Poets and Politics
Poetry has always played a unique role in the Russian history. Due to the absence of possibilities for legal political life and political action, poets sometimes took the place of politicians. Accordingly, the state authorities always desired to convert Russian poets into their allies, or persecuted them as political enemies (i.e. exiled them, expelled them from the country, imprisoned, and even sent them to death). In 19th Century authoritarian Russia or the 20th Century totalitarian Soviet Union we often find situations that could not be imaginable in ‘normal’ democratic societies: the leaders of the state (such as Alexander I, Nicholas I, and Joseph Stalin) carefully read the particular poetic works of the major Russian poets and carried special resolutions about them; some sessions of the State Council in the Imperial Russia or the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party were completely devoted to recent poetic works and their possible impact on the inner condition of the society and on the foreign state affairs...
In our course we will examine the reasons of this unique attention to the poets and poetry paid by the State. The political views of different Russian poets, as well as their influence on Russian society will be a subject of our special examination. We will explore works and ideas of such poets as Gavriil Derzhavin, Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Fedor Tyutchev, Nikolai Nekrasov, Alexander Blok, Osip Mandelshtam, Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, Joseph Brodsky. We will examine some cases when the poetry became the major issue of political life: Pushkin ‘southern exile’, the case of his poem Andre Chenier, the Central Committee Resolution on the journals Zvezda and Leningrad (particularly against Anna Akhmatova), Pasternak’s Nobel Prize scandal, or trials around Joseph Brodsky (charged with “parasitism”).