Marcus C. Levitt

Life and Academic WanderingsMarcus Levitt

Marcus Levitt graduated from Haverford College with a double major in Russian and History. In 1984 he received a Ph.D. in Russian literature from Columbia University, where he also took a certificate in Russian Studies. Before coming to USC, he taught in Columbia's Humanities Program and served for a year as Visiting Professor at Duke University. He has spent several years living and doing research in Russia and the former Soviet Union, on grants from IREX (International Research and Exchanges Board) and on a Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad Grant. He has also spent time as a visiting fellow at the Kennan Institute for Advanced Studies in Washington, D.C. and at Harvard University's Russian Research Center.

Dr. Levitt teaches various levels of the Russian language, and a broad range of courses on Russian literature and culture (including courses on Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, the Russian novel, the Russian short story, and on Russian "thought and civilization"). He has also taught in the Thematic Options program, in Comparative Literature, and developed courses in the Multi-Media Literacy Program and for the Political Violence Initiative. On the graduate level Dr. Levitt regularly teaches graduate courses on medieval and eighteenth-century Russian literature, the Russian novel, and the history of Russian literary criticism.

Dr. Levitt is known for both his research on eighteenth-century Russian culture and on Pushkin. Broadly speaking, his work has focused on the problems of establishing a “modern” western European style literature in Russia. His first book, Russian Literary Politics and the Pushkin Celebration of 1880, published by Cornell University Press in 1989, earned him USC's Phi Kappa Phi All-University Honor Society Faculty Recognition Award, and has been translated into Russian and published in Russia. The book examines Alexander Pushkin's posthumous rise to fame as Russia's "national poet" and analyzes the special place literature came to play in Russia cultural and political life.


Dr. Levitt has also continued to work on Pushkin, and published in several collections dedicated to the Pushkin Bi-Centennial in 1999, which was widely celebrated in Russia and around the world. For the volume pictured on the right he contributed an article on "The Maiden's Song" and the problem of dance in Eugene Onegin. Most recently, he has contributed a chapter on Eugene Onegin to the Cambridge Companion to Pushkin, edited by A. Kahn (2006).


Dr. Levitt edited and contributed to Early Modern Russian Writers, Late Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, volume 150 in the series The Dictionary of Literary Biography (1995). This fundamental reference work features articles by leading international experts, and breaks new ground both in re-defining the period--as “early modern”--and in expanding the canon to include ecclesiastical and women writers.


Prof. Levitt has written a series of articles on the writer Alexander Sumarokov, as well as on such other eighteenth-century greats as Lomonosov, Radishchev, Princess Dashkova, and Catherine the Great. Dr. Levitt's work on Catherine includes an analysis of her defense of Russian culture against a particularly nasty attack by a French scientist who claimed the Russians as a race lack sufficient "nervous juice" due to the cold climate! He has also done a translation and discussion of her work as a satirical journalist, which appeared in the award-winning collection Russian Women Writers, volume 1, edited by Christine Tomei (New York, 1999).  His articles on Sumarokov include analyses of several of his plays, including his 1748 version of Hamlet (in which Hamlet survives to live happily ever after with Ophelia!) and a study of the problem of Sumarokov's quest for recognition as a literary professional author. Dr. Levitt's work in the archives resulted in an annotated list of books Sumarokov borrowed from the Academy of Sciences library (the list includes the fourth folio edition of Shakespeare--the first indication that he or any other Russian writer had direct contact with the English text)--and an analysis of the textual history of one of the key works of Russian Classicism, Sumarokov's "Dve epistoly" (a Russianized version of Boileau's L'Art poetique).


The fall of the Soviet Union and its notorious censorship sparked new interest in previously forbidden topics. Among Dr. Levitt's more unusual undertakings was the ground-breaking bi-lingual collection Eros and Pornography in Russian Culture, which he edited together with Dr. Andrei Toporkov of the Institute of World Literature in Moscow. The volume resulted from an international conference Dr. Levitt organized at USC on May 22-24, 1998, and includes studies philosophy, history, folklore, literature, art, law and gender studies, by some of the most interesting current scholars. (For the table of contents and ordering information, click here!) Dr. Levitt’s chapter in the volume concerns the place of obscene poetry in Russian Classicism.


The new freedom in Russia has also allowed new opportunities for travel and research, and Dr. Levitt has taken part in several folklore expeditions to Siberia. In June-July 2000, Dr. Levitt co-organized a joint Russian-American expedition to Transbaikal, Siberia, to record folk songs of the Semeiskie Old Believers. He and Prof. Richard McIlvery of the Thornton School of Music received a USC Undergraduate Research Grant to fund the expedition, which included three USC undergraduates; there were seven Russian members of the team, led by folklorist Vladimir Kliauz of the Institute of World Literature and the Heritage Institute, both in Moscow. A CD of songs they recorded in the village of Ukyr was published in Russia (see image below), and a multi-media CD on the Semeiskie was also produced. His photos of the expedition have appeared in such diverse venues as the Russian magazine Zhivaia starina and USC's Trojan Family Magazine (the photos on the CD jacket are also his!).  Click here for his Notes on an Expedition to the Semeiskie of Transbaikal and his Photo Album from the trip.

Dr. Levitt's forthcoming publications include a collection of essays which he co-edited with Tatiana Novikova of the University of Nebraska, entitled Times of Trouble: Violence in Russian Literature and Culture, to be published by the University of Wisconsin Press in 2007. He has also contributed a chapter on Dashkova for the catalogue accompanying the exhibit "The Princess and the Patriot: Ekaterina Dashkova, Benjamin Franklin, and the Age of Enlightenment," which appeared at the American Philosophical Society in 2006.

Levitt’s current projects include planning for a full critical edition of Sumarokov’s works, to be undertaken together with colleagues at the Institute of Russian Literature (the Pushkin House), St. Petersburg, and a team of international scholars. He is also in the procvess of completing a long-awaited monograph, provisionally entitled Making Russia Visible: The Visual Dominant in Eighteenth-century Russian Literature, several chapters of which have already appeared as articles.