The new woman revisited: Asja Lacis between Germany and Russia.
Thesis DisciplineCultural Studies
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Although there has been much research on the construct of the ‘New Woman’ in Weimar Germany (1918-1933), there is much less study of the ‘New Woman’ in Soviet Russia of the same time period. To compare and contrast these two construct variants, I examine a concrete example of a ‘New Woman’, the renowned theatre director, Asja Lacis (1891-1979). Similarly, there has been relatively little scholarship on her, with the existing work being predominantly limited to presenting her either as a Bolshevik muse to the German philosopher and critic, Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), or as a theatre director. This thesis attempts to investigate what the ‘New Woman’ concept means in the two vastly different political and cultural contexts. To conduct my analysis, I examine Asja Lacis’ two autobiographies, Revolutionär im Beruf (A Revolutionary by Profession, 1971) and Krasnaia gvozdika: Vospominaniia (The Red Carnation: A Memoir, 1984), Moskauer Tagebuch (Moscow Diary, 1926-27, printed in 1980) by Walter Benjamin, and Asja: režisores Annas Lāces dēkainā dzīve (The Stormy Life of the Director Anna Lacis, 1996) by Lacis’ daughter, Dagmāra Ķimele.
In this thesis, I discover that Lacis, as an embodiment of the ‘New Woman’ concept, presents no continuity from its Weimar to its Soviet version. Nevertheless, the ‘life-creation’ model, in which Lacis engages, can be constructively applied to her case. One of the main arguments I make in this work is that the discontinuity of Lacis as a Weimar/Soviet ‘New Woman’ is conditioned not only by her reluctance to adhere to one particular model, or by her pragmatism, but also by the important external factors. These latter include the inability of men to change overnight, along with the constraints of the genre of female autobiography in different cultural contexts. Ultimately, however, Asja Lacis exemplifies the agentivity, which was not typical of women before the spread of the ‘New Woman’ model of behaviour that allowed women’s becoming a subject and enabled them to become ‘directors’ of their lives. Additionally, Lacis’ case clearly demonstrates that conceptualisation of any artist’s or intellectual’s ‘whole’ identity is produced in both public and private contexts, rather than in the separation of public from private.