March 23, 2023 | 17:00 Lecture
University of Amsterdam | BG 3 | Binnengasthuisstraat 9 1012 ZA Amsterdam

Eastsplainers #4: Literature

As the Russian war in Ukraine and imperialist Kremlin rhetoric continues to disturb world media, Eastsplainers offers a counterweight to 'westsplaining' – the habit of looking at developments in Central and Eastern Europe through Western lenses. In this public lecture series, we listen to intellectuals and artists who fled from the Russian war in Ukraine or who fled or migrated from Łódź, Minsk, and Moscow, among other places, to the Netherlands.
Historical Soviet Plastic depicts a soldierly, heroic scene. The flag is painted over in Ukrainian colors.

In this lecture, Russian writer Maxim Osipov shares his sober take on the Russian war in Ukraine, migration, and on the question: what does it mean to be a Russian writer in times of full-blown Russian imperialism?

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‘Cain, where is Abel your brother?’ These words were written on a sign that the Russian writer Maxim Osipov upheld during a small-scale anti-war protest in his hometown Tarusa, directly following the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. Not long after, Osipov left his country.

Shame, self-hatred: these are the words with which he typifies the first days after the invasion. In this lecture, Osipov reflects on migration, guilt, and the difficult question: what can literary writing (not) do in times of war? Assistant professor of modern German and Russian culture Dorine Schellens and senior lecturer of Russian Literature Otto Boele (both University of Leiden) join Osipov as, respectively, moderator and discussant.

Maxim Osipov

Maxim Osipov

Maxim Osipov is a Russian writer and cardiologist. In the early 1990s, he was a research fellow at the University of California, San Francisco, before returning to Moscow, where he founded a publishing house that specialized in medical, musical, and theological texts. In 2005, while working at a local hospital in Tarusa, a small town ninety miles from Moscow, Osipov established a charitable foundation to ensure the hospital’s survival. Since 2007, he has published short stories, novellas, essays, and plays, and has won a number of literary prizes for his fiction. Osipov’s writings have been translated into more than a dozen languages. He lived in Tarusa up until February 2022, when he left Russia. Now, he lives in Amsterdam and teaches Russian literature at Leiden University.

Dorine Schellens

Dorine Schellens

Dorine Schellens is an assistant professor of modern German and Russian culture and literature at Leiden University. Her research focuses on the interaction between Russian and German cultural history of the late 20th and 21st centuries. In her book Kanonbildung im transkulturellen Netzwerk (Transcript 2021) she wrote about the reception history of the Moscow Conceptualist movement, an underground art movement that emerged in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and became enormously popular in Germany, in particular after the Wende. She also publishes on contemporary Russian protest art and literature.

Otto Boele

Otto Boele

Otto Boele is a senior lecturer of Russian literature at the University of Leiden. He is the author of The North in Russian Romantic Literature (1996) and Erotic Nihilism in Late Imperial RussiaThe Case of Mikhail Artsybashev’s “Sanin” (2009). He is co-editor of the collection Post-Soviet NostalgiaConfronting the Empire’s Legacies (2019), as well as of the online journal In 2022, he released a podcast series called “Scandals and Controversies in Russian literature” (in Dutch). Currently he is teaching and working on the cultural memory of the 1990s in literature and film.

Lecture series

Which contemporary cultural and intellectual trends do they witness in various parts of Central & Eastern Europe today? And how can knowledge about these trends help us understand Europe better? We study these questions with two important caveats in mind. One: the unlawful Russian regime somehow affects artists, scholars, and thinkers across all of Central & Eastern Europe – but we shun equalisations of other localities with Ukraine, where a full-fledged Russian war creates acute and mass-scale suffering. Second: rather than amplifying views on various Central & Eastern European locations as a monolithic European ‘East,’ Eastsplainers aims to unsettle these views. These locations may have connected histories – but our lectures and discussions show that they merit independent study and careful attention to local dynamics.

In a series of public lectures, staff members of the universities of Amsterdam and Leiden interview and introduce scholars, journalists, artists, film makers, musicians, and other cultural and academic professionals. They enter into conversations with each other and the audience, and they showcase new music, films, and literary works.

Apart from solidifying public education about Central & Eastern Europe, the series is meant as a space to jointly halt and digest the ongoing disturbing news about the Russian war in Ukraine. The series is also aimed to consolidate diasporic networks and offer financial support to artists and intellectuals in need. Eastsplainers is an initiative of prof. dr. Ellen Rutten, co-organised by Mari Janssen and Suzanne Rademaker and is set up with support from the University of New Europe, Middle- and Eastern-European studies publisher Pegasus and the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis.

The lectures take place from 17:00 to 18:30 in VOX-POP, the creative space of the UvA’s Faculty of Humanities.