The function of Russian obscene language in late Soviet and post-Soviet prose
University of Manchester
This thesis is the first book-length study to explore the function of Russian obscene language (mat) in late Soviet and post-Soviet prose published between the late 1970s and the late 1990s. This period was characterised by radical socio-ideological transformations that also found expression in major shifts of established literary and linguistic norms. The latter were particularly strongly reflected in the fact that obscene language, which was banned from official Soviet discourse, gradually found its way into literary texts, thereby changing the notion of literary language and literature. The thesis breaks new ground by employing obscene language as a prism through which to demonstrate how its emergence in literature reflected and contributed to the shifts of established literary norms and boundaries. A second aim of the thesis is to trace the diachronic development of Russian literary mat. Primary sources include novels by authors pioneering the use of mat in fiction in the late 1970s, as well as texts by writers associated with ‘alternative prose’ and postmodernism. Applying a methodological framework that is based on an approach combining Bakhtinian dialogism with cultural narratology, the study demonstrates what the use of mat means and accomplishes in a given literary context. The methodological framework offers a systematic approach that does justice to the dynamic relationship between text and context, allowing for an analysis of the role of obscene language on all narrative levels while also taking the socio-historical context into account. The thesis offers not only new ways of interpreting the novels selected, it also provides new insight into the role of verbal obscenity in the process of ‘norm negotiation’ that has shaped and transformed Russian literary culture since the late 1970s. By accentuating the dialogic nature of obscene language, this study reveals that mat is a defining element of Russian (literary) culture, with implications for all facets of Russian identity.
Russian obscene language
late Soviet literature