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HISTORIAN OF DISCOURSE: JOHN POCOCK AND THE CAMBRIDGE SCHOOL OF INTELLECTUAL HISTORY

Compiled by Timur Atnashev and Mikhail Velizhev

 

I. THE CAMBRIDGE SCHOOL

In the article “‘Context is king’: John Pocock, historian of political languages,” Timur Atnashev (RANEPA) and Mikhail Velizhev (HSE) interpret the basic premises of the Cambridge methodology as applied to the history of political philosophy, and discuss the interdisciplinary approach of one of its founders, John Pocock, introducing his works to the Russian intellectual context for the first time. The article covers Pocock’s biography as a scholar and his methodological program, the reception of the Cambridge School in Russia and, in particular, the limits to applying this methodology in analyzing Russian political languages.

In selecting the articles by John Pocock (Johns Hopkins University) here publis­hed, Atnashev and Velizhev sought to choose those most representative. The 1985 article “The State of the Art” (published as the preface to the book Virtue, Commerce and History) constitutes the fullest exposition of Pocock’s methodological doctrine and interprets a number of concepts key to his approach: sublanguages, second-order languages, idioms, etc., while investigating the relation­ship between author and actor, language and reader. In the 2004 article “Quentin Skinner: The History of Politics and the Politics of History,” Pocock reflects on the methodology of Skinner, his longtime interlocutor and opponent within the Cambridge School. Specifically, he discusses one of the central topics  of Skinner’s history of modern political philosophy — the “third form of liberty.”

 

II. DISCUSSIONS AROUND THE CAMBRIDGE SCHOOL

The section also features lengthy interviews with Oleg Kharkhordin (EUSPB) and Aleksey Miller (EUSPB / CEU), as well as a composite interview with Alexander Bikbov (Centre Maurice Halbwachs), Alexander Dmitriev (HSE) and Denis Sdvizhkov (DHI Moskau).

 

AESTHETIC DISCUSSIONS OF THE 1920s: FROM THE HISTORY OF THE STATE ACADEMY OF THE ARTS (GAKhN)

“Art/Science: the Theory of Art at the GAKhN as a Response to a Cultural Crisi­s” by Nikolay Plotnikov (Ruhr-Universität Bochum) and Nadezjda Podzemskaia (EHESS) examines Theoretical principles GAKhN was based on and the ways these principles were implemented in its institutional structure and interrelation of its departments.

In “The philosophical foundations of literary study at GAKhN,” Nikolay Plotnikov (Ruhr-Universität Bochum) examines the theoretical principles under­pinning the Academy, as well as the way in which these principles were implemented in the Academy’s institutional structure and the interconnections between its departments. The conceptual design of the Academy centered around an understanding of all of art as a language of forms, as well as the desire to see all kinds of art as specific varieties of a language with its own special grammar. Plotnikov examines the GAKhN project in the context of 1920s Europe-wide debates about the meaning of art at a time of cultural crisis. He pays particular attention to the reconstruction of Russo-German scholarly ties in the activities of GAKhN.

Violetta Gudkova (SIAS) presents “Who were the scholars bothering, or How the GAKhN TheaterDiv was disbanded,” a short sketch of the history of the creation of the GAKhN Theater Division, its research efforts and ultimate downfall, written using GAKhN archival materials held at RGALI. Gudkova rela­tes the structure of TheaterDiv, its scholarly investigations, methodological and theoretical tasks and scholarly discussions. The division’s broad and systemic plan for developing a science of the theater was not fully achieved because of the purge that followed.

 

LITERATURE AND SCIENTIFIC NARRATIVES

19th-century literary naturalism is one of the most prominent fields in which litera­ture aims to gain the epistemological value of a scientific experiment. Émile Zola theorized this claim in his famous essay on the “Experimental Novel” (1879). In his “Experiments with Experiments: Émile Zola and Russian Naturalism” Riccardo Nikolosi (LMU München) discusses firstly the epistemological and litera­ry dimension of Zola’s theory explaining its obvious aporia in the optic of late 19th-century’s entanglement of Positivism and Imagination. Secondly, the article reconstructs the intensive reception of Zola’s novels and theory in Russia (1870s—1880s) presenting different positions towards the concept of the experimen­tal novel. Finally, Dmitry Mamin-Sibiriak’s naturalist novel “Privalov’s Million” (1883) is analyzed as an example of a Russian experimental novel decon­structing Zola’s model of narrating degeneration. 

“Experiment and Literature in a Historical and Scientific Perspective” by Michael Gamper (Leibniz Universität Hannover) develops a concept of “experi­ment” that encompasses procedures of both science and literature. It outli­nes a literary history of writing about experiments on the one hand and of experimental writing on the other. Therefore, it combines epistemological and poetological aspects and exemplifies the interaction of the two in concise examples from the 16th century to the present. The conclusion offers a typology for analyzing different forms of experimental literature.

 

LACUNAE. YAN NIKITIN: ROUNDABOUT WRITING

This section presents the poetic work of Yan Nikitin (1977—2012), known prima­rily as the creator and inspiration of the “Poison Theater” group, which operated at the intersection between music, theater, performance and literature. In his preface to the selection of Nikitin’s poetry (published here for the first time), Kirill Zakharov (Moscow) attends to the plethora of radical, shocking imag­es, experiments with word texture and shaping and links Nikitin’s (unjustly little-known) poetry overall with the tradition of modernism and expe­rimentation with irrational thought. Nikitin made no attempts to publish his texts during his lifetime. Zakharov proposes that the timely publication of his work and its introduction into literary context would have adjusted the path of contemporary poetry, and would compel us now to pay more careful attention to that which seems unequivocally new. 

 

POST(NON)FICTION: TOWARD A GENESIS OF “NEW” PROSE

This section focuses on the liminal, alternative writing located between fiction and non-fiction. An article from Aleksey Konakov (St. Petersburg), “Overco­ming autarchy (on Leon Bogdanov’s Notes),” examines the diary or quasi-diary prose of Leon Bogdanov (1942—1987). Bogdanov, one of the most fascinating representatives of Leningrad unofficial culture and a poet, was an artist, literary figure and winner of the Andrey Bely Prize (1986) for his book Notes on Tea-Drinking and Earthquakes. In his analysis, Konakov makes use of the “semantic nests” method suggested by V. Vinogradov for investigating the poetic speech of Anna Akhmatova. Konakov projects this method onto the idiosyncratic psychogeography of 1960s—80s Leningrad, with its overgrown empty lots, communal apartments and claustrophobic inner courtyards. “In the Notes, Leningrad’s quiet provincial quality miraculously turns into Petersburg cosmopolitanism; and we suddenly realize that Bogdanov’s love for Indian tea, Oriental literature, earthquakes and the latest world news is a ‘transformed’ versi­on of the famous Acmeist ‘longing for world culture,’ which only in this way is able to make an appearance in the rather specific context of ‘late socialism.’”

In “Subject and genre in the ‘poetics of loss’ (On the ‘novels’ of Andrey Levki­n),” Stanislav Snytko (St. Petersburg) makes the first serious attempt to describe the poetics of Levkin’s ‘late’ prose, beginning with the novel Golem, the Russian version (2002) and ending with his latest experimental texts published on postnonfiction.org. According to Snytko, the language of these texts is ascetic, essentially devoid of “artistic devices,” its lexicon and intonation leaning toward the conversational (and in places breaking down into aphasia). “It would seem that in subtracting all the ‘literariness’ from a text, removing all the excess and preserving only ‘the convention is that there already exist words,’ the writer seeks to create his own version of not just post(non)fiction, but even a pure ‘writing as such.’ This recalls the experiments of Leon Bogdanov, though unlike him, Levkin doesn’t even keep the diary base.”

 

TRAJECTORIES OF DECONSTRUCTION

Despite the fact that two programmatic books by Paul de Man (Blindness and Insight and Allegories of Reading) and more than a dozen by Jacques Derrida, inclu­ding central texts like Writing and Difference, On Grammatology and Specters of Marx, have been published in Russia, not to mention journal pub­li­catio­ns and monographs on the subject, deconstruction is still often perceiv­ed — even in professional circles — as a synonym for destruction, irrespon­sible (“post­modernist”) games and moral relativism. Meanwhile, beginni­ng from at least the 1980s, Derrida’s thought was persistently connected to problems of ethics and politics, to questions of what constitutes responsibility and a responsible utteran­ce or decision. And while in his search for an answer he tur­ned to literary texts (alongside the philosophical and political), problematizing “generic” boundaries themselves and the conditions of their realization as he went along, this in no way made his task more superficial or his method of questioning less strict. Below we present two variations, or two trajectories, of deconstruction (Derrida invariably insisted that deconstruction did not exist in the singular).

In “Obituary for an allegory. On the thanatopoetics of the north in the lyric poetry of Nikolay Zabolotsky” Heinrich Kirschbaum (Humboldt
Universit
ät, Berlin) follows Paul de Man, according to whom the operation
of deconstruction is carried out by the literary (poetic) work itself rather than the critical reader.

Dragan Kujundžić (University of Florida-Gainesville, USA) advocates a more “orthodox” Derridean approach in “‘Whoever wishes to die does not die.’ The Dionysian refuge of Anna Alchuk.” Kujund?i?’s analysis of the poetic text is closely intertwined with extreme political and ethical stakes, including the contem­porary political situation in Russia. It is hoped that this “double” publication will sponsor a more considered and responsible understanding of the critical procedure known as “deconstruction.”

 

CLOSE READING

Our traditional rubric features a piece by Inna Bulkina (Ukrainian Center of Cultural Research, Kiev), “‘Into an other foul midnight’: three poems.” Bulkina thoroughly describes and comments on the shared motifs in poems by three Russian poets: V. Khodasevich’s “If I were to live long in this world…” (1921), “A. Shteiger’s “The time will come (not right away, not now…” (1935) and S. Gandlevsky’s “When I lived in this world…” (1995). Meanwhile, Bulkina does not claim to be making a typical “intertextual discovery,” but rather focuses her attention on the phenomenon known as “metacitation” or “transferred citation.”

- See more at: http://www.nlobooks.ru/node/6470#sthash.OPM8oow3.dpuf

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