Issue 138 of New Literary Observer is centered around two topics that deal with different aspects of the transformation of contemporary humanities knowledge. The first topic is the fate of university study and the knowledge transmitted through universities; the second is the prospects opening up for the humanities in connection with the development of interdisciplinary movements within them. NLO has been keeping a close eye on both of these topics for the past several years, as a continuation of the journal’s fundamental investigative strategies — particularly its project of studying the ‘anthropologization’ of the humanities (addressed directly in a special issue (NLO № 100/6, 2010) under the heading “The Anthropology of Closed Societies”).
The Meanings of Academic Professionalism
(Guest editor: Peter Safronov)
The issue opens with a group of articles discussing the problems around education and especially, those of university life. Transformations in universities are often greeted negatively by both employees and the wider public, and this discontent allows us to formulate several key questions: should universities, as institutions, never change? Should academic life be conducted outside of university limits? Will the system of academic professions necessarily grow ever more complicated, in accordance with the ever-greater diversity of types of study programs? All of these questions necessitate a rethinking of the character of academic professionalism and of the connection between university and academic life.
The section opens with an article by Roman Abramov, Ivan Gruzdev and Evgeny Terentiev, “Alarm and Enthu siasm in Discourses on the Academic World: International and Russian Contexts.” The authors analyze public discussions of higher education and the academic world in contemporary Russia, examining the confrontation between the ideological positions of the new managerialism and academic professionalism. Using analyses by foreign and Russian researchers, the authors highlight key features of these ideologies and reconstruct the historical framework of the antagonism between them (in an international context). They also reveal three peculiarities observed in the recent managers vs. professionals debate in Russia: the oppositions of past and future, local and global, and also reciprocal mistrust. In conclusion, they discuss possible ways out of this discursive confrontation.
Peter Safronov’s “Balaam’s Ass: Academics between Professionalism and Deprofessionalization” examines the now-typical condition of universities worldwide, in which the unity of research and teaching is on the decline. In Safronov’s opinion, because teaching has no palpable, materially evident results (in comparison with scientific results), it is now being deprofessionalized. Yet this deprofessionalization opens up some
new opportunities for educational theory and practice. The special asymmetry in the relationship between a teacher and her/his audience might bring about new forms of educational communication, no longer the distanced professional variety, but rather one built around friendly mutual need.
The section closes with Maxim Demin’s “Universities on the Market: Academic Capitalism as Challenge and Window of Opportunity.” The modern university, and with it the academic profession itself, are facing new challenges: first, the increasing complexity of labor markets and globalization are undermining the structure of the academic profession, and secondly, the rise in cost of university research calls into question the autonomy of the university. The internationalization of the academic labor market encourages rethinking the structure of academic professions that have historically been focused on national (regional) contexts. The university is too expensive for the state and/or for students. One way to keep the autonomy of the university is to offer society, the state and businesses a wide range of services. Demin seeks to answer the following questions: can bureaucratic (self-)management effectively regulate the growing body of the university? Is it necessary to relinquish part of the university’s autonomy to a hired manager? Can “soft managerialism,” using economic instruments to reveal the possibilities of the university to society, become a new defense of university autonomy?
The Present and Future of the Humanities: The View of Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht
The previous section speculated as to the possible consequences of the transformations going on within universities. This section asks the same question, but with a much wider purview: what are the prospects for the development of the humanities overall. This is the starting point of a series to be continued in subsequent issues of NLO, which will present various versions of the future opening up for the humanities. The current section presents the viewpoint of Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, an American philosopher and cultural theorist, and member of the NLO editorial board. A number of Gumbrecht’s articles and books have suggested a program for the anthro-pologization of cultural history (first and foremost, In 1926: Living at the Edge of Time and Production of Presence).
The section opens with a conversation between Yevgen Galona and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, “‘Ivory Tower’: On the Future of Humanities Education,” which connects Gumbrecht’s essay (to follow) with the articles on the contemporary state of universities opening this issue. The essay, “Philology and the Complex Present,” concentrates on the discussion over how the role and functions of philology are changing in the light of a new historical worldview. Whereas earlier, in what Gumbrecht calls “the historical chronotope,” philology appeared to be a form of text curatorship, and the principle of a canonical “critical edition” was of paramount importance, in today’s era of “the chronotope of the broad present” philology is facing qualitatively new challenges (including those presented by new technologies) and finds itself in search of new foundational principles.
Book as Event. Valery Podoroga. Anthropograms: An Experiment in Self-Criticism. Moscow, 2014
(Guest editor: Tatiana Venediktova)
The “Book as Event” section is devoted to discussion of Anthropograms, a book by one of Russia’s prominent philosophers Valery Podoroga. Anthropograms is a key part of Podoroga’s Mimesis project, begun in the 1980s, which offers a reading of Russian literature through the prism of philosophical anthropology (“analytical anthropology,” as Podoroga himself puts it). Mimesis is connected with an attempt to interpret key works of Russian literature as texts that contain philosophical meanings and suggest their own kind of metaphysics. This discussion of Anthropograms and of Podoroga’s project as a whole took place as a roundtable at the Moscow State University philological faculty’s department of general literary theory (the discussion and these selected materials were organized by Tatiana Venediktova). The materials for discussion are paired with the essay and interview with Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht: Podoroga’s project is also aims at transforming the structure of humanities knowledge toward a rapprochement with philosophical anthropology. As the discussion demonstrates, this project turns out to be important for a number of scholars who draw on Russian literature. Participants include the philosopher Oleg Aronson, the sociologist Boris Dubin, the cultural historian Sergey Zenkin and the philosophers Helen Petrovsky, Oxana Timofeeva and Keti Chukhrov.
What Speaking Wants to Say: The Pragmatics of Aesthetic Discourse
(Guest editors: Pavel Arsenev and Dmitry Bresler)
One of the crucial aspects of the anthropological turn in the humanities overall and in literary studies in particular can be found in research on the pragmatic dimension of the literary text. The articles in this section take this approach; they are drawn from materials of the “Pragmatics of Aesthetic Discourse” seminar held for the past few years at St. Petersburg State University’s philological faculty. The authors of the articles undertake a historical reconstruction of the theoretical approach that dealt with ideas about the pragmatics of the literary text and its origins. They suggest various versions of the action of the fictional word and examine the plots and discursive relationships of the texts and films analyzed through a pragmatic perspective. They analyze how signs function on different levels of the texts and in various configurations of the relationship between the author and the text; how the institutional positions of the writers and their performative presuppositions constitute a particular communicative structure that conditions the logic of the fictional texts.
In “On the Construction of Pragmatic Poetics,” Pavel Arseniev gives the historical background of the use of the concept of pragmatics as applied to literary texts, and analyzes the prerequisites for shifting literary studies’ emphasis toward the study of the communicative acts of the characters and the narrator, performative plots and, finally, the functioning of the text at the level of the act of utterance.
Igor Kravchuk’s “...The Truth Had Been Twisted and Contorted: Towards the Pragmatics of the Novella The Landlady by F. M. Dostoevsky” examines the pragmatic aspect of the novella The Landlady (1847) by Dostoevsky. Accor ding to Kravchuk’s approach, this piece is considered as a special fictional utterance that manifests a new imitative technique and defends the autonomy of the professional author under the conditions of the developing Russian literature industry. The eventive indistinctness of the novella’s plot, treated by critics and scholars as one of Dostoevsky’s failed experiments, is indeed the constructive principle of this text, where the acumen of the artist can penetrate the psychology of the characters while escaping any aesthetic conventions, set against both Hoffmannesque phantasy and the factographic accuracy of the ‘natural school.’ Such an experiment is possible through the type of main character, a scientist-amateur, whose personality combines features of the academic intellectual and the independent artist. Vasily Ordynov’s drama represents the drama of Dostoevsky himself, who was forced to choose between an independent aesthetic position and a place in the literary hierarchy of his time.
Dmitry Bresler’s “‘Was Tearfully Pleading with Svistonov to Tear Up His Manuscript’: The Pragmatics of the Genetic Dossier in Vaginov’s Novels” examines the genetic dossier of Vaginov’s prose of the 1920s. This dossier contains notes on the margins of the author’s copies of Goat Song and The Works and Days of Svistonov. Vaginov was editing both novel s at the same time (May-June of 1929), which resulted not only in improved texts, but also an independent artistic statement on the impermeability of writing and transitivity of fictional borders, i.e. the ambivalent pragmatic potential of literary discourse. Notes left by Vaginov on the margins of his own copies of novels indicate the dual character of the text creator (as narrator and reader at the same time) and point out the self-referential pragmatics of Vaginov’s prose.
Eugene Koshin’s “The Naive Reader in an Imaginary World” problematizes the notion of the “naïve reader” and explores various regimes of reading. Koshin analyzes the dynamic relation between the concept of “naïve reader” and the terminological pairs “empirical reader”/“reader as a theoretical construct,” “real world”/“fictional world,” and reveals a correlation between researchers’ stance vis-à-vis the phenomenon examined and their basic ontological presuppositions. The possible worlds theory is regarded as an ontology congenial to the theoretical “naïve reader.”
Georgii Scherstnev’s “Denouncing the Device: Toward a Pragmatics of Anti-Religious Sound Film” discusses the methods of agitational communication that determined the aesthetic strategy of Yakov Protazanov’s anti-religious film St. Jorgen’s Day (1930; 1935). The structure of the film is illuminated by the theory of propagandist film screening, forms of anti-religious agitation, and the Soviet avant-garde aesthetic. Being related to each other, these phenomena of Soviet culture make possible the reconstruction of an ideal type of Soviet cultural communication, whose main quality was intermediality. The pragmatic conditions of this communication are aesthetically reformulated, and this makes the example appropriate for showing the aesthetic pragmatics of the film.
In Pavel Arseniev’s “Literature of the Fact of Utterance: On an Unnoticed Pragmatic Turn,” Soviet factography (“literature of fact”) and logical positivism are compared in their theoretical evolutions. Similarly to Wittgenstein’s struggle with wrong language use, which leads to all kinds of metaphysical questions, Soviet worker-correspondents struggled with the deformation of facts of socialist life in literature — what could be described as literary positivism. During the rapid development of literature of fact in the late 1920s, Tretiakov, its leader, would come to the same kind of pragmatic turn in his practice of operative factography as would happen later in ordinary language philosophy. Analyzed from the positions of narratology as well as those of post-formalist micro-sociology, the practice of factographic writing suggests the idea of a self-critical literature, in which the very act of énonciation is estranged (rather than the verbal texture or composition of the work).
All these analytical perspectives give a detailed overview on how a fictional pragmatics might work and by what analytical tools it can be grasped. The thematic set will be interesting for literary critics, philologists and curious readers who do not only read texts passively, but try to understand how texts function and interact with readers.
The Elusive Topography of the Sacred (New Readings of The Master and Margarita)
This section on Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita demonstrates readings of this twentieth-century classic novel through categories usually employed in anthropological rather than literary-critical research. The articles all suggest that the sacred is one of the most central categories for Bulgakov’s novel, and that turning to this classically anthropological category illuminates many of the structural peculiarities of the novel’s narrative strategy. The latter consideration connects this section with the programmatic anthropologization of literary studies argued for, in different ways, by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and Valery Podoroga elsewhere in this issue.
Ilona Kiss’ article, “The Geopoetics of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita: A Map of Russian History and Invisible Moscow,” argues that a cultural and historical map of the Moscow that was destroyed in the 1920s—1930s can be traced throughout the novel through various signs and subtexts. The desacralization and depersonalization of Soviet space, destruction of connections between places and people, and the raise of a new, totalitarian Soviet conscience is reflected in the novel’s geopoetic structure. In Kiss’s view, this is how Bulgakov tries to restore forgotten cultural signs and values erased from history by the new Soviet regime.
Maria Mikhaylova and Sergey Bobrov’s article “Did Mikhail Bulgakov Read Evdokia Nagrodskaya?” raises a provocative question: whether The Master and Margarita, which Bulgakov started to write in the late 1920s, could have been inspired by a little-known story of Evdokia Nagrodskaya, He (1911), which was not at all welcomed by the critics. Through a comparative analysis of the two texts, the authors demonstrate that some details in both novels coincide to such an extent as to reveal some mysterious parallels between the two plots. Though both novels could derive their mythical energy from Goethe’s Faust and other mystical literature of that time, the characters and the plot seem to be almost identical.
Meta-Anthropology and the Fate of the Humanities
One of the central themes of the issue is continued in a section built around an article-manifesto by the philosopher and cultural theorist Mikhail Epstein, also a professor at Emory University and the author of many works on the methodology of the humanities and the philosophical underpinnings of postmodern culture. In his manifesto, Epstein suggests a new approach to humanities knowledge, one based on the conception of ‘humanistic invention,’ which develops new languages, disciplinary areas, forms of art and literary and art movements. This article serves as a starting point for two other articles in the section, in which Dmitri Golynko-Volfson and Mikhail Kurtov each suggest ways of renewing the humanities under the aegis of cutting-edge philosophical trends (collectively part of the program of so-called object-oriented philosophy, one hypothetical manifestation of which is the discipline of ‘meta-anthropology,’ based around a rethinking of human practices from the perspective of contemporary developments in technology).
Mikhail Epstein’s “On Humanistic Invention” examines the understudied question of humanistic invention, the products of which include new languages, cultural practices, philosophical systems, art forms, literary and artistic movements, religious cults, psychotheraphy methods, etc. Unlike invention in technology and art, humanistic invention has yet to find its place in the system of academic disciplines and university education. This scarcity of creative, constructive practices is a condition of the current crisis in the humanities, their separation from the general development of civilization. Epstein asks how the humanities could impact the subjects they study: how linguistics could impact language, literary studies — literature, how philosophy could impact the construction of alternative and virtual worlds. Epstein suggests a concrete plan for the reform of the humanities, which are capable of creating their own technologies and playing an active role in the creation of the future.
Dmitri Golynko-Volfson’s “Humanistic Knowledge as (not very)Useful Minerals (On Production of the New in the Humanities)” demonstrates that the contemporary humanities, under the influence of the philosophical and aesthetic formations of speculative realism and political-economic theories of the unprotected (precarity) and of security (securization), have begun to conceptualize problems of the substantial and the material that are discovered outside of instantiations of speech, language, discourse or thinking. Knowledge in the humanities today, as well as innovative
artistic practices, pose questions about the materiality of collective traumatic experience, the visual image and materiality of thought itself, when it has lost its correlation with a cognizing subject. Since the humanities in the 2010s call into question the borders and parameters of the human, biological and medial, we can call today’s fundamental trends in the humanities postmedial, postbio-logical and posthumanistic.
In his article “On Technical Not-Knowing”, Mikhail Kurtov suggests viewing the concept of technology as equivocal (homonymic). Proceeding from Gilbert Simondon’s meta-anthropology, Kurtov proposes that signification of the technological happens through mutual dispatches of the series of technical signifiers and the series of religious signifiers, as two parallel homonymic series. Knowledge about humans from ancient times to the present is reinterpreted as conditioned by the relationship between technical and religious thought, or as a superstructure above a techno-theological base. All in all, there are three stages in the evolution of this base, or four techno-theological linka ges (ancient Greek, Christian, Enlightenment and Young Hegelian), which Kurtov describes. He also offers a reworking of the fate of the humanities from the angle of meta-anthropology.
This edition of “Nonconformism Revisted” offers a new contextualization of the phenomena of unofficial art — both well-known and undeservedly forgotten, but nevertheless significant and influential for the shape of uncensored art overall. This issue of NLO focuses on the figure of the Leningrad poet Viktor Shirali, a notable actor in the unofficial movement (his poems can be found in all the anthologies of unofficial poetry), but one effectively ignored thus far by specialists. The article by Grigory Benevich, “Viktor Shirali in the Context of 1960s—1970s Petersburg Poetry,” examines Shirali’s connections with other important unofficial poets including Viktor Krivulin and Leonid Aronzon, and also looks at some of the particulars of Shirali’s poetics.
The issue also features surveys of recent literature in the humanities, analytical reviews of works of contemporary poetry and prose, as well as a survey of major events in scholarly life. Furthermore, the Bibliography section includes two thematic blocks, “Status Struggle,” which discusses the disciplinary status of disciplines like cultural history and historical sociology, and “Humanities in the Digital Age-2,” which continues our survey of literature from the digital humanities.