(transl. by Y. Leving, F. White)
PARADIGMS OF INTELLECTUAL HISTORY:
FROM COLLECTIVE REPRESENTATIONS
TOWARD INDIVIDUAL PRACTICES
The section is devoted to key Western intellectual concepts, such as intellectual history and the history of mentalities, their critical re-evaluation in the contemporary inderdisciplinary studies, and their role in establishing post-Soviet Russian intellectual activity.
In his introductory essay, Alexander Dmitriev (New Literary Observer, Moscow) summarizes the total impact of the schools of “Annales”, “New Cultural History”, and the Cambridge school of history of ideas on the development of Russian historiography of the 70 — 90-s. Intellectual history, in his opinion, has taken its root into the Russian academic tradition without working out, however, either original methodology or practical tools.
The history of ideas was even less fortunate and was totally unacknowledged and ignored.
An article by the well-known French historian Roger Chartier (Ãcole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris), “Intellectual History and the History of MentalitÎs: A Dual Re-evaluation” (1980, 1983), has gained long ago a reputation of a must in acquiring the problematic of intellectual history. Beginning with the early Lucien Febvre’s writings, Chartier views the attitude of the historians belonging to the “Annales” school towards subjects of intellectual history with the help of such concepts as “mental equipment” (L. Febvre) and “the third level’s quantitative history” (P. Chaunu). The concept of “History of Mentalities,” according to Chartier, has been limited by the point of view of collective psychology and does not take into consideration developments of the intellectual history advanced by such scholars as E. Panofsky, A. Koyre, L. Goldmann and others.
Roger Chartier’s answers to the questionnaire of New Literary Observer “Post scriptum, or Twenty years later” reveal the scholar’s vision of the same problems from the present day perspective. From 1970s, Chartier’s own major subject became the history of public sphere and distribution of printed media and books in Europe and France of the 15th—18th centuries. The scholar believes that this area represents a kind of synthesis of collective and serial “History of Mentalities” with an individual and rationalistic “history of (great) ideas”. In this interview, Chartier clarifies once again his specific approach to the subject against other recent well-known theories — concepts of Linguistic Turn, New Historicism, RezeptionsÊsthetik.
An essay by prominent British historian Quentin Skinner (University of Cambridge), “The Rise of, Challenge to and Prospects for a Collingwoodian Approach to the History of Political Thought” analyzes the context of history of ideas (as manifested in the writings by P. Laslett, J.G.A. Pockok, John Dunn and Skinner himself). Following Collingwood, the author defines a historian’s primary goal as a quest for the initial question that evoked the appearance of a given theory. Departing from that impulse and Wittgenstein’s idea of the “linguistic games,” Skinner presents a full-scale dispute with Derrida’s deconstruction (“On Grammatology,” “Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles”) and Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutic concepts.
SOCIAL, HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL REFLEXIONS
Mikhail Gasparov (Institute of Russian Language, Moscow) contributes an article “Yuri Lotman and the Problems of Commentary.” In his renowned commentary to Pushkin’s novel in verse Eugene Onegin, Yuri Lotman states that there are two levels of interpretation: “conceptual” (dealing with the entire text) and “textual” (touching upon some “obscure” words and fragments). However, suggests Gasparov, there is no gap between conceptual and textual explanations of the text, therefore one may speak of different levels, rather than two different types of commentary. Commentary is the translation of an alien culture into the language of domestic ideas and mentalities. Lotman’s achievement consists, according to Gasparov, in his proving that the Pushkin Age is as remote from us as the Ancient World. However, the context of the past can be reconstructed through commentary.
Sergey Zenkin (Russian State University for Humanities, Moscow), “The Commentary and its Double.” The author distinguishes two practices of explaining a text: a commentary and a close reading. The former is directed towards clarifying unintelligible parts of text, i.e. all kinds of “proper names”, once occurring items; the latter, on the contrary, seeks to explain all elements of text, just as somebody “commenting” on a sports game. These two different tasks imply unlike techniques of explanation and unlike manners of writing, which are especially divergent in some boundary cases: commenting notions, codes of behaviour, intertextual quotations. The commentary and the close reading, the author claims, are involved in the same complex relationship as literary history and literary theory are, so far as applied to a single text.
Abram Reitblat’s (New Literary Observer, Moscow) essay “Commentary in the Age of the Internet” reflects on the influence of the recent socio-cultural changes in Russia (decreasing status of literature, decline of readership, “mythologization” of consciousness), as well as of widespread expansion of the Internet with its great informational potentials on the function and character of contemporary academic commentary.
Elena Mikhailik (University of New South Wales, Sydney) “A change of address”. As cultural context loses it’s immediacy with passage of time, its elements that represented to contemporaries a positive (albeit fuzzy) whole become disassociated from each other and are reclassified by the coming generations according to the patterns that those reclassifiers perceive as defining for the period gone by. This article discusses that phenomenon and its consequences for commentary as an authoritative genre using as a touchstone the heavily commented “Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov.
This is followed by the round table entitled “Commentary: Glance and Misery of Genre in Modern Times,” held at the Russian State University for Humanities on December 20, 2003. Well-known literary scholars (Nina Braginskaya, Vera Milchina, Andrey Zorin, Viktor Zhivov, Andrei Nemzer and others) discuss the fate and future of academic commentary in a radically changing socio-cultural context. Such a discussion is of extreme importance for present day Russian humanities because during the 1950—1980s commentary was held in high esteem among Russian scholars (especially nonconformist ones) as practically the only means of gaining new information and introducing new ideas.
This same rubric also includes reviews by Vera Milchina (Moscow) on the 11th Lotman Readings, “Commentary as a Historical-Cultural Problem,” held in the Russian State University for Humanities on December 18—20, 2003, and by Ilya Kukulin (New Literary Observer) about the round table “Academic Editions and Popular Literature” which was devoted to the social meaning of critical editions, organized by the book salon Bilingua (Moscow) on March 16, 2004.
LITERATURE AND NATURAL SCIENCES:
THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
Tatiana Smoliarova’s (Harvard University) article “Derzhavin’s allegorical Meteorology (with special reference to the poem Rainbow)” poses the question: how are scientific images transmitted to literature, translated into poetry, and transformed by the poetic process? The article focuses on a particular optical and poetic image and its history: the image of the rainbow. It is concerned with Gavriil Derzhavin’s poem “Raduga” [“The Rainbow”] (1806).
The poem is a graphic illustration of the double-nature of Derzhavin’s later lyrics which can be defined as “archaic modernity”. Deep Europeanism with its most characteristic ideas and obsessions is gleaming through the archaizing language, Russian folk imagery, and reactionary ideas, abundant in his poems written in the 19th century. By the very image of the “decomposed Rainbow” Derzhavin’s poem joins the long European tradition of the poetic reinterpretation of the Newtonian “Optics” (1704). For succeeding imaginations Newton had altered the rainbow, charging an ancient cultural icon with new significance. “The Rainbow”, as well as the two other poems forming the small “meteorological cycle” of 1806, “The Cloud” and “The Thunder”, marks the pivotal moment of the “second allegorisation” in Derzhavin’s poetry, the shift from the compound baroque allegories of his early odes to the “romantic” allegory (in Walter Benjamin’s terms). The very mechanism of such
a transformation seems to be borrowed from Europe. It is quite revealing that Derzhavin appeals to the image of the rainbow, the transition of which from cultural icon to object of scientific inquiry and further on to poetic image, might be considered one of the vectors of the European culture of the eighteenth century.
Michael D. Gordin (Princeton University) presents a study, “Bridging: Euler, Kulibin, and the Problem of Technical Expertise.” This essay examines the efforts of I. P. Kulibin, an autodidact amateur engineer at the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, to design a wooden bridge that would span the Neva in 1776. Kulibin built a scale model of his bridge and displayed it before an Academy commission chaired by famed mathematician Leonhard Euler. Although Kulibin was able to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the academicians that the bridge would in fact be able to bear a load when scaled up — independently worked out from mathematical principles by Euler — the bridge was never constructed. This failure displays features of the interaction of “high” and “low” technical knowledge during Catherine II’s Enlightenment.
Igor Dmitriev’s (St. Petersburg State University) article “On bridges and Street Lamps” is a critical comment on the said publication by Michael D. Gordin. In author’s opinion, analysis of texts by I.P. Kulibin and L. Euler proves that in contrast to M. Gordin’s statement, a tendency towards mathematization of knowledge and use of analytical methods in engeneering appears both in “high” and “low” traditions.
LITERATURE AND GLOBALIZATION:
WRITERS’ MULTIPLE IDENTITIES
Maria Rubins’s (University of Georgia) article “Russian-French Prose of Andrei Makine” is the first comprehensive study of the author’s novels in the Russian language. The article addresses the recurrent themes, topoi, poetics, and style of the contemporary Russian francophone writer Andrei Makine. Such focus facilitates the identification of core myths and archetypes that resurface in distinct texts in various guises. By juxtaposing Makine’s works against both Russian and French literary traditions, the study reveals the hybrid, bi-lingual and bi-cultural nature of his prose.
In a conversation with the poet and critic Valery Shubinsky (St. Petersburg), Oleg Juriev (poet, prose writer and playwright) who is currently residing in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, expresses his cultural and political views which cling to the so called “liberal neo-conservatism”. Juriev, belonging to the non-conformist Petersburg literature of the 1970—1980s, discusses various issues of contemporary Russian and German cultures, and asserts that the “Jewish theme” in Russian literature fails to form a cohesive context. Juriev also comments on the plot of his recent novel, New Golem (2002), which takes place in Russia, Europe and the United States.
In publication entitled “American Steppes and Mongolo-Venetian Borderland (Writer’s Identity of a Writer in a Multi-Layered World),” prose writer Vladislav Otroshenko (Moscow / Bassano del Grappa, Italy), poet and scholar Igor Vishnevetsky (University of Wiskonsin, Milwakee) and literary critic Ilya Kukulin (New Literary Observer) discuss the “borderline mentality” found in writings that defy precise location on the global cultural map. Otroshenko and Vishnevetsky expand on their own literary work, which is partially inspired by their native South Don region, where Iranian, Greek, Roman, Turkic, Mongolian and Slavic traditions mixed freely. They continue with their experiences of Moscow cultural scene of the 1980’s—2000’s and years of life and travel outside Russia. Of special interest for Otroshenko are the Italian Peninsula (which he knows intimately) and Northern India (where he has made only mental pilgrimages); Vishnevetsky speaks of his experiences in West and Central Mediterranean and North America. Both discuss the power of local mythology, the direct link between locus and poiesis, and the ability to see connections between seemingly distant traditions. Only through this fusion of global and local, only through the harmonization of superficial and inner “selves” a poet and a prose writer could achieve a result which will at the same time be appealing to a naive reader and to a well-versed intellectual.
The section, CHRONICLES OF MODERN LITERATURE, presents an article by Liudmila Viazmitinova (Moscow) about contemporary poets — winners of the National Literary Prize “Debut”; Elena Gerchuk (Moscow) contributes her essay on social discourses of modern book design in Russia, and Boris Vitenberg (St. Petersburg) observes a recent science fiction genre of “alternative political history”.
The BIBLIOGRAPHY section contains Abram Reitblat’s review of the collection of essays “Liberal Reforms and Culture” (Moscow, 2003); B. Vitenberg’s review of the volume “Russians Plus¾” (Moscow, 2003) by Lev Anninsky. Abram Reitblat and Rashit Yangirov observe N. Nusinova’s study, “Russian Cinema Abroad: 1918—1939” (Moscow, 2003).
The ACADEMIC CHRONICLES section publishes a number of reviews on Russian and overseas conferences and seminars that took place during Fall 2003 and Winter 2004. Daria Li and Elena Zaiats report on a “Visual conference” at the Russian State University for Humanities (Moscow, November 26—28, 2003); Natalia Aleksandrovskaia describes the conference devoted to Fedor Tyutchev and religious culture of his time held at Krakow (December 26—27, 2004); Olga Karpova submits her account of the Moscow Andreev readings (Moscow, January 26—27, 2004), Daria Li reports on the Crimean colloquium “Sciences on Culture in Europe. Possibilities and Limits of Gnosis” (Melass, February 15—16, 2004), and Natalia Osminskaia writes about international colloquium dedicated to the memory of the French writer and philosopher Maurice Blanchot (Moscow, February 20, 2004).