ALTERNATIVE HISTORIES OF LITERATURE
The special issue of the New Literary Review magazine is devoted to the extensive analysis of the situation in contemporary Russian literary studies. It also reflects on more general topics — the origins and perspectives of the history of literature as an academic discipline.
Tatiana Venediktova (Moscow State University), On the Use of the History of Literature for Life. The history of literature has remained a highly traditional branch of scholarship, organising all that is ▒worth knowing’ about the literatures of the past into periods and genres, ▒epochs’ and ▒schools’. The discipline is now going through a crisis, having to meet the challenge presented by the changed status of literature as a social institution, a reconsidered concept/ideal of professionalism, new ways of thinking (theoretically and critically) about aesthetics, ideology and culture, and an increasing impatience with authoritarian, paternalistic teaching methods at university level. The literary past needs to be reassessed as a ▒purchase’ by which we may ▒move’ our present life (Ralph Waldo Emerson), a ▒platform’ affording a fresh view of ourselves through the cultural Other.
Michael Iampolski’s (New York University) History of Culture as History of Spirit and Natural History reviews different approaches to the history of culture. The first one starts during the Renaissance and is related to the discovery of Antiquity. By arguing that it is possible to resurrect Greek culture, the Renaissance admitted the possibility of the direct translation of an eternal model of beauty and perfection from one era to another. This fundamentally non-historical vision may be called Platonic. Platonic historiography does not allow to integrate periods that didn’t participate in translating the immutable primordial ideal of beauty into a general history of culture. The Middle Ages were one such ▒recalcitrant’ period. Iampolski shows how some elements of Gothic art — the importance it accorded to crafts (rather than ▒high’ intellectual arts) and ▒simple imitation’ (rather than the ▒imitation of ideal beauty’) — may yield a new kind of alternative history that permanently undermines the validity of historiographic Platonism. This alternative trend gradually gathers strength and is represented by such thinkers as Burckhardt, Warburg, Schlosser, Ruskin and Viollet-Le-Duc. Iampolski shows how this alternative line of thinking includes several seminal Russian scholars, in particular Tynianov, who, according to Iampolski, was directly influenced by Schlosser’s anti-Platonism. At the same time there are surprising relapses into Platonism, for instance in Bakhtin whose curious turn from Nietzsche to Plato is analyzed in the article. Iampolski pays particular attention to Mandelshtam’s understanding of history and to another alternative model of historiography elaborated in natural history (Lamarck, Cuvier, Darwin). Iampolski shows that this model of historical thinking replaces the relation between the ideal and its repetition by a set of conflicting relations between original and derived product. The original in this case could be present inside the product (as a genetic rudiment) and should be understood as an active agent that actualises the past. The past would then be transformed into the present. This transformation, Iamposki claims, is the only condition for a real historicising of culture and its separation from ideologically biased Platonism.
Considering the present of literary studies as the beginning of their end, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (Stanford University) tries to trace back the intellectual background of the discipline as well as the social functions that brought it into being in his article The Origin of Literary Studies — and Their End? (previously published in English in the “Stanford Humanities Review” No. 6.1, 1998). He examines the history of literary studies during the two centuries of their existence pointing out both major crises and theoretical innovations, and concludes that nowadays the intellectual and institutional structures of literary studies have changed completely. Gumbrecht sees the transformation of literary studies as part of a much broader process of development of the humanities as a whole, and reflects upon what the future may bring.
Alexander Etkind (European University, St. Petersburg), The 19th century Russian Novel: The Romance of Internal Colonisation. The Russian Empire derived its power from internal colonisation. Russian Populism was a cultural response to a situation of internal colonialism both similar to and different from Edward Said’s “Orientalism”. Exotic pilgrimages, ethnographic studies, and missionary activities were directed not overseas but rather at people in the homeland. Russian intellectuals produced Oriental(ising) knowledge and practices that were oriented towards their internal subalterns. Such was the context of the Russian novel as is demonstrated through re-readings of Alexander Pushkin’s The Captain’s Daughter, Feodor Dostoevsky’s Idiot, and Andrei Bely’s Silver Dove.
Andreas SchЪnle (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), Between “Old” and “New” Russia: Ruins in Karmazin’s Early Works as a Site of “Modernity”. This article places Karamzin’s early works in the context of debates triggered by Max Horkheimer’s and Theodor Adorno’s book Dialectic of Enlightenment, which uncovers the logic whereby the Enlightenment inexorably leads to its opposite, totalitarianism. The article shows that Karamzin dramatized his ambivalence with regard to the project of modernity in his early works. His story Poor Liza features a drastic opposition between two mindsets, encapsulated by two contradictory visions of Moscow, as the seat of Orthodox religious culture and the centre of an expanding modern empire. The protagonists of the story epresent these two poles and attempts to mediate between them fail, thus revealing Karamzin’s hesitations between two models of Russia’s identity. The ruin of the Simonov monastery described in the story serves as an emblem of Karamzin’s ambivalence. SchЪnle’s discussion of the Letters of a Russian Traveller and Bornholm Island reveals similar concerns, but also an increasing impatience with the ways in which reason undercuts itself. This article is set in a theoretical framework that calls for a re-conceptualisation of eighteenth-century literary history, and in particular for experiments with different periodisations and a rejection of traditional antinomies such as that between opposition and collaboration.
Philippe RОgnier’s (Paris/Lyon, CNRS) Theses for the Discipline Called “Literature” (a Russian translation of ThПses pour la discipline qui s’intitule “littОrature”, in: Lieux littОraires No. 1/2000, Montpellier) is about the status of literature and literary studies in contemporary culture. According to RОgnier each era works out its own conception of literature including its own literature. The definition of various texts as ▒literary’ is based on national tradition and ideological requirements. A study of literature that is not aware of its own basic principles inevitably leads to the reproduction of ▒secular religion’ serving the interests of social and national groups. RОgnier questions the border between ▒literature’ and ▒literaturology’ (in RОgnier’s term). Moreover, today such concepts as ▒variants’, ▒the text’s limits’ and so on have also become questionable, and the Internet makes us realise this.
Andrei Shcherbenok (University of California, Berkeley), Literary History between History and Theory: History as Literature and Literature as History. Rethinking literary history has itself become a routine practice in need of rethinking, and an attempt to do so is made in this paper. The crisis of literary history is shown to be conditioned by the problematising of historiography in general and by the specificity of literary history in particular — in both cases the methodological deadlock appears inescapable unless one calls into question the basic notions that the crisis is usually articulated through. A possible way to do so although never sufficiently worked out was suggested by deconstruction in which, contrary to a widespread opinion, history was a central issue. A case study of ▒Chekhovian’ literary history illustrates the way literary history might look like once freed of its inherent metaliterary ambitions: this implicit literary history emerges from the rhetoric of Chekhovian studies and corresponds to a rhetoric of history characteristic of Сhekhov’s texts themselves.
The brief article Between the Tongueless Street and the Castal Spring: NaХve Writing as a Problem of the History of Literature by Danila Davydov (Moscow) asserts that naХve writing is neither professional literature, as it is traditionally perceived, nor folklore, and not quite a ▒post-folklore’ genre either. NaХve writing evolves by modifying its status within a whole range of heterogeneous fields of literature at different stages of the history of culture more or less distinctly divided from each other. Genetically it originates in the one-time unity of the so-called ▒third culture’ (which existed alongside ▒high’ and ▒low’ culture in the 18th and early 19th century) and gradually acquires an independent status.
Nikolai A. Bogomolov (Moscow State University), Reflections on a Set Theme. The article is devoted to three different issues in the contemporary history of literature: how to prepare a university course in the history of literature, the theoretical approaches of a number of recent authors, and the phenomenon of wide-ranging generalist studies with an academic ambition. The author concentrates mainly on the third problem. Working predominantly with examples from late 19th and early 20th century literature and analysing a recently published joint monograph on the literature of the late 19th century, Bogomolov demonstrates the organic defects of contemporary knowledge in the field of textology, the study of sources, and editorial practice, as well as the lack of attention to themes considered marginal. Only after these deficiencies are overcome can a real history of literature be created.
Sergey Glebov, Marina Mogil’ner, Alexander Semyonov (Kazan’, Ab Imperio Journal), “The Story of Us”: The Past and Scope for the Modernisation of Knowledge in the Humanities from Historians’ Perspective. The authors explore possible pitfalls of the current expansion of ▒philological’ methods into the historical discipline, as apparent during the past decade in Russia. Philology (the Russian pendant to literary studies, encompassing all disciplines critically and historically studying texts), which, as an academic discipline in Russia is much more integrated into the western academic world than history, has served as a motor of methodological innovation in other fields of the humanities. At the same time some specific features of historical research require scholars to focus more on a number of points that concern the relationship between text and context and the multidimensional character of textual space. This specificity of historical research becomes apparent when one looks at how the ▒linguistic turn’ in Western historiography influenced or totally transformed conceptualisations of the Stalinist period in Soviet history. At the same time, in post-Soviet academia there has been a peculiar use of these broadly conceived ▒post-structuralist’ methods, usually associated with ▒philology’ by historians. These methods genealogically connected to Marxism have been adopted in Russia without an explicit acceptance of the Marxian background of ideology studies, an important element in the emergence of the linguistic turn in West European and North American humanities of the second half of the 20th century. In the post-socialist world at large Foucault-style post-structuralism is often perceived as a liberal critique of the oppressive communist regime, while its social dimension has been unduly neglected. Glebov, Mogil’ner and Semenov conclude that interdisciplinary dialogue requires an adequate translation of terms and concepts rather than a simple linear expansion of one discipline into another.
In the article Epic Literary Criticism. The Sterilisation of Subjectivity and Its Cost by Lev Gudkov and Boris Dubin (Centre for Public Opinion Research, Moscow) the present day attempts to build up a unified narrative about the past and the present of Russian literature are discussed in connection with the particularities of Russian and Soviet modernization of society, the role of a bureaucracy with a background in the humanities in this process, and national ideological concepts (▒epochs’, ▒eras’ and others). The latter inhibit the development of the notion of creative subjectivity as a modern mode of existence and hence of history as a personal problem and professional objective. Hans Robert Jauss’ conception of literary history is presented here as a potential theoretical alternative. According to Dubin and Gudkov an analytical history, or, more precisely, histories of literature are possible nowadays only as histories of literary institutions, histories of literary ideas (types of literaturnost’ or ▒literary-ness’), and of the dynamics of groups advancing and defending such ideas in their interaction, conflict, mutual struggle etc, as well as a history of expressive verbal techniques.
Mikhail Gasparov’s (Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow) The Style of Lomonosov and the Style of Sumarokov: Some Corrections opens a focal point entitled After Binarity. Calling into question the opinion that the poetical systems of Alexander Sumarokov (1717—1777) and Mikhail Lomonosov (1711—1765) were antagonistic, which has been widely held in literary criticism since the publication of the works of Grigory Gukovsky (1902—1950), Gasparov demonstrates that Sumarokov’s poetical output did not conform to his theoretical declarations: the critical remarks Sumarokov made in his analysis of Lomonosov’s odes have no parallels in his parodies of the latter, and Sumarokov’s and Lomonosov’s odes are based on similar principles of composition. The main difference between the two poetical systems concerns the size of the odes, their themes and modes of presentation. The present issue also includes one more text by Mikhail Gasparov — a short essay (in the rubric entitled The Author’s Project) on How to Write a History of Literature, where he argues that it is both possible and necessary to use quantitative methods in the study of the “higher” levels of a literary work (metaphors, subject matter, emotional structure and so on).
In his article Peripeteia and Tragic Irony in Soviet Poetry, Sergei Zavialov (St. Petersburg) questions the established division of the poetry of the second half of the 20th century into an official and a non-official one. According to Zavialov, this division puts obstacles in the way of the study of such phenomena as ▒Soviet poetry’ and ▒sovetskost’ (Sovietness) in general. Zavialov gives examples of ▒the Soviet’ in the works of poets now regarded as classics, from Akhmatova to Brodsky, and vice versa. The article points out that ▒the Soviet’ is sometimes hidden and needs to be decoded. A classification of ▒Soviet poetry’ is suggested (servile official poetry; a mainstream expressing typical attitudes of a generation; and several types of “obnovlenchestvo” (innovationism). In the conclusion, ▒the Soviet’ is interpreted as an archaic type of civilization involving heroism as an explicit principle, but a civilisation that failed to realise itself and work out an adequate poetic language, and hence failed to express the existential experience accumulated in it.
The article Blindness and Recovery of Sight. The Rhetoric of Russian History and Paul de Man’s “The Rhetoric of Temporality” by Ilya Kalinin (NZ Magazine, Moscow) studies the particularities and meaning of the rhetoric of panegyric and utopia in 18th — 19th century Russian culture. According to Kalinin, in post-Petrine Russian culture these two rhetorics have several features in common. While in West European culture utopia is a critical genre, in the Russian 18th century tradition its meaning is more controversial: the panegyrics describe Russia as a utopia brought to life, and utopian works (such as M. Heraskov’s Numa Pompilius or Flourishing Rome) have some features characteristic of the Petrine and post-Petrine Russian panegyric. One of the main problems is that Russian state ideology of the 18th century has explicit utopian features. This makes it especially interesting to analyse the rhetoric of such Russian literary works that seek to demystify the utopian character of state ideology (such as M. Shcherbatov’s novel A Journey to the Ofir Country) or mock it through historical description (such as Vladimir Odoevsky’s story The Year 4338. Letters from Petersburg). Kalinin also finds unexpected similarities between Paul de Man’s famous metaphor of “blindness and recovery of sight” and the ideological rhetoric of Peter the Great.
In History Without Teleology (Notes on Pushkin and His Era), Boris Gasparov (Columbia University, New York) argues that in order to further promote the development of the history of literature as a discipline we need to abandon the idea that literature advances teleologically. The concepts of Romanticism, Classicism, Realism etc ( which do correspond to certain real cultural and historical processes) are more productive if used outside abstract logical constructions. Thus the linguistic conceptions of the literary ▒archaists’ of the 1800’s have much in common with the philosophical system of the Romantic author Friedrich Schlegel, while the ▒innovator’ Karamzin and his followers built their activities upon a literary ethic going back to the French Enlightenment of the 18th century. As to Pushkin, he may be understood not only as a writer practising an ▒all-embracing synthesis’, but also as an author whose works are ridden with conflict: his uniqueness is due to the fact that his aesthetic system combines several strands which historians of literature usually ascribe to different periods in the development of culture.
Maria Maiofis’s (The New Literary Review, Moscow) article The “Open Philology” of V.E. Vatsuro, analyses the evolution of the views of Vadim Vatsuro (1935—2000), an outstanding Russian literary scholar. The article demonstrates that the method of scrupulous historical and cultural analysis worked out by Vatsuro, which has been considered to originate directly from the traditions of Russian and Soviet Pushkin scholarship, by the mid-1980’s and later on evidently includes echoes and reinterpretations of the works studied, and shows up parallels to the philosophical hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer.
Vadim Vatsuro’s article Pushkin and the Literary Movement of His Era (1997—1998), written for an American university textbook, is published for the first time ever in the same section of this issue. It is an attempt to describe Pushkin’s biography as a continuous dialogue with the literary tradition and social thought of Pushkin’s predecessors and contemporaries. Vatsuro sums up Russian and foreign scholars’ research on different aspects of the literature of this period and points out a number of questions which need to be answered in order to form a general picture of the history of literature and deepen our comprehension of Pushkin’s creative work and biography.
In his article The Future of Literary History: Three Challenges of the Twenty-First Century, Galin Tikhanov (Lancaster University) claims that both the bases and the future of the history of literature as a discipline, or cluster of disciplines, may only be understood if one sees it in a global context. Tikhanov singles out what he sees as the three main lines of social and cultural transformation of the latter part of the 20th century: globalisation and the identity crisis of the nation state, the development of communication, mass media and the Internet, and the success of medicine and increase in life expectancy. Globalisation challenges the early 19th century idea of a history of literature where a ▒national’ literature is seen as a way to legitimate as a way of legitimating and glorifying the national spirit. In the Internet, the text is open for modification, the borderline between author and reader fade away, and new forms of reading appear. The lengthening of the human lifespan and new opportunities to lead an active life during old age challenge the concept of a literary generation and indirectly lead to an erosion of the borders between academic disciplines (through continuing education which allows people to master a wide variety of skills). However, all these processes notwithstanding, the self-understanding of human beings remains essentially historical, and so the history of literature will continue to exist, though perhaps it will dissolve in a new history of culture.
Philosopher Alexander Piatigorsky’s (London) and scholar Grigory Amelin’s (Moscow) conversation Thinking Always Operates in Forms is mainly devoted to two topics: the philosophy of language and the structures of thought in the works of Russian literature. Piatigorsky explains why his views have not been influenced by the ▒linguistic turn’ in 20th century philosophy. Then he discusses the role of forms and structures of thinking in the formation of the structures of everyday life, including people’s reaction to political events (the war in Chechnya and others), and speaks about the forms of thought manifested in the creative work of such 19th and 20th century writers as Turgenev, Leskov, Nabokov and others.
Ilia Kukulin’s (The New Literary Review, Moscow) “The Obscure Forest” as an Item in Popular Demand, or Why the Prefix ▒Post’ Has Lost Its Meaning” continues a series of articles on the Russian poetry of the 1990’s by the same author. The paper focuses on a criticism of the ▒bipolar’ model of Russian postmodernism (conceptualism vs. meta-realism) worked out by the Russian literary critic Mikhail Epstein in the early 1980’s and very popular since then. Kukulin shows that in the 80s Russian poetry had three or even four ▒poles’, including the poetry of ▒analysing the subject’ (E. Kharitonov, M. Aizenberg and E. Saburov), and it is impossible to understand the most recent poetry without taking this tradition into consideration.
The article by a poet and literary critic Dmitry Kuzmin (Moscow) outlines a wide range of issues dealing with experiment in the contemporary Russian poetry. The text bristles with examples of various poetical innovations as well as polemical remarks towards opposing points of view.
The collection of short essays entitled On the Benefits and Harm of the Present for History consists of the answers given by (mainly young) contemporary poets, prose writers and critics to the question of how recent literature helps to understand the structures of the history (or histories) of literature in a new way. Most authors state that contemporary writers see their intellectual lineage as going back to various authors (mainly of the 20th century) who are not among the generally acknowledged classics. They enter into a personal, intimate and confiding dialogue with these authors, a dialogue which is direct and not mediated by tradition. In his analytical afterword, Ilia Kukulin examines the diversity of contemporary authors’ relationships with the literary tradition.
Andrei Ustinov (San Francisco), An Immodest Proposal: the ▒Minor Dutch Painters’ of Russian Poetry and the Speculative Character of Literary History. The essay presents an ▒immodest proposal’ to create an alternative literary history by challenging the conventional methods of interpretation through the recognition of the lives and works of minor poets. Ustinov insists that the literary canon is an exercise in misreading, while genuine understanding of poetry is possible only when the reader is touched by the ▒Angel of History’. The appropriate form for this re-evaluation would be anthologies in which the literary background of any given period of time is restored rigorously and in detail. This justifies the efforts of literary scholarship, as every minor discovery enables us to signpost another significant point on a literary map. Ustinov describes possible approaches — themes and variations — in constructing such anthologies. In doing so, he is striving to describe the continuity of poetic discourse, which appears to be a necessary condition to reflect the ▒noise of time’.
Sergey Zhozhikashvili’s (Moscow) article A Stock of Words is a critical review of the recent “Literary Encyclopaedia of Terms and Concepts” (ed. A.N. Nilkolyukin, Moscow, 2001). Zhozhikashvili argues that the entries of the encyclopaedia vary in quality and depth of description. According to him, the new book reveals a dramatic state of contemporary literary criticism: eclectic categories, difficulties in defining literary terms, insufficient clarification of certain key concepts. Nevertheless Zhozhikashvili acknowledges the need for this encyclopaedia as an intermediary step, while energy and resources are too scarce to solve the outstanding problems.
Nina Braginskaya (Institute of Advanced Research in the Humanities, Russian State University for the Humanities), The Feast of the Sophists. Thoughts about conferences based on Braginskaya’s personal experience of participation in Russian and foreign academic meetings on issues of classical philology.
Maria Levchenko (Alexander Herzen Pedagogical University, St. Petersburg), Academic Tourism. A criticism of contemporary academic conventions. Possible alternatives to the conference way of life are discussed, for instance the interactive Web-based Live Journal (www.livejournal.com) is described as an example of a better way of creating an area of fruitful academic communication.
Rebecca Frumkina (Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow), Pity You Weren’t There With Us… The well-known linguist relates the story of organizing the non-official, “semi-underground” scholarly workshop that took place regularly from 1967 to 1991 in her apartment. Frumkina also describes several other ▒home workshops’ that operated in this period as the only alternative to the Soviet repressive official educational process.
Vladimir Spiridonov (Institute of Psychology, Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow), The Departmental Underground. The article describes the work of an inofficial seminar which has been operating at the L.S. Vygotsky Institute of Psychology for three years. The purpose of this workshop was to foster ▒underground’ currents neglected by the mainstream of contemporary Russian psychology. Spiridonov then discusses different forms of scholarly life in Moscow psychological circles in the 1980’s.
Vadim Mikhailin, Some Notes On Non-Institutional Forms of Scholarly Contacts. Any academic structure must be seen as a way of reproduction of the ruling elites, ▒pure’ science being just a by-product. In this sense, any crisis within the academic structures should be considered in the wider context of changes within the elites. Seen from this angle, ▒extra-curricular’ (home etc.) seminars as well as other forms of ▒unofficial’ scientific behaviour opposed to ▒official’ structures are one of the means of overcoming the post-Soviet crisis in the non- reformed academic institutions.
“New Literary Review” editors’ Irina Prokhorova, Maria Maiofis and Ilia Kukulin’s conversation is centred around the problem of modernising the forms of scholarly communication. Irina Prokhorova reflects on her experience of founding in 1993 an annual conference under the auspices ofthe New Literary Review magazine. The three editors express their concern about the withering status of conferences in discovering and promoting new intellectual ideas and emphasize the need of radical reforming the genre of conferences and other public academic events.
The issue also contains a book review section focused on monographs and collections of articles on the history of literature.