Canceling Dostoyevsky

Here’s another point I want to make amidst the flurry of scandalized stories about the cancellation of a Dostoyevsky course somewhere.

First of all, I’m completely and unequivocally opposed to canceling the Dostoyevsky course. It’s wrong, it’s stupid. Dostoyevsky, like few others, warned about Russian besovshina. We all need to read more Dostoyevsky, Lermontov, Chekhov, and Gogol, not less.

Are you aware, however, that these courses are extremely rare? Do you know how many departments and programs of Russian or Slavic Studies have been closed in North America in the past couple of decades? The answer is, almost all of them. Most Dostoyevsky courses won’t be cancelled because they were never offered in the first place. My university, for instance, had a Russian program. It doesn’t exist anymore, and I’m trying to revive at least a little bit of it.

I hope we all understand that the closure of almost all Russian programs across North America (I don’t know how things stand in Europe and welcome clarification) was completely ideological. So the excuse that it’s shocking now because it’s ideological but wasn’t shocking 10 years ago doesn’t fly. We are now in a situation where people who understand the Russian-speaking regions are urgently needed but they don’t exist. As a result, there are tons of utterly inane commentary from unqualified people. At my university, we are organizing a roundtable on the war in Ukraine, and none of the speakers will be actual specialists. There’s funding for speakers, etc. But the speakers don’t exist.

I hope that instead of vapid bleating about a single course – which, once again, absolutely should not be cancelled – we talk about the larger picture in which the very existence of such a course is an anomaly. It’s easy to destroy these programs bit it’s extremely hard to rebuild them. There’s simply nobody to hire anymore to teach in them, let alone to do research. And the same thing is happening with German, Italian, and French programs throughout North America. They are simply being killed off.

3 thoughts on “Canceling Dostoyevsky

  1. That is so true, in particular in the UK, where provision for the teaching of foreign languages has seen a drastic reduction over the past forty years.
    The situation is less dire in continental Europe but I am afraid that in the Anglosphere the only “specialists” left will be imported native speakers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “foreign languages has seen a drastic reduction ”

      Neoliberal crap… just in time delivery and no spare capactiy means you don’t have some things when you need them (same with medical capacity which is why two weeks to flatten the curve didn’t work – you can’t ‘just in time’ medical responses – you need lots of spare capacity that does not now exist….


  2. I have commiserated with various colleagues about the way the end of the Cold War killed off courses in Russian and other Slavic languages. Maybe now they’ll be back—it’s an ill wind that blows nobody good, after all. (But I’d rather not trade Ukraine and its people for language classes, just to be clear.)

    Liked by 1 person

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