Civic Ecologies: Vladimir Korolenko, Kliment Timiriazev and perspectives from the environmental humanities
Vladimir Korolenko (1853 – 1921) is remembered primarily as an extraordinary champion of human rights in late Imperial Russia, a memoirist and publicist whose short fiction is marked by both humor and humanity. This presentation will explore how Korolenko bridged the worlds of science, civic action, and imaginative literature in the late 19th century . Educated in both Petersburg and Moscow in the natural sciences, Korolenko ruminates in many of his literary sketches and stories on modernity and tradition, in ways that reference both the natural sciences and his great teacher, the physiologist and Darwinist Kliment Timiriazev. In “S dvukh storon” – an autobiographical account of his days at the Petrovskaya Academy, where Timiriazev was both a professor and a champion of student radicals – Korolenko’s hero is thrown into a life crisis by the spectacle of a dismembered body. Exploring dissection and dismemberment as motifs that Korolenko’s story shares with other Russian narratives – and spiritual crises – my aim is to articulate Korolenko’s particular vision of an emerging “holism” that led neither to obscurantism or resignation. Interestingly enough, that “holism” is grounded not in an overarching, comprehensive philosophy, but in a principled pragmatism and grounded engagement that was often expressed in fragmentary literary forms – as though the only way to envision the whole of life was to move through its stages and places, one by one and bit by bit.