Noontime Scholars Lecture: Jasmina Savic, “Into the Bright Future: Mikhail Armalinsky’s Literary Revolution and the Poetics of Porn”

Jasmina Savic giving her Noontime Scholars Lecture

Jasmina Savic

On September 20th, 2016, Jasmina Savic, a PhD candidate in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, gave a lecture entitled “Into the Bright Future: Mikhail Armalinsky’s Literary Revolution and Poetics of Porn.” Savic began her talk by introducing major biographical moments in the author’s dynamic life that influenced his idiosyncratic worldview and shaped his prolific literary career. Armalinsky’s life trajectory drastically changed with his exile from Soviet Russia in 1976 to the United States, where he embarked on a path of creating his pornographic literature. Despite several unsuccessful attempts to publish his works at various US publishing venues, Armalinsky was not discouraged and became even more determined to succeed in presenting his literature to the wider public. In 1984, he founded his own publishing house, the M.I.P. Company, where he began publishing his works as well as works of other pornographic authors. In 1990, Armalinsky launched his online magazine General Erotic (obviously, a parodic pun on General Electric, General Motors, etc.) that still runs regularly.

Mikhail Armalinsky caused quite a stir and got unprecedented attention in 1986 when he published Pushkin A. S. Secret Notes 1836-1837, one of the most scandalous and controversial books in the history of Russian erotica that provoked harsh critical responses and never-ending debates. The book was advertised as Pushkin’s personal notes, written a few months before his death. In it, the sanitized, canonic image of Pushkin, “the genius of Russian literature,” is entirely compromised as Pushkin is presented as a pornographer and pervert.

After scandalizing the general readership with this publication, Armalinsky took things even further and publishes Parapushkinistika, a collection of critical texts generated by and after the publication of Pushkin’s Secret Notes. Parapuhkinistika is a meta-pornographic text, a book about Puskin’s Secret Notes that pulls together the history of various positive and negative responses that were produced after the controversial publication. Savic has closely looked into the public debates that emerged among Russian intelligentsia and the numerous attacks launched to defame Armalinsky works, and points out that by engaging in these risky literary endeavors, Armalinsky has started a revolution that has significant impact on both Russian society and literature.

Savic claims that by bringing Puskin’s Secret Notes to the general Russian readership, Armalinsky transcends the boundaries of the primary pornographic text by placing it outside – onto the Soviet, vulnerable, anti-sexual public body. In this way, Savic asserts, Armalinsky engages in extra-textual subversion that symbolically corrupts the female body of Russia and compromises the image of the puritan Russian society. Armalinsky symbolically treats an ill, sexophobic society by directly engaging it in pornography. Savic states that Armalinsky stages mass pornographic scenes outside the text by taking part in verbal sexual games with his correspondents and critics. She illustrates her interpretation with close readings of Armalinsky’s dynamic exchanges with various literary scholars and the general readership. Most of the reactions were highly negative; Armalinsky faced numerous ad hominem attacks, where he was presented as a pervert, erotoman, and a sexual psychopath. He was not discouraged by these negative labels; on the contrary, he welcomed all responses as they gave him wider publicity and a chance to further his literary and various advertising activities on the web (Armalinsky is famously called a “spammer of whole Russia”).

According to Armalinsky, anyone who responds to Pushkin’s Secret Notes immediately becomes a member of the Party (partia) of Parapushkinists, which Armalinsky himself leads. Savic asserts that by prescribing sexual rules for his newly established pornographic party, Armalinsky partakes in deconstructing the socialist rhetoric. Furthermore, in his literary works Armalinsky parodies the master plot of socialist realism and alters the stale Soviet discourse. By using its ready-made codes, Armalinsky undermines the socialist realist narrative and presents his vision of a free society. In this pornographic society, one encounters, what Savic aptly names, hyper-sexual orgasmic truth, and the New Porn Man and Woman that directly stand in opposition to the socialist truth and the asexual Homo Sovieticus. According to Savic, Armalinsky creates (extra)Literary Revolution, where discursive porn brings ultimate liberation. Armalinsky advocates the new porn mentality of the Russian society that freely talks about sex, practices sex, and writes sex.

Savic’s perceptive readings of the poetics of Mikhail Armalinsky’s pornographic literature shows her remarkable talent and understanding of the incredibly complicated, controversial texts she analyzes. Her interpretation offers a new refreshing look on literature that is so often stigmatized and ignored by the public due to its controversial content, language, and imagery. Savic’s literary analysis challenges commonly accepted public views, and brings a new and inspiring understanding of the Soviet and post-Soviet pornographic literature.

Marina Filipovic is a PhD candidate in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois with a graduate minor in Cinema studies. Her research interests include technology, gender, body and bio-materiality in Soviet literature and film. She received a B.A. in Serbian Literature and Language from the University of Belgrade, and an M.A in Slavic Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is currently writing a dissertation on the technologies of gender in Russian literature and film in the 1920s and 1930s.

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