Thoughts on the Passing of Professor Svetlana Boym (1966–2015)

Dear Colleagues,

I read with sadness the brief update Neil forwarded to us about the death yesterday of Svetlana Boym. Without knowing any details of the circumstances of her death, this comes as a big surprise. Professor Boym was an active artist and scholar, and not at all at the age where one expects such news.

Regardless, I would like to share a few words about Professor Boym, her work and her relationship to the Centre for Comparative Literature. Many of you will remember that Professor Boym was the keynote speaker for our Comp Lit colloquium “Explosive Past, Radiant Future,” of which I was an organizer. I remember well her lecture at
that colloquium as well as her stimulating participation in the panels and other events of the weekend. She also shipped much of her most recent work as part of an art and photography exhibit connected to the colloquium. She was very committed to the intersection of art and scholarship as with that of theory and practice.

She was also a delightful presence in any setting, as comfortable in spirited debates over the meaning of Putinism as she was lecturing on Benjamin or leading group singing of folk tunes at the closing reception.

Her published work, and in particular the two books “Common Places” and “The Future of Nostalgia,” has been instrumental in my own intellectual development. I can scarcely think of a scholar who has done more to bring humanities-based approaches (as distinct from those of the social sciences) to bear on questions of “everyday life” of ordinary people.

Anyone who knows Professor Boym’s work will also know of her preoccupation with the relationship of the past to the future, and vice versa.

As most of you will know, a number of her photographs hang on the walls of our Centre as reminders of the time she spent with us and as visual representations of the matters with which her work is concerned. May it long be so.

–Ryan Culpepper