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Main page / "Knowledge. Understanding. Skill" Journal / Contents / 2015 / 2

Horowitz B. Battling for Self-Definition in Soviet Literature: Boris Eikhenbaums Jewish Question

(Tulane University, New Orleans, USA)

Abstract ♦ In the late 1920s, Boris Eikhenbaum began to identify himself as a Jew; not by religion certainly, but as a member of a different ethnos than Russians. Despite his foreign-sounding name, until that point there had been few clues that Eikhenbaum had a Jewish background. He made this declaration in Moi vremennik (1929), the part autobiography, part notebook, and part chronicle of his life and times. Although his identification as a Jew was short-lived, still it is surprising. Eikhenbaum was already one of Russias leading literary scholars, a central figure with Viktor Shklovsky, Roman Jakobson, and Yury Tynianov of the Formalist movement at a time when Formalism was coming under intense criticism from the Soviet literary establishment. Moreover, rather than emphasize ones ethnic difference, the wise thing would have been to try to underscore ones class identification and proletariat background. Instead, Eikhenbaum invoked the memory of his Jewish grandfather, a Hebrew poet in the mid-1800s, and underscored his difference with native Russians. The goal, the author argues, was part of Eikhenbaums battle with the Soviet literary establishment that was becoming increasingly intolerant of diversity of voices. Eikhenbaum tried to show that he had just as much right to membership in Russian literature as the Proletarian writers, just as his grandfather was part of the literature of Russia, although he wrote primarily in Hebrew.

Keywords: Boris Eikhenbaum, Jewish identity, Jews and formalism in Soviet Russia, Yaakov Eichenbaum, the Haskalah, literary culture in early Soviet Union.

Horowitz Brian, PhD, Sizeler Family Chair Professor, Tulane University, Member of Association of Jewish Studies. Tel.: +1 (504) 862-30-75. E-mail:


Citation: Horowitz, B. (2015) Battling for self-definition in Soviet literature: Boris Eikhenbaums Jewish question. Znanie. Ponimanie. Umenie, no. 2, pp. 379392. DOI: 10.17805/zpu.2015.2.41

Submission date: 12.03.2015.



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