The 89th NZ issue has a single theme, albeit one that allows for a rather wide definition, “The Inexhaustible Legacy of the Modern Era: Nostalgia, Melancholy, Ruins”. Given the present-day cultural setting, this is very topical. The legacy of the modern era (if this cultural epoch can, indeed, be considered truly over) engenders an odd mixture of nostalgia and melancholy, which, in its new guise, carries on triumphantly, both within and outside of the former USSR. However, the fact that this legacy proves inexhaustible shows that the epoch itself is not over yet. The subject in question is sometimes called “hauntology” (a term coined by Jacques Derrida under quite different circumstances); it can also be referred to as “post-post-modern history”. In fact, this is not about definitions, but, in a nutshell, about two things; first of all, that contemporary Europeans have no image of the future, be it individual or collective. Our age has seen the end not only of “utopias”, but also of “the future” per se. Its disappearance has led to nostalgia for the future, which defines the second point of this argument. The main subject of melancholy typical for our times is not one’s own future, but the future of the utopian past that has never come true. Paradoxically, nostalgia now peers into the future rather than the past.
The first section of this issue focuses on one particular combination of “the national”, “the historical” with a special kind of nostalgia for the past – the combination that generates the variety of melancholy mentioned above. Examples of historical nostalgia used as an ideological tool, studied in the context of the history of Czech territories and Czechoslovakia, are considered in two articles: Tomáš Glanc talks about the history of “Sokol”, a patriotically inclined sports society, and Alexander Bobrakov-Timoshkin looks at attempts to create a new type of historical nationalist discourse during the extremely short lifetime of the Second Czechoslovak Republic. Alexander Chantsev describes a special kind of Japanese melancholy linked to cultural traditions that have clashed with the country’s modernisation process. In Culture of Politics, Artemy Magun traces a connection – at first glance, unusual – between melancholy and terrorism.
One of the most important creations of the modern era is a contemporary city. It is its landscape, structure and architecture that constitute vital characteristics of our melancholic perception of the past gone, one that used to be obsessed with the idea of the future. Two subsequent sections of issue 89 feature urbanism as their key theme.
The title of the first, “Urban Melancholy”, speaks for itself. The reader is offered a translated excerpt from “A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys Through Urban Britain”, a recent book by the British architectural critic Owen Hatherley; an essay by Karl Whitney, a culture scholar from Ireland, entitled “Open Space: Walking the Boundaries of Tallaght”, where he attempts to compile a psychogeographical survey of a recently developed suburb of Dublin; and a piece by one of the NZ editors, Kirill Kobrin, examining various types of historical, political and postcolonial treatment of the modern era’s legacy in architectural criticism and photography.
The second one discusses the relation of ruins, seen as signs of the past gone, to the memory of this past. Svetlana Boym, a Harvard professor, writes about philosophical, historical and cultural foundations of present-day western and post-Soviet nostalgia. Various takes on ruins, from romantic to Freudian, can be found in articles by Dylan Trigg (“The Psychoanalysis of Ruins”), Andreas Schönle (“Crushed History and Crumbling Rocks: On Preservation of Architectural Heritage Through Romantic Eyes”) and Elena Trubina (“Reconciling with Decline: Ruins 2.0”).
From ruins we go on to the Soviet past and ways of “working” with it. This is the subject of the fourth section. It opens with “The Work of Grief and Consolations of Melancholy”, a piece by Alexander Etkind, where the renowned researcher examines metamorphoses undergone by the memory of Europe’s terrible 20th century. The author analyses three epistemological constructs that can be efficiently used to study “post-Soviet memory”. Moving on from immaterial memory, we come to one of its objects, Lenin’s body in Moscow’s mausoleum; Alexey Yurchak’s article, “Incorruptibility of Form: Leninism and the Material Aspect of the Body in the Mausoleum”, is centred around it. Memories of the past, exemplified by a number of things, are considered by Sergey Ushakin in “Totality Decomposed: Objectalizing Late Socialism in Post-Soviet Biochronicles”, which talks about documentary cinema in post-Soviet Russia.
This section is flanked by several related pieces. These are: Yan Levchenko’s analysis in Case Study titled “An Eternal Adolescence: Once More about the Soviet Past in the Russian Cinema” and Irina Glushchenko’s article in Morals and Mores about a strange phenomenon that is “culinary nostalgia” for Soviet gastronomy (“Frustration: All Included”).
Finally, contemporary reflections on melancholy and nostalgia are always rooted in the fate of “modernity” itself. Politics of Culture contains two articles: Igor Smirnov analyses some aspects of our attitude towards the “past/future” pair from the point of view of historiosophy, talking about Russian history and public conscience, while Dmitry Gorin offers the reader his piece “Sense of History in «Another Modernity», or Pinocchio as a Mirror of the Russian Revolution”. Also focused on the issue’s main theme are its regular columns: Political Imaginary by Alexander Kustarev (his essay is titled “Mythology of the Soviet Past”), Sociological Lyrics by Alexey Levinson (“Depression and Fear”) and Daily Political Economy by the NZ editor-in-chief Ilya Kalinin.
Issue 89 of NZ concludes with the customary Russian Intellectual Journals’ Review, compiled by Vyacheslav Morozov.