(transl. by Ignatius Vishnevetsky)
WALTER BENJAMIN AND FRENCH AVANT-GARDE OF THE 1930’s
In his lifetime a marginal figure deliberately remote from the German intellectual mainstream, Walter Benjamin was keenly interested in French culture. This interest played a role in the posthumous canonization of Benjamin (from the 1960’s onwards) as a major European thinker of the period.
A Russian translation of Benjamin’s essay Surrealism: A Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia (1928) is published here for the first time. It is an important evidence of Benjamin’s interest in the work of Breton, Aragon, and their allies, whom he considered heralds for the newest changes in the European cultural life and also direct heirs to artistic experience and
anarchistic worldview of Comte de Lautreamont and Rimbaud. The new
creative experience of the surrealists and analytical foundation of their radical project (despite a strong streak of irrationalism) serve as a point of departure for Benjamin’s own musings on the purpose of art in Europe.
This section also contains a translation of Michael Weingrad’s (University of Leeds, UK) article Benjamin and Bataille: The College of Sociology and the Institute of Social Research initially published in New German Critique No. 84 (2001). Weingard discusses the relationship between Benjamin and a group of radically-minded French intellectuals (Georges Bataille, Pierre Klossowski, et al.) during his forced sojourn to France when fascism made considerable advances in Europe. Weingard analyzes the correspondence between Benjamin and two former researchers from the then closed Frankfurt Institute of Social Research-Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. This correspondence reveals that the ideas of their French colleagues were approached through the prism of German emigres’ internal discussions about the social engagement of art, the role of ideology, and intellectual’s mission in a society. Benjamin’s proximity to Bataille (in the way he thought of the phenomenal popularity and effectiveness of Hitler’s propaganda and approached the irrational element in National Socialism) does not hide their considerable differences and Benjamin’s skeptical attitude towards the intellectual enterprises of Bataille and the other participants in the so-called College of Sociology.
STATUS AND REPRESENTATION:
SOCIOLOGY AND ANTHROPOLOGY OF THE ARCHAIC
This rubric deals with strategies of political self-affirmation of different groups inside the ruling elite and ideological and artistic concepts of a period, chiefly of Homeric and post-Homeric Greece.
In “Achilles’ Choice” Vadim Mikhailin (Saratov State University) and Anton Ksenofontov (Russian Christian University of Humanities, St. Petersburg) reconstruct the system of meanings and oppositions used in the best-known episode from the Iliad — the confrontation between Achilles and Agamemnon during the siege of Troy. Achilles is presented in the poem as a model “individualistic” military aristocrat of the archaic era. The key epic notion of “fate” is directly linked to the interaction and struggle of organizing economic and heroic military elements, which are identified with the “elder” and “younger” brother “parts” in the tribal economy.
A chapter from Francois de Pollignac’s book La naissance de la cite grecque: Cultes, espace et sociÎtÎ, VIII — VII siÏcles (Paris: La Decouverte, 1984;
English edition: Chicago University Press, 1995) is dedicated to the role of the sacred places outside the Ancient Greek cities. Those places separated the culture from everything hostile to it thus symbolizing the strength of each given polis. Of a specific importance were the cults of Hera and Apollo: procreation, initiation of young people, and each city’s struggle for its status among the neighbors and in Greek society in general played a significant role in their design. Trade and farming economy was often at odds with the system of values of military aristocracy, when it came to self-affirmation of various political elites, to armed conflicts and attempts to politically unify the cities.
CREATION OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY:
THE HISTORICAL, THE PRIVATE, AND THE FICTIONAL
The first article in this section is Irina Paperno’s (Berkerly University, USA) Soviet Experience, Autobiographical Writing and Historical Consciousness: Ginzburg, Herzen, Hegel.
Taking memoirs of the Soviet experience published since the late 1980s as a starting point, the article traces the presence of Hegelianism in the autobiographical writings and historical consciousness of the twentieth-century Russian intelligentsia. The author traces the roots of Hegelian idiom to Alexander Herzen’s paradigm-making memoir, My Past and Thoughts, and shows this text as based on the structural pattern of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. It is argued that Hegelian paradigms and Hegelian discourse have been mediated by professional historians of literature, such as Lidiia Ginzburg, in her literary scholarship (her work on Herzen and the memoir), as well as in her autobiographical writings published in recent years.
Violetta Gudkova’s (Moscow) study How the Officialdom ▒Worked’ with the Writer: The Evolution of Self-Representation in Yuri Olesha analyzes several autobiographies written by Olesha at various moments of his life. With the growth of political pressure he suppressed the things that may compromise him: his own noble background, his first attempts at writing before the
Revolution of 1917, and the plays he wrote in the late 1910’s — early 1920’s. Archival documents and publications in periodicals are used as a basis for restoration of the earliest, least documented phase of Olesha’s creativity, when he thought of himself as both a playwright and a prose writer. In the late 1930’s — 1950’s, when Olesha considered himself “completely alien” to the new totalitarian times, he wrote practically nothing for publication.
In her paper The Poetics of Private Space in Marina Tsvetaeva: The Realm of Non-routinized Natalija Arlauskajte (Vilnius University) reads Tsvetaeva’s
fiction and private correspondence as certain configurations of an imaginary (auto)biography. The author then progresses to the description of this
imaginary space, which in a secular world of Tsvetaeva substitutes for the space of the sacred. This highly eroticized sphere is precisely what Max Weber in his 1915 study of the religious mentality called the space of the “non-routinized”.
In his article Without Support: The Autobiography and Writing of Georges Perec Boris Dubin (Yuri Levada’s Analytical Center and The Institute of European Cultures, Moscow) approaches the autobiographical texts and
projects of Georges Perec as a kind of “negative autobiography”, a quest for a new literature that would be able to define and affirm itself “after Auschwitz”. Dubin is particularly interested in syndromes revealed through such writing as well as in the radical change of the author-reader relationship. Perec’s poetics is defined as cryptogrammic, lacking in self-expression, and hinting at the remains of the suppressed trauma.
VLADIMIR PETROVICH KUPCHENKO (1938—2004):
This section contains contributions to the outstanding scholar, the pioneer of Maximilian Voloshin’s studies and his first biographer Vladimir Kupchenko by his friends and colleagues Roza Khruleva, Boris Frezinsky, Zakhar Davydov, Konstantin Azadovsky, and Alexander Lavrov.
MULTILINGUAL COMMUNITIES AND LITERATURES
In his editor’s preface Kirill Kobrin (Radio Liberty, Prague) speaks of the cases of coexistence of different languages and cultures on the same territory. Any literature formed in a multilingual community relates itself more to the place of its birth than to a particular national tradition. This is most obvious in the case of Prague that harbored modern Czech, German, and Jewish
German literary traditions. There were also cases when a multilingual
community failed to produce any cultural synthesis, like in medieval Wales. The contributors to this section attempt to name some of the mechanisms of formation, functioning, and development of a multilingual community.
Aleksandr Bobrakov-Timoshkin’s (Prague) article The Phenomenon and the Tragedy of Prague’s Multilingualism surveys the history of Prague’s Czech-German bilingualism. Of a specific interest for the author is a late 19th — early 20th
century period when the mutual separation of the Czech and German-speaking inhabitants of the megalopolis led to a sort of cultural “apartheid”. Ghettoization of the cultures and attempts to transcend it were equally reflected in texts composed by the younger Czech, German, and Jewish writers of the period.
In a study Czech Version of Language Building: National Revival and Its Remaining Ideologemes Tomas╓ Glanc (Karlow University, Prague) argues that the Czech National Revival, introduced in the early 19th century by a group of radical intellectuals, was heavily influenced by Herder. The ideology of “national separation”, so active in the 19th-century Eastern Europe, resulted in a growing lack of understanding between Czech and German-speaking intellectuals in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This “separation” continues to act as a “residual ideologeme” (a term invented by Glanc) in the Slavic Studies, which are often subdivided not into studies of literature, culture, religion, etc., but into such disciplines as Serbian, Croatian, Russian, and other national studies with little or no connection between them. The Czech National Revival is an example of how a multilingual community becomes less complete, when influenced by centrifugal force.
The Anglo-Norman penetration and conquest of Wales contributed much to the development of the specific intellectual climate of the country. The co-
existence of several languages and cultures in this Western fringe of European medieval civilization is remarkable. In the article Reading in a Multilingual Environment: Wales at the End of the 15th Century A.I. Falileev (St. Petersburg) examines the so-called Red Book of Hergest (Oxford, Jesus College Library MS. 111), one of the most important medieval Welsh books. The data offer the possibility to discuss the reading strategies of the Welsh in late 14th century. It is notable that the Welsh reader, for whom the medieval manuscripts were compiled, preferred to read (or listen to) the prose in Welsh rather than in the original, and was interested in the original poetry.
In his essay Russian-Hebrew Literary Connections in Real Time Aleksandr Barash (Jerusalem) discusses the relationship between two literary traditions during the entire 19th century. Barash pays particular attention to mutually rewarding influences and to their echoes in the Russian-language poetry of Israel and Russia, and in Israeli poetry composed in Hebrew. The contemporary situation is viewed with the expert eye of an active participant in the Russian-Hebrew dialogue who is particularly stricken by the coexistence of both
cultures in the Holy Land. The socio-cultural endurance of their dialogue is vouched by the existence of a large colony of Russian Israeli writers whose work is of equal importance for the mother country of their language (Russia) and for their historical motherland (Israel).
Aleksey Plutser-Sarno (Moscow) presents a new rubric Contemporary Russian Folklore: Symbols and Texts with his two essays Russian “Waste”: From Symbol to Text and Russian Criminal Tattoos: From Text to Symbol. In his first text he demonstrates how the word “waste” (otstoi) spread from the professional speech of car drivers, chemists, sewage-disposal men, et al., to everyday language as a negative definition of practically anything. The Russian dubbed version of “Beavis and Butt-Head” played a major role in this process. The second text deals with the semantics of Russian criminal tattoos and their social, communicational, and psychological contexts (life of the thieves inside and outside prison).
CHORINCLES OF CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE feature contributions by Ilya Kukulin, Boris Ivanov, Kseniya Rozhdestvenskaya, Arkady Shtypel, Yulia Idlis, and Dmitry Dmitriev.
Ekaterina Samorodnitskaya, Oksana Timofeeva, M.M. Krom, Oleg Kling, V.A. Koshelev, A.I. Reitblat, Maria Maiofis, and others review recent books in the BIBLIOGRAPHY section.
Transl. by Ignatius Vishnevetsky