Asiya Bulatova (Södertorn University)


I am a researcher working on early-Soviet and modernist Anglo-American literatures in their cultural, scientific, and biomedical contexts. After earning my doctorate in English and American Studies at the University of Manchester, I have been a postdoctoral fellow at the New Europe College in Bucharest, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, the Center for Advanced Studies in Sofia, and the University of Warsaw as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie research fellow. Currently, I hold a research grant from the Swedish Research Council and am based at Södertörn University in Stockholm. My work has been published in Transcultural Studies, Comparative Critical Studies, and Poetics Today. Most recently my article, “The Chaplin Vaccine: Immunization and Taylorism in Viktor Shklovsky’s Theory and Fiction”, was accepted for publication in Modernism/modernity.

“Revolutionary Sustainability: Famine and Food Utopias of Early-Soviet Modernism”

Current discussions of modernism’s investment in discourses of eating and starving are often underpinned by assumptions about the transformative potential of food. In early-Soviet culture, this transformation concerned both literary experimentation and remodelling of human beings. Experiments in radical social and biological engineering implemented after the 1917 revolution raised an urgent question: whether the “new human” envisioned by early Bolshevik ideologues could emerge from the malnourished bodies wasted by war, revolution, and famine. This question was approached from various perspectives as human bodies and their reliance on food were re-defined in terms of energy consumption and expenditure. My paper shows that unlike scientific experiments, which involved statistical and biomedical analyses of starving humans and other animals, experiments conducted by avant-garde artists and writers suggest more sustainable ways of engaging with food. I will uncover discourses of resistance, nestled in early-Soviet modernist practices, which employed vulnerability brought about by experiences of hunger and starvation. Such discourses emerge in the guise of modernist recipes ranging from Velimir Khlebnikov’s “butterfly soup” to Viktor Shklovsky’s advice on how to boil rotten potatoes and prepare spoilt herrings and putrid meats. These examples of extreme cooking are contrasted with futuristic utopian accounts of hunger being conquered by the advent of chemical or microbiological food (Evgeny Zamyatim, Ilya Ehrenburg, Velimir Khlebnikov). By examining cultural discourses of resistance directed against what Slavoj Žižek has termed “Soviet total regulation of life,” the paper shows that early-Soviet modernist experimentalism went beyond linguistic innovations, as it envisioned an alternative to governmental control over the supply of provisions for a whole society (through food distribution) and individual diets and culinary habits of its citizens (through nutritional advice). This alternative activates modernism’s impulse to form a stimulus for defending freedom by placing empathy, and particularly sharing food, as the basis of social organization.