Turned Inside Out: Read­ing the Russ­ian Nov­el in Prison

Steven Shankman
  • From the Publisher
December 1, 2016

In Turned Inside Out: Read­ing the Russ­ian Nov­el in Prison, Steven Shankman reflects on his remark­able expe­ri­ence teach­ing texts by Fyo­dor Dos­to­evsky, Vasi­ly Gross­man, and Emmanuel Lev­inas in prison to a mix of uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents and inmates. These per­se­cut­ed writ­ers — Shankman argues that Dostoevsky’s and Levinas’s expe­ri­ences of incar­cer­a­tion were for­ma­tive — describe eth­i­cal oblig­a­tion as an expe­ri­ence of being turned inside out by the face-to-face encounter. Shankman relates this expe­ri­ence of being turned inside out to the very sig­nif­i­cance of the word God,” to Dostoevsky’s tor­ment­ed strug­gles with reli­gious faith, to Vasi­ly Grossman’s under­stand­ing of his Jew­ish­ness in his great nov­el Life and Fate, and to the inter­per­son­al encoun­ters the author has wit­nessed read­ing these texts with his stu­dents in the prison envi­ron­ment.

Turned Inside Out will appeal to read­ers with inter­ests in the clas­sic nov­els of Russ­ian lit­er­a­ture, in pris­ons and ped­a­gogy, or in Lev­inas and phe­nom­e­nol­o­gy. At a time when the human­i­ties are strug­gling to jus­ti­fy the cen­tral­i­ty of their mis­sion in today’s col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, Steven Shankman by exam­ple makes an unde­ni­ably pow­er­ful case for the trans­for­ma­tive pow­er of read­ing great texts.

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