“A cousinly resemblance” : negotiating identity in literature of Russia and the U.S. South



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Following Carson McCullers’ 1941 declaration that “there is surely a cousinly resemblance” between Russian literature and literature of the U.S. South, this dissertation examines that affinity, revealing that understandings of identity in both Russia and the U.S. South have been shaped by their historic marginalization by the dominant cultural centers of Europe and the U.S. North, respectively. This oppositional definition of identity, which has labeled Russians and southerners as inferior “others” against which those in the cultural centers define themselves, has led to a cultural hybridity that wavers between allegiance to a conservative, defensive self-definition of superiority to the dominant culture and a more cosmopolitan identity that seeks to integrate fully with a multicultural and multinational global culture.

Scholarly dialogue surrounding issues of regional and national identity, from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s conception of “minor literature” to Homi Bhabha’s understanding of “minority discourse” to Edward Said’s ruminations on exile and postcolonial identity, inform my study of Russian and southern identity. Through a comparative analysis grounded in literary-historical and cultural studies, I examine literary texts by three Russian writers and three writers from the U.S. South, spanning more than a one hundred year period from 1842 to 1955. Attending closely to works by Andrei Platonov, Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoevsky, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Carson McCullers, this dissertation seeks to answer questions of authority and authenticity regarding the stories of Russia and the U.S. South. By insisting on a reevaluation of traditional accounts of regional or national narratives, the authors considered here demand to know who or what gets to belong to these narratives, and by whose standards.