Common Places: Mythologies of Everyday Life in Russia

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Harvard University Press, Jun 30, 2009 - History - 384 pages
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What is the real Russia? What is the relationship between national dreams and kitsch, between political and artistic utopia and everyday existence? Commonplaces of daily living would be perfect clues for those seeking to understand a culture. But all who write big books on Russian life confess their failure to get properly inside Russia, to understand its doublespeak. Boym is a unique guide. A member of the last Soviet Generation, the Russian equivalent of our Generation X, she grew up in Leningrad and has lived in the West for the past thirteen years. Her book provides a view of Russia that is historically informed, replete with unexpected detail, and everywhere stamped with authority. Alternating analysis with personal accounts of Russian life, Boym conveys the foreignness of Russia and examines its peculiar conceptions of private life and common good, of Culture and Trash, of sincerity and banality. Armed with a Dictionary of Untranslatable Terms, we step around Uncle Fedia asleep in the hall, surrounded by a puddle of urine, and enter the Communal Apartment, the central exhibit of the book. It is the ruin of the communal utopia and a unique institution of Soviet daily life; a model Soviet home and a breeding ground for grassroots informants. Here, privacy is forbidden; here the inhabitants defiantly treasure their bits of domestic trash, targets of ideological campaigns for the transformation (perestroika) of everyday life. Against the Russian and Soviet myths of national destiny, the trivial, the ordinary, even the trashy, take on a utopian dimension. Boym studies Russian culture in a broad sense of the word; she ranges from nineteenth- and twentieth-century intellectual thought to art and popular culture. With her we go walking in Moscow and Leningrad, eavesdrop on domestic life, and discover jokes, films, and TV programs. Boym then reflects on the 1991 coup that marked the end of the Soviet Union and evoked fin de siecle apocalyptic visions. The book ends with a poignant reflection on the nature of communal utopia and nostalgia, on homesickness and the sickness of being home.
 

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Common places: mythologies of everyday life in Russia

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Visitors and outsiders have long lamented that the real lives of Soviet citizens were hidden behind a veil of official rhetoric. The private self was kept separate from the public self as a sort of ... Read full review

Contents

Theoretical Common Places
1
1 Mythologies of Everyday Life
29
The Communal Apartment
121
Graphomania
168
4 Postcommunism Postmodernism
215
Nostalgia for the Common Place
283
Notes
293
Index
343
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About the author (2009)

Svetlana Boym was born in Leningrad, Russia on April 29, 1959. She received a bachelor's degree in Hispanic languages and literatures from the Herzen State Pedagogical Institute in Leningrad, a master's degree in Hispanic languages and literatures from Boston University, and a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Harvard University. She became an assistant professor at Harvard in 1988. Her work included the nonfiction books Death in Quotation Marks: Cultural Myths of the Modern Poet, Common Places: Mythologies of Everyday Life in Russia, The Future of Nostalgia, and Another Freedom: The Alternative History of an Idea; a novel entitled Ninochka; and a play entitled The Woman Who Shot Lenin. She was also known as a photographer, with her work exhibited at galleries around the world. She died from cancer on August 5, 2015 at the age of 56.

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