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Petersburg: Crucible of Cultural Revolution

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ISBN-13: 978-0674663367
ISBN-10: 0674663365
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

St. Petersburg (Leningrad) has always enjoyed a reputation for being the most Western and progressive of Russian cities. Embracing different methodologies and subject matters, both of these studies pay tribute to the revolutionary spirit of the grand metropolis founded by Peter the Great almost 300 years ago. Clark's Petersburg briefly examines the city's rich pre-Bolshevik culture and then lays out a detailed account of efforts in the 1920s to create a transcendent revolutionary culture, an environment in which radical politics and aesthetic iconoclasm could joyfully coexist and complement each other. Clark (coauthor with Michael Holquist of Mikhail Bakhtin, Belknap Pr: Harvard Univ. Pr., 1984) graphically shows how during that period St. Petersburg's political and cultural energies shifted to Moscow and how Stalin's brutal ascendancy brought with it the age of "Socialist realism"?didactic, formulaic, state-sponsored nonsense?that destroyed virtually every trace of a vibrant creative tradition. Orttung's From Leningrad to St. Petersburg delineates the political changes that swept through the city from 1987 to 1994. A revised doctoral study, it is the first full-blown account of the democratization process in St. Petersburg. The author carefully presents the various parties and ideological factions combined with an intensive analysis of electoral laws and political institutions; his effort guarantees that the persistent reader will clearly understand how communism collapsed in a major urban setting and how difficult it is to create participatory government in a milieu where the democratic tradition has never existed. Both titles are warmly recommended for academic collections.?Mark R. Yerburgh, Fern Ridge Community Lib., Veneta, Ore.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


[Clark argues that] the cultural atmosphere that evolved in the Soviet Union during the 1920s and made the Great Terror of the late 1930s possible was actually created by the idealistic intellectuals and artists themselves...In developing this revisionist argument, Ms. Clark forces us to rethink the relationship of a totalitarian government to its subjects. She makes us ask the same question now being raised in Germany in connection with the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II: Who were the real victims and who were the real perpetrators?...In the course of her Herculean labors, she has sifted through piles of archival material, consulted all the leading authorities, viewed scores of films, read hundreds of novels and mastered a dazzling array of historical, theatrical, linguistic and literary theories. What she has produced is a major contribution to the cultural history of this seminal period. (Harlow Robinson New York Times Book Review)

Petersburg is full of close readings of early Soviet texts, performances and artworks; and Clark is particularly sensitive to the subtle dialectic between utopian aestheticism and cultural Realpolitik shaping Soviet culture over the decade or so following the revolution. (Scott McLemee Nation)

This is a rich book...and very well documented. In particular, the author has evidently trawled through the issues of the weekly journal Mir Iskusstva (Life of Art) to very good effect, giving us a kaleidoscopic sense of the multitude of changing issues that constituted the visible surface of Petrograd/Leningrad intellectual life. (Robin Milner-Gulland Times Literary Supplement)

Petersburg is a major work by one of the world's leading scholars of Soviet culture. It manages to combine a deep and affectionate understanding of the mentalities of Petersburg/Leningrad intellectuals with a rare capacity for detachment and nonpartisan evaluation. Clark's first book, The Soviet Novel, has had an enormous impact on the way Stalinist culture is studied in a range of disciplines (literary scholarship, history, cultural studies, even anthropology and political science). Her new book should be no less influential and stimulating to an equally wide range of readers. (Sheila Fitzpatrick Slavic Review)

[R]eaders coming to [Clark's] new book have reason to expect a provocative work that combines careful scholarship and intellectual rigor. In Petersburg: Crucible of Cultural Revolution, they will find all of that. Clark examines the complex cultural life of the years between roughly 1910 and 1930 in an attempt to answer the questions: how did Stalinist culture come about? Where did it come from? Did it 'have' to happen? Clark looks for her answers in a wide range of artistic issues, movements, disciplines and individuals, and her erudition is impressive. She moves freely from theater to mass spectacle to architecture, from the evolving field of linguistics (Marr) to Russian responses to Wagner and Nietzsche...Clark goes well beyond the cliché that Stalinist ritual was religious in nature...There is a small handful of Slavists whose work is always challenging, often controversial and occasionally changes the way the rest of us look at the Soviet period. As this book amply attests, Katerina Clark continues to be one of them. (Josephine Woll Slavic and East European Journal)

Ever since the traditional friend or fiend scheme, prevalent in Soviet studies so far, started to crumble, Western scholars time and again have asked for a reevaluation of Russian politics and culture of the 1920s. Katerina Clark's new book on Petersburg as crucible of cultural revolution is an amazingly fresh and original answer to this request. It is also a fine example of how intense occupation with the methodological and theoretical approach of one scholar, in this case Bakhtin, can shape and remodel the view of a by now familiar period. Petersburg has long entered collective memory as one of the most mythopoeic places of Russian history. Yet it took a brilliant scholar like Clark to provide us with an all-encompassing, in-depth analysis of the city's role in the formation of Stalinist culture, the role of its intellectuals, its artists, writers, architects, theater directors, composers, musicians, film-makers, linguists, and what have you; their theories, ideas, hopes, and desires for a renewal of society. (Rosalinde Sartorti Russian Review)

Turning away from traditional interpretations of early Soviet intellectuals as a uniform corps of resistant, tragic figures, Clark explores lesser known cultural activists of the Soviet new age who were challenged by the socialist order and pressed for their own agendas. Like her previous pathbreaking book on socialist-realist literature, Petersburg pries into the work of the hegemon by finding power, after Foucault, in all the least usual places. Little wonder that this volume, which at times approximates a Russian novel for its own daunting cast of characters and sea of detail, took the 1996 Vucinich Prize for best book in Russian Studies. (Bruce Grant Common Knowledge)

Clark's Petersburg briefly examines the city's rich pre-Bolshevik culture and then lays out a detailed account of efforts in the 1920s to create a transcendent revolutionary culture, an environment in which radical politics and aesthetic iconoclasm could joyfully coexist and complement each other...Warmly recommended. (Library Journal)

Product Details

  • Paperback: 377 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (January 20, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674663365
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674663367
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,586,368 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Katerina Clark has written this study of the artistic and cultural history of St Petersburg from the pre-revolutionary era through the ascendency of Stalin. It's quite a rigoursly academic book, so much so that at times it's a bit stilted in that formal post-modern academic language popular among a certain generation of historians.
And that is unfortunate. Clark has done her homework well, her topic is an interesting one as is the theme she develops.
Unlike Volkov's "St Petersburg a Cultural History", Clark show's the artists and writers on Nevsky Prospect were excited about the prospects of revolution under Bolshevism. And, for a few short years, avante garde plays, paintings, music and writing blossomed promoting the Bolshevik cause. But under growing hand of Stalinism it gradually became a tool to assist in his own particular vision of socialism in one country.
Clark doesn't let the artists off the hook. Unlike many cold war historians of the Conquest/Pipes variety, she shows a social group, complicite and active in varying degrees in the formation of the one party state. The same state that under Stalin destroyed them.
This is difficult reading at times- hampered by the PoMo academic writing style- and is deeply thought out (it probably requires more than a passing interest in Russian history.) Very important for students and layspersons interested in an overlooked area the Soviet era.
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