UCL Faculty of Arts & Humanities


60 seconds with... Maria Rubins

21 May 2021

Meet Maria Rubins, Professor in Russian and Comparative Literature, UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies. Maria will be delivering her Inaugural Lecture 'Art Deco: A Literary Style?', on Wednesday 2 June 2021. Read on for a sneak preview...

Art Deco: A Literary Style?

Tell us a little about your research...

I have always been interested in how one culture perceives, interprets and makes sense of another. In my research I have examined various cross-cultural encounters of texts, authors, and languages from a comparative perspective and in different contexts. These include Russian literary diaspora of the last hundred years, Franco-Russian cultural relations in the 19th and 20th centuries, the “dialogue” between the verbal and visual arts since Antiquity through Modernism, and, more recently, Russian Israeli writing in the geopolitical context of the Middle East.

Why is your research important?

Because we are all conditioned by the socio-cultural discourses and languages we’ve been exposed to, a comparative approach to literary texts provides insight into the infinite diversity of human perception and assessment of reality. It fosters an appreciation of what can be adequately “translated” into another cultural language, and what is inevitably lost, misinterpreted or transformed. Reading and thinking comparatively provides us with alternative perspectives, pushing the limits of mutual understanding, revealing shared humanity and highlighting the value of difference. 

What inspires you in your work?

Joseph Brodsky, poet and Nobel Prize laureate, once said that literature is “the greatest teacher of human subtlety.” Literary texts give me the best insight into the mysteries of the human mind, emotions and delusions.

What has been your most memorable career moment so far?

Once, I was a featured guest in a Russian TV talk-show. I was interviewed about my work in publishing and translation and about my life in general. The host was a well-known media personality, whose voice I remember hearing on weekly radio programmes since I was four! 

What passions/hobbies do you have outside of work?

Downhill skiing; travelling, particularly in the Middle East and Asia; Oriental dance; opera and theatre; getting together with friends over a glass of wine (offline, whenever possible)

What book is currently on your bedside table?

A.-B. Yehoshua Mar Mani. 

As a professional literary scholar, the hardest question for me has always been “What is your favourite book?” As opposed to normal people, I can never give a straightforward answer. I suppose this is how fur traders feel when asked about their favourite animal. So it is a very special treat to be really impressed by a book, as I was with Mar Mani. I read it partially in the original Hebrew and partially in English translation a few years ago and was immediately taken with its originality and deep-seated irony. Now re-reading it with great pleasure again.

Book your place for Maria's lecture