The Materiality of Language and Body in Vladimir Sorokin's Twentieth-Century Works

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Pavlidi, Katerina 

This dissertation explores the relationship between language and the body in the literary works of the Russian author Vladimir Sorokin (b. 1955) produced during the late Soviet period and the 1990s. It compares Sorokin’s twentieth-century works with contemporaneous texts and performances by poets, artists and performance groups of Moscow Conceptualist circles in which Sorokin participated actively from the beginning of his career to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This dissertation demonstrates that language and the body in Sorokin’s works form an affective relationship, which is grounded in the materiality of language, on the one hand, and in the body of producers (i.e., speakers or writers) and consumers (i.e., readers, listeners or viewers), on the other. The corporeality of the producers’ and consumers’ bodies — that is their psychosomatic states, registered on the level of their feelings and sensations — affects and is affected by the visual and aural properties of language. What enables this affective relationship is the shared materiality of both language and the body. Overall, Sorokin’s twentieth-century works conceptualise the affective relationship between language and the body as that which generates reality itself.

By tracing the evolution in the representation of this relationship across Sorokin’s twentieth-century works, this dissertation calibrates his contribution to the artistic production of Moscow Conceptualist circles. The investigation of the relationship between language and the body in Sorokin’s works opens the possibility for reconstructing how Moscow Conceptualists viewed the role of the body in the process of interpretation and sense-making, the construction of knowledge and identity, and the production and reception of art. Furthermore, this dissertation demonstrates that the affective nature of this relationship, as presented in the works by Sorokin and other Conceptualists, is grounded in historical and cultural genealogies that go back to the modernist art of Russian Avant-garde movements and Socialist Realism. By identifying a continuity between themes and aesthetic devices used in Sorokin’s works, on the one hand, and in representative works of those artistic movements, on the other, this dissertation makes a contribution to the study of Russian postmodernism, and particularly, to its relation to Russian modernism. Sorokin’s twentieth-century works can serve as a postmodernist lens to look back on these movements in relation rather than in contrast to each other on the grounds of their mutual aesthetics of affect.

Reich, Rebecca
affect, body, language, Late Soviet culture, materiality, Moscow Conceptualism, Post-Soviet culture, Russian literature, Russian postmodernism, Vladimir Sorokin
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
AHRC (2132099)
Centre for Doctoral Training in Russian, Slavonic & East European Languages and Culture (CEELBAS)