Ilya Vinitsky

Professor, Director of Graduate Studies
Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures
Phone: 
609-258-1729
Email Address: 
vinitsky@princeton.edu
Office Location: 
241 East Pyne

Profile: 

My main fields of expertise are Russian Romanticism and Realism, the history of emotions, and nineteenth- century intellectual and spiritual history. In terms of Sir Isaiah Berlin’s playful typology of authors as either hedgehogs or foxes, I view myself as a fox. As the list of my works shows I am interested in a range of different authors, periods, and approaches to the text. I also try out different scholarly forms, from the positivistic academic commentary to the scholarly essay and parody. However, my general approach to literature is by no means eclectic. My overarching principle is a focus on a literary text or a group of texts as the intersection and interplay of various cultural and historical forces – ideology, politics, psychology, law, etc.

My most recent book is the “emotional biography” of Vasily Zhukovsky (1783-1852)—the father of Russian Romanticism, who influenced several generations of Russian authors from Pushkin to Vladimir Solov'ev and Aleksandr Blok. My newest and most personal book, The Count of Sardinia: Dmitry Khvostov and Russian Culture (Moscow: New Literary Observer, 2016) investigates the phenomenon of anti-poetry in Russian literary tradition from the 18th through the 21st century and focuses on the extraordinary literary biography and cultural function of the king of Russian bad poets, Count Dmitry Ivanovich Khvostov (1757-1835). In this book, I argue that Khvostov’s phenomenon (the worst of all Russian writers, Russia’s anti-Pushkin) reveals the uniqueness of Russian poetry-centric culture.

Current Project: 

I am currently working on two book projects. The first one deals with a comprehensive study of political and literary activities of Ivan Narodny (Jaan Siboul), a Russian-Estonian expat writer, art critic, and con-man, who lived in America from 1906 until his death in 1953 and was labeled by FBI as “the worst fraud that ever came out of Russia.” I consider Narodny’s trans-cultural personality as a parodic embodiment of a universal Russianness in the eyes of the American public of the first half of the 20th century. The second project focuses on Russian monumental works and creative delusions of the long Age of Realism (1840-1890s) and its provisional title is Russian Culture as Heroic Action: 1840-1890s.

Courses Taught: 

Prior to coming to Princeton, I taught a variety of classes at the University of Pennsylvania, including honor students’ courses on Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Russian thinkers, and criminals and justice in literature. I also taught undergraduate courses on Russia and the West, madness in Russian cultural history, as well as graduate seminars on Russian realism in European context, western mysticism and Russian culture, Russian realism, and Russian emotional history. I regard my UPenn School of Arts and Sciences Ira Abrams Award for Distinguished Teaching (2010) as the most precious prize in my academic career.

  • SLA 219 - The Great Russian Novel
  • SLA 415 - Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace: Writing as Fighting
  • SLA 510 - History of Emotions: Russia and the West
  • SLA 531 - Haunted House: Russian Literature in the Age of Realism

Authored Books: 

book cover
Vasily Zhukovsky's Romanticism and the Emotional History of Russia

Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2015

The first major study in English of Vasily Zhukovsky (1783–1852)—poet, transla­tor of German romantic verse, and mentor of Pushkin—this book brings overdue attention to an important figure in Russian literary and cultural history. Vinitsky’s “emotional biography” argues that Zhukovsky very consciously set out to create for himself an emotional life reflecting his unique brand of romanticism, different from what we associate with Pushkin or poets such as Byron or Wordsworth. For Zhukovsky, ideal love was harmonious, built on a mystical foundation of spiritual kinship. Vinitsky shows how Zhukovksy played a pivotal role in the evolution of ideas central to Russia’s literary and cultural identity from the end of the eighteenth century into the decades following the Napoleonic Wars.

book cover art
COUNT OF SARDINIA: DMITRII KHVOSTOV AND RUSSIAN CULTURE

Winner of 2018
Marc
Raeff Book Prize

"In this study we endeavor to understand and master the works and days of the endlessly clever, yet notorious Russian poetaster, Dmitry Ivanovich Khvostoff (a Count of Sardinia and very well off). We examine his biography and delusions of authorial grandiosity and find the features of a stable genius, as well as his artistry and compulsive verbosity (which was both pathological and devious). All aspects of his parodic personality are explained by the theory of poetic vitality (Patient 2014; Chooshkin; McGonagall and Schitoff). The book argues that only the nation that gave us Pushkin could give us a poet as bad as Khvostoff."

 

book cover of mysterious hand
Ghostly Paradoxes: Modern Spiritualism and Russian Culture in the Age of Realism

“On the whole, as I suppose, it makes sense to speak of two polar types of artistic spiritualism in literature (that is, two attempts at the ontology of the “spirit of literature”): the idea of literature as a cunning and pernicious force (“the party of the devil,” in William Blake’s words) and a relationship to it as to a live and free manifestation of spiritual life that transcends and scoffs at material reality. One may call the proponents of this idea the “party of the spirit.”

University of Toronto Press, 2009; Choice Magazine’s list of Outstanding Academic Titles for 2010

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A Cultural History of Russian Literature

“We began this introduction to eighteenth-century Russian culture with Bishop Feofan’s eulogy to Peter the Great. We conclude with a historical anecdote which illuminates some cultural consequences of the Reform. Sometime in the early decades of the nineteenth century, the gifted satirical poet and aristocrat Petr Viazemsky (1792-1878) was visiting one of his remote estates. After a Sunday Mass, an educated (yet old-fashioned in his neoclassical literary tastes) local priest enthusiastically addressed the villagers: “You do not comprehend what kind of Master Our Lord gave you, my Orthodox brothers! He is the Russian Horace, the Russian Catullus, the Russian Martialis!” After each of these lofty attestations, as Viazemsky ironically (and sadly) comments, his pious peasants bowed to earth and vigorously crossed themselves.”

Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2009; together with Andrew Wachtel

book cover of illustration of two people and a horse
Interpreter’s House: Poetic Semantics and Historical Imagination of Vasily Zhukovsky

NLO, 2006, in Russian

“Zhukovsky is the prophet not of Revolution (like the early romantics) but of Restoration (like the Biedermeier authors). His works are not products of free creativity, but of translation as an aesthetic and moral principle: “selfless obedience” and “arbitrary subjection” to the “sacred” in the original, the restoration of harmony via “struggle against the obstacle” (Viazemsky) of the chaotic word-for-word translation. It was precisely the venerable, eternal Odyssey (the mother of European poetry) that should have become the culmination of his poetic (i.e., translating) activities, the very epic (“the beginning of a new era”) that would foretell and bring about the victory of justice and order over chaos, and for that reason would prove so indispensable to the contemporary world.”

Selected Edited Volumes: 

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Madness and the Mad in Russian Culture

“Following tradition, [Catherine the Great] considered melancholy a disease of sick imagination and a Western disorder, poisoning weak Russian souls. It is not an accident that among the patients of the first St. Petersburg mad asylum … were two freemasons V. Ya. Kolokol'nikov and M. I. Nevzorov. Both young scholars had just returned from abroad (commonplace melancholy travelers in the Western tradition) and both were diagnosed as hypochondriacs. Since the time of Catherine the Great this medical (psychiatric) diagnosis has been used by the Russian authorities as a simple and effective way to discredit and/or isolate their political and ideological opponents, including some of the Decembrists, Count Dmitriev-Mamonov, Pyotr Chaadaev, and Leo Tolstoy.”

Toronto University Press 2007; co-edited with Angela Brintlinger

Selected Articles: 

"AND THEN MADAME BLAVATSKY RECEIVED A POEM FROM PUSHKIN FROM THE HELL!: Professor Ilya Vinitsky Interviewed by Gorky Media" https://gorky.media/context/pushkin-prislal-elene-blavatskoj-stihi-iz-preispodnej/

"Madness in Western Literature and the Arts,” In The Routledge History of Madness and Mental Health, ed. by Greg Eghigian. London and New York: Routledge, 2017, 153-171

"'Breakfast at Dawn': Alexander Veselovsky and the Poetics of Psychological Biography," Historical Poetics: Past, Present, and Future, Verbal Art: Studies in Poetics Fordham UP, 2016, 314-339 

"Tolstoy's Lessons: Pedagogy as Salvation," In Before They Were Titans: Early Works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy" (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2015, 299-316

"The Thinking Oyster: Ivan Turgenev's "Drama of Dying" and the Twilight of Russian Realism." In Russian Writers at the Fin de Siècle: the Twilight of Realism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, 249-266

"A Dispersed Man: Alexis Eustaphieve (1779-1857) as a National Project," New Literary Review (2014), #6, pp. 94-111. In Russian

“The Queen of Lofty Thoughts." The Cult of Melancholy in Russian Sentimentalism,” Interpreting Emotions in Russia and Eastern Europe. Ed. by Mark Steinberg and Valeria Sobol. Northern Illinois University Press, 2011, 18-43.

"The Worm of Doubt: Prince Andrei's Death and Russian Spiritual Awakening of the 1860s," Anniversary Essays on Tolstoy, ed. by Donna Tussing Orwin. New York, London: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 119-36.

"Krupushki zaumnoi poezii [Grains of Zaum' Poetry]", Russian Literature, 2009. Jan 1-Apr 1; 65 (1-3): 261-279.

“Amor Hereos: the Occult Sources of Russian Romanticism”, Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History. Vol. 9, No. 2 (Spring 2008). Pp. 291-316.