Charms of the Cynical Reason: Tricksters in Soviet and Post-Soviet Culture

Charms of the Cynical Reason: Tricksters in Soviet and Post-Soviet Culture


Mark Lipovetsky

Series: Cultural Revolutions: Russia in the Twentieth Century
ISBN: 9781934843451 (hardcover)
Pages: 300 pp.
Publication Date: December 2010

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The impetus for Charms of the Cynical Reason is the phenomenal and little-explored popularity of various tricksters flourishing in official and unofficial Soviet culture, as well as in the post-Soviet era. Mark Lipovetsky interprets this puzzling phenomenon through analysis of the most remarkable and fascinating literary and cinematic images of soviet and post-Soviet tricksters, including such “cultural idioms” as Ostap Bender, Buratino, Vasilii Tyorkin, Stierlitz, and others. Soviet tricksters present survival in a cynical, contradictory, and inadequate world, not as a necessity, but as a field for creativity, play, and freedom. Through an analysis of the representation of tricksters in Soviet and post-Soviet culture, Lipovetsky attempts to draw a virtual map of the soviet and post-Soviet cynical reason: to identify its symbols, discourses, and contradictions, and by these means its historical development from the 1920s to the 2000s.

Mark Lipovetsky is Professor of Russian Studies in the Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures and joint faculty member at the Comparative Literature Program at the University of Boulder. He is the author of Paralogies: The Transformations of (Post)Modern Discourse in Russian Culture of the 1920s-2000s (2008) and Charms of Cynical Reason: Tricksters in Soviet and Post-Soviet Culture (2010).

[A] thorough and original study. . .Throughout these analytical chapters, Lipovetsky. . . constructs an original new history of the creative intelligentsia in Soviet Russia, with whose recurrent identity crises he draws detailed links to the distinctive characteristics of the trickster.
— Seth Graham (UCL SSEES) in the Slavonic & East European Review Vol. 92, No. 2, April 2014
This rich study offers an alternative approach to traditional representations of Soviet/post-Soviet culture on a number of levels—artistic, literary, social, philosophical, psychological, and even economic—through a close investigation of the trickster myth and its transformations through a century of ‘cynical reason.’ Lipovetsky provides illuminating, thorough background on the trickster in world cultures and concentrates on the peculiar Russian manifestations of the archetype. He clearly and authoritatively outlines basic traits of the trickster, defines ‘cynical reason,’ and meticulously reads work in a variety of genres. . . . Lipovetsky’s convincing arguments support his general thesis as well as his individual analyses. Footnotes (rather than endnotes) and a good bibliography enhance the work and point to the depth and breadth of Lipovetsky’s knowledge. Highly recommended.
— C. A. Rydel, Grand Valley State University, in CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, November 2011
Mark Lipovetsky has produced a welcome addition to the growing area of scholarship examining performative discourses in Soviet and post-Soviet culture. . . . In this pioneering work Lipovestky fuses contemporary postmodern theory with a subtle and accessible discussion of literary and cinematic texts in which the trickster plays the central role. . . . This highly original study will be useful, not only for the literary, film, and cultural historians of Soviet and post-Soviet societies, but also for graduate and advanced undergraduate students.
— Alexander Porhkorov, College of William and Mary
By focusing on the figure of the trickster, Mark Lipovetsky develops a new language for talking about subjectivity and ideology in Soviet and post-Soviet literature. The trickster shows just how inadequate talk of accommodation and resistance is when approaching the discourse of power in modern Russia. It turns out that the famously dualistic Russian culture has plenty of ways to go beyond “either/or,” and the trickster knows them all. Fortunately for us, Lipovetsky knows them as well.
— Eliot Bornstein, Professor of Russian & Slavic Studies at NYU, and the author of Men without Women: Masculinity and Revolution in Russian Fiction, 1917-1929 and Overkill: Sex and Violence in Contemporary Russian Popular Culture
Mark Lipovetsky’s work makes a critical intervention in the study of Soviet and post-Soviet Russian culture. Recent scholarship has made great strides in overcoming the binary categories that once characterized accounts of Soviet society—in most different ways—in both the USSR and the West: official vs. unofficial, conformist vs. dissident, socialist bloc vs. the capitalist West, etc. As works in history, anthropology and sociology have begun to show, life in the Soviet Union was painted in shades of grey, admitting a huge range of economic behaviors, social interactions, and political values located “between and betwixt.” With this book, in one brilliant stroke, Lipovetsky has brought home these insights with regard to the study of Soviet literature and culture. The figure of the trickster, which Lipovetsky finds across an enormous range of important, canonical and beloved works, was at once the embodiment of socialist values and a subversive, concretizing the special forms of identity and social skills required for survival in the Soviet Union. This study shows us in a new manner what was distinctive about Soviet social and cultural history and in what ways it should be seen as a variety of the common story of modernity. Further, it explores how the cultural life of present-day Russia has inherited these structures and patterns. Lipovetsky’s erudition is vast, his critical acumen is impressive, and his writing is superbly nuanced and exciting. In short, this is a remarkable addition to scholarship.
— Kevin Platt, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at University of Pennsylvania, and author of History in a Grotesque Key: Russian Literature and the Idea of Revolution