Andrew Kuznetsov

The Other Within: Homophobic Nationalism in Russia and Gay Narratives in Russian Literature
Comparative Literature
Spring 2018

The positioning of Russia vis-à-vis the West has long been a balancing act between a desired narrative of Russian cultural belonging and the existence of an antiheroic Other within Russian society. The scapegoating of Jews in the campaign against cosmopolitanism ( bor’ba s kosmopolitizmom) , triggered by a fear of capitalist surrounders ( kapitalisticheskoe okruzhenie ), is one such example from the late Stalin era. The shaving of the beards in Peter the Great’s time, however, is an example from a moment in which this Other was actually a representative of Russian tradition. Today, LGBT Russians have found themselves the antihero of the Russian nationalist narrative, which has come to rely on a rhetorical conflation of homosexuality and Western cultural infiltration, for instance in the figure of “gejropa”– “gay Europe” (Riabova and Riabov, 2014). However, my research will attempt to highlight self-authored narratives of homosexuality in Russia. My research will use comparative literature as a window into the lived experiences of gay Russians as authored by gay Russians, asking how they have defined their experiences in literature. What characterizes these authors’ experiences and sense of identity? To what extent is each body of work concerned with homophobic persecution? How do the authors respond to Russian society? My research will begin with a review of scholarship on homosexuality in Russia since 1900 and the international gay rights movement in the contemporary moment. This scholarship will serve as a contextual foundation for a comparison of two bodies of Russian literature of the gay counterpublic, first reading authors from the “Silver Age” (1905-1917) including Mikhail Kuzmin and Marina Tsvetaeva, and then more contemporary publications including two anthologies of gay and lesbian prose published in the 2000’s. I will read my literary sources, including some untranslated texts, in the original Russian.