DEHUMANIZING THE IMAGE
The section focuses on major currents in contemporary research on cinema. In his article “Expressiveness: between human and machine”, Mikhail Yampolsky (New York University) examines the dehumanising effects of the movie camera and their potential to found a sort of “non-metaphysical anthropology” of film, or an “anthropology without humanism”. In such an instance, expression is attributed to the machine rather than the human — to the “external” — while the actual montage-based rhythmic structure of the film leads us away from the traditional objective/subjective opposition. While Yampolsky deconstructs the subject/object opposition by up-ending the relationship of man to machine, Pietro Bianchi (Universita di Udine) in his essay dedicated to the “materialism” of cinematic images (“Theatre without an audience”) does something similar by up-ending the relationship between the gaze and the image. Bianchi writes that the gaze, traditionally attributed to the subject, has now become part of the description of the actually visible object or image. Meanwhile, Bianchi analyses this image with reference to the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan. Both theoretical approaches indicate a general move away from the anthropocentric perspective on cinema. In her article, “Vampire — hero of our time”, Dina Khapaeva (University of Helsinki) discusses a similar trend, which appears on the level of narrative itself rather than that of cinematic technology or imagery. Addressing vampire sagas, films and serials, Khapaeva writes that human beings — with their dignity, heroism etc. — are being replaced by monsters — vampires — whose inhuman view of the world is imposing itself on contemporary viewers. Humans are losing their central position in the universe and being reduced to a mere “link in the food chain”. Khapaeva writes from a distinctly humanistic position; in tracing the literary genealogy of this sort of de-anthropologisation, she sees it as an extremely worrying symptom, not just a “sign of the times”. An article from Natalia Samutina (Poletaev Institute, NRU HSE), “Transformation of the object as a challenge for film studies” consists in a survey of the latest trends in film research and an analysis of how these trends are changing in relation to changes in the actual object of investigation, i.e. film, its technological and content-related characteristics. Samutina investigates in detail the correlation between the transition from analogue to digital media, the appearance of a new type of actor and new type of viewer, and the development of various specific research genres (theories, philosophies, case studies, etc.).
This section is devoted to film, or more precisely, the filmic — the organization of the very fabric of film and its effects in relation to textual practices. Grigorii Amelin (Moscow) in “Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up” provides a “close reading” of the seminal film, very typical of its time (late 1960s) and brimming with a multitude of meanings. Through attentive phenomenological description of various levels within the film, Amelin is able to approach some fundamental philosophicoaesthetic problems — questions of consciousness, time, death and the means of their representation — as well as to catch hold of a crucial historical moment, when the sense of reality (and the extent to which it makes sense) became endlessly problematic. In “Imagining the signifier”, Pavel Arsenev (St. Petersburg State University) addresses Christian Metz’s innovative study “The imagined signifier” (1975), in which the French theoretician applied semiotic and psycho- analytic models to the language of cinema. Uniting this approach with the Russian Formalists’ emphasis on the “materiality of the signifier”, Arsenev discusses the paradoxes of cinema reception and filmic discourse, incorporating the conception of dialectical montage and cine-factography developed by LEF theoreticians and practitioners of similar methods (Dziga Vertov).
BETWEEN “STRUCTURALISM” AND SEMIOTICS: TOWARDS A HISTORY OF METHOD
The section consists of two articles examining Yurii Lotman’s Russian structuralism in historical perspective. “Early Russian structuralism: the ▒Pre-Lotmanian’ period,” by Nikolai Poseliagin (Moscow—Tallin), addresses the period of formation of the foundations of Tartu—Moscow semiotics in 1956—1964. Rather than constituting a unified theoretical flow, this period was a multi-part conglome-rate of different trends that often contradicted each other. Poseliagin attempts to separate out the most important trends from this mass and to describe the main features of each trend. In “An impossible dialogue around semiotics: Julia Kristeva — Yurii Lotman”, Emanuel Landolt (Université de Saint-Gall) presents a comparative analysis of Kristeva’s semantic analysis (sémanalyse) and Lotman’s semiotics, explaining the circumstances and causes — both political and related to Weltanschauung and particulars of context — behind certain misunderstandings that arose in Kristeva’s interpretation of the Russian version of the science of signs.
THE UNEXPECTED TOLSTOY
In “Leo and the bear: humor in War and Peace”, Jeffrey Brooks (Johns Hopkins University) writes on the comic aspect of Tolstoy’s epic, which was significant for his contemporaries but which has been thus far largely ignored by scholars. Concentrating on the figure of the bear in the novel and on the reaction to War and Peace on the part of Iskra (“The Spark”, a contemporary journal — ed.), Brooks demonstrates how “a broad and varied comic sensibility had migrated from popular and folk culture to War and Peace and then back to popular culture in a reversal of Tolstoy’s seriousness”. In “Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy and something new about him (from Russian Catholic sources in Italy)”, Vladimir Kolupaev (“Russia Cristiana” Centre) introduces to the academic discussion a letter from Tolstoy to the statesman, historian and lawyer M. Taube (1868—1961), whose work “Christianity and the organisation of international peace” made a strong impression on the great writer. Next, Aage A. Hansen-Löwe (University of Munich) examines the narratological dimension of death in Tolstoy in “At the end of the tunnel… The deaths of Lev Tolstoy”. According to Hansen-Löwe, when writing about death “the narrator comes up against the paradoxical necessity of combining the experience of external time-perception with internal, and of solving this paradox within the narration: to make sliding and flowing tangible states of being”. In order to show more concretely how Tolstoy “writes death”, Hansen-Löwe invokes Dostoevsky: in his opinion, “both of these masters of thanatopoetics were evidently working on one and the same paradox, which sounds something like this: how is it possible to be simultaneously moving decisively forward (streben) and to be striving to die “back” (sterben), until you are liberated from War and from Peace and become just that “And” that links the two?” Finally, In “Andrei Furioso: military aristocrats and non-aristocrats in L.N. Tolstoy. Discrediting the chivalric code”, Evgenii Slivkin (University of Oklahoma) points to parallels between War and Peace and Ariosto’s long poem, “Orlando Furioso”, demonstrating Tolstoy’s critical relationship to the medieval Code of Chivalry. Analysing the wartime deaths of aristocratic and non-aristocratic protagonists in Tolstoy’s prose, Slivkin arrives at the conclusion that Tolstoy deprives the former of “knightly” deaths, giving them instead to the latter group. These observations are extended to a more complex case — the death of Andrei Bolkonsky, who in the face of mortality “disintegrates” into an “aristocrat” and a “simple man and warrior”.
Alexander Zholkovsky (University of Southern California) begins his article ““Phentz”” on rendez-vous: the nu, the menu, the déjà vu” by comparing a misogynic passage from “Phentz” by Andrei Siniavsky with a somewhat similarone from Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” (that presumably influenced Siniavsky, making him follow Swift in a certain way) and argues that both aim at satirically presenting the human condition by means of “остранение” (which is widely used in order to describe adventures in a radically foreign environment). Zholkovsky analyzes this parallel closely, isolating the motives of a woman body/beauty as something disgusting, of sex-food connection, of a human being seen by a plant (this one is presented as Siniavsky’s own invention, though), and involves in the study the sequence of authors as different as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Cyrano de Bergerac, Roald Dahl, Leo Tolstoy, Charles Baudelaire, and Bulat Okudzhava.
Arkadi Blumbaum (Russian Institute for the History of Arts) in his article ““Fate” versus “chance” in Blok of the “antithèse” phase: some observations” shows how these two notions (affiliated with the social aspect) affected Blok (making him, for instance, criticize intelligentsia and act as the “common folk” apologist).
LITERARY PRIZE AS METATEXT
This section features materials related to the NOS-1973 prize: in public debates, the jury for this prize discussed not contemporary works, but rather works written or published for the first time in 1973 (by authors including Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov, Shukshin, Iskander, the Strugatsky brothers, Nabokov, Sasha Sokolov, Petrushevskaya and others). The first, eponymous piece — “NOS-1973” — consists of correspondence between the members of the jury, in which they discuss different directions (“lines”) in Russian letters and their relevance for the contemporary moment, as well as the aims and strategies of the given prize. Particular attention is paid to historical models of the genesis of “mainstream” and “avant-garde” movements, which can be traced to, respectively, official Soviet and underground (samizdat, tamizdat) literature.
This section devoted to the poetry-anthology phenomenon opens with a survey from Matvei Yankelevich (New York), “Contemporary Russian poetry: thoughts from far away”. A poet, translator and editor for Ugly Duckling Press, Yankelevich casts a very critical eye on American anthologies of Russian poetry published over the past 20 years. At the same time, with reference to his own experience compiling a mini-anthology of contemporary Russian poetry for the journal “Aufgabe” (№ 8, Fall-Winter 2009), Yankelevich questions the very notion of contemporariness and his own perspective as an outside observer — even if a very involved one. He finds the main sore spot in Russian poetry today to be precisely “anxiety over the place of poetry in contemporary Russia”. In the second piece, “Impressionistic monument”, Ilya Kukulin (Moscow State Pedagogical Institute) discusses the two-volume anthology Russian poems 1950—2000 (first approximation), which came out in 2010.