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Yulia Gordina

Yulia Gordina


'A Boon to Our Quest for Continuity:' The Politics of Cultural Memory, Orientalism and Racial Inbetweenness in Russian-North American Literature

(Supervisor: Astrid Fellner, Saarbrücken)

This dissertation aims to analyze some selected novels, memoirs and short story collections which are representative of the third generation Jewish Canadian/American literature: Natasha and Other Stories (2004) and The Free World (2011) by David Bezmozgis, and The Russian Debutante’s Handbook (2002), Absurdistan (2006) and Little Failure (2014) by Gary Shteyngart. Relying on the concepts of memory and postmemory as theoretical auxiliaries, I will focus on how memory shapes the depiction of Russian Jewish American/Canadian diasporic identities in these works.

I argue that when a social group makes a concerted effort to begin anew, the beginnings of group members contain an element of recollection, as people always base their experiences on the prior contexts grounded upon memory. Today, “memory” is considered a complex term, it embraces such notions as: media, practices, and structures as diverse as myth, monuments, historiography, ritual, conversation, configurations of cultural knowledge, and even neuronal networks. This understanding allows for an inclusion of a broad spectrum of phenomena as possible objects of memory studies — ranging from individual acts of remembering in a social context to group memory, to national memory, and to the transnational lieux de memoire. These different ways of referring to the past undoubtedly direct the attention to the close connection of memory and identity, as identity is not essential but has to be constructed and reconstructed by acts of memory, by remembering who one was and by setting this past Self in relation with present Self.

In my thesis, I understand “memory” and “postmemory” in the broadest possible sense: as a task of resisting a loss of connection with Russian Jewish identity. The body of (post)memorial literature, thus, to which the selected texts belong, is the outcome of the writers’ longing for exploration of their immense Russian Jewish heritage, for a connection with experiences that they never had themselves but that has nevertheless influenced their mindset.
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