Thesis Refocused: Citytext?

This year’s wintry second trimester, Lent Term, saw some changes in my PhD focus. I have now narrowed it down to an exploration of memory in the late- and post-Soviet literature of Kharkov. The theme I started my research with – Ukrainian literature – was too general to be practical for a three-year program. After my first field trip, I began contemplating cutting it down to East Ukraine.

But at the same time, I was struck by the richness of my city’s unique borderline bilingual literature world, as well as its importance on the Ukrainian cultural arena. Indeed, Kharkov’s 19th and 20th century literature has had much scholarly attention. However, research on its post-Soviet contemporary literature-scape is scarce. I will seek to fill that gap.

This reformulation of focus was such a relief! It brought clarity – and even excitement – into what was previously too broad to tackle. The tentative concept of citytext is pulled from Vladimir Toporov’s “Petersburg Text” (2003). I suppose I am now a bit of a topographer.

Originally, I considered approaching the subject from a linguistic point of view: compare Russian and Ukrainian prose in Kharkov for any differences between perspectives of the past. But my advisor, Rory, cautioned against putting the cart before the horse. He is right: I will not set up a dichotomy before being certain that it exists.

Kharkov’s citytext is particularly fascinating due to the city’s tremendous influence on the Ukrainian literary world in the recent centuries. As a small preview, here is an excerpt from the first pages of an article which, in part, inspired this refocusing of my thesis. I met both authors this past spring during the second field trip; it’s great to know I can rely on their expertise in all further work.

Культурный ландшафт края формировался взаимодействием и противостоянием двух преобладающих традиций – одновременно дополняющих и отрицающих друг друга. […] С каждым новым усилением империи Харьков становился все менее украинским, но, что интересно, в культурном отношении не становился от этого решительно русским – разве что наблюдалось доминирование русской речи в ее южном варианте. А любое ослабление и/или демократизация империи влекли за собой очередной / перманентный ренессанс украинской культуры в Харькове – притом значимый не в локальном, а во всеукраинском масштабе. Собственно, почти вся история новой и новейшей украинской литературы в ее вершинных проявлениях в той или иной степени связана с Харьковом.

Северо-восток юго-запада: О современной харьковской литературе” – Ростислав Мельников, Юрий Цаплин


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