The central question posed in this issue of the New Literary Observer is the nature of Russian modernity. The question is first posed in “Debating Modernity,” a section structured around an article by Michael David-Fox that examines different types of Russian modernity. The reactions to this article by both Russian and international Slavists helps us to trace the different versions of Russian modernity and their productive capacity in various academic studies. The question of modernity was posed in its most radical shape by avant-garde art, both Russian and international. The author s of the section of articles entitled “The Terror of Ostranenie” examine the connections between aesthetical and political radicalism, two striking features of the modern ear. The rest of the issue deals with historical and literary issues. There is a section devoted to Nikolai Leskov, and the articles in the section “Interpretations” focuses on the “extra-literary” details of writers’ lives, which ultimately shaped their reputations and influenced the places they have occu pied in the Russian literary canon.
In “Russian–Soviet Modernity: None, Shared, Alternative, or Entangled?,” Michael David-Fox addresses the diversity of approaches to the concept of ‘modernity’ in historiography (mostly Anglo-American) of pre-Soviet, Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. Although the concept of modernity is foundational for most historians, its meaning is still contentious. David-Fox lays out four basic approaches to modernity in application to Russia. Representatives of the first approach reject the notion that there has ever been modernity in Russia: for them, Russia is still a pre-modern state. The second approach suggests that Russian modernity exists and essentially resembles modernity in other countries; it is part of general international historical development. The third approach acknowledges the existence of many different modernities, each unique to its own state and region. Finally, the fourth approach proposes many modernities that are capable of intertwining amongst themselves, mixing with traditional elements and creating various hybrid formations.
The ten responses gathered here in response to Michael David-Fox’s article represent a broad diversity of opinions. The discussion centers on the question of Soviet and post-Soviet modernity as such: did Russia have a modernity at all, and if yes, then in what form and of what quality? Each participant in the discussion suggests his or her own conception of modernity and vision of what Russian modernity looks like (or argues that there can be no discussion of ‘modernity’ in connection with Russia or the USSR). Meanwhile, the respondents also comment at length on the historiography of (post-) Soviet modernity, the starting point for David-Fox’s article in the first place. The respondents are Catriona Kelly, Mark D. Steinberg, Timur Atnashev, Mikhail Velizhev, Kirill Kobrin, Andy Byford, Stephen Lovell, Alexander Etkind, Douglas Rogers, Bruce Grant, and Alexander Markov.
The Ministry, the Hares, and the Memes, Or How Scholarly Communities are Formed and How They Persist (Guest editor: Konstantin A. Bogdanov)
The articles in this section are reworked versions of papers originally presented at The Philosophy of the Hare: Unexpected Prospects for Research in the Humanities, an international academic conferen-ced held at the Institute of Russian Lite rature (Pushkin House) of the Russian Academy of Sciences (St. Petersburg, June 19—21, 2014). The conference was involuntarily inspired by Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, who a year earlier had blurted out onBusiness FM radio station that he knew of an entire institute within the Russian Academy of Sciences whose researchers had studied the “philosophy of the hare” at the taxpayer’s expense for several years. The conference, which took place at the Institute of Russian Literature, was a kind of flash mob, a protest on the part of academic researchers who study cultural history and believe that the topics, methods, and prospects of their research should be evaluated professionally not by government officials, but by other members of the academic community.
In “The Fauna of Morality: Russian Classics and Russian Hares”, Konstantin A. Bogdanov addresses the ‘hare’ motif in seventeenth through nineteenth-century Russian literature. The importance of studying literary motifs lies in their ability to reveal the tension, rifts and contrasts in retrospective background knowledge, and to indicate the transformative quality (lexical, stylistic, emotional and semiotic) of the cultural discourse to which they are linked. What meanings are motifs imbued with, who does the imbuing and who perceives these meanings? How traditional are these motifs, what cultural premises condition their emergence and ongoing functioning? Given its general functional feature of novelty and discursive expressiveness, the ‘hare’ motif in Russian literature makes for good material for an investigation of the literary motif as such and the poetics that condition it.
Olga Kuznetsova’s “‘The Rocks Are a Refuge for the Hares’ (The Image of the Hare in the Poetry of Simeon Polotsky)” discusses the emblematic poetry of Simeon Polotsky, with particular attention to the presence of an extensive system of contexts, despite the compactness of the work. Polotsky’s poem about a “sea-hare” (bearded seal) is not only borrowed from a sermon by M. Faber; it also contains an allusion to Psalm 103, referring in turn to an emblematic image from the collection of G. Corrose and the traditional symbolic interpretation of the hare as a sinner in the process of being saved.
In “‘He imitated Byron and perished like a hare’: A Preliminary Commentary”, Elena Kardash presents an historical and literary analysis of Faddey Bulgarin’s well-known remark following the death of Pushkin. She demonstrates how this remark, on the one hand, represents an accumulation and variation of some stable semantic and verbal formulas of the literature of Pushkin’s time. On the other hand, Bulgarin’s comment inspired the use of further “hare” images and metaphors in the context of the so-called Pushkin myth, constructed by the poet’s contemporaries and transformed by subsequent generations of readers.
In “Alexander Blok’s The Bunny and the Hare: The Question of the Addressee in Poetry for Children,” Dina Magomedova presents an interpretation of Blok’s children’s poem The Bunny (Zaychik), which simultaneously addresses two audien ces. The second audience, incidentally the only one who could be expected to completely understand the second layer of the text, was Lyubov Blok, the poet’s wife. This hypothesis allo ws Magomedova to suggest the poem is likewise ambivalent in terms of genre (it is both a children’s “story in verse” and a burlesque elegy). In this way, The Bunny constitutes part of the Bloks’ shared project of “life-creation.”
In “‘The Great Russian Hare’: Conceptualizing the Image of the Hare in Nazi Propaganda (with Reference to the Newspaper Za Rodinu, 1942—1944),” Natalja Sroma and Anastasija Vedela analyze the animal metaphors used in collaborationist Russian-language publications in Latvia during the Second World War. The authors focus on the newspaper Za Rodinu (For the Mother land), which was published between 1942 and 1944 and made extensive use of zoomorphic metaphors (particularly the image of the hare, the wolf, and the tiger). Shrom and Vedela examine how the writers and publishers of the newspaper used these metaphors in their attempt to shape a new Russian identity (anti-Soviet and essentially pre-revolutionary and “old Russian”) among their readership.
The Unknown Leskov
This section of articles deals with research into little-known aspects of the life of Nikolai Leskov, in particular, the particulars of his literary debut and his strategies for mythologizing his own biography.
Tatjana Shor’s “Who Is To Blame? … Or Nikolai Leskov at the Ostsee Court” examines unknown texts by Leskov, discovered at the Estonian National Archives in the files of the Estland Provincial Government and local judicial institutions from the 1870s and 1880s. Legal proceedings were occasioned by a conflict in July 1870 between Leskov and his companion and three natives of Reval (Tallinn) and the district inspector at a salon in Ekaterinenthal (Kadriorg). Leskov’s initial explanatory text along with subsequent autographs and the reaction to them in Reval and Petersburg provide grounds for verifying his hypo thesis of “substituting the guilty” as a code that would be transformed lite-rarily both in Leskov’s own work and his son Andrei Leskov’s biography.
Maya Kucherskaya’s “A Useful Neighbor: Leskov at Work on His Autobiography” examines an instance in which Leskov mythologizes the circumstances of his literary debut. By omitting in his autobiographical notes the name and surname of the landowner F.I. Selivanov, a neighbor of Leskov’s relatives who had deemed his letters worthy of publication, Leskov was thus able to ascribe this praise to the famous writer I.V. Selivanov.
Andrey Ranchin’s “The Life and Opinions of Nikolai Leskov Told by His Friends, Acquaintances and Detractors” discusses a memoir of Nikolai Leskov. The focus is the peculiar way in which the writer’s personality was received and the causes of this reception, as well as certain aspect of the writer’s self-representation in conversations with the memoirists. Ranchin traces the impact of the writer’s public reputation on the relatively scant interest of the memoirist in his personality. It is show that the memoirists’ lack of interest in Leskov is also explained by his position as an outsider in the literary community. Yet another reason is his “boring” biography, which lacks a striking “story line.” Statements made by Leskov, as preserved in the memoirs, testify to the various strategies he employed in an attempt to escape his position as a literary outsider.
Interpretations: Letters, Biographies, Life Experiences
Igor Nemirovsky’s “How Pushkin Became a Prophet (From the History of the Early Biographies of Pushkin)” deals with three books by Pavel Annenkov: Materials for a Biography of Pushkin (1855), Pushkin in the Age of Alexander (1874), and Pushkin’s Social Ideals (1880). Comparing three biographies of the same poet, Nemirovsky shows how they reflected considerable shifts in the Russian ideological context. Annenkov’s leitmotif was the dramatic turning point in Pushkin’s outlook and public behavior in 1824. The article also shows that Annenkov, who had originally rejected Pushkin’s prophetic status, was inclined to see Pushkin as a prophet amid the atmosphere of the 1880 Pushkin jubilee and, especially, under the impact of Dostoevsky’s speech at the unveiling the monument to Pushkin in Moscow.
The section concludes with an excerpt from the correspondence between Fyo-dor Korsсh and Dmitry Ushakov (1905— 1912), as edited and annotated by Evgeniya Basovskaya. The selection of letters provides insight into the long friendship between the two prominent philologists, the Latinist Fyodor Korsсh (1843—1915) and the Russianist Dmitry Ushakov (1873—1942), who would go on to compile a renowned four-volume dictionary of the Russian language. The letters not only characterize their authors as intellectuals and devotees of academic research, men of incredible erudition and brilliant wit, but also paint a striking portrait of the early twentieth century, a period described by Korsсh as “a time when you can talk about order, but to no avail.”
The Terror of Ostranenie. The Aesthetic Avant-Garde Versus the Political Avant-Garde
The three articles published in this section draw on different historical examples to address the issue of the con nection between aesthetical and political radicalism, trying to discover an internal, immanent logical that leads theorists and practitioners of the avant-garde to aesthetic terror, the “terror of ostranenie.”
In “Between Conservative Revolution and Bolshevism: Nikolai Punin’s Total Aesthetic Mobilization,” Anatolii Rykov addresses the problem of interpreting late Stalinist culture through the work of a major representative of the Russian avant-garde, the writer and theorist of art Nikolai Punin. Rykov focuses on the totalitarian utopia of early Punin, Against Civilization (co-authored with Evgeny Poletaev) and its echoes in work from the 1940s — the literary work Letters to M.G. and an unfinished dissertation on the work of the nineteenth-century artist Alexander Ivanov. Rykov traces the evolution of Punin’s nationalist rhetoric from his earlier engagement with the ideas like the conservative revolution in Germany and the essentialist version of the «history of Russian art». He examines the avant-garde matrix of Punin’s compositions, the diversity of its discourses (from Bolshevism, proto-fascism and militarism to modernism and formalism).
Sergey L. Fokin’s “Blanchot, Nancy, Lacoue-Labarthe: Oblivion, Expectation, Legend” examines the complex relationship between the work of Maurice Blanchot and anti-Semitism as a manifestation of literary nationalism in French literature. Fokin’s study rests on recent publications treating Blanchot’s work, including works by Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, as well as a series of Blanchot’s articles from the 1930s, addressing the themes of national revolution and the Jewish legacy. The article emphasizes the correspondence between the young Blanchot’s ideological program and the logic of “French fascism,” which must meanwhile be distinguished, on the one hand, from the logic of the “Nazi myth” and, on the other, from the position of other national versions of fascism during the period.
Dennis Ioffe’s “The Revolutionary Aesthetics of the Second Russian Avant-Garde’s ‘Cynical’ Terror: The Subversive Art of Mikhail Grobman” focus on the ‘stiob’ and subversive aesthetic praxis of the second Russian avant-garde. In particular, Ioffe analyses Mikhail Grobman’s oeuvre vis-a` -vis various irreverent techniques including left-wing politics and the cynical tradition, drawing a conceptual parallel between the avant-garde’s life-creational provocation and Surrealist patterns of discursive terror. Ioffe reflects on the characteristically synthetic nature of the avant-garde, which puts equal emphasis on visual art and verbal poetry. His analysis goes further into the radical artistic gestures that contributed to the unique stance offered by this cultural paradigm.
The issue also features overviews of recent literature in the humanities, analytical reviews of works of contemporary literature and poetry, and an overview of key events in scholarly life. The “Bibliography” section features Artyom Zubov’s overview “The Cultural History of Science Fiction as a Popular Genre,” which describes various takes on the history of science fiction as a genre and examines works dealing with the connection between science fiction and the politics of colonialism and imperialism (John Rieder), Russian modernity (Anindita Banerjee), and postcolonialism and deindustrialization (Mark Bould). M.M. Samokhina’s overview elaborates on the New Literary Observer’ s emergent anthropological approach to reading, surveying the various activities of readers on the Internet.