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“Trickster” does not simply mean “deceiver” or “rogue,” but rather “creative idiot” or “sacred clown.” The trickster is a typical comic protagonist, yet in Soviet and post-Soviet culture tricksters play a particular role that transcends the traditional picaro / rogue routine. Soviet tricksters exemplified by Ostap Bender became true superstars of the Soviet civilization (in its official and non-official realms alike), serving as the cultural justification for dangerous, non-heroic and cynical survival, by elevating it through their virtuoso performances to a level of joyful, cheeky and, most importantly, free play. How does freedom correlate with cynicism? Can cynicism serve as a vehicle for freedom? And what happens with the idea of freedom when it becomes inseparable from cynicism? These questions shed light on the vitality of the Soviet cultural legacy and its influence upon the post-Soviet one.
Born and educated in the former USSR, Mark Lipovetsky has lived and worked in the US since 1996. His research interests include post-Soviet culture, Russian postmodernism, post-Soviet drama, late Soviet nonconformist culture, among others. He is the editor of a 5-volume collection of works by Dmitry Prigov, whose critical biography he is now writing. Lipovetsky’s own works have been were nominated for Russian Little Booker Prize (1997) and short-listed for the Andrey Bely Prize (2008). In 2014, he received an award of the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (AATSEEL) for outstanding contribution to scholarship. A world-leading scholar of contemporary Russian literature and a literary critic, this year Mark Lipovetsky joined the faculty of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Columbia.