USC Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies

2023 Citation Recipient

Rory Finnin

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: Rory Finnin, University of Cambridge
Title: Blood of Others: Stalin’s Crimean Atrocity and the Poetics of Solidarity (University of Toronto Press)

Rory Finnin’s Blood of Others is a critical landmark in the larger field of Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. Arguing for a reorientation of cultural attention to the Black Sea region, Finnin investigates a “poetics of solidarity” spanning across literature from four languages—Crimean Tatar, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Russian—and across even more ethnicities and countries. While casting doubt on post-Soviet Russian avant-garde poet Igor Sid’s particular embodiment of the “geopoetics” project Sid initiated, Finnin nevertheless makes a case for a “geopoetics” in which Crimean Tatar history and activism loom large in a project to understand and address events and movements in Crimea today, as well as in the larger post-Soviet sphere, not least in Ukraine. Finnin draws on critical theorists of the 1980s and 1990s—Frederic Jameson, Michel Foucault, Wolfgang Iser, Roman Jakobson—, on post-colonial theory—Homi Bhabha, Edward Saïd, Gayatri Spivak—, and on philosophy—Richard Rorty, Martha Nussbaum—, to create a robust theoretical framework for understanding how literature can work to inspire “pro-social action” and transnational political solidarity across diverse groups experiencing oppression. He grounds this framework in a breathtaking array of materials, from canonical literature to pulp fiction, historic news journalism, feuilletons, anthems, films, government decrees, KGB reports, and court transcripts. He pays special attention to poetry, punctuating his close readings of poems with scenes of encounters across Crimean Tatar, Ukrainian, and Russian communities. He is at his most engaging when demonstrating the exciting encounters and dense intertwining of these cultures in a tradition of dissidence that was, as he persuasively shows, inspired by Crimean Tatar activists in the wake of the 1944 deportations, and that continues today in the face of continued and violently aggressive Russian imperialism.

Honorable Mention: Christina Crawford, Emory University
Title: Spatial Revolution: Architecture and Planning in the Early Soviet Union (Cornell University Press)

Christina Crawford’s Spatial Revolution examines the socialist urban development of Baku, Magnitogorsk, and Kharkiv in the first fifteen years following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Theoretically ambitious, painstakingly researched, and lucidly written, the study demonstrates that early Soviet architecture and planning activities were “kinetic and negotiated” rather than exclusively hierarchical and ideological. Operating on a broad geographical scope, Crawford compares different industrial nodes and urban settings that were far from Moscow and Leningrad, persuasively debunking the myth that Soviet urban planning was a centralized and totalized activity from the onset. Instead, emphasizing the praxis and experimentation of diverse projects, Crawford shows that early Soviet spatial interventions were contingent on the particular geography, industry, and actors at specific sites. The book adopts an expansive comparative perspective and moves beyond the political borders of the Soviet Union to include discussions of English garden cities, housing settlements in Weimar Germany, and oil extraction sites in the United States, among other locations. In so doing, it demonstrates that at the beginning of the twentieth century, sites like Baku, Magnitogorsk, and Kharkiv were nodes within a transnational global network of expertise, technologies, and materials, challenging entrenched assumptions about Soviet isolationism. Importantly, Crawford considers not only the intellectual labor of the architects and planners designing socialist spaces, but also the physical toil of anonymous construction workers, who often endured inhumane conditions with fatal consequences. In marshaling an impressive range of archival documents, Crawford’s study across a vast geography provides important and original insights into the politics, economics, and aesthetics of socialist construction projects and their continued relevance for the present-day debates on livability, social equity, and sustainability.