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STRUCTURE OF THE VOID

Compiled by Oxana Timofeeva

Mladen Dolar’s (University of Ljubljana) “The Atom and the Void: from Democritus to Lacan” considers the problem of the void through the theories of the early atomists. Philosophy began with the Parmenidian assertion of being, which can be read as a thesis premised on an exorcism of the void. With the atomists, the first to oppose the Parmenidian foundation of philosophy, the void made its entry as part and parcel of the atom. If the atom was to be counted as one, the void separating atoms was the very condition of such a count. Hegel saw this as the profound insight that negativity was the condition of positivity, hence the one and the void as the matrix of being. The second twist in this atomist story is that of clinamen, a contingent swerve which befalls atoms, and hence something that inherently departs and undermines “the one and the void.” The clinamen theory was much criticized and ridiculed by the great philosophical tradition, including by Hegel. A very young Karl Marx, in his dissertation, defended the crucial value of clinamen, and in recent times Louis Althusser and Gilles Deleuze followed in his footsteps. The third significant aspect is that of den, a curious neologism introduced by Democritus, which perhaps undermines both stories at the outset. For if atom is den, then it is not a body, not an entity, not one, not being, but also not non-being. It is a paradoxical departure from the bulk of ontology, an ontological scandal, obfuscated by the subsequent Aristotelian paradigm. Jacques Lacan took it up as a clue to his notion of the object a, the object of psychoanalysis.

Katja Kolšek’s (University of Primorska) “The Repetition of the Void and the Materialist Dialectic” discusses the question of the relationship between the void and repetition as the basis for the continuation of the debate of the materialist dialectic in the light of the events of May 1968 in France between Lacanian psychoanalysis, the Althusserian circle, and the work of Alain Badiou. It presents the question of the cause of the structure as the minimal difference within repetition of two voids, that is, as the difference between the Lacanian lack and the hole, which according to Slavoj Žižek equates with the virtual object a as the basis of the parallactic change in the structure. Finally, it interprets Althusser’s shift from the dialectic and overdetermination to the philosophy of the aleatory encounter as an example of such minimal difference between two voids.

Gregor Moder’s (University of Ljubljana) “‘Held out into the Nothingness of Being’: Heidegger and the Grim Reaper” presents a reading of Being and Time that challenges the widely accepted image of Heidegger as a philosopher of conserva­tive, moralist, and existentialist overtones. While almost every reader agrees that Heidegger’s concept of death should be understood as a fundamental existential disposition of Dasein, the majority of readers nevertheless reduce it to the tragic question of facing personal, individual mortality. To counter this, Moder attempts a radical ontological reading, one that implies, to an extent, a reading of the Hei­degger of the fundamental ontology of the void, as opposed to the Heidegger of a kind of “existentialist theology.”

The first part of Oxana Timofeeva’s (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) “Imagine There’s No Void” addresses the ontological problems of the border. Among others, three kinds of borders are indicated: the border between something and something similar, the border between something and something different, and the border between something and nothing. The ultimate borderline of the third kind — the edge of the world — is the most problematic, and the second part of the paper is dedicated to its analysis. How is it possible that on one side we have something, but on the other side there is nothing? How is it possible to think a borderline that has only one side? Here the question of the structure of the void arises. The example of an elementary particle in contemporary physics shows that it does not have an internal structure (it does not consist of anything). However, it has a kind of external structure, which demonstrates its relational character. Respectively, one can indicate three kinds of void: the void as substance, the void as subject, and the void as universal or real. The paper investigates these three kinds of borders as applied to politics, ideology, psychoanalysis, and science.

MORTALITY: SEMIOTICS AND THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF DEATH

In the article “Other-She-Same: The Death of the Mother in the Work of Memory (as Evident in Russian ‘women’s prose’,” Ganna Uliura (Shevchenko Institute of Literature, Kyiv) analyzes the complex motif of “daughter recalling her deceased mother” as a structural element in women’s prose. The inherently neurotic “mother-daughter” relationship serves these women prose writers as material for reflections upon the homogeneity of the female community and the universality of the experience of gender. The mother’s experience accessible to the daughter is represented in these works only under extremely excessive conditions — those of death and the attendant labor of mourning and remembering. Uliura uses short prose works by M. Vishnevetskaya, I. Polovotskaya and I. Vasil’kovaya.

Olga Kirillova’s (Herzen University, St. Petersburg) “Mortal film-code and the possibilities of a thanatology of film” argues for establishing the concept of a “morta l code in cinema,” articulated in accordance with the film-semiotics principles of Yuri Lotman and Umberto Eco. A mortal code has various levels: morphological, chronotopic, intertextual etc. The special deathly time-space of cinematic reality — a “thanatochronotope” — is rooted in the terms of overall temporality of the film work and particularly in the context of reconstructing the “urban film-text.” The thanatological potential of cinema as art form is revealed through comments from representatives of modernist culture, which emerged at the same time as film, and those philosophers of postmodernism who focused their reflections on cinema. These are the contexts for the disciplinary foundation of a “thanatology of cinema” and an “eschatology of cinema” in the field of philosophy/cultural studies.

Natalia Niagolova’s (Veliko Tarnovo University) “The Semiotics of Suicide in Laurence Kasdan’s ‘The Big Chill’” examines the semiotics of suicide in American director Laurence Kasdan’s “The Big Chill.” Niagolova takes into account the particularities of the socio-cultural context of the film’s creation — the so-called “epoch of egoism” associated with the presidency of Ronald Reagan. She traces the development of a number of archetypes and narrative clichés in the visual and speech structure of the film, and reveals the connection between the film’s poetics and the ideology of 1960s hippie culture.

A BIOGRAPHICAL PRISM—2

A Don Cossack and “the autocrat of the fashionable world of Boston,” Alexis Eustaphieve (1779—1857) was a prolific American writer, intrepid political pamphleteer, Russian diplomat and Ukrainian patriot, shrewd theater critic, enthusiastic musician, and an expert angler “with rod and reel,” who claimed “that he had killed a five-pound shark in that way” in Boston Harbor. A graduate of Kharkiv’s theological seminary, Eustaphieve spent 10 years in London and 49 years in the U.S., where he founded the Boston Symphony and wrote in English a number of politically colored plays, including the first western drama about Mazepa and Peter the Great, and several political pamphlets, including his un­published swan’s song, The Great Republic Tested by the Truth. He was also involved into numerous political and literary battles between Whigs and Tories in England in the 1800s and Federalists and Republicans in the 1810—1820s in Massachusetts. “‘The Dispersed Man:’ Alexis Eustaphieve (1779—1857) as a National Project” by Ilya Vinitsky (University of Pennsylvania) deals with the discussion of Eustaphieve’s literary and political activities in Boston during the period of the Napoleonic Wars and Anglo-American war of 1812. It also focuses on the peculiarities of the Russian writer’s public image within the context of political battles between Federalists and Republicans in the 1810s and uncovers one of the first political scandals in Russian and American relations.

Olga Makarova’s (Queen Mary, University of London) “A.S. Suvorin in the Diaries of S.I. Smirnova-Sazonova. Part I” is based on the impressive collection of previously unpublished diaries (69 notebooks, 32 973 pages) of Sofia Smirnova-Sazonova, writer and journalist (1852—1921). The diaries are kept in the Manu­script department of the Institute of Russian Literature (“The Pushkin House”) in St Petersburg; they span 44 years of Smirnova’s life, the leitmotif being her close friendship with Suvorin. Drawing on the extensive diary material, the pub­lisher brings into the public domain a series of episodes which close some gaps in Suvorin’s biography and add to our understanding of the famous media tycoon. The excerpts from Smirnova’s diaries are annotated, providing historical context as well as the necessary and sufficient reference.

CORRECTING ERRORS: READING AS REVISING

During its entire existence, Soviet censorship primarily sought to eliminate what was deemed heretical. In the 1930s an additional mode began to govern censorship practices: censors now also strove to engineer a cultural product before its release into public in such a way that consumers might ascribe only one meaning to it. “Abolishing Ambiguity: Soviet Censorship Practices in the 1930s” by Jan Plamper(Goldsmiths College, University of London) examines this drive towardodnoznachnost’ on the basis of regional censorship documents from Karelia. It first fleshes out the specificity of the Karelian case, then treats such censorship tools as the Perechen’, and finally seeks to offer a fresh explanation of the attempted abolition of ambiguity, censorship’s secondary mode during the 1930s, using Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory and his specific writings on polyseme.

In “Falsifying in the Name of Truth: Publishers as Unreliable Interpreters,” Nikolay Poselyagin (NLO) examines one type of distortion of a work of literature: when the work is distorted by the person preparing it for publication (the “pub­lisher” in the broad sense). This distortion occurs not as the result of any external factors (such as censorship), but because of the publisher’s inner conviction that the given text has already been somehow damaged and now requires correction, in order that objective Truth be restored. In such situations, the publisher is functionally equal to the reader, acting essentially as an interpreter and decon­structing the text in accordance with his/her own understanding. This prompts a rethinking of the concept of “falsification” in relation to publishing practice: in this case, the distortions are not always produced consciously nor toward selfish ends, and are important from the semiotic point of view as a particular variety of reader reception. Poselyagin illustrates his thesis using four different cases of publishing practice in nineteenth-twentieth century Russian literature.

IN MEMORIAM

EVGENY TODDES (1941—2014)

This obituary section commemorates the literary scholar Evgeny AbramovichToddes (1941—2014) and contains a chapter from his unfinished book on the “meanings” of Osip Mandelstam with introductory remarks from Marietta Chuda kova. The section also includes reminiscences from Roman Timenchik, an artic le on Toddes’ scholarly work by Pavel NerlerGenrikh Kirshbaum and Ilya Veniavkin, and a bibliography of his publications.

INTERPRETATIONS

“‘Dante Street’: The Topography, Toponymy and Topoi of Isaac Babel’s Parisian Tale” by Alexander Zholkovsky (University of Southern California) is a close reading, in the form of a paragraph-by-paragraph annotated commentary, of Isaac Babel’s 1934 short story. The analysis focuses on the tension between an alleged focus on discovering “reality” and its creative transformation into a very literary presentation of a plot embodying Babel’s invariant themes of mastery, art, sex-and-death, mimetic desire and intertextuality and also the theme of “exile,” specific for this text. One of the subtexts discussed is Dante’s Divine Comedy, along with the juxtaposition of the names of Dante and Danton.

CLOSE READING

An article by Mikhail Yampolsky (New York University), “Underground Gramo­phone (On one Motif in the Work of Maria Stepanova),” really does examine “one motif,” which by the end of the article extends far beyond the limits of Stepanova’s work. This motif is the voice of the dead, as suggested in the title of the piece, which refers to the eponymous section of Stepanova’s poetry collection Kireevsky. Yampolsky investigates the relationship between the oral and written word, cries, song, folklore and methods of its preservation in a broad philosophical/literary context (from Joyce to Derrida, from Kireevsky to Kafka).

ESSAY

“Poetry and Event (Looking at History and Culture through the Prism of Poetrys Event-Driven Nature),” an essay by Alla Gorbunova (St. Petersburg), addresses the event-driven, catastrophic dynamics of the poetic utterance and its reception.

IN MEMORIAM

RY NIKONOVA (ANNA TARSHIS) (1942—2014)

This section commemorates Ry Nikonova (Anna Aleksandrovna Tarshis) (1942—2014): Transfuturist poet, artist, performer, art theoretician, winner of the Andrey Bely prize (1998, shared with Sergey Sigey) for significant contribu­tions to the development of Russian literature, co-editor of the samizdat journal Transponans, founder of “vacuum poetry,” which further developed and radicalized the intentions of the historical avant-garde. In the first article, “‘Rhymes of the first waves’: On the organizing element in the work of Ry Nikonova,” Ilja Kukuj (Ludwig-Maximilian Universität, Munich) examines Nikonova’s creative evolution and literary system as a cohesive whole. The article is followed by three previously unpublished texts: “Obayadly” (1966—1986), “Kurochka Znachit” (2004) and “Tiuil’riktil’” (2013). In “Ry Nikonova’s ‘vacuum texts’ and ‘supersmall texts’ in literature,” Mikhail Pavlovets(Moscow Higher School of Economics) investigates the semiotic and general-theoretical aspects of Nikonova’s poetic syste m in the context of avant-garde and neo- (post-) avant-garde practices. B. Konstriktor’s (St. Petersburg) text, “Primadonna of the avant-garde,” presents a mostly lyrical, autobiographical perspective. The section closes with an interview Nikonova gave to Yulia Valieva(SPbSU) in 2012.

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