Studying Russian Writers on How War Alters Aesthetic Experience
Dr. Angelina Lucento is a Research Fellow at HSE International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences. Her work focusses on art and war. In this interview with HSE English News she explains how family history brought her to research WWII and Russian culture and tells us why Moscow suits her so well for living and working as an international academic in her field.
— What is your background? Where are you from?
— I am from a small town in the southern part of the American state of West Virginia. Coal mining is still the main industry there. My father worked as a miner, and my mother worked with the local school administration.
After university, I studied the history of art and visual culture at Northwestern University, where I received my MA and Ph.D. degrees.
— Why did you decide to come to Moscow to study?
— Ten years ago, I came to Moscow to study Russian language and cultural history. I fell in love with the dynamism, excitement, and cultural opportunities that the city has to offer. New York is often called the city that never sleeps, but I would say that descriptor also applies to Moscow. I have lived in many other European cities, including Paris, and Moscow tops my list of favorite places in the world!
I came because it afforded me the opportunity to work with some of the world’s top researchers on the history of World War II and to access extremely significant and detailed research materials that are available only in Moscow
I was delighted to have the opportunity to join the Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences as a research fellow, and not just because it afforded me the opportunity to return to a city I love. I came because , more importantly, it afforded me the opportunity to work with some of the world’s top researchers on the history of World War II and to access extremely significant and detailed research materials that are available only in Moscow .
— Could you please share what is so exciting and attractive for you in studying history and especially history of World War II?
— The reason for my initial interest in the history of World War II is personal. My father served at the front during World War II. His experiences became integrated into our family’s history and experience. Since I was a child, I have wanted to gain a broader understanding of the social and cultural circumstances that preceded the war. Today this is the primary focus of my research, the cultural and intellectual history of the interwar and wartime periods. I am also equally fascinated by the ways, in which World War II altered world culture, and I plan to pursue future research projects related to that topic.
Being part of an international environment is great. My colleagues at the HSE all bring different perspectives to the table, which have developed out of different cultural traditions and experiences. This makes room for productive dialogue and leads to the formulation of rigorous questions
— What books have you been reading and consider worthy to recommend to others to read about consequences of World War II?
— I think the best books about the war offer the reader firsthand insight into the event. I would recommend two books that have been important for me during my research: Vasily Grossman’s A Writer at War and Nadezhda Udal’stova’s The Life of a Russian Cubist (“Zhizn’ russkoi kubistki”). As an historian of art and visual culture, part of my job is to study what the perspectives of visual artists and other cultural producers reveal about historical events. Udal’stova’s book contains her personal diaries, which span from her years as an avant-garde artist and professor at the Soviet art school VKhUTEMAS through World War II and its aftermath. Udal’tsova often writes about the consequences of war as she experienced it from 1914 through the second half of the twentieth century, and discusses how war alters aesthetic experience and the meaning of art. It is, in my view, a seminal document of twentieth century culture.
— How is life in an international environment going for you? What's difficult and what's exciting and rewarding?
— Being part of an international environment is great. My colleagues at the HSE all bring different perspectives to the table, which have developed out of different cultural traditions and experiences. This makes room for productive dialogue and leads to the formulation of rigorous questions . One challenge has been to develop and practice the vocabulary to discuss my research in Russian at the same level as I can in my native language. I look forward to perfecting these skills throughout the year.
— How did your family react when you told them you were going to Moscow?
— My family was a bit skeptical the first time I traveled to Russia, but the advent of social media, which allows me to post photographs from my everyday life instantly online, has put them at ease. Now some say they would like to visit Moscow during their next vacation!
— What are your further plans?
— This year I plan to finish my book manuscript about the aesthetics of realism in early Soviet art, and to continue to publish articles about art during war.
Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News Service
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