This fall, from September 24 to September 30, there was a conference at Mikhailovskoe on Pushkin and Shakespeare. It was sponsored by St. Petersburg University and the group Piligrim.
The conference announcement suggested various intriguing panel titles, including: “History in Literature,” “Drama: the Problem of Genre,” “Lyricism in Drama,” “The ‘Russian Shakespeare’ and ‘English Pushkin’: Problems of Translation and Reception,” “Problems in Studying and Teaching the Classics,” “Mass Culture as a Form of Commentary on Classical Texts,” “Pushkin and Shakespeare: Theatrical Interpretations.” Because of what I saw as the larger focus of the conference on issues of canon, reception theory and teaching the classics to a broader audience, I did not give part of my research on Pushkin and Shakespeare but instead wrote up notes I had made for a course I taught last year, “Shakespeare on Film.” This turned out to have been an unnecessary consideration on my part, since the other participants spoke mainly on familiar scholarly issues of close readings, philosophy of history, etc. In a sense this was disappointing because the issues of canon, of “accessibility” and indeed relevance of the classics are such burning topics in US academic discussions these days. Yet on the other hand, the fact that Russian academics, like European academics, are still deliciously research-driven, respected, and untroubled by such identity crises, was of course refreshing and encouraging.
This conference was co-sponsored by the Departments of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures and Comparative Literature. Devoted to the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Russia’s national poet Alexander Pushkin, it focused on global aspects of Pushkin’s legacy, such as his African ancestry, his reception in Non-European countries, and his relation to the colonialized minorities of the Russian Empire.