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Feeling Connection with the World through Russian Literature

Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences
Professor Keiko Kusano

The impetus for my desire to research Russia literature occurred in my 2nd year of high school, when I read Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”. I read Crime and Punishment on a train during my way home from school, and I received a shock like my emotions had been grabbed and shaken. I cried on that train, without paying heed to the eyes of people around me. At the time, I was neglecting my examination studies and reading for pleasure all of the time, but there was no other book that shook my emotions like Crime and Punishment. Since then, I read all the Russian literature that I could find, beginning with Dostoevsky, and that reading led to my current research. Even now, I find myself on the verge of tears when I think about Crime and Punishment. The book is an eternal bible to me.

Currently, my research deals with the question of “how can I overcome myself?” In relation to this question, I am focusing on the various approaches contained in Russian culture of the early 20th century. The same question was a major theme in Russian culture at the time. In order to overcome the egoism that is a sign of the finite self, and in order to overcome death, Russian intellectuals at that time were considering the conquest of death through the growth of science, as well as the formation of new communities to destroy the framework of the individual. In classes, we debate the concept of erotica, which was being contemplated as a means to achieve these goals and was a central topic in Russian culture at the time. Of course, this is not an earthy, erotic subject. It is the pursuit of a fundamental theme for mankind, the consideration of the meaning of love and the ideal form of family, man and wife. This pursuit is made from the perspective of erotica as a way of overcoming egoism, and its subjects include art and dance as well as literature.

Professor Kusano's favorite Russian goods. The book of paintings is by Ciurlionis, a Lithuanian-born painter and composer who combined music and art. The ballet DVD is of Lopatkina, and the beauty of the dancing is enough to make a person cry. The mascot in the lower-middle area is Cheburashka, a character from Russian animation.

Russian literature can be linked with the world itself. Russian literature does not speak of clever ways to survive in the world or present lessons. Rather, presents the world in its natural state and discusses the essence of man from the areas of both passion and serenity. The reason why I was impressed when reading Crime and Punishment was not because I had found a way to succeed in the world. It was because I felt strength and life overflowing from each word in the book, and I gained a feeling of connection with the world.

Literature and art are not practical sciences and are not immediately useful. However, is there really no value in studying subjects which are not of direct use when selecting profession? When I look at recent students, I am worried whether the truly value their feelings at that moment. There is a trend for students to seek only practical knowledge, thinking about high school when they are in junior high school, thinking about university when they are in high school, and then, if they enter university, worrying about employment and deciding upon a profession from the beginning. This way of living may be correct, but I feel that it is lacking the important concept of what the individual wants to do at the moment, and creates a hollow present for the sake of the future. Of course, it is important to consider the future, but at least among students, I would like people to have many experiences and not to limit their own potential.

Students absorb many things, just as the ground absorbs water. I would be happy if my lectures lead to some sort of realization for these students. It is possible to live without knowledge of literature, but the quality and intensity of life will surely fall. I hope that people will experience famous literature in the same way that they experience the famous art and movies of the world. By doing so, they will surely encounter a new world.

Keiko Kusano

Graduated from the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I in 1990 with a major in Russian literature. Advanced to the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences and continued to research Russian literature. Became a Full-Time Instructor in 1996, an Assistant Professor in 2000, and a Professor in 2005. Her specialty is 20th century Russian literature.