This article proposes to treat samizdat in terms of a textual culture opposed to modern print culture. The choice to cast samizdat as an “extra-Gutenberg” phenomenon represents a way of extending the observation that samizdat can no longer simply be defined as the mouthpiece of dissident opposition. Beyond binary oppositions of truth vs. falsehood, and dissidents vs. state, on which previous perceptions of samizdat have depended, we might now see the essential quality of samizdat to be its exemplification of epistemic instability, inasmuch as samizdat texts are not automatically invested with authority. From this perspective, new questions about the production, distribution, and reproduction of samizdat texts with varying types of content turn on a central issue: how was the trustworthiness or value of such texts established? This article explores these issues through personal testimony about the production and circulation of samizdat in the USSR and in the West. Juxtaposing the theory of gift giving with new critical approaches to book history, textual culture, and bibliography, the article aims to highlight the interest of personal testimony and material texts in a critical analysis of samizdat history. Finally, as a striking example of an epistemically unstable textual culture, samizdat represents not merely opposition to a defunct political system: it also exemplifies issues relevant to a global Internet culture today.

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