Nordic Russian and Eastern European Studies Conference
Intentions, Interactions and Paradoxes in Post-Socialist Space
24-25 May 2013 in Helsinki, Finland
Olga Shevchenko (Williams College, USA)
The Sound of One Hand Clapping: Second Thoughts on the Transmission of Memory in Russia
Commentaries on the dynamic of memory in post-socialist Russia tend to highlight the imperfections and selectivity of remembering of the Soviet past. If socialist past (like any past) is “a foreign country,” to use David Lowenthal’s expression, the map of this country is described as marred by countless white spots and lacunae, in particular where the traumatic pages of history are concerned. Without denying that there are grounds to that interpretation, in this talk I would like to switch frames and make a case for reevaluating the selectivity and imperfections of narrative accounts of the Soviet past. Reflecting on the set of interviews done for a project on family photography and generational memories of socialism in Russia, I will concentrate on two aspects of memory work that are frequently lost in studies of memory transmission. The first concerns the different registers in which the significance of the past is communicated in the present. Explicit narrative memories of life in the USSR are certainly one such register, but it is not the only one; nor is it one that is most frequent or important. Silence, in many instances, turns out to be a form of memory as well, and it is one that might be shaping the outlook of the post-Soviet generation. Second, we should consider the possibility that these silences and cultural forgetting are not the marks of memory’s failure, but the very preconditions for cultural vitality in the present.
Olga Shevchenko has lived in Moscow, Warsaw and Philadelphia, and is currently teaching sociology at Williams College in Williamstown, MA. She is interested in everyday life, consumption, Soviet and post-Soviet culture, memory and photography. She is currently working on three projects: an edited volume, entitled Double Exposure: Memory and Photography, a collaborative research project with Oksana Sarkisova, entitled Snapshot Histories: Family Photography and Generational Memories of Socialism in Russia, and an internet archive of Soviet pioneers' letters home from the pioneer camp.
Shevchenko's previous book, Crisis and the Everyday in Postsocialist Moscow, dealt with the changing structures of daily life in the late 1990s' Moscow. It received the 2009 Heldt prize by the Association of Women in Slavic Studies and the 2010 Davis Center Book Prize in Political and Social Studies from the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies.