Urban Culture Reading List

27.10.2011, 14:44
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Many readers might wonder what books one should read to be more aware of the different topics addressed during each theme’s introduction week. In addition to the many lectures and discussions, every week the students are also given a special Student Reader. This reader compiles texts that provide theoretic background of a theme to help in the future research. Here is a brief overview of what the students are reading in order to understand this subject.

The Urban Culture reader includes several texts that look at Russia from different points of view. Opening with two texts: The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant-garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship, and Beyond by Boris Groys and Architecture in the Age of Stalin: Culture Two by Vladimir Paperny – the reader introduces two different perspectives on Stalinist culture.

The text by Boris Groys explains the evolution of Stalinist art and puts forward the view that socialist realism was a phenomenon. After the October revolution of 1917 the Communist Party leadership was transformed into a kind of artist whose material became the entire world. The Stalinistic urge to unite and create a harmonious society, a society that is meant to be beautiful, was ideologically based on the same principles as the avant-garde thinking, even more so, the social realism was a continuation of this thinking. Groys argues that socialist realism was a holistic multimedia performance, an absolute state of the art capable of devouring and integrating the audience into itself.

Vladimir Paperny on the other hand delivers a different perception of the Stalinist culture. By analyzing the Russian culture through a system of binary oppositions, Paperny comes to the conclusion that the whole Russian history could be defined in two alternating trends: the more free and «horizontal» periods, Culture One, and the more «vertical», power-driven Culture Two. These two trends are then depicted by the examples of avant-garde and Stalinist architecture, trying to understand this period of transition and its reflection in life, culture and art.

John Kampfner in his book Freedom for Sale looks at how the main ideological divides of the twentieth century — democratic liberalism and authoritarianism — are linked to the definitions of freedom and capitalism. In the modern world, the emerging middle classes show that they are willing to sacrifice elements of democracy in exchange for prosperity. The idea that capitalism and democracy are inevitably linked has been disproved by countries like Russia, India and China; they showed a different level of choice. Kampfner claims that now the attributes of authoritarianism are beginning to also be seen in the Western world.


More on the subject can be read in these essays and books:

S. Zizek, C. Douzinas. The Idea of Communism

P. Sloterdijk. Rage and Time: A Psychopolitical Investigation

M. Weber. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

M. Leonard. What Does China Think?

M. Dehaene, L. de Cauter. Heterotopia and the City: Public Space in a Post-Civil Society

Photo of the Day: Moscow State University 28.10

Yesterday the students enjoyed a trip to Moscow State University and its campus.