Room for Manoeuvre: (Cultural) Encounters and Concepts of Place
The contribution explores the significance of European locations in the writings of Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1883–1945), a neo-realist writer and prominent figure between 1910 and 1945 of Russian respectively Soviet literature. The more the author deals with questions of national identity in his writings, the more important become his encounters with other cultures, as they give him the chance – or force him – to glance at Russia from an outside point of view. Presenting some of the author’s journeys to Germany and France between 1908 and 1935, this contribution demonstrates how his topographies of the visited European cities oscillate between explicitly subjective descriptions, references to literary topoi and an instrumentalisation for geo-cultural purposes in the Soviet context: Over the years, the first, allegedly productive encounter with European cultures changes into an experience of deep estrangement combined with the claim of the Soviet Union’s cultural superiority. Yet, there are other texts that give Aleksey Tolstoy “room for manoeuvre” to express a much more personal view on Europe than in his official writings. The theoretical framework of the analysis is based on Detlef Ipsen’s definition of places, underlining both the concrete experiential character as well as the meaning-making potential of places. For tracing Tolstoy’s changing interpretation of the visited places, Susanne Frank’s works on geo-kulturologija and its relation to geopoetics gave important impulses.