Written by Ani Abrahamyan, PhD student in Slavic & East European Languages and Cultures
Each semester the graduate students of the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures get the opportunity to invite a scholar for a guest lecture. As each student has a distinct academic research interest, the process of choosing the guest lecturer is rather challenging making it nearly impossible to invite someone who would “speak” to us all. This year, the students have unanimously chosen to invite Dr. Edyta Bojanowska—professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University—a scholar with an immense scope of research interests, some of which are 19th-century Russian literature and intellectual history, empire and nation in Russian culture, post-colonial studies, history of globalization, ideology, travel writing, journalism and serialization, intertextuality, reception studies, theories of the spatial turn, and Central European literatures.
Professor Bojanowska’s lecture titled “The Colonial World Through Russian Eyes: Africa and Asia in Goncharov’s The Frigate Pallada” took place on October 9, 2018 and drew a multitude of attendants. Based on her 2018 book A World of Empires: The Russian Voyage of the Frigate Pallada, the lecture explored Ivan Goncharov’s 1858 travelogue The Frigate Pallada, which was written during the warship’s expedition around the world. As Professor Bojanowska noted, travelogue is an “in-between” genre whose disjointed nature allows the critics to view it both as a historical document and a poetic text. The significance of Goncharov’s Frigate Pallada is manyfold, and while it is not a vastly-studied text today, it gained immense popularity among the audience of imperial Russia. Furthermore, it can be viewed as a type of “Imperial kaleidoscope” which attempts to order the disorder of a travel experience. Finally, for today’s scholars the text provides an opportunity to grasp Imperial Russia’s perception of itself, as well as of its position in the global arena.
Bojanowska underscored the significance of Goncharov’s language. Marked with artistic terminology, it suggests that he is a painter eagerly waiting to portray his own version of the foreign landscape. Such attitude, however, creates an illusion of perspective, as Goncharov evaluates the lands from a distance—even before he physically reaches them. Using Mary Louise Pratt’s “the monarch of all I survey” trope, Bojanowska elucidated Goncharov’s treatment of space, race, and gender by describing his encounters with Asian and African lands and peoples as marked by imperial gaze. In the course of the lecture, the audience’s attention was drawn toward Goncharov’s fascination from afar with the geological qualities and capacities of the distant lands, as if extracting the people from their natural habitat in order to focus on the landscape’s potential. The people who cultivated these lands (for example laborers of the terraced rice fields) were unnoticed by the author until he came in direct contact with them.
However, Goncharov’s encounters with the aborigines is evidently marked with resistance on the part of the latter towards Russian visitors. Mentioning instances of sly civility, noncompliance, and mimicry directed towards Goncharov by the objects of his study, the lecture highlighted the attempts of the natives to redefine the tone of discourse with Russians. Through a set of illuminating close readings, Professor Bojanowska guided the audience through the practice of reading against the grain, unveiling the anxiety that necessarily underlies colonial ambivalence.
More information on Professor Bojanowska’s book A World of Empires: The Russian Voyage of the Frigate Pallada can be found here: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674976405