Russian Fairy Tales (RUSS 047/LITR 047R) -- Spring 2008 -- Swarthmore College

Lecture notes for April 23, 2008

Sibelan Forrester

Transitional Objects

The big annual Interpretation Theory lecture will be tomorrow at 4:30 (Science Center 101) – on Adorno’s take on Walter Benjamin: the interactions of aesthetics and philosophy. This course is affiliated with Interpretation Theory - let me know if you're interested in learning more.

The Russian section's annual talent show will be Thursday May 1 at 7:00 p.m. in Bond Hall – singing, poetry, fun snacks – come if you can, and if you want to prepare a little fairy tale skit that would be SUPER.

I'll have all the lecture notes on line here by the end of classes (or at least – by the end of reading period). Remember that the take-home final will be CLOSED BOOK. Does anyone need the handout for the 5-page “reading” paper?

A related question: what KINDS of questions would you find useful or relevant on the final exam? (3-hour take-home; I’ll bring sample questions in next week, once I’ve finalized the exam.)

Presentations: look on Blackboard in Week 13.

Cashdan and transitional objects: How does his analysis mesh with your personal experience? How can you handle an absent/disengaged/cruel parent using this set of ideas? How does an object compare to a live animal helper, or someone like Shmat Razum or Bulat the Brave, humanoid but not quite human?

Another thing to ponder in Vasilisa, whose story provides Cashdan’s shaping narrative: whose eyes glow in this story? The doll’s, from her mother – and the skull’s, from Baba Yaga. So is there after all a link between her mother and Yaga? (Who says “I know them” about her stepmother and stepsisters) The mother protects her gently via the doll, while Baba Yaga defends her fiercely via the skull. The glowing eyes: an object that sees back: a little bit like an icon, which works as a window into timeless space. Having it see you back may not always be an easy or comfortable thing. (Tell Galina’s story about her elkderlymother always dressing up to watch TV, which Galina connected with the habit of feeling seen by Russian icons.)

And what do you think of taking fairy tales out of their original cultural context: the moment when they were collected, or [if it’s the Grimms] edited, or [if it’s Perrault or the conteuses, or Pushkin] written? Do Cashdan’s observations about Vasilisa seem stretched to you, or in any way inappropriate to Russian traditional culture? Psychological/psychoanalytic approaches tend to assume that fairy tales do (re)present something universally human, a common cultural property. If tales are used as instruments to read and understand a person’s development or maladjustments, on the other hand, who cares whether they’re used culturally soundly? How does Cashdan's approach to the Russianness of Vasilisa work for you, now that you’ve read Ivanits, Tian-Shanskaya, etc.?

And a note for the future: don’t give your kid, or your friend’s kid, a white blanket or a white stuffed animal – they wear much worse if they become favorites!

Bazhov: can you read the malachite casket as a transitional object? Does this tale work for you as a fairytale? Why? How is it different from the stories we read for Monday (Gaidar and Shukshin)? What is NOT like a folktale or fairytale? What plot or other elements resonate with the Afanas'ev tales?

Pavel Bazhov was born in 1879 in the Urals, father was a worker. He got an educataion, taught school, then fought with the Red Army during theCivil War. So he was 60 whenhe wrote this story. In 1943 he won a Stalin Prize for the book The Malachite Casket (Малахитовая шкатулка). The story uses a stylized oral narrative, as if some local guy is telling it to friends who are familiar with all the local names and places, and who see St Petersburg as distant and alien.

Set in the era of serfdom (p. 206), but after St. Petersburg was built (founded 1703); frequent references to “the people” vs. the mine owners (proto-capitalists). The story was written in 1939 – what was going on in the Soviet Union then?


Return to the class syllabus

Proceed to the lecture notes for Friday, April 25, 2008.