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Architecture of Oblivion
Ruins and Historical Consciousness in Modern Russia
University of Southern California Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies, 2012
The first interdisciplinary study of Russia’s response to ruins
“Andreas Schönle’s Architecture of Oblivion is a fascinating, thoroughly-researched, and important work of scholarship that will be of interest to all students of Russian culture.” —Douglas Smith, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington
Despite attempts to promote the aesthetics of ruins in Russia, from Catherine the Great’s construction of fake ruins in imperial parks to Josef Brodsky’s elegiac meditations, ruins have never achieved the status they enjoy in Western Europe. If the Soviet Union was notorious for leveling churches, post-Soviet Russia has only intensified the practice of massive destruction and reconstruction. Former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov enthusiastically promoted the erection of sham replicas of old buildings, thus denying outright the historical and aesthetic value of authentic artifacts. Yet until recently, the Russian landscape was littered with ruins, from those of unfinished or abandoned imperial palaces to the enduring scars of World War II and the dismal results of Soviet and post-Soviet neglect, not to speak of the grandiose sites of derelict industrial plants. Architecture of Oblivion examines the role of ruins in the development of Russia’s historical consciousness from the 18th century to the present. As it explores the political and cultural resonance of specific ruins and their representation in literature and the arts, this important study looks at the ideological reasons for the current disregard for the value of ruins and historical buildings, in particular by political authorities. Schönle reveals how at various junctures in time ruins are perceived to challenge the legitimacy of historical progress and of modernity, and are thus felt to undermine the state. An emphatic mark of Western aesthetic influence, ruins have often become a site of imaginary resistance to official ideology and an invitation to map out alternative visions of history and of statehood. An interdisciplinary study of Russia’s response to ruins has never been attempted, although the topic of ruins has garnered considerable interest in Western Europe and in the United States. This original work from a leading authority on the subject will appeal to historians of Russian culture and thought, literature and art scholars, and general readers interested in ruins or in Russia.
(2011)28 illus., 298 pages
Andreas Schönle is Professor of Russian at Queen Mary University of London and author of The Ruler in the Garden: Politics and Landscape Design in Imperial Russia.
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