Lydia Ginzburg’s Testimony From Inside the Leningrad Siege: An Unreconciled Memory, an Unwanted Heritage, and a Challenge for Today
Where: Columbia University
116th St. & Broadway
212-854-1754 Price: Free
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The idea of resistance, which is the theme of this course, leads us directly into the world of heroic masculine imagination. In the writing of the French poet and hero of la Résistance René Char, we see his fellow men and women who are strong like Greek gods and invite Liberty herself to sit down to take a meal together. Char’s tragic ethos of resistance also informs his poetics, especially the poet’s relation to the truth: ”Between the world of reality and myself, there is none of that dreary impenetrability any more.” (Hypnos, No. 188)
In her notes from the time of Stalin’s terror and the siege of Leningrad, Lydia Ginzburg describes situations and behaviors that hardly qualify as resistance in Char’s understanding. Her protagonist and alter ego is a subject deprived of any pathos of virility. Caught in the deadly grips of famine, he (in fact, she, but referring to herself in the masculine gender) is not strong at all and has no meals to share, not even with Liberty. Ginzburg’s testament comes precisely from the domain of ”dreary impenetrability”: dark, cold, and empty Leningrad, the city of death.
Ginzburg rejects the tragic attitude and refuses to dispel the ambiguity that arises from her analyses. She remains unreconciled to the post-war celebratory memorialization of the blockade as a collective deed of patriotic heroism. This resistance to posterior mythologization is what makes her testimony so challenging nowadays, and the legacy in general after the Soviet generations so difficult to appropriate.
Irina Sandomirskaja is a Professor in the School of Culture and Education and Centre for Baltic and East European Studies at Södertörn University, Sweden. She works on Soviet history and culture, language theory and philosophy, and critical theory and philosophy. Her books include Blokada v slove: ocherki kriticheskoi teorii i biopolitki iazyka, which was awarded the Andrei Bely Prize in 2013.