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The Absolute Faker: The Extraordinary Adventures of a Russian Con Man in the Land of the Capitalists

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This lecture deals with a reconstruction and interpretation of the extraordinary Russian and American career of Ivan Ivanovitch Narodny (1870-1953). A Russian-Estonian “revolutionist,” arms dealer, founder of the “United States of Russia,” tabloid journalist, modernist writer, art critic and mystic, Narodny was aptly called by an FBI agent “the worst fraud that ever came out of Russia.” In fact, he was the creator of numerous heretofore unidentified literary frauds and mystifications, including a mythical Russian system of espionage in America, Tolstoy’s prophecy of WWI , a Trotskist “animal farm” in Siberia, and the legend of Shambhala (source of the celebrated novel and film “Lost Horizon”), which spread all over the world via the Hearst newspaper agency that employed him. Designed as a quintessentially American and, in particular, New York story, it also aims to develop a new interdisciplinary methodology for analyzing the phenomenon exemplified by Narodny and, eventually, to lay the foundation for a new historical (sub)discipline dealing with the formation and cultural values of liars, forgers, and mystifiers.

This talk is part of the Slavonic Studies series.

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