Although the 90th NZ issue was not envisaged as a topical one, its pieces, once put together, form a certain plot line. The plot can be defined both as historical, sociocultural and political (or even ideological) – it all depends on each individual contributor’s approach and tools – but it has, essentially, one single theme. What is being discussed here is the relation of a historical subject to the society and the state, as well as the way they reflect on both their own existence and their position in the society around them. Most of the associated plot lines are considered within historical dynamic.
The section that opens this theme is titled “Between a Subject and a Project: The Soviet Variety of the Modern Era”. The philosopher Johann Arnason analyses the Soviet model of the modern era (if, indeed, one can talk about a particular “variety” in this regard) as a “form of globalisation” of sorts. Mikhail Maslovsky further develops the theme in his article “Charisma of Reason, the Invented Tradition and the Soviet Model of the Modern Era”. A short study by Alexander Reznik talks about Soviet discussions on the subject of an individual’s everyday life held in the 1920s and the role Leon Trotsky played in them. And Valery Vyugin in his article “«No special abilities…» The Reader of «Literary Studies», 1930–1934: A Social Portrait in Letters”, densely packed with facts, presents some fascinating material showing how a 1930s Soviet person, dropped into the “cultural revolution” situation, perceived one of the most important tools of that revolution’s, the “Literary Studies” magazine.
From the modern era we move on to the pre- and post-modern topics. The section “State, Society and «Spiritual Ties»” offers an extraordinary mix of situations and relationships typical for both of those epochs. As the title suggest, the key questions here concern the role of religion in state politics and in societal issues. The section opens with a translated excerpt from “Secularism and Freedom of Conscience” by Jocelyn Maclure and Charles Taylor, entitled “Principles of Secularism”. Katarzyna Jarzyńska from the Centre for Eastern Studies in Warsaw briefly outlines the links between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state and society. Andrey Zakharov, one of the NZ editors, offers an essay about the way “technology” is related to “the Absolute” in the “East” and in the “West” (where these terms are, of course, considered in a certain schematic sense). The essay talks, in particular, about the heritage of the Western Enlightenment and the connections between the economic breakthrough achieved in South East Asia and the Far East and the region’s main religions and schools of philosophical thought.
From this attempt at constructing a narrative of a subject’s relation to the society and the state (and, of course, religion) the issue moves on to the history of various genres of the historical narrative itself, which is the focus of the section “Historical Narrative: From a Life to a Biography, From a Biography to a Textbook”. The section begins with Yuri Zaretsky’s piece about the Protopope Avvakum’s wife – or, rather, about the way she is depicted in his famous “Life” (the primary focus here being her gender role, not particularly typical for the 16th century in Russia). Olga Edelman tells an engaging story of Stalin the proselytiser and the leader of workers and his genuine “revolutionary debut”. This story, needless to say, differs enormously from its canonical version – but then again, there was no “Stalin” in the 1902 Batum, the man in question going by the name of “Soso”. Vadim Mikhailin and Galina Belyaeva present the next instalment of their ongoing study, paying close attention to Soviet films whose protagonists are history teachers. This piece is about the TV series “The Long Recess”.
Individuals and their sexuality, considered in the context of culture and society at large, are the next theme of this issue. Alexander Kondakov uses Russian material in his notes on the political dimension of the state of affairs that followed the so-called “queer philosophy of Judith Butler”. Alek D. Epstein reflects upon reasons why gay art is absent in Russia; the answer is, in fact, given in the title of his piece, “Impossible Identity: Missing Gay Art and the Field of Contemporary Art in the Land of Triumphant Homophobia”. The topic is further developed in Alexey Levinson’s “Word of Sexual Honour”, published in his regular column Sociological Lyrics.
Other articles of this issue include pieces concerned with the main features of the so-called “Russian capitalism”, primarily with regard to the problems of modernisation. Culture of Politics offers an article by Vladimir Gel’man and Dmitry Travin titled “«Meanderings» of Russian Modernisation: Changing Generation and Trajectories of Reform”, as well as Alexandera Vasilyeva’s “Patrimonialism as a Decisive Factor in the Development of Russian Capitalism”. It is echoed by Alexander Kustarev’s “Russian Statesmanship: The Monarchy and the Republic” in his column Political Imaginary.
Other regular columns feature an interview with Michael Žantovský, the Czech ambassador to Britain, where he remembers Václav Havel in the days of the Prague Spring, Sergey Gogin’s piece about the USSR Museum in Ulyanovsk and “Vilnius: Memorable Places of European History” by Ekaterina Makhotina (the last two articles appear in Case Study). The 90th issue of NZ traditionally concludes with the Intellectual Journals’ Review, as well as the New Books section.