigious interpretations provoke a reexamination of many familiar assumptions about the 'proletarian mind.' A remarkable achievement, Proletarian Imagination brilliantly weaves social, intellectual, and cultural history into a new understanding of proletarian voices and their meanings. It will stimulate critical thinking about Russian workers and the revolutionary moment for many years to come."—William G. Rosenberg, University of Michigan

"Mark Steinberg explores the borderlands between social and cultural history. Introducing us to articulate workers, their social environments and the often contradictory ways they understood their lives, Steinberg creates a fine-grained map of Russia's route to modernity. His book features a tremendous amount of new material and a graceful writing style, and covers a range of topics that few historians would attempt."—James von Geldern, Macalester College

"Proletarian Imagination is a strikingly original book based on impressive research. It is important and beautifully written. Mark D. Steinberg's careful excavation of little-known plebeian writers rescues them from obscurity and yields remarkable insights about Russian culture at a crucial moment of transition."—Lynn Mally, University of California, Irvine

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801488269
Publisher:
Cornell University Press
Publication date:
09/28/2002
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.13(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

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