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Jenifer Presto

Jenifer Presto profile picture
  • Affiliation: faculty
  • Title: Associate Professor of Comparative Literature
  • Additional Title: Director of Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies
  • Phone: 541-346-4065
  • Office: 272 PLC
  • Office Hours: Spring 2020: for COLT 470/570, Wed. 4:00-5:00 p.m. via Canvas Chat; for REES 608, Thurs. 3:30-4:30 p.m. via Canvas Chat; and by appt. on Zoom or by phone (mobile: 541-485-7400)
  • Affiliated Departments: European Studies, Russian East European and Eurasian Studies
  • Interests: Russian modernism, gender studies, literature and the visual arts, imaginative geographies, Russian-Italian cultural interactions, Russian-American culture, and environmental criticism
  • Curriculum Vitae


A.B., Russian Literature, Smith College
M.A., Russian Language, Middlebury College
M.A. / Ph.D., Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Wisconsin-Madison


My research sheds new light on Russian modernism by engaging with the interdisciplinary methods of gender studies and the environmental humanities. My first book, Beyond the Flesh: Alexander Blok, Zinaida Gippius, and the Symbolist Sublimation of Sex, was devoted to the problem of gender and self-creation in Russian symbolist poetry. I am now completing a new book, entitled Catastrophic Modernism: Italy and Its Disasters in Russian Culture, which illuminates how environmental upheaval served as a potent force in Russian modernism's transnational turn. Contrary to the view that catastrophism is inherently antithetical to the telos of modernity, this study reveals that for a host of Russian writers—Alexander Blok, Ivan Bunin, Zinaida Gippius, Maxim Gorky, Vladislav Khodasevich, and Vladimir Nabokov—modernity and catastrophe were, in fact, deeply entangled. Critical of the dominant cultural narrative of progress, these authors became fascinated with the myriad natural disasters embedded in the deep history of southern Italy, ranging from the 1908 Messina earthquake—the most devastating earthquake in modern Europe—to the 79 C.E. eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii. For all their spatial and even temporal distance, these events spoke to Russian cultural anxieties in an era of war, revolution, and exile. They inspired an alternative strain of Russian modernism rooted not in Europe’s metropolitan centers but rather in the elemental forces of the continent's southern periphery.

Broadening the scope of this work, I have collaborated with Anindita Banerjee (Cornell University) on special issues of Slavic Review and Slavic and East European Journal on “Russian Geopoetics” and “The 1917 Revolution and Its Ripple Effects." I have also begun researching a third book-length project, which builds on my work in the environmental humanities and my interests in Russian-American culture. Provisionally titled Adjacent Ecologies: Russian-American Artists in the Pacific Northwest, this study examines how the vast region spanning from Alaska to northern California emerged as a critical contact zone for Russian-American artists and wrtiers. The figures treated in this study range from the popular novelist Antonina Riasanovsky, who emigrated to Eugene, OR in the late thirties and wrote under the pen name "Nina Fedorova," to Vladimir Nabokov, who spent the summer of 1953 in Ashland, OR and claimed: “The flora, the fauna, the air of the Western states are my links with Asiatic and Arctic Russia.” Attending to the issues of colonialism, immigration, and the environment, the project makes a compelling case for the importance of the region for Russian-American culture. It expands our understanding of the location of Russian-American culture beyond New York City, which has typically been considered to be its center, positing the Northwest as a rich site of local creativity and transpacific cultural flow.

Selected Publications


Beyond the Flesh: Alexander Blok, Zinaida Gippius, and the Symbolist Sublimation of Sex. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008. xviii + 334 pp.

Special Issues

“The 1917 Revolution and Its Ripple Effects,” guest edited with Anindita Banerjee, Slavic and East European Journal vol. 61 no. 3 (2017): 393-488.

“Russian Geopoetics,” guest edited with Anindita Banerjee, Slavic Review vol. 75 no. 2 (2016): 247-330.


“Foreword: World Revolution,” coauthored with Anindita Banerjee, Slavic and East European Journal vol. 61, no. 3 (2017): 394-95.

“The Revolutionary Ecology of Gor’kii’s Italy,” Slavic and East European Journal vol. 61, no. 3 (2017): 423-44.

“Toward a Russian Geopoetics, or Some Ways of Relating Russia to the World,” coauthored with Anindita Banerjee, Slavic Review vol. 75 no. 2 (2016) 247-55.

"Uncanny Excavations: Khodasevich, Pompeii, and Remains of the Past,” Russian Review vol. 74 no. 2 (2015): 272-92.

"The Aesthetics of Disaster: Blok, Messina, and the Decadent Sublime," Slavic Review vol. 70 no. 3 (2011): 569-90.

“Unbearable Burdens: Aleksandr Blok and the Modernist Resistance to Progeny and Domesticity.” Slavic Review vol. 63, no.1 (2004): 6-25.

“Women in Russian Symbolism: Beyond the Algebra of Love.” In A History of Women’s Writing in Russia, edited by Adele M. Barker and Jehanne Gheith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 134-52.

“The Androgynous Gaze of Zinaida Gippius.” Russian Literature XLVIII-I (2000): 87-115.

“Reading Zinaida Gippius: Over Her Dead Body.” Slavic and East European Journal vol. 43, no. 4 (1999): 621-35.

“The Fashioning of Zinaida Gippius.” Slavic and East European Journal vol. 42, no. 1 (1998): 58-75.

“Ivan Fedorovich Shpon’ka i ego tetushka’ as ‘Oral’ Narrative, or ‘Food for the Critics.’” Russian Literature XXXIX (1996): 359-72.

Current Projects


Catastrophic Modernism: Italy and Its Disasters in Russian Culture (in progress).

Adjacent Ecologies: Russian-American Artists in the Pacific Northwest (research stage).