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Keynote lecture - ILYA KUKULIN: "Return to History as an Aesthetic Invention: How East European Authors Seek their Ways Out of the State of Collective Emergency" (Eternal Presents and Resurfacing Futures)

When:Th 28-10-2021 16:30 - 17:45

This keynote lecture is part of the Netherlands Research School for Literaty Studies (OSL) workshop Eternal Presents and Resurfacing Futures: Postcolonial/Postsocialist Dynamics of Time and Memory in Literature and Art


1992 saw the publication of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, which claimed that world history, conceived of as a series of conflicts, should end after the fall of communism. In his reflection, Fukuyama, according to his own explanation, was drawing on the concepts of Georg Hegel and Alexandre Kojève; however, the image of ‘the last man’ had travelled to his work from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and Nietzsche, with his critique of historicism, was one of Hegel’s most radical opponents.

Fukuyama’s book caused a major discussion; many critics would disagree with its argument, pointing outthat Islamic fundamentalism or the crisis in Yugoslavia refute the idea that history has ‘ended.’ Today, Fukuyama’s book is perceived rather as a Cold War monument. Post-9/11, several authors stated that this event is a direct testimony to the errors of Fukuyama’s concept, in particular, his belief in progress. In the following years, at least two books with ‘the return of history’ in their title were published –one by Robert Kagan (2009), another by Jennifer Welsh (2016).

However, for some Eastern European countries (at least, for Russia and Belarus) but also to an extent for China, present times could be called ‘the end of history’ since the governments of these countries are trying to keep the status quo, blocking any changes and increasing the level of state repression. In this context, one of the strongest types of utopia is, however strange that might sound, the possibility of individual life in history. Returning to history, for Russians and Belarusians, is not a nightmare but a hope. This talk will consider how utopia is ‘returning to history’ and how the drive to historicize what is happening are reflected in the poetry from these two countries.

About the speaker

Ilya Kukulin is a cultural historian, cultural sociologist, and a literary critic. He is an Associate professor at the School of Philological Studies, National Research University Higher School of Economics (NRU HSE), Moscow. He is a Senior research fellow of the International Center for the History and Sociology of World War Two and Its Consequences (NRU HSE). His monograph Machines of Noisy Time: How Early Soviet Montage Became a Method of Unofficial Art (Moscow: New Literary Observer, 2015) was awarded with the Andrei Bely Prize in the nomination “Studies in the Humanities.” He is a winner of several prizes for literary criticism: the Prize-Grant of the Academy of Contemporary Russian Literature for young authors (2002), the International Bella Prize for the best article on poetry of the year (2017), and the “Furious Vissarion” Prize in the nomination “For Special Merit” (2020). A collection of his essays and articles on poetry Breakthrough to an Impossible Connection was published in 2019. His most recent book, Guerrillero’s Logos: The Project of Dmitry Alexandrovich Prigov (in press, 2021), co-written with Mark Lipovetsky (Columbia University), discusses the works of the well-known poet, artist, and theorist of art in a broad historical context of Russian unofficial art and Russian postmodernism.


To attend this keynote lecture, please register on the OSL website.