On November 21 – 24 2013, I attended the annual ASEES conference in Boston. This is the largest annual conference in the field of Slavic Studies; ASEEES stands for Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies. The conference program is available at http://www.aseees.org/convention/2013program.pdf.
At the time of the conference, in the fall of 2013, I was teaching the content course in Russian on, arguably, the foremost contemporary Russian prose writer Victor Pelevin – “The Grotesque in Victor Pelevin.” Pelevin is a difficult and highly sophisticated writer who, partly for PR purposes and partly for personal and philosophical reasons, has long since adopted the stance of Carlos Castaneda and completely withdrew from the public eye. He neither discusses his works nor provides opinion statements of any kind. Nevertheless, every year or two he produces a new – increasingly more intricate – novel and several short stories and essays often published in new constellations with his other, earlier released, short works. (This could have suggested an interpretive pattern had not the patterning been so vague and itself subject to interpretation.) The combination of artistic complexity and discursive reticence makes Pelevin’s works all the more enigmatic. It is not surprising then that much of what has been written about Pelevin is inconclusive, tentative, and therefore barely useful in teaching a course on him.
In search of greater objectivity and collegial support while working on this course, I organized the panel at ASEEES entitled “Revolutions and Traditions in Victor Pelevin” and presented the paper “The Ethics of the Grotesque in Victor Pelevin.” The paper came from the experience of preparing the course and teaching it in the fall. And conversely, organizing the panel, presenting the paper, and discussing it with colleagues, helped me with teaching. The panel went very well even though it was scheduled for a very inconvenient time – eight o’clock in the morning on the last half-day of the conference. Still, the discussion was lively and productive.
The conference also gave me the chance to attend other panels in various subfields of Slavic Studies related to my professional and personal interests. I went to the panels on second language acquisition, on the methodology of teaching grammar and conversation in Third Year Russian, on summer programs in Russia and student diversity, on Nabokov, Dostoevsky, Ivan the Terrible – to name a few. It was good to reconvene with some of my former colleagues, teachers, and student and make plans for the new conference in the fall of 2014.