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Petrified Utopia

Petrified Utopia

Marina Balina | Evgeny Dobrenko


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Taken together, these essays redefine the preconceived notion of Soviet happiness as the product of official ideology imposed from above and expressed predominantly through collective experience, and provide evidence that the formation of the concept of individual happiness was not contained by the limitations of important state projects, controlled by state policies and aimed toward the creation of a new society.

‘[The volume] focuses on one of the key notions of the Soviet utopian ideal – the pursuit of happiness... the editors and contributors attempt to present a nuanced approach to the concept of happiness by considering the dissonance between ideological influences and everyday, individual practices... The collection’s breadth of methodologies and objects of study, as well as its erudite and thoroughly researched chapters make “Petrified Utopia” and invaluable contribution to the field of Slavic Studies’ —Olga Mesropova, Iowa State University, ‘The Russian Review’

‘…the collection is a good one, certain to interest scholars of Soviet history and culture.’ —S. M. Norris, Department of History, Miami University, in ‘Slavonic and East European Review’

'This illuminating book explores the concept of happiness in Soviet culture, as manifested in a number of key topics, ranging from literature, art, architecture, and film to advertising, cookery books, and textiles… The analysis throughout is underpinned and enriched by careful attention to detail and, wherever appropriate, the use of personal testimony. The black-and-white illustrations may evoke in many a nostalgia for a paradoxical era that blighted many lives, but that also testified to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of often overwhelming adversity.' —Roger Cockrell, University of Exeter, in ‘Modern Language Review’

‘One of the unquestionable achievements of “Petrified Utopia” is its multi-dimensional depiction of the concept of Soviet happiness. The illustrations that the volume has add an important dimension to the statements made in written texts. […] The book should be recommended to all readers whose interests lie in the discovery of everyday culture in the Soviet Union from the 1920s through to the 1960s.’ —Anja Tippner, Osteuropa [trans]

‘Makes an original contribution to our discipline, and several chapters will be of lasting interest to scholars of twentieth-century cultural history.’ —Polly Jones, University College London, in ‘Slavonica’

Marina Balina is Isaac Funk Professor of Russian Studies at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Evgeny Dobrenko is Professor of Russian Studies at Sheffield University.

‘Lively and timely […] the volume makes an original contribution to our discipline’ —Polly Jones, ‘Slavonica’

‘This volume is an invaluable collection of excellent scholarship […] the chapters yield stunning insights into discursive claims of Soviet public and private happiness in circumstances least amenable to its flourishing: amidst poverty and homelessness, domestic shortages, postwar devastation, and routinized, mandatory celebration. The research usefully problematizes the inextricability of state celebration from private joy, labor from happiness, staged gaiety from unexpected contentment. The chapters are richly supported by thirty-six illustrations.’ —Nancy Condee, University of Pittsburgh, in ‘Slavic Review’

The pursuit of collective happiness was considered a utopian ideal that structured many aspects of Soviet culture, a fact recognized by numerous scholars in various disciplines ranging from cultural and literary studies to sociology and political science. Several groundbreaking studies in the literary and cultural history of the former Soviet Union have changed our understanding of the Soviet past. However, none of these studies has paid attention to an important theme in the cultural history of Soviet society – the pursuit of happiness. Although specialists in Soviet culture repeatedly invoke various manifestations of happiness in works of literature and film in their research, it has yet to be investigated as the subject of a full-fledged independent study.

‘Petrified Utopia’ redresses this inexplicable omission. This collection of essays introduces the Western reader to the most representative ideas of happiness, and the common practices of its pursuit that shaped Soviet everyday life and cultural discourse from the early post-revolutionary years to the later period of Stalinist and post-Stalinist culture. The collection presents different manifestations of happiness in literature and visual culture – from children’s literature to the official and high literary cannon, from architecture to fine arts, from postcards to cookbooks, and from the culture of consumerism to product-paradise in Soviet posters. ‘Petrified Utopia’ features articles by the leading specialists in the study of Soviet culture from the UK, the US, Germany and Italy, and addresses the perplexing lack of scholarship on this important issue.