CINEMA AS A MEDIUM OF THEORY OF THE 1920s:
IN SEARCH OF NEW ANTHROPOLOGY
This section is dedicated to a quest for an adequate theoretical and aesthetical language capable of depicting and explaining the most important cultural and social changes in Europe between the wars.
Yan Levchenko (Moscow) in his article “Outlines of an unwritten theory: cinematographic theme of Russian Formalists” discusses the specifics and nature of theoretic conceptualising of cinema in Russian Formalism of the 1920s. The most important thing for the future cinematic thought was the concept of autonomy of a cinematographic device that the Formalists had substantiated. Victor Shklovsky in his analysis of the distinct artistic nature of the cinema was mostly following the “pure motion” model described in Henri Bergson’s treatise “Creative Evolution” (1907). Yuri Tynyanov’s understanding of cinema was in the end determined by the practice of the eccentrics (Lev Kuleshov’s FEKS). As for Boris Eichenbaum, the most important point for him was to separate the cinematic aesthetics from the classical one. Specifics of the cinema allowed the Formalists to pinpoint the changes in the aesthetical perception of the first decades of the 20th century. For the emerging cinematic aesthetics literature proved to be the main resource for analogies, and a stimulus of theoretical interest, yet at the same time it hindered the development of its identity.
Miriam Hansen’s (The University of Chicago) article “Decentric Perspectives: Kracauer’s Early Writings on Film and Mass Culture” analyses Siegfried Kracauer’s works of the 1920s, his film reviews and overviews of the cinema process for the respected newspaper Die Frankfurter Zeitung. Hansen exposes the specific philosophy of history inspired both by the ideas of the Enlightenment and by the secularised Judaic messianism that serves as a foundation of Kracauer’s original creative concept of cinema. The key issue for understanding modern society is that of disintegration of reality, obliviousness to truth, social and cultural estrangement. But at that point Kracauer makes a radical turn: instead of escaping from the modern age into a romantic utopia he consistently and knowingly subscribes to distanced analysis and involved experiencing of this new shallow reality of mass cultural production and cinematic process. By applying this double strategy Kracauer as an outsider of the bourgeois German culture of his era managed to look into peculiarities of cinematographic aesthetics in an innovative way, particularly the issues of the nature of perceiving cinema and analysis of the audience, its social phantasms and cultural projections.
As an appendix we publish for the first time a Russian translation of Siegfried Kracauer’s famous essay “The Mass ornament” (1927), that became an important landmark in conceptualising anthropological shifts and cultural changes of the modern age.
Yuri Tsivian (University of Chicago). “A gesture of revolution or Shklovsky as a puzzlehead”. The essay looks at the effect of defamiliarization in literature, cinema and fine arts. Following Shklovsky’s use of sources it traces it from Levitan and Chekhov to Kandinsky and on to Rodchenko and Vertov. The essay starts with a question “What is the gesture of revolution?” posed by Aleksei Tolstoi and ends with Eisenstein’s possible answer to this question.
TRANSLATION A S A CULTURAL INSTITUTION:
ON THE EDGE OF THE SOVIET CONVENTIONS
Tatiana Shchedrina (Institute of Philosophy RAS, Moscow) in her article “Four letters to Lev Kamenev or The part Gustav Shpet played in translating Shakespeare” uses archival materials as a basis for looking into a rather hot public argument of the mid-1930s concerning the nature of translation and reception of cultural heritage. At the center of the epistolary argument were translations of “Othello” and “Macbeth” by a poet Anna Radlova done for the collected works of Shakespeare. That collection was edited by a out-offavour philosopher and one of the founding fathers of Russian hermeneutics, Gustav Shpet, and a literary historian, Aleksandr Smirnov. An arbiter in their argument and an addressee of their correspondence was a chief editor of the “Academia” publishing house and still an important political figure, Lev Kamenev, who had in the 1920s lost his place on the top of the political Olympus to Stalin. These letters and Tatyana Shchedrina’s commentaries are very important if one is to understand what Shpet meant when he spoke of the “historical accuracy” of a translation. That polemic over the basic principle of translating Shakespeare clarifies for the audience the principles of probably the most important enterprise that Shpet engaged in in the 1930s, that is creating the famous lavishly footnoted Russian edition of the “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club” — the concept behind this edition was a result of the development of Shpet’s hermeneutic ideas of the 1910s—1920s.
Sergei Zavyalov (University of Helsinki). ““Poetry is always something else, it’s always otherwise”: translating modernist poetry in the USSR in the 1950s—1980s”. The article is based on analysis of poetry published in the Russian magazine “Foreign literature” that was founded in 1955 and still is in existence. Discussing the contents for 1955—1991 (till the end of the Soviet period), the author demonstrates how Russian translators of the late Soviet era gradually mastered the aesthetics of European modernist poetry of the 20th century — prior to that such a large body of translatied foreign poetry had never existed either in Russia or in the USSR. Therefore the author thinks that censorship, which displayed strange leniency in this particular case (the possible reasons for this tolerance are also discussed) was not the main factor hindering the Europeanisation of Russian poetry in the post-Stalinist era. He thinks that the main hindrance was rather the general cultural insularity of the main part of Russian poetry. The psychological foundations of that insularity are demonstrated in the material on the critical argument between Josef Brodsky and Yvе Bonnefoi about English translations of Osip Mandelstam.
Mikhail Andreev (Russian State University for the Humanities [RSUH], Moscow). The article analyses the story of the reception of Dante Alighieri’s works in Russia using Mikhail Gasparov’s concept on the cyclic nature of modernisation in Russian culture of the 18th—20th centuries (the alternation of “extensive/shallow” and “intensive/deep” periods). The author thinks that the two new translations of the “Divina Commedia” made by Vladimir Marantsman and Aleksandr Ilyushin and published in the 1990s represent two approaches towards perception of foreign cultural sources — extensive and intensive — that now coexist within Russian Culture in a state of a hidden conflict.
Arlen V. Blum (St. Petersburg Academy of Culture) publishes a bibliographical “Index librorum prohibitorum of foreign authors (in Russian translation, 1917—1991)”. It lists books by foreign authors that were banned after being published in Russian and removed from libraries. It lists the causes of prohibition and provides the numbers of censorial decrees. The reasons behind bans varied. Pre-revolutionary publications could be banned because they were considered “pornographic” (several editions by Oscar Wilde and all by Octave Mirbeau) or promoting religious views (“Christ legends” by Selma Lagerlöf). Books published in the USSR that had already passed Soviet censorship were banned if they had mentioned people whose names became taboo for the Soviet press: Lev Trotsky, Lev Kamenev, etc., or if an author who had previously supported the USSR went into a public argument with the Soviet leadership (as happened with Andre Gide), or even if an author was too vocal in supporting the actions of that very same leadership if they were disavowed later (eg. Stalin’s struggle against the Jugoslav regime of Josip Broz Tito).
SEXUAL TABOOS AND THOSE WHO TRANSGRESSED AGAINST THEM AT THE WANE OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT ERA
Andrei Zorin (University of Oxford). “A visit to a brothel in Moscow in January 1800 (Schiller, gonorrhoea and original sin in the emotional world of a Russian nobleman)”. The article discusses the formation of an individual emotion as an interaction of different and contradictory emotional patterns within an emotional response. The case discussed is the feelings of a young Russian nobleman of the early 19 th century about the venereal disease he contracted while visiting a prostitute as these feelings were reflected in his diary. The diarist interpreted his misfortune both in moralistic way as a sin of carnal flesh to be deplored and repented and in the “Schillerian” way as a moral crime of the selected person doomed by the fate. The interplay of these conflicting interpretations organised the semantic field that allowed the existence of the unique individual emotion.
Larry Wolff (New York University). “Private Life, Personal Liberty, and Sexual Crime in 18th-Century Venice: The Case of Gaetano Franceschini”. This article considers the significance of private life in a complicated case of sex crime in late eighteenth-century Venice. A sixty-year old man, defending himself against the charge of having had sex with an eight-year-old girl, invoked his right to privacy in the rhetorical context of being a “free man.” The article then considers the relation between freedom and libertinism in the late 18th century, the significance of scandal as a link between the realms of public and private life, and the Enlightenment’s view of sex and privacy. The article concludes with reflections on Foucault’s ideas about the history of sexuality in relation to eighteenth-century libertinism and the modern classification of perversion.
Douglas Smith (University of Washington — Seattle). “The Theatrical Life of Count Nikolai Sheremetev”. Yuri Lotman’s writings on the culture of 18th— and early 19th-century Russia have exercised a profound influence for several decades. Historians and literary scholars have been particularly drawn to his ideas on the role of theatricality in the lifestyle of the Russian nobility. Surprisingly, neither Lotman nor other scholars have thought to examine what was arguably the most theatrical of lives at the time, that of Count
N.P. Sheremetev, in the light of Lotman’s work. In this essay, Douglas Smith explores the undeniably dramatic life of Count Sheremetev to see how Lotman’s theories concerning theatricality might help to explain the count’s behavior and how the count’s life forces us to reconsider some of Lotman’s grander claims.
WORKING THOUGH A TRAUMA AS AN AESTHETIC EVENT
This section discusses what productive ways of working through historical and biographical traumas there might be in modern culture. Combining historical and biographical perspectives is especially important in the context of post-Soviet culture since for many active Russian-speaking writers the collapse of the Soviet regime became a powerful personal event — a liberating one or, to the contrary, one that had thrown them into ressentiment. However many problems of Russian culture concur with those peculiar to the West in general. The authors of this section are interested in the question of which cases reflecting on a trauma might produce innovations in science, philosophy and literature.
Petr Rezvykh (Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, Moscow). “Experience of a break-off and an event of love (Thesises on Franklin Ankersmit’s “Sublime historical experience” and Friedrich Schelling’s “Eternal past”)”. This article offers a critical analysis of Franklin Ankersmit’s concept of “sublime historical experience” by juxtaposing it with historiosofical reflexions of Friedrich Schelling formulated in his work Weltalter. The author demonstrates that in the neo-romantic theory of Ankersmit a tendency prevails to aesthetise a traumatic past, while Schelling’s concept of “eternal past” gives foundation to a possibility of a society finding ethical self-definition in relation to its past through a special communicative praxis. Exactly that kind of approach might prove to be necessary for overcoming the traumatic heritage of the Soviet past in modern Russia.
Ilya Kukulin (The New Literary Observer magazine, Moscow) in his review “Photographic biscuit Madelene” discusses an unusual book by a historian Igor Narsky, published in Chelyabinsk (Russia) — “Photograph as a keepsake: family histories, photographic messages and Soviet childhood (Autobiohistorio-graphical novel)” — this paper is dedicated to an interpretation of one photograph of the author, Mr Narsky, made in 1966 while he was 7 years old in Gorky (Nizhny Novgorod). An expressly fragmentary book of a researcher from Chelyabinsk combines elements of an autobiographical novel, historical investigation and a sociological and art history treatise. The questions that are most important for Narsky are posed in the spirit of “pictorial turn” — how do memorates on personal photographs become parts of autobiographical experience and how could these photographs be used by way of historical sources.
Aleksandr Dmitirev’s (The New Literary Observer magazine, Moscow) essay analyses the new poem by Stanislav Lvovsky (Moscow) that was published in this issue in which the author launched an imaginary dialogue with Eric Hobsbawm and compared his own traumatic memories of the 1970s with Hobsbawm’s analysis of that decade in his book “The Age of Extremes: the Short Twentieth Century, 1914—1991”. Dmitriev discusses peculiarities of the political imagination of Soviet children during the 1970s and poses a question: in which situations can a poet take upon himself the duties of a historian?
This section also contains a collection of articles dedicated to the works of a writer Valery Votrin (Moscow), who published his maiden book in 2007. We publish a fragment from a new novel by Votrin “The Last Magog” (the novel is currently being prepared for publication at The New Literary Observer Publishing House) — a postmodernist parable portraying the conflict between a messianic and apocalyptical culture and a secular humanist culture in modern Europe, and the shock the bearers of the messianic consciousness experience when confronting the modern world. This collection also contains essays by Aleksei Parshchikov (Köln) and Galina Zelenina (RSUH, Moscow) on new works by Votrin: the authors discuss the nature of historical self-consciousness in Votrin’s novels and short stories. Aleksandr Chantsev (Moscow) in his review analyses different writing strategies in Votrin’s first book.