The study of a reciprocal influence between science and literature has been gaining traction in recent years. Both scholarly and public interest in how science and literary culture interact has grown exponentially over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, scientific knowledge has circulated, changed, and taken shape in literary and artistic outlets since the emergence of modern science. Furthermore, the alliance between science and literature not only affected both of these domains, but also engendered lasting ideas of Western Europe’s epistemic dominance and lent credence to its imperial and colonial myths. Yet, Russia and Eastern Europe have not been a consistent part of these discussions.
This conference, to take place on April 7, examines the complex and dynamic exchange between science and literature in Russia and Eastern Europe. First, we ask how the domains of science and literature harmonized, interfered, and responded to each other’s developments, setbacks, and biases. How was the region’s literary and artistic production affected by its consistent engagement with science? In turn, which scientific trends emerged as a result of these frequent encounters with literature? We will examine literature and science in relation to other aspects of political, social, and popular culture. How did this entanglement of literature and science exacerbate and respond to the culture’s simultaneous reverence for positivism, its idea of self-proclaimed spirituality, and its strong humanitarian tradition? What role did shifting political structures and models of governance play in the region’s production, organization, and dissemination of knowledge?
We also investigate the cultural myths of the dialogue between science and literature. The case of Russia and Eastern Europe is particularly generative for examining imperial knowledge production and circulation. Russia’s self-positioning as both an imperial center of knowledge production and a peripheral recipient of “Western science” affected the status of scientific knowledge both in Russia and in the rest of the region. We are interested in examining Russia’s imperialist, colonialist, and autocratic systems of knowledge, as established and sustained by its literary tradition. What nationalist myths did the consistent engagement with literature and science engender? How was imperialist knowledge generated and disseminated in the region via its literary outlets? What colonial frameworks and tropes emerged in literature and culture as a result of Russia’s interest in and anxiety about its epistemic dominance? How did indigenous scientists and writers of the region engage with and challenge the predominant narratives of knowledge dissemination?
This conference aims to establish a sustained conversation about literature and science in Slavic studies and to facilitate a cross-disciplinary dialogue.
Conference location is TBD.
Panel 1. The Empire of Science and the Self (9 am – 10:20 am)
Discussant: Valeriia Mutc (Yale University, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures)
Greta Matzner-Gore (University of Southern California) – “The Geography of Dead Souls”
Melissa Miller (Colby College) – “Lesya Ukrainka’s Scientific Prose”
Panel 2. Fin-de-Siècle Vitality (10:30 – 12:00 pm)
Discussant: Sergei Antonov (Yale University, Department of History)
Matthew Mangold (George Mason University) – “Psychosomatic Illness and Narrative Medicine in Chekhov’s Writing”
Julia Vaingurt (University of Illinois Chicago) – “Grafting Gender: Inoculation, Incorporation, and Immunity in Russian Modernism”
Panel 3. Illuminations of the Mind (2:00pm – 3:20 pm)
Discussant: Jinyi Chu (Yale University, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures)
Polina Dimova (University of Denver) – “The Symbolist Science of Electricity: Ether, Light, and Electrons”
Alisa Ballard Lin (Ohio State University) – “Psychology and the Theater in the Soviet 1920s: Ideology, Consciousness, and the Actor”
Panel 4. Utopian Codes (3:30 pm – 5:00 pm)
Discussant: Doug Rogers (Yale University, Department of Anthropology)
Ana Hedberg Olenina (Arizona State University) – “Pavlovian Reflexology and Lamarckism in the Soviet Popular-Science Film Genre”
Alexey Golubev (University of Houston) – “The Literariness of Science Communication”