The authority of the text in Svetlana Aleksievich’s Secondhand Time

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Abstract

Amongst the most treated questions in Western research on the works of Svetlana Aleksievich is the question of the genre of Aleksievich’s prose works, followed closely by the question of the historical authenticity of her method of collecting oral information about the Soviet period of history from witnesses of that history. The questions treated, such as the problem of genre, aesthetic authenticity and the relationship of history and fiction, can be distilled into the question of the authority of the literary text. If the Nobel Prize for literature is awarded on the assumption that Aleksievich’s work is literature—and no one, including the author, has questioned that assumption—then it is justifiable to pose the question of the authority of the literary text as an aesthetic message—as literary truth—using the tools of literary analysis, not of historiography or sociology. In this essay, the claim that Secondhand Time [Vremia second hend] is a novel will be examined in the context of the narratological model of the literary text of Russian Formalism and Prague Structuralism and by applying the test of “artistic quality” (khudozhestvennost’), which validates the aesthetic value of texts of the literary canon. This examination will allow us to answer the question about what kind of text has been created using oral testimonies as material for a work of fiction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-32
Number of pages24
JournalStudies in East European Thought
Volume75
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Keywords

  • Homo sovieticus
  • Implied author/reader
  • Socialist realism
  • View of history
  • “Artistic quality” (khudozhestvennost’)

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