What Is Tamizdat?
"Normally, when one reads a book, one seldom thinks of its publisher: one is grateful to its author. The specifics of Russian history, however, made a publisher no less an important figure than a writer; made this distinction shrink considerably – the way distinctions do in adversity."
-- Joseph Brodsky. “In Memory of Carl Proffer” (1984)
The Russian term tamizdat, coined as a derivative of samizdat (self-publishing) and gosizdat (state publishing), refers to the publishing industry “over there,” or abroad. It stands for the corpus of manuscripts rejected, censored or never submitted for publication at home but smuggled through various channels across the Iron Curtain and printed outside the USSR, with or without the authors’ knowledge or consent, and not infrequently for the purpose of being sent back as ideologically subversive material. Tamizdat thus served as a powerful weapon on the literary fronts of the Cold War and remained as symbolic of the late Soviet culture as its more familiar domestic counterparts, samizdat and gosizdat, until Perestroika, when the Curtain began to rust.
First published abroad before they could see the light of day in Russia, the editions featured on this website contributed to the formation of the twentieth-century Russian literary canon. Each publication has its own history, making tamizdat a highly diverse, geographically and ideologically heterogeneous, transnational and transcontinental network. In the span of several decades, it paved the way for the reunification of Russian literature at home and abroad, reconciling the gap that came between the “two Russias” as a result of political upheaval of the first half of the twentieth century.
Tamizdat Project is a virtual environment that traces the history of circulation, first publications and reception of contraband Russian literature outside the USSR by making a rich variety of relevant sources available to the international academic community and students worldwide. It explores, in a research-oriented environment, the historical and socio-cultural climate in which masterpieces of Russian literature first appeared abroad before they could see the light of day at home. Although historically finite, Tamizdat Project is an ever growing initiative as its scope expands. The website is constantly populated with new sources, including previously unpublished archival materials.
Tamizdat Project features semantic links between the author and his or her work(s) in question, the publisher(s), critics and reviewers, and other “actors” of tamizdat who facilitated the publication.
The authors appear alphabetically on the left-hand side menu, followed by collective editions, such as anthologies and almanacs, underneath. A click on the author’s name will take you to his or her page, where you will find a brief biographical entry, an image gallery, bibliography and editions. By clicking on the edition, you will be taken to the next page with the available range of materials: correspondence, reviews, and documents. Correspondence includes letters between those who took part in the publication, reviews feature published responses to the text in question, and documents include all other relevant sources (excerpts from memoirs, diary entries, legal documents, letters to the editor, etc.). The same documents are available on the author’s web page, but without being tied to a specific edition. All correspondence, reviews and documents appear in chronological order. You can expand each of them, or roll them back up, or open one at a time in a new page, which will allow you to share it on social media and see facsimile originals, if available (these may be scans of archival materials, newspaper clippings, etc.). Correspondence, reviews and documents are highlighted in color, which corresponds to the chain of people participating in the epistolary exchange (correspondence), responding to the publication in a journal or newspaper (reviews), or writing about it otherwise (documents). Previously unpublished materials appear on Tamizdat Project with a reference to the respective archival holding, while materials that have already been published elsewhere have a corresponding citation.
From the top menu, you can navigate to profiles, publishers, and periodicals. Here, in addition to a brief biographical entry or a description of the publishing house or periodical, you will find all their mentions pulled up in chronological order. This way, you can trace how the individual, publishing house or periodical in question was involved in tamizdat from the earliest mention to the latest. Publishers also feature galleries of their editions, with full bibliographic information as captions to the book covers. These galleries, however, do not fully correspond to tamizdat editions by authors, who appear on the left-hand side menu: instead, they reflect the repertoire of the publisher, which is not limited to tamizdat per se (e.g., books by émigré authors or reprint editions of the classics appear here).
The search engine allows you to limit your scope to a specific time frame.
The website is bilingual (EN/RU).