Cristina Văţulescu, Police Aesthetics. Literature, Film & the Secret Police in Soviet Times (Stanford University Press, 2010), translated in Romanian as Cultură şi poliţie secretă în comunism by Cornelia Marinescu, SRS-Polirom book series, forthcoming 2018.
The documents emerging from the secret police archives of the former Soviet bloc have caused scandal after scandal, compromising revered cultural figures and abruptly ending political careers. Police Aesthetics offers a revealing and responsible approach to such materials. Taking advantage of the partial opening of the secret police archives in Russia and Romania, Vătulescu focuses on their most infamous holdings—the personal files—as well as on movies the police sponsored, scripted, or authored. Through the archives, she gains new insights into the writing of literature and raises new questions about the ethics of reading. She shows how police files and films influenced literature and cinema, from autobiographies to novels, from high-culture classics to avant-garde experiments and popular blockbusters. In so doing, she opens a fresh chapter in the heated debate about the relationship between culture and politics in twentieth-century police states.
What people are saying about it:
“Vatulescu insightfully draws upon archival material from both Russia and Romania to shed valuable light on the way the secret police informed—or in formed on, as the case may be—artists of the era . . . Although her subject matter lies in a shadowy, politicized realm located somewhere between ‘subversion and complicity,’ Vatulescu provides her readers with much needed illumination of that murky penumbral realm.” (Tim Harte, Slavic Review)
“In this fascinating and ambitious study, Cristina Vatulescu examines secret-police files, surveillance methods, and interrogation techniques in the Soviet era, and the impact of resulting ”police aesthetics” on writers and films directors. Like a good mystery novelist, Vatulescu draws us into rooms forbidden to the average reader – courtrooms, interrogation rooms, and secret police archives – creating and image of Soviet culture that is at odds, as herself asserts, with easy binary oppositions. Instead, she presents us with a complex network of imagery and associations that underlies texts from the Soviet period, ranging from police files to underground novels.” (Eric Laursen, Slavic and East European Journal)
“Police Aesthetics most deservedly received the Barbara Heldt Prize in 2011: Vatulescu opens up new lines of investigation (to stay within the police jargon) for a reading of the relationship between fact and fiction in Stalinist culture.” (Birgit Beumers, Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema)
“Cristina Vatulescu’s outstanding book focuses on the fate of the unregimented creative intelligentsia in Stalin’s Russia and Stalinized Romania, the interplay between artistic creation and police supervision, coercion, and persecution. Drawing from secret police archives in Russia and Romania, this superbly researched and original book captures the tragic destinies of major artists caught at what Lionel Trilling called the bloody crossroads where politics and literature meet. […] As Vatulescu demonstrates, secret police files were the hidden counterpart to real biographies and genuine creations. They were constructed counternarratives inspired by the official demonology.” (Vladimir Tismăneanu, Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History)
“Police Aesthetics is an important study that should be read by anyone interested not only in Soviet Studies but in the question of policing in the world at large, a question that has become increasingly central in the last decade. One can only hope that the publication of this fascinating and well-written book marks the beginning of a wave of studies on ‘police aesthetics’ in the Soviet era and beyond.” (Eric Laursen, Slavic and East European Journal)
“This is a very important, groundbreaking book, one of the most original and illuminating works I have seen in recent years in comparative Slavic studies. Police Aesthetics will unquestionably position Cristina Vatulescu as one of the foremost scholars of Soviet culture.” (Catharine Nepomnyashchy, Columbia University)
“Rarely have I encountered a book that managed to incorporate original archival research (and what findings!), new work in history, literary, and film theory, and close analysis in such a clear and compelling way.” (John MacKay, Yale University)
Maria Bucur, Heroes and Victims. Remembering War in Twentieth Century Romania (Indiana University Press, 2010).
Heroes and Victims explores the cultural power of war memorials in 20th-century Romania through two world wars and a succession of radical political changes—from attempts to create pluralist democratic political institutions after World War I to shifts toward authoritarian rule in the 1930s, to military dictatorships and Nazi occupation, to communist dictatorships, and finally to pluralist democracies with populist tendencies. Examining the interplay of centrally articulated and locally developed commemorations, Maria Bucur’s study engages monumental sites of memory, local funerary markers, rituals, and street names as well as autobiographical writings, novels, oral narratives, and film. This book reveals the ways in which a community’s religious, ethnic, economic, regional, and gender traditions shaped local efforts at memorializing its war dead. Maria Bucur is John W. Hill Chair in East European History and Associate Professor of History at Indiana University Bloomington. She is author of Eugenics and Modernization in Interwar Romania and editor (with Nancy M. Wingfield) of Gender and War in Twentieth-Century Eastern Europe (IUP, 2006).
What people are saying about it:
“Heroes and Victims demonstrates not only how individual, local, and national discourses of remembrance have operated in the complex geopolitical and ethnic world of 20th-century Romania but also how and why post-communist Romanians and others in the 21st century have moved to a post-memory discourse.” (Melissa Bokovoy, University of New Mexico)
“An important book by one of the major emerging voices in east European studies.” (Charles King, Georgetown University)
“[A] historical tour de force, compellingly written and powerfully demonstrated. … Bucur’s truly illuminating study explores the Romanians’ tortuously dramatic efforts to accomplish a long-delayed coming to terms with their past.” (Slavic Review)
“An engaging read, written in an elegant style accessible to both academics and non academics, this volume will be of interest to historians, scholars of Romanian history and politics, as well as anthropologists and sociologists alike.” (European Legacy)
“[Bucur] is to be congratulated on a superb piece of scholarship which both sheds light on existing questions and raises important new ones. As such it can be recommended to teachers and researchers alike.” (European History Quarterly)
“[T]this is an ambitious book that effectively straddles disciplines, historical eras, and analytical levels. The data are remarkably comprehensive for such a difficult theme. Bucur’s narrative tells a complex story that few historians of Eastern and Central Europe could handle in such a sophisticated manner.” (Canadian American Slavic Studies)
“This is an ambitious and important contribution to the field of European memory studies and the study of war and its commemoration in the twentieth century.” (Women’s Studies International Forum)