Education: BA, Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Groningen; MA, Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Groningen; PhD Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Groningen
Ellen Rutten is a professor of literature and department chair of the Slavonic Department at the University of Amsterdam.
When did you first develop an interest in Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies?
Youth for Understanding – an educational exchange organization – more or less developed that interest for me. When I was 17, I wanted to use its exchange program to move to a ‘weird country’ for a year. Japan, my first choice, was a complex option for logistic reasons. Our school’s international-affairs counsellor then asked me if I cared to visit Novorossiisk, in southern Russia, instead. I remember using my parents’ computer to collect the scarce details that the name ‘Novorossiisk’ then – this was pre-Google! – engendered online. I read about the Black Sea, the Caucasus, the mild climate, and decided that this substitute for Japan would do. In Novorossiisk, after half a year or so, I began to read Russian prose in the original language – Turgenev’s Fathers & Sons and his “First Love,” Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard. That was the moment that I started developing a more than passing interest in Russia.
How have your interests changed since then?
Together with many others, I have gradually shifted from a literature-only towards a broader, cultural studies-inspired perspective on Russia in my research. I started my student career with a paper on that same “First Love” story that I read in Novorossiisk – but with time, my objects of interest began to include different things: songs, tattoos, cartoons, and, most importantly, social media comments. My interests still change today: in my most recent research, I am moving back from the strictly socio-political angle that temporarily dominated my work towards aesthetic domains.
What is your current research/work project?
This year, I started a research project called “Sublime Imperfections: Creative Interventions in Post-1989 Europe.” In this 5-year project, two PhD students, an assistant and I explore the persuasive current interest in the non-perfected among creative professionals (think torn jeans, blurry photos, scrapwood furniture). We study the tradition to frame imperfection as hallmark for the authentic and the sublime – and argue that this tradition heightens in times of radical socio-political transition. The PhDs examine Dutch anti-design and ‘Ostalgic’ Russian trash aesthetics; I contextualize these local, contemporary practices in a transnational, cultural-historical analysis.
What do you value about your ASEEES membership?
The conferences have, in my career, really made a difference, both socially and intellectually. Some of my long-lasting professional friendships started there; book plans took new turns after my ASEEES talks; but I also appreciate the meetings’ sheer size. Their massiveness is easy to chide, but it creates splendid opportunities for anonymous ‘scholarly shopping.’ I remember visiting wonderful panels about Russian military history, for instance, or Golden Ring tourism. The possibility to take these, for me, atypical conference lanes are a key reason that I try to visit each convention.
Besides your professional work, what other interests and/or hobbies do you enjoy?
Spending time with my husband Thomas and daughter Ulvi, reading, walking, cooking, and eating and drinking interesting things. Rooftop gardening as well: this summer, to give our roof a stronger dacha twist, I personally drudged up four floors with young birch trees, rosebushes, ivy, wild strawberries, and hundreds of kilos of black earth.