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The Blind Icon. Varlam Shalamov and his Kolyma Stories

Welcome to a lecture by Fabian Heffermehl! 

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Kolyma tales by Varlam Shalamov

The presentation examines challenges to face and faciality in the works of the Russian author and Gulag survivor Varlam Shalamov. In Russian classics (Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy etc.) the face served as introduction or “entrance” into the inner life of the narrator. In the medieval icon the imprint of the exhausted and bloody face of Christ became a model for theological dissemination. Shalamov however, downplays the function of the face as representation or appearance. Instead, his techniques of writing promote facelessness and tactile feeling from the body’s inside. 

Shalamov’s approaches to face and body derive first of all from his Gulag experience as a fragile and ‘porous I’, which denied the writer’s possibility of descriptive distance from the events that he narrates. The fusion of subject and object can also be traced back to artistic practices of the Russian avantgarde, with which Shalamov became acquainted in the 1920s. Against this double background of revolution and banishment, traditional paradigms of face, person and portrait are erased, reinterpreted or perverted.

Published Sep. 18, 2021 10:44 AM - Last modified Oct. 13, 2021 4:25 PM