The currency of representation: money and literature in Russia, 1917-1935



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This dissertation examines the significance of money in literature and culture in the two decades following the 1917 Russian Revolution. Specifically, it considers monetary instability of this period together with the widespread questioning of structures of representation in Russia at the time. The dissertation argues that money operated in early Soviet literature and culture as a figure through which to explore changing structures of meaning—to examine signs, texts, and subjects during an era in which the nature of ll three were rapidly changing. The first chapter focuses on economic policy papers and literary engagements with money during the years 1917-23. The chapter argues that the repercussions of money’s constantly shifting, and often contradictory, status in these early post- Revolutionary years reached far beyond the economic realm, to effect structures of representation and thus understandings of selfhood as well. This development will be traced through close readings of two stories of the early 1920s, Mikhail Bulgakov’s Diaboliad and Isaak Babel’s “Guy de Maupassant.” The second chapter focuses on the years 1922-24 and examines the simultaneous concern in Russia during these years with literary realism, linguistic transparency, and the fixing of monetary value through the adoption of a gold standard. By examining the economic policies of the Finance Minister Grigorii Sokol’nikov together with the tropes of money in the work of Milkhail Zoshchenko and Vladimir Maiakovskii, the chapter argues that these texts’ developing doubts about the legitimacy of realistic representation are inseparable from questions about the relationship of abstract sign and material “guarantee” raised by the new monetary system’s promised but not realized convertibility of paper money into real gold. The third chapter concentrates on the attempt, following 1928, to reformulate the content of money in the Soviet Union in the face of realizations that its form would inevitably mimic that operative in capitalist states. In addition to economic arguments of Evgenii Preobrazhenskii and Genrikh Kozlov, the chapter examines the contested division of money between form and content in literary works including Nikolai Liashko’s “Rubles,” Il’ia Il’f and Evgenii Petrov’s The Golden Calf, and Veniamin Kaverin’s Fulfillment of Desires.