Appointed As

Postdoctoral Fellow in Translation Studies


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


Princeton University

PhD Field of Study

PhD Comparative Literature, University of Oregon

Dissertation Abstract

"Truth Disguised as Lies: How Aesop’s Life Shaped Russia’s Aesopian Literature (1884-1984)"

My dissertation examines the origins of so-called “Aesopian,” or covertly subversive, narratives. While scholars have focused on fables as prototypes for these narratives, my project addresses the role played by the Vita Aesopi (Life of Aesop), composed during the early Roman Empire. Through an analysis of literary works spanning three censorship regimes in Russia, I investigate how this narrative shaped the truth-telling strategies of suppressed writers. According to his biography, Aesop was mute and enslaved yet became an adviser to kings, only to be framed and executed by corrupt authorities who wanted to silence him. I find these events to be central to key works by Saltykov-Shchedrin, Bulgakov, and Shalamov, shaping these writers’ self-presentation and providing a literary touchstone for their coded political critiques. Saltykov-Shchedrin’s identification with Aesop is central to his intersecting critiques of serfdom and censorship, and his figure of the Aesopian littérateur embodies three aspects of Aesop’s Life: overcoming muteness, divination, and critiquing “the logic of the parasite.” In contrast with Saltykov-Shchedrin’s abolitionist sympathies with Aesop, Bulgakov’s satire Heart of a Dog travesties Aesop’s life as part of a reactionary critique of postrevolutionary Russia. Through Orientalizing tropes and a racializing travesty of Aesop’s Life, Bulgakov’s novella lodges an Aesopian critique of the Soviet novyi chelovek ideal and, more riskily, of Stalin. Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales enlist Aesop to confront the paradox of writing about the Gulag, while his poetry invokes Aesop when it speaks out in a third language, a language “known to trees and birds.” My research contributes to debates surrounding resistant narratives by addressing how literary culture creates political agency. Although political agendas are frequently thought to feed parasitically on their literary hosts, my study reframes this relationship as symbiotic. Additionally, my research makes an original distinction between Aesopian literature, which tells truths disguised as lies, and propaganda, which tells lies disguised as truths. Besides opening up a more capacious account of Aesopian literature by relating it to Aesop’s Life, my dissertation challenges assumptions behind devaluations of Aesopian discourse as
“the language of slaves” and instead underscores the power of this discourse to subvert the language of the oppressor.