In his 2011 study Internal Colonization: Russia’s Imperial Experience, Alexander Etkind characterized Russian literature as “an extremely successful instrument of cultural hegemony” that “conquered more Russians, non-Russians, and Russian enemies than any other imperial endeavor.” My paper seeks to illuminate—and complicate—this notion of Russian literature’s “conquest” in Central Asia by examining the process by which the nineteenth-century poet Abai Qunanbaiuly (1845–1904) came to be known as the father of modern Kazakh literature. Much of Abai’s reputation owes its existence to the writer and literary scholar Mukhtar Auezov (1897-1961), whose Stalin-era biographical writings on the poet formed the standard narrative of his life and work. Auezov’s literary canonization of Abai hinges on the poet’s acquisition of the Russian language and his transformative encounters with Russian-language texts. In analyzing this prominent episode of the Abai legend, I argue that Russian literature’s “conquest” in Central Asia was in fact a multifaceted dialogue, in which writers laid the foundation for distinct, national literary traditions in part by appropriating and "disorienting" the literature of their Russian colonizers.
Questions? Contact Samantha Taibi at 520-621-2010 or firstname.lastname@example.org