IDEOLOGY OF THE VISUAL
The section opens with an article by Martin Jay (University of California, Berkeley) “Aesthetic experience and historical experience: a of the 21st century constellation” that considers the new part that visual aesthetics came to play in experiencing and conceptualising history (when compared to Neoeuropean Classical models) The author pays special attention to metamorphoses of history paintings from Classicist allegories of J.L. David to modern practices of “artistic recreation” of the recent past. In the post-Avant guard era philosophy of history and history of arts reach a new balance, because representational practices turn to be not only yet one more sphere of cultural self-consciousness, but also an important point of redefining the very experience of life-in-history.
The section also offers an article by Oleg Voskoboinikov (Moscow State University) “Freedom of Medieval Creativity (several considerations on methodology)”. The purpose of this research work is to attract the reader’s attention to the special nature of Mediaeval art that is obvious to those who makes it an object of study, but has not yet become generally accepted even among historians specialising in the Middle Ages. As ever, artistic activities of the Christian West for a millennia (approximately from 500 AD to 1500 AD) were characterised by a distinctive freedom of creativity, that used to collocate in a peculiar way with the primacy of religion, social and political trends and philosophical pursuits. The author tried to demonstrate that special nature of Medieval artistic activities by building his narrative around several major plots: copying an quotations; the meaning of written evidence; the rhetoric of both texts and imagery; The Bible and canon in arts; anonymity, authorship and authority; the apparency of monuments, the matter of Byzantine influence; Christian anthropology and the image of Man and polemics over the matter of a temple.
CLIMATE AND CULTURE
In K.A. Bogdanov’s article (University of Konstanz, Germany; Institute of Russian Literature, St. Petersburg) “The Climatology of Russian culture. Prolegomena” climate is seen as one of the basic external features of the development of society (including cultural and historical relativity of stereotyped weather appraisals for any given region). Where Russia is concerned, the most important period appears to be the second half of the 18th century and the first decades of the 19th century: at that time the most stable concepts of specifically “Russian” climate and its not always direct and yet undeniable connection with the peculiarities of Russian national character were formed under the influence of the Enlightenment theories (especially Montesquieu). During the last decades the Soviet concept of “remaking nature” once again started to be replaced with the that type of climatological discourse where climate becomes a parameter that substantiates Russian Sonderweg, as opposed to Western standards of development.
Catriona Kelly (Oxford University, UK) in her article “Forty Times Forty Showers: Making Heavy Weather in St Petersburg” examines the relationship between representation of meteorological, and more broadly climatic, conditions in St Petersburg-Leningrad and the sense of local specificity. The point might seem obvious — weather is a constituent element of V. N. Toporov’s ▒Petersburg text’, and weather is often understood as a ▒local’ phenomenon (cf. the popularity of such titles as ▒The Windy City’ and ▒The Bleak City’). However, the idea of ▒Petersburg weather’ is relatively late in date — it does not crop up in belles-lettres or specialist texts on meteorology from the eighteenth century, which are still shaped by the traditional early modern association of weather (cosmology) and the state of the nation. Nor was the representation of supposedly locally specific conditions (e.g. slush, rain) dictated by an objective shift in weather conditions (winters remained very cold in the mid nineteenth century). Instead, the climatic effects are linked to the development of moralising and particularising discourses on the city. The article moves from Pushkin’s inversion of the meteorological norms of the ode in ▒Freedom’ and ▒The Bronze Horseman’ to the ▒physiological’ view of St Petersburg (Dostoevsky, Goncharov, and others), to the metaphysical view of the weather as an indicator of the city’s cursed status at the turn of the century. The post-revolutionary period brought about a remarkable change, with good weather now coming to be seen as characteristic in Soviet official poetry about Leningrad, and also, ironically enough, in the nostalgia-soaked verse of émigrés. The Blockade (accompanied in actuality by savage frosts) brought about a break from this new tradition, and in the last decades of Soviet power — alongside the revival of interest in local identity, often with links to the historical city as it existed before 1917 — there was a move back to the nineteenth-century canons, though these were often used ▒in quotation marks’ by more sophisticated locals. In the recent past, another interesting mutation has occurred, with ▒traditional’ Petersburg weather being seen in blogs and forums as a sign of ▒global warming’. Altogether, Joseph Brodsky’s comment, in Less than One, that anything can change in this city except the weather, hardly captures a situation in which the supposedly typical meteorological conditions have varied, as have attitudes to these and views of their likely causes and psychological effects, and their aesthetic significance.
In Kirill Anisimov’s (Siberian Federal University, Krasnoyarsk) article “Climate as an “inveterate secessionist”. Symbolic and political metamorphoses of Siberian frost” the author uses the most representative Russian fictional and non-fictional texts (from Avvakum’s “Life…” to the works of regional writers of the 19th and the early 20th centuries) to portray the history of representing Siberia as a cold-defined space and to study the motif triad “frost/non-Russian(indigenous person)/exile” that serves as a key component of Russian tradition of ideological conceptualisation and artistic reproduction of the Transurals region.
YURI KONSTANTINOVICH SCHEGLOV (26.01.1937 — 6.04.2009).
Yuri Konstantinovich Scheglov was a philologist and a literary historian and in the last years of his life a professor at the University of Wisconsin (USA). This section contains an obituary by A.K.Zholkovsky, a little-known article by Scheglov dedicated to the so-called genre of “administerial novel” and extracts from his extensive commentary on Vasily Aksionov’s novel “Overstocked Packaging Barrels”. The next memorial section is dedicated to Vasily Aksionov who died several months after Scheglov.
VASILY AKSIONOV (20.08.1932 — 06.07.2009)
Vasily Aksionov was one of the most distinguished, influential and prolific writers of his generation (the so called “Sixtiers”). To some extent it was Aksionov who gave this controversial — both politically and aesthetically — generation its voice, hence his status of a cult figure, an icon. In his article, Alexey Balakin (Institute of Russian Literature, Pushkin House, St Petersburg) focuses mainly on the ambivalence of this status, on how an early — and indeed well-deserved — public success that Aksionov had achieved in the 1960s affected his later writing, turning at a certain point into a source of an inner drama.
LEV LOSEV (15.06.1937 — 06.05.2009)
Philologist, literary scholar and a friend of Josef Brodsky, Lev Losev started to publish his poetry very late, only when turned 37. Danila Davydov (Moscow) discusses the paradoxes of a such a belated “beginning”, in particular touching upon the multilayered poetics of Losev’s, in which philological commentaries merge with intimate lyricism, and postmodern irony with a hidden pathos.
EVGENY SABUROV (13.02.1946 — 20.06.2009)
In some obituaries Evgeny Saburov was called “the Renaissance person” and “Russian Gavel”. Indeed, he was a politician, an economist, a poet and a fiction writer. In her essay, Tatiana Neshumova (Moscow) restricted herself to poetic aspects of Saburov’s activities, trying, first of all, to approach the “obscurity” of his poetry. In this attempt Neshumova defines several principal qualities of Saburov’s poetry (and of the (post)modern poetry in general). Yet another focal topic of her essay is that of an antagonistic tension between aesthetics and religious belief (or its absence).
VSEVOLOD NEKRASOV (24.03.1934 — 15.05.2009)
This section is dedicated to the great post-war Russian poet Vsevolod Nekrasov, the key figure of the underground cultural scene of the 1950s— 1980s. In their “poetical notes”, Georg Witte (Osteuropa-Institut, Berlin) and Sabine Hansgen (Berlin) treat Nekrasov as a major “bridge” between the early (Lianozovo) circle of unofficial poets and artists and the later — much better known — conceptualist’s movement. Gerald Janecek (University of Kentucky) depicts poetical technique of Nekrasov from the social and linguistic perspective and argue that it was Nekrasov, in fact, who prefigured conceptualism in many ways. Yuri Orlizky (RSHU, Moscow) focuses on transgressing and overcoming of conventional poetry in Nekrasov’s praxis, achieved by original visual and graphic means in the first place. Alena Mahoninova (Karlov University, Prague) stresses the spatial dimension of Nekrasov’s poetics and investigates how space — both as a printed page and as an actual context of communication — underlies this particular kind of poetical utterance rooted in the everyday, colloquial language. Vladislav Kulakov (Moscow) speaks about Nekrasov’s essays and journalism (notorious for their violent polemics) as poet’s struggle for historical and ethical truth, rather then personal obsession or just ridiculousness (as they are usually seen). Kirill Medvedev (Moscow) considers social and political implications of Nekrasov’s aesthetical position, emphasising it critical potential in regard to the ongoing commercialisation and corruption of contemporary art.
LETTERS NOT ABOUT RUSSIAN POETRY
In her survey article “Computer’s handwriting. On contemporary German poetry”, Anna Glazova (Cornell University) reviews present currents in German poetry, especially the underlying linguistic transformations provoked by computerisation and other new technologies.
The section “By way of debate” presents an article by Oleg Lekmanov and Mikhail Sverdlov “Is that a negative review?”, where the authors analyse a
N. Shubnikova-Guseva’s comment in “Literaturnaya Gazeta” on their book “Yesenin: a Biography” (St. Petersburg, 2007) and reflect on proper ways of writing negative reviews.