Confessing to Leviathan: The mass practice of writing autobiographies in the USSR
Yury Zaretskiy’s article examines the mass practice of composing formal autobiographies by Soviet citizens. The major part of the study covers the period from the 1950s to the 1980s when the Soviet records management protocol requested this type of document from individuals belonging to different social groups and of different occupations. Yury Zaretskiy reviews the concrete social circumstances in which the narrative structure of formal autobiographies was fashioned before moving on to argue that their final addressee was the Soviet state, that their content changed in line with political and ideological changes in the USSR, that the practice of writing them had much in common with Christian confession, and that the spread of this practice among millions of people functioned as a mechanism of subjectification aimed at “making them Soviet.”
The article discusses research perspectives in the study of Russian pre-modern first-person writings that are commonly called autobiographies. Its first part starts with definitions of what is “early Russian” and “autobiographical,” briefly introduces six texts, gives a condensed review of the approaches to the study of these texts by literary and cultural historians from 1950s to present, and concludes with suggestion of some new perspectives to their analysis. The article argues that re-questioning of early Russian autobiographical writings is prompted by some recent important changes in the humanities and social sciences and by some insights from historians and literary scholars that study first-person texts of the Western tradition. The second part of the article is a case-study that examines one autobiographical text, The Life (Zhitie) of monk Epifanii (? – 1682) and focuses on one topic: representation of the hero/author’s pain and healing. The analysis of this representation is conducted in relation to concrete social and political contexts of the text. The study concludes that contextualizing pre-modern first-person narratives as social activities embedded in historically specific reality helps in better understanding of their meanings.
The article discusses practices of overcoming critical life situations which reflect the duality of the social sphere. Structural limitations as external objective circumstances form a limited set of alternatives, however, an actor, given his (her) own motivation and supporting agents, is able to realize one of the possible scripts of overcoming the crisis. The specific nature of research into the practices of overcoming critical life situations, which are not readily available for everyday observation, predetermines the choice of the biographical (narrative) method as a research strategy focused on subjective interpretations of one's life past events.
This article discusses the legend of Saint Alexius from the perspective of the “discovery of the individual,” an issue that for many decades has been intensively debated by historians of European culture.
The article describes the structures of autobiographical narration in the novels and essays of the austrian writer E. Canetti.