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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Online Club Bridges Literary Gap

It has long been fashionable in Russia to speak of a crisis in contemporary literature, but for many, especially those who live outside Moscow, the perception of stagnation or collapse in Russian literature derives in part, at least, from a lack of information.


The Russian firm Agama has undertaken to fill this information gap by opening an Internet site called the "Russian Club," which provides selections in Russian from 12 leading literary journals, regularly updated and available at the push of a button.


According to Sergei Kostyrko, a literary critic at the journal Novy Mir who has organized the journal site for Agama, the project was necessitated by changes in Russian publishing over the past decade.


"Where formerly the book publishing industry was highly developed, and the books of new, contemporary writers were published, this practice has now almost ceased. Publishers do not want to take risks and put out only commercial literature. So belletristic literature makes the rounds only in journals," Kostyrko said.


But journals, too, have fallen on hard times. Novy Mir has seen its circulation fall from a high of 2.75 million in the late perestroika period, boosted by the publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago," to a current level of 30,000. Its strongest competitor, Znamya, has witnessed a similar decline in circulation from 1 million to just over 40,000.


As a result, most Russians have no access to contemporary literature, and for readers who live abroad, including professional scholars, the situation is even worse.


"When Slavists, people who study Russian literature professionally, come here from the U.S.A. or Germany, for instance, they always have a rather strange picture of contemporary literature," Kostyrko said. "They often do not know about major recent events, and attach great significance to marginal trends. And this results from a lack of information."


Kostyrko manages the "journal room" of the Russian Club, where readers can sample a selection, or "digest," from recent issues of such journals as Novy Mir, Znamya, Oktyabr, the scholarly Voprosy Literatury, and relative newcomers Novaya Yunost and Zolotoi Vek, among others.


This digest consists of a complete table of contents for each issue and selections of the poetry, prose, articles and reviews it contains. All selections appear in their entirety.


"The digest should present the aesthetics of the journal, and to some extent its ideology -- although we try not to get too involved with ideology -- its circle of authors, interests and themes. The digest should show the journal's face," Kostyrko said.


The greatest problem facing Agama, a firm that made its name producing computer programs for philologists, as it seeks to expand the Russian Club site is a shortage of funds. The current site, which also features information on Russian music, film, cuisine and art, is a "minimum program," Kostyrko said.


Over the next several years, Kostyrko hopes to add information on active writers, critics and even publishing houses to the "journal room," focusing on belletristic literature, philosophy, cultural studies, art and philology.


He also plans to publish an on-line journal, called Obozreniye (Review), which would present a picture of Russian literary life through reviews and articles from leading critics who write in the country's newspapers and magazines, providing insight into current debates.


All this, Kostyrko said, just as soon as Agama finds the money to do it. Typically, such Web sites generate money through advertising and subscriptions.


But for now, he said, "the Internet system is still very poorly developed in Russia, and it is not yet clear how we could make money with our service. The project is moving ahead on the strength of enthusiasts."





The "Russian Club" can be found on the Internet at http://www.russia.agama.com