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Waldstein, Maxim

Across the Iron Curtain: The Adventures of Soviet Structuralism in the West

This paper explores the history of the Western (especially American) reception of “Soviet structuralism” in the 1960s through 1980s from the point of view of a sociology of intellectual reputations and a history of intellectual exchanges across the Iron Curtain. Despite being one of the very few currents in the Soviet humanities known outside of the socialist block, Yuri Lotman’s Tartu (-Moscow) School has never enjoyed the kind of interdisciplinary recognition—or even notoriety—that has been associated in the West with French (post-) structuralism and the works of Mikhail Bakhtin. Regardless of a few breakthroughs, the reception of the Tartu School remains limited to the fields of Russian Studies and semiotics. In contrast to simply referring to the possible intrinsic flaws in the Tartu writings, this paper explains the School’s limited (but, within its limits, considerably intensive and deep) reception by the changing historical articulations of intellectual, disciplinary and political boundaries during the Cold War. In particular, I consider the role of personal networks and groups, generations and “bridging” personalities (e.g. Roman Jakobson), as well as the (intellectual, aesthetic, political) evolution of the attention space within (primarily) American humanities.  In effect, this paper formulates a number of key conditions for acquiring a reputation of an important Soviet intellectual in the West during the Cold War.

Thursday 29 Oct 11.15-12.45 SESSION 1