Carnality and Eroticism in the History of Russian Literature: Toward a Genealogy of a Discourse of Silence

Alexei Lalo


The essay explores traditions of expressing the body and sexuality in Russian culture and literature. The main strategy that many authors used was that of silence ignoring (“keeping silent about”) the topic altogether. Alternatively, others have adhered to burlesques, in which an author presents carnality and eroticism in a deliberately ludicrous, grotesque way. The essay defines three historical determinants for the “strategy of silence” and the “strategy of burlesque” marking the history of Russia's literary representation. The first is a set of profound differences between Western and Russian medical science, sexology and psychopathology. The second is a divide in perceptions of sexuality between Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox traditions. The third is embodied in some of the earliest canonical representations of sexuality in literary history, including the Archpriest Avvakum’s Life (1682).

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ISSN 1920-0323