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Russian Literature


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The present article examines Andrei Bitov’s Lessons of Armenia (Uroki Аrmenii) and A Georgian Album (Gruzinskii al’bom) as examples of subversive late-Soviet travel writing. While some scholars have noted imperialist tendencies in the two travelogues, I argue that Bitov effectively challenges the colonial perspective. Besides considering the Soviet state’s push for travel writing and tourism while Bitov was writing his texts, the article uses Mary Louise Pratt’s deconstruction of colonialist travel writing as a theoretical framework. Adapting and extending her work, I examine how Bitov consistently deploys and subverts three key devices: mastery of the seen/scene, cultural-translational ability, and narratorial agency. Written under the guise of komandirovka travelogues, Bitov’s Lessons and Albumreveal the artifice of their construction. First, they run counter to the primary objective of travelogues of the era, when authors were tasked with documenting the satellite republics and fortifying the state’s hold over them through their narratives and propaganda. By exposing his own insecurities about wielding agency over his story, Bitov suggests a systemic problem in the Soviet attitude. Second, in yielding to his hosts and his literary predecessors in the Caucasus, Bitov acknowledges the bounds of his efforts to assert control over a foreign or colonial space.