INVENTION OF TRADITION: THE ROLE
OF THE INDIVIDUAL IN THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE
The section opens with an article by Nikolaj Plotnikov (Ruhr-Univesity, Bochum) entitled Between the ▒Dark Character’ and the ▒Pure Soul’. Concepts of Personality in the History of Russian Thought (Towards Defining the Terms of the Question). The article gives an account of the research project ▒Person’ and ▒Subject’ in German-Russian Cultural Transfers. Studies in the Conceptual Field of Personality from an inter-cultural perspective (Institute of Philosophy, Ruhr University at Bochum), financed by the Volkswagen Foundation (Hanover, Germany). The project studies the semantics of concepts of personality (person, subject, I, individual) in the his-tory of Russian thought and the influence of German philosophy on Russian concepts of personality. The project views semantic changes in these concepts as indicators and factors in the process of Russia’s social and cultural modernization in the 19th— 20th centuries. Analysing these changes and their significance for the Russian intellectual tradition requires inter-disciplinary co-operation between philosophers, linguists, historians, and sociologists.
Gasan Gusejnov (Bonn University), in A mystical and academic personality:
A.F. Losev on ▒Personality’, examines Russian philosopher Alexey Losev’s interpretation of the concept of ▒personality’, especially in his works from the 1920s, The Dialectics of Myth and The Philosophy of Name. Losev’s understanding of ▒personality’ as a myth, a symbol, and an actual fact rather than an abstract concept was an attack on neo-European individualism with its principle of the self-affirmation of the isolated subject. In his later works (e.g. on the aesthetics of the Renaissance) Losev developed these ideas beyond their philosophico-theological substantiation. Gusejnov sees Losev’s popularity in the 1970s—1980s as stemming from a combination of his biography and the ideological situation of the years of ▒stagnation’ rather than as a result of a broad popularity of his philosophical works.
Alexis Berelowitch (Franco-Russian Center for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Moscow/Paris), in his article On the Personality Cult and Its Consequences (Notes on the Late Soviet Intellectual Community) examines the idiosyncratic phenomenon of ▒personality cults’ among the Soviet intelligentsia in the 1970s: the cults surrounding Averintsev, Bakhtin, Losev and others. The main constituent traits of this phenomenon that he points out are the peculiar, mainly oral channels of spreading knowledge about them (circumventing official censorship) and the indispensable presence of a link between these ▒cult figures’ and the pre-Soviet past, the lost tradition of the humanities. In the post-Soviet situation, Berelowitch writes, these personalities in the humanities have been supplanted by the primacy of rival circles and groups, which means there are no generally recognised criteria of evaluation or legitimate bases for academic activities.
Andrey Zorin’s (Oxford University / The Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH), Moscow) article The Prose of Lidija Ginzburg and 20 th Century Thought in the Humanities discusses the unique experiment of Lidia Ginzburg, who during six decades under the Soviet regime used her autobiographic prose as a medium for creating a new, un-institutionalised form of social science. To achieve this she had to invent her own tradition based on the literary experience of Proust and Tolstoi. In her notebooks Ginzburg reflected upon the social determination of individual and group psychology, the reversibility of existential experience, and the socio-psychological logic of everyday conversation. Blending the expressive lyricism of autobiography with strict scholarly analysis, she managed to create a highly individualised type of writing and to work out her own social theory. In the article this theory is compared to Alfred Adler’s ▒individual psychology’, John Herbert Mead’s sociology, existentialist philosophy etc.
NEW READINGS OF SARTRE
The three articles constituting this section have been taken from the proceedings of two recent conferences on Jean-Paul Sartre, whose centenary has been celebrated in 2005 all over the world.
François Noudelmann (Paris-VIII University) reconsiders the question ▒Was Sartre an author of his time?’ An engaged writer, Sartre was not, however, passively expressing of his time. In his criticism he envisaged the possibility of discrepancies and dialectical contradictions between an author and his epoch; in his autobiographical texts he sought to ▒invent his own time’, and in his literary works the distance between a man and his times enables the former to assume his times, to be their responsible witness.
Christophe Halsberghe (The High School of Translation, Gent) compares the themes of emptiness in the works of Balzac, Proust, Blanchot and Sartre. According to him, Sartre in Nausea and other works discredits the subject inherited from humanistic culture, but does not extend his critique to language, which for him constitutes an ▒asylum from emptiness’. On this point, he resolutely diverges from Maurice Blanchot whose narratives reveal emptiness as a foundation of literary fiction.
Sergey Zenkin (The Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow) entitles his article Sartre and the Sacred. The term of ▒the sacred’ is wider than religion, and Sartre’s realistic work often refers to mysterious forces, privileged places and religious cults, experienced by the heroes as limitations on their liberty. The writer’s own evolution, from the short story The Wall to the great ▒existential psychoanalysis’ of Flaubert, may be considered as a progressive rationalization of the sacred with the aim of freeing himself from it.
LITERATURE, AERONAUTICS, AVIATION
This section is devoted to the various aspects of the theme of aviation and aeronautics in literature and journalism from the 19th to the early 21st century. The study of this topic reveals nodal points in literature’s attempts to come to terms with modernization, industrial society, Man’s (and especially the artist’s) mastery over space, and the new look of cities. It also allows us to understand the ways in which the history of aviation has been conceptualised in poetry and prose. Most authors in this section discuss the shifts in narrative perspective that the invention of aeronautics and the development of aviation brought into literature.
Ludmila Aliabieva (The New Literary Review Publishing House) in her article Ballooning as Entertainment: From the History of the ▒Balloon Craze’ in England examines the way air ballooning spread quickly around Europe just after its introduction in France in 1783 and became a staple of everyday culture, being absorbed by the developing leisure industry preoccupied with visual effects — hence the popularity of various ▒visual’ pastimes such as panoramas, dioramas, promenades, special buildings arranged for observing (e.g. the Eiffel Tower) and numerous optical instruments. Thus ▒the sport of the gods’ as it was called at the time turned into a popular show, and balloon ascent remained the hit of the season for several decades at the end of the 18th and well into the 19th century in London as well as in other cities within the Kingdom. Aeronauts, both men and women, the celebrities of the day, tried hard to exploit the entertaining potential of air ballooning to meet the expectations of the audience. At the same time balloons were welcomed not only as entertaining vehicles but as machines that made flight possible and offered a new type of vision, a new point of view — from above — revolutionarily widening the visual horizons of its contemporaries.
Tatiana Smoliarova’s (Columbia University, New York / RSUH, Moscow) article, Flight and Sight, or From a Belgian High in the Russian Sky, is an extensive commentary on two passages translated from the Memoirs of Etienne-Gaspard Robertson (1763—1837), ▒physicist and aeronaut’, as he introduced himself, mainly known for the optical spectacles of Phantasmagoria, given in Paris in the late 1790s and attended by the most eminent persons of the time. Relatively well studied by specialists of ▒proto-cinema’, Robertson’s Memoirs (1831) have been entirely neglected as a source of Russian History of the early 19th century, although the entire second volume is dedicated to Robertson’s six-year stay in Russia and to his numerous travels inside and outside the country. Robertson’s is a kind of a 3D travelogue, alternating between ordinary, ▒horizontal’ travels with vertical (i.e. Robertson’s ascents) and virtual ones (i.e. his ▒Phantasmagorias’, aimed at transcending the borders of real space). Optics and balloon travelling having been Robertson’s two life-long passions, both are present in the Memoirs not only on a thematic level, but also as a basic compositional principle: the swift change of tableaux of everyday life juxtaposed with the all-embracing view of a balloon traveller.
Yuri Leving’s (The George Washington University, Washington, DC) article Latent Eros and Heavenly Stalin: On Two Anthologies of Soviet Aviation Poetry examines the role and relevance of notions of ▒sexuality’ and ▒gender’ in the Soviet poetic discourse of the 1920s and late 1930s through a discussion of key themes, specific cases, and current historiography. Leving looks at the main conceptual design of the two pre-war poetic anthologies devoted to Soviet aviation (published in 1923 and 1939 respectively), while a special subchapter of the study deals with representation of Soviet female pilots.
Molly Brunson (University of South California, Berkeley), Flying over Moscow: Aerial Perspectives and Spatial Representation in Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. This article examines Margarita’s nocturnal flight in Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita within the context of the visual representations of aviation in Soviet culture of the 1920s and 1930s. Brunson focuses on the abstract compositions of El Lissitzky, two films by Abram Room and Grigorii Aleksandrov, and several propagandistic documents of high Stalinism. By allowing Margarita the power of air travel, Bulgakov grants her (and his reader) a unique perspective of Moscow and of the Soviet Union, one that invokes both the visual experiments of the avant-garde and the spatial control of Stalinist propaganda. According to Brunson, these two seemingly contradictory models of spatial perception merge in the course of Margarita’s flight, revealing a deeply compromised notion of space.
The section closes with a new poem by Alexey Parshchikov (Cologne), A Country Churchard (from his cycle Zeppelins), followed by an auto-commentary by the author explaining aviation-related details in the poem, and an analytical essay by Alexander Ulanov (Samara) discussing Parshchikov’s poem in the context of the history of 20th century European and American airship construction.
NEZNAYKA: PRO ET CONTRA
This section analyses the children’s writer Nikolay Nosov’s (1908—1976) trilogy of novels about little people called ▒shorties’, whose behaviour displays a mix of infantine and adult traits.
Marina Zagidullina (Chelyabinsk State University) in The Time of the Bluebells, or ▒The Inspector General’ in ▒Neznayka’ compares the plots of Nikolay Gogol’s comedy The Inspector General and Nosov’s novel The Adventures of Neznayka and His Friends. Zagidullina shows that Nosov’s children’s novels are built around the classical structure of plots about an impostor who creates his social status anew in an alien society. This structure is also characteristic of ▒adult’ road novels. The article charts a way of examining the organisation of the space of Nosov’s ▒Shorty Country’ as a geographical symbol of Russia, interpreted in a timeless fashion.
Tatyana Kovaleva (Orel State University), in Neznayka the Poet: Tots Staged by Russian Children’s Poetry analyses the poems written by numerous characters from the first novel in Nikolay Nosov’s trilogy, The Adventures of Neznayka and His Friends (1954). Kovaleva shows the parodist foundations of those poems, and traces the links between the Neznayka poems and the tradition of Russian poetry for children in the 19th—20th centuries, including poems from the book Stepka-Rastrepka (1849, a translation of the collection of poems by the German poet Heinrich Hoff-mann, Struwwelpeter, 1845) and clichéd, popular forms of children’s poetry (standard season’s greetings, rhymed mathematical problems etc). The poems written by the characters in the Neznayka novel are a kind of encyclopaedia of techniques in children’s poetry and the history of Russian poetry for children.
Ilya Kukulin (the New Literary Review magazine, Moscow) in Playing at Satire, or the Incredible Adventures of Unemployed Mexicans on the Moon shows that while Nikolay Nosov’s novels, especially the second and third novel of his trilogy, Neznayka in Sun City and Neznayka on the Moon seem highly ideological, in fact their ideological constructions are a mere external framework which the author needs for the construction of his adventure plots. Nosov used not only reinterpreted clichés of Soviet propaganda, but also elements from classic fantasy novels (Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle) and quotations from the European and American literature of his own time (Ray Bradbury). The result is not ▒ideological novels’ but playful texts in which the propagandistic task is less important than an ironic depiction of teenager psychology and a parodist reinterpretation of various genres of fan-tasy and science-fiction literature.
NEW YEAR’S EVE: ANTHROPOLOGICAL INQUIRIES
Anna Kushkova’s (the European University at Saint-Petersburg) At the Centre of the Table: the Peak and Fall of the Olivier Salad is a sociological and ethnographic study of the culture of making Olivier salad in the USSR in the 1960s—1980s and its transformation in the post-Soviet era. This salad, the symbol of Soviet festive meals in the 1960s—1980s, is an example of an individual dish reflecting the way of thought and social relations of society during ▒developed socialism’. The author observes that the high status and central position of this dish on the festive table were a result of the ▒prestige’ of some of its ingredients (mayonnaise, meat, and green peas) under conditions of acute food shortages. In the minds of urban and rural dwellers above the age of 30—35 today, Olivier salad remains a festive symbol as well as part of the festive ritual, the most filling hors d’oeuvre, one that includes ingredients which seem very different at first sight. It is a semiotic antipode to other, ▒non-festive’ dishes, such as Farrago salad (vinegret), whose ingredients are similar to those of Olivier. However, as the Russian market for foodstuffs was saturated in the 1990s, the popularity and prestige of Olivier have declined, especially among the educated strata, who prefer to serve various ▒exotic’ salads to their guests.
Natalia Lesskis (Institute of European Cultures, Russian State University for the Humanities), ▒Ironiya Sud’by’: From Rituals of Solidarity to a Poetics of Altered Consciousness. Lesskis attempts to explain the stunning success of El’dar Ryazanov’s film Ironia Sud’by’ (An Irony of Fate, 1976) shown on Russian TV every New Year’s Eve, through a study of the different cultural connotations of this ▒cinema text’. The film reflects the main cultural processes at work in Soviet society in the 1970s, as well as a number of life strategies that art offers society. Lesskis argues that the tradition of European Romanticism plays a decisive role for the twists and turns of the plot and the film’s system of characters. The characters’ life strategies can be defined as escapist — a flight from the official public sphere into an intimised space of authentic human relations.
Alexey Levinson (Levada Centre for the Study of Public Opinion, Moscow), Imperial Vodka Fading Away. The end of the state monopoly on vodka production and distribution heralded a new age in the history of Russian vodka. Vodka used to be a symbol of centralised state power, with only one identical brand to be found everywhere in the USSR. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the influx of new brands displaying Royal Eagles was an attempt to find substitutes for the lost empire. Soon they all vanished. Dozens of excellent local vodka brands now symbolise the ▒vodka sovereignty’ of the regions of Russia. Levinson recollects the Vodka Myth, the rich fabric of rites and habits, proverbs and sayings about vodka, stressing that this semantic charge has vanished. New generations of Russians prefer beer or wine to vodka. Vodka whenever taken is just a drink.