At Play: The Construction of Adulthood and Authorial Identity in Russian Children’s Literature (1990-2010)
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This thesis presents an analysis of texts written for a child audience in Russia between 1990 and 2010 and characterized by humorous inversions of common sense, a tendency for jokes, puns and a cheerful narrative tone. These narrative features are associated with the concepts of playfulness and play. This thesis argues that, by addressing the implied child reader of the post-perestroika period in a playful mode, children’s authors tried to cope with profound social and cultural transformations which challenged their identities as adults and intellectuals. The new individual responsibilities concerning the upbringing and the education of children, on the one hand, and the crisis of written culture and of the intellectual as sources of moral guidance, on the other, occurred at the same time as the general structures of trust were collapsing in Russian society. The thesis argues that playfulness allowed children’s authors to explore their own identity, and even to express their own fears and doubts as providers of upbringing and education. At the same time, playfulness was a way to involve the child of the post-perestroika period in an attempt to re-construct culture, an attempt which required a strong pedagogical agency. Divided between the wish to guide younger generations and the need to re-define their own selves, children’s authors found in playfulness a field where these contradictory drives could be negotiated and their authorial personae could be re-worked. In the so-called post-post-Soviet period, which followed the election of Vladimir Putin as President of Russia, playful children’s literature is still engaged in this exploration of the adult self and of the possibility of providing guidance through literature. This exploration is further challenged by a generational gap separating adults with a Soviet background from children. The first chapter establishes the theoretical grounds and methods which inform the thesis, while chapter two provides a historical overview of the way in which play and playfulness, both as cultural phenomena and as concepts, intertwined with specific conceptualizations of childhood in Russian and Soviet children’s literature until perestroika. The last two chapters are devoted to the analysis of texts, and mostly focus on works by children’s authors Grigorii Oster, Artur Givargizov and Natal’ia Nusinova which appeared in the years 1990–2010.
PhD in Russian