By Justin Balcor (PhD Student, Musicology)
On Thursday, September 17, as part of the 2020-2021 REEEC New Directions Lecture series, Dr. Korey Garibaldi and Dr. Emily Wang, both from the University of Notre Dame, presented a fascinating joint-lecture entitled “Interrogating the Declining Significance of Pushkin's Blackness: Henry James, Ivan Turgenev, and Literary Nationalism.”
Dr. Wang and Dr. Garibaldi discussed the importance of Alexander Pushkin’s racial heritage, both in Russia and abroad, by engaging with the work of Henry James and exploring his relationship with Ivan Turgenev. They problematized the ways in which Pushkin was racialized during his lifetime, de-racialized with the growing popularity of scientific racism in the late 19th century, and re-racialized in the late 20th century by pointing to how the lives and experiences of Pushkin and his heirs were used as models in the work of Henry James such as his rewriting of Pushkin’s “The Queen of Spades” and other works, as well as the ways in which the legacies of Pushkin, James, and Turgenev have been maintained and morphed over time.
Given that racial identity is a current topic of significant discussion, both scholarly and non-scholarly, this talk was particularly important because Dr. Wang and Dr. Garibaldi shined a light on the issue of racial ambiguity and the ways in which this ambiguity can work for, or against, an individual in different contexts through racial assigning and erasure. The fact that relatively few are aware of the African ancestry of important literary figures such as Alexander Pushkin and Alexandre Dumas, the latter being revealed to me in this talk, demonstrates the significant racial baggage tied to Blackness in the scope of White, European-dominated literature. Dr. Wang and Dr. Garibaldi’s presentation provided a unique perspective that brings attention to notions of how race can be assigned, removed, and reassigned depending on current narratives and affairs, especially in the context of Russian and Slavic studies.
Justin Balcor is a Ph.D. student in Musicology and FLAS Fellow at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His doctoral work focuses on musical instruments and national identity in the Republic of Georgia.