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The Biopolitics of StalinismIdeology and Life in Soviet Socialism$
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Sergei Prozorov

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781474410526

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474410526.001.0001

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Shalamov, or the Negative Experience

Shalamov, or the Negative Experience

(p.202) Chapter 6 Shalamov, or the Negative Experience
The Biopolitics of Stalinism

Sergei Prozorov

Edinburgh University Press

In Chapter 6 we elaborate our account of the Stalinist subject in a detailed reading of Varlam Shalamov’s testimonial Gulag prose. The survivor of the dreaded Kolyma camps, Shalamov famously called the camp a ‘totally negative experience’, from which nothing positive could be learned. In contrast to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who found in camp suffering the possibility of the strengthening of the subject through resistance, Shalamov rejected the possibility of any positive metamorphosis of the subject in the conditions of the camp. Instead, he analysed this experience as the gradual reduction of subjectivity to bare life, whose sole affective disposition is a bitter indifference to its own fate. In our analysis of Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales we reconstitute his account of the destruction of subjectivity in the camps and the process of the partial revival of the camp survivor. We also address Shalamov’s attempt to articulate a ‘camp ethics’ in the absence of any positive normative criteria.

Keywords:   Shalamov, Varlam, Solzhenitsyn, Alexander, Stalinism, Gulag, testimony, subjectivity, affirmative biopolitics

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