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Prof. Lilya Kaganovsky, Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory Distinguished Faculty Lecture, "Nine Days of One Year: Soviet 1960s Cinema and the Nuclear Catastrophe"

Event Type
Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory
Room 1090 Lincoln Hall, 702 S. Wright St., Urbana
Feb 3, 2020   4:30 pm  
Lilya Kaganovsky, Romano Professor of Slavic/CWL/Cinema and Media Studies, Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Free and open to the public.
Originating Calendar
School of Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics Calendar

Abstract: This presentation focuses on Soviet cinema of the 1960s and the question of memory (specifically, traumatic memory, the memory of the war) and its relationship to the generation that came after, the generation that did not live through Stalinism or the Second World War, but that nevertheless felt itself to be responsible for the events of the past. The new generation of filmmakers that came into prominence during the Thaw period (approximately, 1956-1967) addressed something that we might call, following Marianne Hirsch, “postmemory”: a working through of a trauma that was not their own, that “belonged” to the previous generation, but that nevertheless continued to haunt the present. Soviet sixties’ cinema, on the surface, appears at first to be located entirely in the present. Its most representative films are not “historical,” but rather depict daily life, seemingly caught up in the contemporaneity of the present. Indeed, the films are so “unsaturated” by history that they project a kind of anomie – a feeling that the characters live lives unconnected to the outside world, to history, or to the previous generation: “yes, we are cut off, and the link with the outside world is broken,” one character tells another in the 1967 film "July Rain".


Yet this very lack of historicism is itself a manifestation of trauma as something that works against closure, that does not allow comprehension and instead, interrupts or breaks down narrative. As Cathy Caruth has put it, “What causes trauma, then, is a shock that appears to work very much like a bodily threat but is in fact a break in the mind’s experience of time.” The films that are most clearly associated with the decade of the 1960s are all structured around loss, something that can never be recovered or repaired, a loss that has its origin in a history that, as Kaja Silverman has put it, “manifests itself in a traumatic and inassimilable guise.” This paper will focus on one of the few Soviet directors to address the question of atomic power and the threat of nuclear catastrophe, Mikhail Romm, who in the 1960s made two Thaw classics: the fictional "Nine Days of One Year" (1962) and the documentary "Ordinary Fascism" (1965). Specifically, I am interested in the relationship between WWII, the Holocaust, and nuclear catastrophe that Romm’s two films together attempt to articulate.

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