The Fierce and Beautiful World: Russian Culture before the Revolution
RUSS 255 •
Prof. Julia Chadaga
The great poet Tyutchev declared that “you cannot understand Russia with your mind.” In this course we’ll take his cue and approach Russia through the senses. Russian culture offers a feast for the eyes, in visual art from icons to popular prints, the work of realist painters and the pioneers of abstract art; decorative art from wood carving to Faberge eggs; churches built without nails and palaces made of ice; boisterous folk dances and the Ballets Russes. Sound, too, plays a major role in Russian culture, from church bells to balalaikas, bawdy chastushkas to Tchaikovsky. We will discover the cultural significance of tea-drinking, traditional foods, and most of all, alcohol. We will consider the ways in which Russian art and ideas made an indelible impression on world culture.
As we examine case studies from medieval times through the end of the tsarist period, we will ask such “burning questions” as: why does art have such a privileged status in Russian society? What exactly is the Russian soul? What is Russia’s relationship to the West: does it belong to Europe, to Asia, or does it possess a unique essence and destiny? Russia embraces its duality, and this may account, in part, for the distinctiveness and the vitality of Russian culture.