Optical Play

E-book – $89.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-6788-9

Paper Text – $34.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3435-5

Cloth Text – $89.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3003-6
Publication Date
October 2014
Page Count
336 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

Optical Play

Glass, Vision, and Spectacle in Russian Culture
Julia Bekman Chadaga

Longlist finalist, 2015 Historia Nova Prize for Best Book on Russian Intellectual and Cultural History 

Julia Bekman Chadaga’s ambitious study posits that glass—in its uses as a material and as captured in culture—is a key to understanding the evolution of Russian identity from the eighteenth century onward. From the contemporary perspective, it is easy to overlook how glass has profoundly transformed vision. Chadaga shows the far-reaching effects of this phenomenon.

Her book examines the similarities between glass and language, the ideological uses of glass, and the material’s associations with modernity, while illuminating the work of Lomonosov, Dostoevsky, Zamyatin, and Eisenstein, among others. In particular, Chadaga explores the prominent role of glass in the discourse around Russia’s contentious relationship with the West—by turns admiring and antagonistic—as the nation crafted a vision for its own future. Chadaga returns throughout to the spectacular aspect of glass and shows how both the tendentious capacity and the playfulness of this material have shaped Russian culture.
About the Author

Julia Bekman Chadaga is a assistant professor of Russian at Macalester College.

“This is a well-researched and well-argued book that will prove useful to scholars.... the book really inspires us to pay more attention to glass and the ways in which it shapes our lives” —Slavic Review

"This book is a Wunderkammer of Russian and Soviet culture, a museum of glass in literary texts, architecture, film, and other media. Her analysis of high and low culture is interspersed with the history of the material: the arrival of glass in Russia, the process of making window panes in the early nineteenth century, the working conditions in glass factories. The scope of the book is both astonishing and impressive." —The Russian Review