The Genetics of Morality: Policing Science in Dudintsev’s White Robes

in Policing Literary Theory
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Socialist realism was a powerful and pervasive mode of policing. By enforcing socialist realist strictures on all official narratives about the Soviet self – narratives about national identity, history, destiny, narratives about coming-of-age, relationships between family members and society, etc. – the mandated literary form reinforced a given perception of the world. When Gorbachev suspended literary censorship in 1986, the ussr was suddenly flooded with books and narratives that had been previously banned. These works were, almost by definition, not socialist realist. My paper focuses on Dudintsev’s novel White Robes [Belye odezhdy, 1987], a fictional account of the persecution of geneticists and the notorious policing of the biological sciences for ideological reasons.

Dudintsev’s overt condemnation of past policy and his heroic depiction of banned geneticists were sensational in the context of glasnost; however, this paper demonstrates that the novel retains the structural features of the classic socialist realist narrative. Therefore, although the criteria for who are the “good guys” (fruit fly experimenters) and who are the “bad guys” (Lysenkoists) have been inverted, I argue that the novel replicates a policing aesthetics, this time in the name of a romanticized Russian nationalism. This paper also engages Cristina Vatulescu’s thesis in “Police Aesthetics” by exploring the ways in which Dudintsev (a prominent writer) was influenced by the aesthetics of the police files that followed his life for decades.

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