Research

My leading research interest is mid-nineteenth-century Russian literary criticism and prose fiction. I have worked most extensively on Nikolai Dobroliubov, an intellectually agile critic who deserves a fresh appraisal. (An article by Dobroliubov inspired the name for this website.) I’ve also read quite a bit of Belinsky, Chernyshevsky and Pisarev as well as “aesthetic” critics such as Aleksandr Druzhinin and Pavel Annenkov and plan to focus increasingly on this broader critical arena in future work. I published an article on Dobroliubov in the Slavic & East European Journal (57.1) and have another under review. The published article examines how Dobroliubov’s major critical articles are shaped by the tension between his strictly realist aesthetic and his revolutionary hopes for social transformation. The more recent manuscript examines Dobroliubov’s early reception of Chernyshevsky as expressed in his diary and in some unpublished aesthetic reflections. My analysis highlights differences in the two critics’ views of art, pushing back against the tendency to view them as essentially identical.

Belinsky stamp

My theoretical approach is driven by my longstanding interest in the complexities surrounding theories of realism and artistic “mimesis” and they way that they intersect with debates over the social and moral utility of art. These concerns shape my book project, which grows out of the second half of my dissertation. The project examines the conflict between discourses of realism and of visionary utopianism as a characteristic feature of mid-nineteenth-century Russian literary culture. I apply this framework to Dobroliubov’s literary criticism and Dostoevsky’s Diary of a Writer and The Brothers Karamazov. My basic question is how a fictional text or literary theory that calls for faithful imitation of the existing world can also advocate the absolute transformation of that world. In other words, I examine the tension between present- and future-oriented discourses. Theoretically, it is possible to combine these two orientations, but it’s much more difficult in practice, as I show in extensive analyses of texts by Dobroliubov and Dostoevsky.

My Ph.D. is in Comparative Literature, and although I am now happily a committed Russianist, I worked extensively on German literary culture during my graduate study. The first two chapters of my dissertation treat the 18th-century German critic J. C. Gottsched and the novelist Christoph Martin Wieland, analyzing their Enlightenment-era version of the same conflict between imitation and transformation that I see in the Russian nineteenth century. Although I am not currently developing this research, I published a very good analysis of Gottsched’s Dichtkunst (Poetics) in the German Quarterly (87.1).

I also have broader interests that currently emerge primarily in my teaching. After finishing my dissertation and revising portions of it into articles I wanted to add a new facet to my professional capabilities, so I began to research Russian film. I thoroughly enjoyed diving into the realm of visual culture and honing my awareness of the elements of film form while also engaging more deeply with twentieth-century Russian culture. I focused mainly on pre-revolutionary through Stalinist film and taught a successful course based on this work. I also had the wonderful opportunity to engage more deeply with Russian poetry as I developed a great course on this topic for advanced Russian language students at Tulane. Materials related to these courses are posted on the teaching page.