Levan Institute Book Chat—Thomas Seifrid, Staging the Absolute: Ritual in Russia’s Modern Era


A discussion of Thomas Seifrid's new book, Staging the Absolute: Ritual in Russia’s Modern Era (University of Toronto Press, 2023). The author will be joined in conversation by Galin Tihanov (Queen Mary University of London) and Nancy Condee (University of Pittsburgh), moderated by Colleen McQuillen (USC). Registration is required. REGISTER HERE


About the Book: Staging the Absolute argues that an array of practices and beliefs came together to define an essential aspect of Russian and Soviet culture in the twentieth century: the persistent desire to interrupt – or disrupt – history. Drawing on sources that define the nature of public rituals, the book reveals the pervasive presence of the impulse to impede history in Russia’s modern era and the realization of the idea in the form of the Stalinist show trials of the 1930s.


Thomas Seifrid analyses Soviet festivals, public displays of agitational propaganda, and urban planning, together with such modernist precursors as fin-de-siècle and early twentieth-century projects for reviving the theatre, modernist adaptations of puppet theatre, the Faust legend and its vogue in early twentieth-century Russia, and the nineteenth-century panorama. The book reveals that what binds these otherwise disparate phenomena together is a shared impatience with history and a corresponding desire to appropriate urban space. Illuminating the deeper meanings in these revived archaic forms, Staging the Absolute shows how pervasive the interest in disrupting history was in the Russian modern era.


About the Author: Thomas Seifrid is Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures. He studies twentieth-century Russian literature and culture, particularly that of the Soviet 1920s and 1930s; Russian philosophy of language of the late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries; the life and works of Vladimir Nabokov; and Polish language and culture. Seifrid's first book, Andrei Platonov. Uncertainties of Spirit (Cambridge University Press, 1992) was the first English-language monograph on a writer now considered to be one of the masters of twentieth-century Russian prose. His second book, The Word Made Self: Russian Writings on Language, 1860-1930 (Cornell University Press, 2005) explores the philosophy of language in Russia in the early twentieth century. He has also written a Companion to Andrei Platonov’s The Foundation Pit (Academic Studies Press, 2009). His current research examines connections among ideology, literary genre (including theater), and urban space in early Soviet culture.


Open to attendants outside of USC. An excerpt of the book will be made available to registered attendants. Registration before the event is required. 


Levan Institute for the Humanities Book Chats


This event is part of the Levan Institute for the Humanities' “Book Chats” series, conversations about new books published by USC scholars in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. To see more events in this series, including recordings of past events, visit https://dornsife.usc.edu/levan-institute/book-chats/.

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