New book examines role of literature in advancing political ideology
A modern languages faculty member at The University of Texas at Arlington has written an interpretive history of the Russian Revolution and the literary tradition that fostered it, as well as the writers who reacted to and resisted it.
In his new book, Language and Metaphors of the Russian Revolution: Sow the Wind, Reap the Storm, Lonny Harrison, associate professor of Russian, examines the evolution of storm, flood and harvest metaphors in works by authors such as Maxim Gorky, Mikhail Bulgakov, Boris Pasternak and others. Interpreting the language, symbols, stories and imagery of revolution, he focuses on the use of language as a weapon of class war and alternatively as a medium of resistance and dissent.
“Sometimes a storm is just a storm,” writes Harrison in the preface, “but more often than not, it is an ambient metaphor accentuating personal turns of fortune, unrestrained political forces, seismic ruptures or the inexorable tide of change.”
After nearly a century of struggle, early 20th-century Russians rebelled against 300 years of Romanov rule and demanded a new system of government. Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the throne in early 1917. His surrender marked a long-awaited freedom that had been anticipated in the works of Russian poets, fiction writers and philosophers, a group that came to be known as the Russian intelligentsia.
The Bolsheviks, later the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, quickly adopted literature as a medium of state propaganda. Strict censorship of creative works prohibited the publication of any writings deemed dissident to the ideological pillars of Communism.
The writers who nurtured the revolution were now enemies of the state.
“The intelligentsia occupied a unique position as both instigator and victim in the arc of history that brought the Russian Revolution,” Harrison said. “Several of the featured writers’ lives and works stand out as unique responses to the repression and terror that engulfed the Soviet population in the years following the Bolshevik seizure of power.”
Harrison’s approach is a collective examination of Russian fiction in the context of revolutionary culture, making his book a unique, cross-disciplinary analysis.
“Lonny’s work is important because it shows the value of interdisciplinary studies applied to the analysis of literary discourse,” said Ignacio Ruiz-Pérez, chair of the Department of Modern Languages. “His scholarship raises the profile of Slavic studies in North Texas. Our department is fortunate to have a top-notch researcher like him.”
By placing language and culture in the context of authoritarian control, Harrison is ultimately aiming to create a guide to critical reading of both authoritarian discourse and those rare counter-narratives that thrived in spite of their suppression. He argues that the lessons learned from Russia’s revolutionary literature are as important today as they were 100 years ago.
“As we begin to see a global resurgence of authoritarianism in politics today, it behooves us to understand how authoritarian language is used to shape public discourse and mass culture,” Harrison said. “Depending on how they are used and applied, our stories, metaphors and symbols can serve the interests of the politics of repression or the power of personal liberty.”
- Written by Linsey Retcofsky, Department of Modern Languages