Author: Elise Thorsen, University of Pittsburgh

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Title: Modalities of Osvoenie: Boundaries and Citizenship in Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s Aerograd

Author: Elise Thorsen, University of Pittsburgh

The dynamic and interdependent relationship between Soviet identity and space that spans the interwar period has been the inspiration of a great deal of theoreticizing, including the robust strain of thought in dialogue with Vladimir Paperny’s schema of Kul'tura 1/2 (Kul'tura Dva 1985). Turning to representations of Soviet territorial expanse through the urban eye, Emma Widdis elaborates this schema in Visions of a New Land (2003) by opposing two modes of imagining space: razvedka and osvoenie. The latter term dates from the imperial projects of infrastructure for the more effective domination of nineteenth-century Siberia. By contrast, Widdis adapts osvoenie as an imaginative tactic that retains a definition of infrastructure-building while becoming more a mutually beneficial, rather than exploitative, exercise.

This paper proposes to explore further modulations in Widdis’s osvoenie in Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s film Aerograd (1934). On one hand, the film fits within the genre of the bditel'nyi border-guard adventure drama, and it makes breathtaking use of aviation shots, which permits the immediate apprehension of wide spaces. Both features signal that this film is a proper subject of inquiry within the framework of osvoenie. On the other hand, the relationship between Soviet space and Soviet citizens in the film clearly extends beyond these markers; they become players in a larger project of identity production. Georg Lukács’s theory of epic unity provides insight into the synthesis of bounded space from the direction, cinematography, and declaimed narrative of Aerograd. The interplay of recognition, nonrecognition, and misrecognition, also apprehended within an epic framework, similarly creates a matrix for the creation, or rather, revelation of Soviet citizenship in its fruition. Osvoenie, as a set of generic devices characteristic of the 1930s, has entered into Dovzhenko’s artistic repertory by Aerograd, but cannot be said to wholly define the ideological project of creating Soviet space and citizenry.

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