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Russia in the prism of popular culture : Russian and American detective fiction and thrillers of the 1990s Baraban, Elena V.


The subject matter of my study is representations of Russia in Anglo-American and Russian spy novels, mysteries, and action thrillers of the 1990s. Especially suitable for representing the world split between good and evil, these genres played a prominent role in constructing the image of the other during the Cold War. Crime fiction then is an important source for grasping the changes in representing Russia after the Cold War. My hypothesis is that despite the changes in the political roles of Russia and the United States, the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union continued to have a significant impact on popular fiction about Russia in the 1990s. A comparative perspective on depictions of Russia in the 1990s is particularly suitable in regard to American and Russian popular cultures because during the Cold War, Soviet and American identities were formed in view of the other. A comparative approach to the study of Russian popular fiction is additionally justified by the role that the idea of the West had played in Russian cultural history starting from the early eighteenth century. Reflection on depictions of Russia in crime fiction by writers coming from the two formerly antagonistic cultures poses the problem of representation in its relationship to time, history, politics, popular culture, and genre. The methods used in this dissertation derive from the field of cultural studies, history, and structuralist poetics. A combination of structuralist readings and social theory allows me to uncover the ways in which popular detective genres changed in response to the sentiments of nostalgia and anxiety about repressed or lost identities, the sentiments that were typical of the 1990s. My study of Anglo-American and Russian spy novels, mysteries, and action thrillers contributes to our understanding of the ways American and Russian cultures invent and reinvent themselves after a significant historical rupture, how they mobilize the past for making sense of the present. Drawing on readings of literature and culture by such scholars as Mikhail Bakhtin, Tzvetan Todorov, Siegfried Kracauer, Andreas Huyssen, Fredric Jameson, and Svetlana Boym, I show that differences in Anglo-American and Russian representations of Russia are a result of cultural asymmetries and cultural chronotopes in the United States and in Russia. I argue that Russian and American crime fiction of the 1990s re-writes Russia in the light of cultural memory, nostalgia, and historical sensibilities after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union. Memories of the Cold War and coming to terms with the end of the Cold War played a defining role in depicting Russia by Anglo-American detective authors of the 1990s; this role is clear from the genre changes in Anglo-American thrillers about Russia. Similarly, reconsideration of Russian history became an essential characteristic in the development of the new Russian detektiv.

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