Russian culture and language: Jemma Pope responds to Robert Dessaix

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A response to Robert Dessaix’s essay¬†Russia:the End of an Affair

I have nothing informed to write as I have only been studying Russian culture and language (in a full time and academic sense) for about seven months. I am at the University of Western Australia in Perth doing a PhD in Anthropology. I have been overwhelmed by the “romantic/erotic/tragic/climatic/scenic” images of Russia portrayed in popular discourse since the age of seven when I saw two characters from a televised version of War and Peace duelling in mid-winter in a forest with wolves howling in the background. I followed this up by doing Russian history in high school (just the Revolution) and reading Dostoevsky.

I would have studied Russian language in school had it been available. In fact I went to a school specialising in foreign languages (1980s) where the choice was out of French, German and Japanese. I did French and German for five years.

Anyway what I actually wanted to mention is that after much convincing, the Anthropology Department here has decided to at least let me try to do my fieldwork in Russia, more specifically in Siberia. I am studying the processes associated with the formation/creation of national identity (at the local level with Russians living in Siberia).

Robert Dessaix’s essay and responses (Judith Armstrong, Martin Ball, Rosh Ireland) are a breath of fresh air to me. My interest in Russia is and cannot be careerist and economic. It is, as these papers refer to, a “love affair” (and I have yet to survive the first drop of the potion having only travelled to Russia and Siberia one time previously as a tourist).

It seems that also in Western Australia there has been a decline of interest in Russian language and culture. There is no University that teaches Russian language (I have a private tutor). The last one to have a course dropped it because of lack of student numbers (but also funding I guess). There has also been little anthropological research undertaken in Russia by Australians. Alternatively, I know of at least four anthropology students here who are planning their fieldwork in Indonesia.

If any one wants to chat to me via e-mail about Russia I would really appreciate it.

Jemma Pope, University of Western Australia

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