Gay Culture in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union

603. Saturday, 5 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., 209, Hynes

Program arranged by the Division on Slavic and East European Literatures

I. "What Is Socialist Unrealism? Queer Negativity and Camp in the Camp," Anastasia Kayiatos, Univ. of California, Berkeley 
II. "Ukrainian Queer Writing: The Difficult Birth," Vitaly Chernetsky, Miami Univ., Oxford

III. "Postsoviet Translations of Western Gay Literature and the Domestication of Homosexuality," Brian James Baer, Kent State Univ., Kent

Presiding: Alexandar Mihailovic, Hofstra Univ.


What is Socialist Unrealism? Queer Negativity and Camp in the Camp
Anastasia Kayiatos
Doctoral candidate
UC Berkeley

This paper takes as its theme the masochistic practices that the Gulag¹s most sexually abject subjects enacted on themselves in spectacular protest, as cataloged in a pair of nonfictional pieces by political prisoners Andrei Siniavskii and Anatolii Marchenko. By means of these extreme forms of self-expression, the camp's "un-people" (or neliudi), in Sinavskii's appellation, silently asserted their subjectivity through violent gesture against the political unintelligibility of their speech, in effect, (dis) figuring themselves into the Soviet symbolic. In order to honor the dark humor that sometimes suffused such performances of self-harm, the paper summarily proposes the aesthetic category of "camp camp" as a name for the cheekily bleak tactics by which these "queer" actors expropriated their bodies away from a fatal state for the purpose of personal resistance.

"Ukrainian Queer Writing: The Difficult Birth"
Vitaly Chernetsky
Associate Professor
Miami University, Ohio

In my paper, I will briefly mention the precursors in homoerotic writing, especially from the beginning of the 20th century, but primarily focus on the developments from the recent few years, including the first Ukrainian-language anthology of LGBTQ writing, the literary pages of the Ukrainian gay magazine Odyn z nas (One of us), and other publications both in traditional venues and on the Internet. A crucial question would be the issue of language: how do you create/develop an LGBT discourse in a language that has often been as a rural/colonial/traditionalist (with examples again from the modernist/avant-garde efforts from the beginning of the century and the efforts from the post-independence era). Here, translations of international LGBTQ writing into Ukrainian also play a highly important role. The paper will be based both on textual analysis and interviews with contemporary LGBTQ Ukrainian writers and translators of LGBTQ texts (some of the latter being straight allies of the LGBTQ movement).

Post-Soviet Translations of Western Gay Literature and the Domestication of Homosexuality
Brian James Baer
Kent State University

Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the loosening of censorship restrictions, many seminal works of Western “gay” literature have been published in Russian translation. While this might appear at first glance to suggest increasing tolerance for diversity, in general, and for sexual diversity, in particular, analysis of the choice of texts for translation, the paratextual material accompanying those translations, and the critical reaction to them reveals a broadly implemented strategy of “domestication” that consists of de-sexualizing homosexuality by inscribing it within traditional Russian cultural scripts and frames. The data reveal a surprising continuity between post-Soviet, pre-Soviet, and even Soviet-era publishing practices. Indeed many contemporary editions of the works of classic “gay” authors are reeditions, containing introductions from earlier editions, often with the date removed. Moreover, even when new introductions are provided, the discourse on homosexuality tends to align very closely with that of previous editions, suggesting a reluctance to “rethink” homosexuality for post-Soviet readers. Analysis of recent Russian editions of works by Sappho, Michelangelo, Oscar Wilde, E.M. Forrester, James Baldwin, William Burroughs, Edmund White, and others, reveals a general tendency to avoid terms that would suggest exclusive gay/straight sexual identities and to associate homosexuality with traditional Russian notions of aesthetics and suffering. Interestingly, the prudery of the introductory material often stands in sharp stark contrast to the lurid, homoerotic images on the cover. Ultimately, the domestication of homosexuality through translation belies a complex and somewhat contradictory act of cultural positioning, revealing a post-Soviet aspiration to reassert itself on the stage of world culture alongside a desire to resist the hegemony of Western social values and gender/sexual norms.

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