A large number of Soviet samizdat periodical editions label themselves al’manakhi, a term that does not translate well into English. In English, an almanac is “an annual table, or book of tables, containing a calendar of months and days, usu. with astronomical data and other information, formerly including astrological and astrometeorological forecasts” (Shorter Oxford English Dict., 5 ed.). In French an “almanach” may also be a publication associated more or less with the calendar (“publication, ayant vaguement pour base le calendrier,” Le Petit Robert, 1993), while in German, an “Almanach” may be a yearbook containing a selection from a firm’s publications during the year (according to the Oxford-Duden German Dictionary, 1990). The Russian term al’manakh is defined as “a collection of works of a belletristic, historical and publicistic character by various contemporary authors” (“Sbornik proizvedenii literaturno-khudozhestvennogo, istoricheskogo i publitsisticheskogo kharaktera razlichnykh avtorov-sovremennikov,” according to Slovar’ russkogo iazyka, Moscow, 1957). This is a flexible category of this more continental European type. The only general term I could think of to translate the Russian al’manakh into English, is “thematic collection,” a term used in the Database also for Russian sborniki, or collections). This is an awkward translation. The other candidate is “anthology,” a word that comes from the Greek for a gathering of flowers, used in English specifically for literary collections. In a number of cases it has not been possible to determine whether editions were anthologies in this sense. The translation is inexact, and these designations in English miss the important elements of time and periodicity. They do not convey the specifically contemporary and generally original nature of the materials collected together in the al’manakhi, which may thus be distinguished from the more general category of sborniki (collections of materials).
The next phase of the Database will include the Russian words used to designate the genres of various editions.
The other popular category for samizdat is “bulletin” (biulleten’). Taken together, “biulleten’” and “sbornik/al’manakh/antologiia” illustrate the complementary aims of samizdat relative to a dissident chronotope. The dissident chronotope, or time/space complex, tends to extremes. The bulletin aims to distribute information as widely and quickly as possible, maximally expanding the category of space in the smallest amount of time. A “collection” aims to bring together information in one place for preservation over time. This may be a collection of materials published long ago and/or abroad which have not been available to a Soviet Russian readership. It may be an “al’manakh” that aims to distill and preserve contemporary uncensored writing, so it will not be lost. In either case, the collection aims to translate texts over time, beyond the foreseeable future of a Soviet system that does not accommodate them.
Somewhere in the middle stands the journal (zhurnal), which aims to express a trend or point of view as part of the cultural and social discussion. In Russian, one thinks of the tradition of the thick journal (tolstyi zhurnal), a periodical genre defined by its composite of different parts and by its unified tendency. I believe that Soviet samizdat periodicals owe quite a bit to the tradition of “thick journals” in Russia, a tradition strongly associated with the legacy of Vissarion Belinskii. Titles included Sovremennik, 1836-66; Otechestvennye zapiski, 1834-84; Russkii vestnik, 1856-1906; Vestnik Evropy, 1866-1918; Russkoe bogatstvo, 1876-1918; Russkaia mysl’, 1880-1918; and others. See discussion in Robert A. Maguire’s fine study of the Soviet successor to this tradition, Red Virgin Soil (Krasnaia nov’) (Princeton UP, 1968, 36). A number of outstanding samizdat editions aimed, like the thick journals of previous eras, to approximate a university on their pages. The goal was not merely to record what was happening, but to give society, or at least some segment of it “definition, direction, and flavor.” Maguire described the content and purpose of Russian thick journals as being more weighty than that of their French or American counterparts, because these forums provided “an arena of action” for many of “the most creative and energetic men of their time, who could not become politicians, business entrepreneurs, social workers, since those professions were illegal, underdeveloped, or closed to most.” Maguire spoke in these terms about the autocratic tsarist society of nineteenth century Russia, but a similar statement could be made about the era of Stagnation under Brezhnev in the Soviet Union (idem 37).