Accepted Paper:

Uzbek Drama and the all-Soviet Sacralization of the Text  


Christopher Fort (University of Michigan)

Paper long abstract:

In an unintentionally humorous 2017 musical drama, Dildagi dog' (A Stain in the Heart), Uzbek writer Qo'chqor Norqobil's characters proclaim a sentiment common among Soviet and post-Soviet intelligentsia: the sacred nature of the canon and the text. The play prognosticates the catastrophic results of Uzbek youths' obsession with texting, social networks, and digital life. The unwitting minors, tempted by the promises of online scammers, go abroad and end up joining ISIS in order to invade Uzbekistan and establish an Islamic State - all while singing and dancing. The drama concludes on the eve of invasion with a scene outside of time in which an authorial mouthpiece announces the moral of the play: today's youth must put down their phones and return to physical texts, the classics of the Uzbek and Western canons, because they permit a knowledge of morality and God not found in other sources.

In her monograph on the Russian Socialist Realist novel, Katerina Clark (2000) argues that the texts of the Stalinist Soviet Union realized as ritual the Marxist-Leninist theory of history. Through their hagiographic lionization of socialist heroes, Russian Soviet novels mimic Christian narratives of contact with the divine. Norqobil's play, however, is part of a tradition of Uzbek drama that precedes the 1930s canonization of Socialist Realism. In this paper, I argue that Islamic reformers in pre- and early Soviet Central Asia constructed their dramas, their favorite medium for the dissemination of their reform ideas, and subsequently their other texts as sacred sites. These reformers' plays dramatize the process by which Muslims in sedentary Central Asia commonly underwent revelatory experiences. This sacralization of Uzbek texts anticipated and conformed to the ritual nature of the Russian Socialist Realist novel, but the Uzbek experience demonstrates that multilingual Socialist Realism empowered and disseminated several competing idioms of the text as sacred site.

Panel LIT-02
Empires of Paper: Central Asian Literature and the Construction of Imperial Subjectivity