USC Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies

2013 Citation Recipient

Jan Plamper

The University of Southern California Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies, established in 2009 and sponsored by the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Southern California, is awarded annually for an outstanding monograph published on Russia, Eastern Europe, or Eurasia in the fields of literary and cultural studies in the previous calendar year.

Winner: Jan Plamper
Title: The Stalin Cult: A Study in the Alchemy of Power (Yale University Press)

As the title term “alchemy” suggests, the Stalin cult cohered as a cultural formation out of a mysterious yet powerful combination of elements, the whole much greater than the sum of its individual parts. How might we reconstruct the emergence of this cult to identify the social, cultural, and political forces that generated the enduring mythic image of the beloved leader? Plamper’s original and intellectually ambitious interdisciplinary study takes on this daunting task and succeeds admirably, uncovering a complex set of cultural processes at work across the 1920s-50s. Plamper considers the workings of collective imagination in a deft fusion of documentary research and creative insight.

Plamper’s book is striking in its conception and design — a bipartite structure that investigates both products (Part One) and production (Part Two), crisscrossing time and space. This structure allows him to show how a variety of “cult products” — songs, poems, plays, films, posters, portraits, and sculpture — saturated the vast public space of Soviet Union with rhetoric, images, and artefacts, and reached beyond into the world at large. He also identifies the actors, institutions, and practices that put the mechanisms of cult production into motion and kept them humming. A forceful and engaging writer, Plamper weaves in comparative consideration of personality cults from other historical periods and cultures, which he illuminates with an impressive command of the theoretical and critical literature from inside and outside our field. Plamper’s study will be influential across a wide range of readership.