How American and Russian Cold War Satirists Expose the Fictions within Ideology

Дерек Маус

Правящая элита и в США, и в СССР в большой степени полагалась на завуалированные выдумки (фактически, политические интерпретации мнимой "правды") в своей публичной риторике в годы Холодной войны. Такие идеологические фантазии были по существу способом противостоять рациональным аргументам. В результате разоблачение вымыслов, стоящих за догмами, стало самым эффективным способом нонконформизма и противостояния.


24 апреля Дерек Маус, ассоциированный профессор в English & Communication department в SUNY Postdam, выступил в конференц-зале Европейского университета с лекцией о русской и американской сатирической литературе времен холодной войны.

Этим выступлением был отмечен конец весеннего семестра  международной программы ИМАРЕС. Профессор Маус был очень рад наконец получить возможность посетить Россию, и Санкт-Петербург, в частности, поскольку изучает нашу страну уже более двадцати лет.

An engaging and often animated speaker, Maus fought through a nagging cough to deliver a talk in which he argued that despite the admittedly different social, economic and cultural contexts in the United States and the Soviet Union during the post-war period, dissident authors in both countries displayed similar subversive tendencies in their writing. Both Soviet and American Cold War authors, Maus suggested, satirized the "absurdity" of the "meaningless language" that pervaded public discourse in both countries during the 1950s - 1980s.

The talk was based on a chapter from Maus' book Unvarnishing Reality: Subversive Russian and American Cold War Satire (University of South Carolina Press, 2011). He recounted for the audience his shock at discovering, upon beginning research for the book, that no other scholar had ever attempted an analysis of Cold War literature that took into account the work of both Soviet and American authors, something Maus said struck him immediately as "a 'duh' idea." His own book, therefore, is the first such scholarly examination of Cold War literature from both an American and Soviet perspective.

Given the location of and audience for this particular lecture, it is no surprise that Maus chose to focus the bulk of his talk on works of Cold War satire from the Soviet Union. From the Russian side, Maus discussed the works of authors such as Sergei Dovlatov (The Compromise, 1981), Fazil Iskander (Rabbits and Boa Constrictors, 1982), and Vladimir Voinovich (the "Private Ivan Chonkin" trilogy). From the American side, Maus also mentioned Joseph Heller (Catch-22, 1961), Kurt Vonnegut (Cat's Cradle, 1963), John Barth (Giles Goat-Boy, 1966) and Dom Delilo (White Noise, 1985).

Maus described his approach to Soviet and American Cold War literature as coming from "a very political, a very historical, and a very linguistic point of view." Although he certainly appreciates the artistic qualities of these works as well, Maus made it clear that he is not interested in studying the prose for its own merits, remarking that one cannot just study "the aesthetics of Cold War literature and really do it justice." Nevertheless, the talk did veer occasionally into the territory of heavier literary analysis. When it did, however, Maus made every effort to clarify his terminology and make complex theory understandable for an audience of non-specialists. "I don't expect anybody to understand [French cultural theorist Jean] Baudrillard," he explained, "because I barely do."

After his talk, Maus spent about fifty minutes answering questions from those in attendance. The questions covered a wide variety of topics, ranging from the effects of the Soviet Union's collapse on the satiric traditions in both countries, to what sort of alternate utopias Soviet satirists might have proposed other than capitalism or communism, to Maus' thoughts on language and propaganda in contemporary American and Russian culture. Maus concluded the Q&A by thanking the audience for their questions and the European University for the opportunity to present his lecture.

Alex McConnell