Reforging the Pustynia: Literary Myths of the Kara-Kum Desert in the Early Soviet Era
Since antiquity, the desert has captured the human imagination as an empty and extreme landscape. It has been treated as a site of exile, escape, solitude, contemplation, spiritual communion, and scientific experimentation, attracting explorers, outlaws, prophets, poets, seekers, artists, and those set on transforming nature. At the same time, it has provided a home to numerous communities, though these groups have often been written out of the picture when the desert has been imagined in art and literature. This talk will discuss the cultural construction of the desert in the Russian tradition generally before focusing on how one specific desert--the Kara-Kum--was represented in a set of Russian literary texts from the 1920s and 1930s. Engaging with the circumstances under which various narratives were created as well as the specific tropes used within them, she will ask how the Soviet Kara-Kum was made culturally and how its creation was connected to the forging of the Soviet subject.
A Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harriman Institute, Katharine Holt is currently adapting her dissertation, The Rise of Insider Iconography: Visions of Soviet Turkmenia in Russian-Language Literature and Film, 19211935, into the book manuscript Encountering the Desert: Orientalism, Socialist Realism, and Artistic Subjectivity in Soviet Central Asia, 19171935. She is also at work on a related research project on how Central Asian literature was translated into Russian and disseminated throughout the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s.