Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

The Cultural Memory of the Stalin Period

Ideas of Time and History in the Soviet Union of the 1930s and 1940s

Gunnar Lenz


This project will examine the narrative, discursive, and medial constitution of conceptions of time and history in Stalinist culture.

The study of the cultural modeling of images of time and history in the Soviet Union’s totalitarian system serves a double purpose: on the one hand, Soviet culture of the 1930s and 1940s will be located in a broader temporal-theoretical horizon; on the other hand, the complicated relation between linear and cyclical ideas will be studied through a concrete analysis of the temporal concepts of Stalinist culture.

Ideas of time and history transform Soviet culture of the Stalin period in its entirety. With the propagation of a Soviet and above all Russia-connected patriotism starting in the second half of the 1930s, cyclical ideas of time undermine the linear historical picture that had previously prevailed in the Soviet Union.

In this context, the historical novel and film emerges as the most important genre, demanded and promoted by the upper echelons of the state. In general literature and film now enter into competition with historiographical discourse. The question of the specificity of a culture that delimits itself from modernity’s idea of progress will here be explored through a double  analysis: of both the historical subject and various temporal concepts in literature, film, and theoretical texts, on the one hand; of the reciprocal impact of historiographical discourse and fictional works, on the other hand.

This analysis of literary, cinematic, and theoretical works is meant to illuminate the forms and ways of functioning of the Stalin period’s cultural memory, this will involve focusing in part precisely on opposing tendencies, and on inherent contradictions within the Stalin period’s monolithic sense of history. These contradictions are above all expressed in the specific tension between linear and cyclical ideas of time and in the notion of an eternal present characterizing Soviet culture of the  1930s and 1940s.

The concept of cultural memory allows the different levels of such a study to be taken in their complex interaction, and to be described in a contemporary cultural-theoretical framework.