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SLAVIC 61N: Literature at War

Meet the Instructor | General Education Requirement

Course Description

Why have verbal artists since Homer been fascinated with armed conflict and destruction? In the early 1990s, two self-consciously multinational and multicultural socialist states, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, broke apart. Soon, people who had lived in countries that proclaimed slogans like “friendship of the peoples” and “brotherhood and unity” were fighting wars with one another, incited by militant nationalism and dreams of conquest. Writers played an important role in these conflicts, usually not as frontline combatants (though it was a former poet who led the genocide in Bosnia), but rather because literature was called upon to explain the failures of the past and disasters of the present, to build up national identities that were newly autonomous yet under attack, or even to recreate a sense of multinational solidarity.

In this class, we will read literature connected to two wars in which smaller states have faced the violent designs of their more powerful neighbors: the invasion of Bosnia by Serbia (and Croatia) in the mid-1990s, and the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Readings will include works by Miljenko Jergović, Dubravka Ugrešić, Saša Stanišić, Serhiy Zhadan, and Andrey Kurkov, in English translation. We will read these authors' novels, stories, poems, and essays and respond to them with writing of our own: students will write short critical essays and try out some more creative responses to the readings as well. We will also take trips to the East Bay to collaborate with students at UC Berkeley, and hear directly from people—possibly even writers—who were or are connected to these conflicts.

General Education Requirement

Meet the Instructor

Dominick Lawton

Dominick Lawton

"Hello and welcome to Stanford! I am an assistant professor in the department of Slavic languages and literatures. I study the literature and culture of the Russian-speaking and Bosnian/Croatian/Montenegrin/Serbian-speaking worlds. In particular, I focus on the 20th century cultures of the Soviet Union and of socialist Yugoslavia, and the 21st century countries which replaced them. Though originally from Australia, I grew up in a city with a large Bosnian immigrant community displaced by the post-Yugoslav wars of the 1990s (St. Louis, Missouri), which first got me interested in what life was like in East Europe. When I took a class on early Soviet cinema as a college student, I was hooked by how powerful and different the movies were from anything I’d seen before. From there, I moved on to Russian literature, and never looked back. I look forward to exploring some of the most gripping recent works of Ukrainian and ex-Yugoslav literature with you all."