> 143, 2017 > Summary


18 2017

Issue 143 features a group of articles resulting from papers given at “The Lie as a Factor of Social Life: Texts and Practi­ces,” a conference co-organized by NLO and held at St. Petersburg’s European University on 27–29 May 2016. The con­ference was the first of a series, “The Social Sciences and Humanities Today: The Anthropological Turn?” and focused on the problem of lying from the perspec­tive of history, sociology and cultural studies. The papers presented the con­cept of a “lie” in myriad different forms: from ancient ritual practices to projects legitimized by the state, from charming details of “innocent” fashion to global rewritings of history. The issue opens with a selection of articles addressing the con­ference’s various themes, and closes with a summary of its goings-on. The anthro­pological problems introduced in this sec­tion are continued under two subsequent headings: “Discourses of Domestica­tion – 2” (a continuation of a section from NLO 132) and “Soviet Things: Friends, Enemies, Traitors.”


The Lie as a Social Factor: Texts and Practices

This selection of articles is divided into two sections. The first, “The Archaeology of Evidence,” presents articles that direct readers’ attention to the plainly evident but low-profile details of our everyday culture that help us to understand the inner workings of a reality that is hidden from the eyes of its contemporaries.

The second section, “The Literature of Socialist Realism: A New Pact Between Author and Reader?” feature articles that address the images, strategies and psychological motives behind the production of meaning in socialist realist literature and Soviet film adaptations.


I. The Archaeology of Evidence

Carlo Ginzburg’s article “Unintentional Revelations: Reading History Against the Grain” examines Marc Bloch’s catego­rization, in his The Historians Craft, of historical testimonies into intentional (saint’s lives, memoirs) and unintentional (financial documents, coins, potsherds). Ginzburg compares the role of the his­tory to that of a detective, tasked with recreating the scene of the crime based on trails and evidence. He also traces the emergence and development of this approach through its ‘pioneers’ — fa­mous philosophers of history like Pape-broch, Mabillon and Beaufort, beginning in the seventeenth century. Ginzburg focuses on the problem of antiques dealers, emphasizing its importance for establishing historical truth, and also analyzes works by Arnaldo Momigliano on this topic, revealing parallels between his essays and Bloch’s studies.

Edward Waysband’s “The Fight for Re­writing the Ideology of Russian Futurism: The Young Formalists, ‘A Certain A. Dym-shits,’ and Gulliver on Mayakovsky’s War Articles” analyzes the nationalist ideolo­gy of Russian Futurism (budetlianstvo), which found its expression, among other things, in Vladimir Mayakovsky’s 1914 war articles. Waysband analyzes Soviet and émigré literary critics’ conflicting opinions on these articles in connection with their (incomplete) republication in the first edition of Mayakovsky’s comple­te works in the 1930s. In particular, he exami nes two essays, “Russia. Art. We” and “Budetliane (The Birth of the Bude-tlians),” which were not included in the poet’s first collected works, given the neo-Slavophile views of Velimir Khleb-nikov and the hooray-patriotism of the early days of the war. Waysband discus­ses the discursive practices of Marxism and Formalism meant to minimize the significance of nationalism in the ideology of early Futurism: the Marxist recoding of the nationalist declarations into class-based ones, or the socialist and forma­list ‘supplanting’ of important ideological aspects of early Futurism in favor of fo­cusing attention exclusively on aesthetic or literary ‘series.’ Waysband compares these ‘apologist’ practices, which were very common in the Soviet Union, with Vladislav Khodasevich’s approach, which on the contrary hyperbolized the nationa­list leanings of early Mayakovsky in order to discredit his work.

In “Lost in Translation: Inturist Translator-Guides and the Justification of Soviet Reality,” Aleksei Popov characterizes the work of Soviet translator-guides, tasked in part with presenting Soviet reality to foreign tourists in the 1960s-80s. Using a complex of new sources, including memoirs and in­terview with former guides, Popov demon­strates that the informational and propa-gandistic work of Inturist lay in the oral and written reproduction of the foundational theses of totalitarian discourse: the oppo-sites “truthful” /“untrue” were replaced by “correct”/ “incorrect.” This led to an active uptick in ritualized forms of speech in Intu-rist documentation and, by consequence, descriptions of foreign tourists’ visits to the USSR ceased to meet criteria for testing truthfulness and falseness.


II. The Literature of Socialist Realism: A New Pact Between Author and Reader?

The section opens with Boris Gasparov’s “Socialist Realism in its Metaphysical Dimension (Can the Artistic Imagination Lie?).” By its very nature, the work of art is an act of creative imagination. The au­thor’s position is metaphysically external to the world that s/he has created. How­ever empirically doubtful the artistic nar­rative might be, it cannot be called a “lie” in the moral sense, for the imagination is fundamentally legitimate within the frame­work of artistic creation. The lie of socialist realist art is not in the empirical untruthful-ness of the situations and characters, but rather in the refusal to consider what is depicted an act of artistic creation. The loss of the readers’ “external location” vis-à-vis the world depicted deprives socialist realism of the moral immunity inherent to all other acts of the artistic imagination.

In “The Metamorphoses of Munchhausen,” Mark Lipovetsky examines the changing image of Munchhausen in Soviet and post-Soviet culture: from Chukovsky’s retelling and S. Krzhizhanovsky’s Return of Munch-hausen to M. Zakharov’s film adaptation of G. Gorin’s play and the image of the “collective Munchhausen” in 2000–2010s culture. Embodying the self-sufficient lie, Munchhausen allows for a reformulation of the idea of what constitutes the truth. The frequent recurrences of this image testify to a peculiar crisis of the truth, when so­ciety affirms the conviction that searches for the truth are fruitless and that truth itself brings greater woe than a comforting lie, etc. At the same time, every “return of Munchhausen” involves a reworking of social despair into a source of individual freedom which, in turn, can be interpreted as a signal of pending social upheaval.

Using newly-discovered archival docu­ments, Maria Mayofis’s “Society for the Struggle Against Boorishness: On an Overlooked Tendency in 1950s Literature” reconstructs the cohesive aesthetic and social conception of children’s literature that lay behind the public appearances of writer, critic and editor Lydia Chukov-skaya (1908-1994) between 1953-57. This conception rested on the idea of “truth” as a synonym for psychological authenticity and as an overcoming of the estrangement created by the clichéd mental constructions of socialist realism. Maiofis shows that Chukovskaya’s In the Editor’s Laboratory (1960) synthesized her thoughts over the previous decade on literature and the future of Soviet cul­ture, in the form of a utopian conception of literary editing as a means of social-moral therapy for post-Stalinist society. This conception had a noticeable effect on several young writers of the “Thaw” period. The article includes an appendix of three previously unknown speech outlines for talks Chukovskaya gave at literary discussions in the 1950s.


Soviet Things: Friends, Enemies, Traitors

Guest editors: Alexandra Arkhipova and Sergey Nekludov


Soviet citizens in the 1970s–80s filled their lives with uniform things (marinated herring on holidays, tea in diamond-cut glasses, triangular milk packets), and just as regularly dreamed of things prestigious and unattainable: American jeans, Mickey-Mouse chewing gum and Marlboro cigarettes. The interpretation of these prestigious things’ unattainability offered by Soviet propaganda and unof­ficial folklore alike converted desirability into danger, associated with the people who took the risks to acquire these things: lice sewn into jeans, razor blades in chewing gum. Alongside this arose the figure of the counter-agent — an Ameri­can or a Jew bent on harming ordinary Soviet citizens by these nefarious means. The need and the difficulty of “procuring” these things led the construction of a nar­rative field in which the yearning for these things was justified or, on the contrary, demonstratively rejected, generating a special discourse of the evil of pursuing Western things. Non-prestigious things were also subject to interpretation: em­bedded in the pragmatics of the Soviet everyday, they began to be rethought in the 1980s–90s. Etiological texts began to emerge that revealed the “truth” of the things’ origin and creation, as well as the hidden messages encoded in them by their “creator.” Thus in the 1990s ordinary, non-prestigious things of Soviet everyday life received a new cultural biography, hyper-semioticized in some of its aspects.

In “Dangerous Signs and Soviet Things,” Alexandra Arkhipova and Elena Mi-khailik attempt to reconstruct the pro­cess of hyper-semioticization that in the 1930s transformed objects of the Soviet everyday life into actual or potential car­riers of pernicious enemy signs. The hunt for an imaginary community of a massive Trotskyist–Bukharinist underground, at­tempts to block communication from this underground, and the desire to exclude any hint of an ambiguous reading of any Soviet texts or images, led to a situation in which any object could be read as rep­resenting symbolic anti-Soviet corruption; the Soviet world was transformed into a text afflicted with an enemy virus.

An article from Alexandra ArkhipovaAnna Kirzyuk and Aleksey Titkov, “Foreign Poisoned Things,” addresses

late-Soviet urban legends about the dan­ger associated with foreign things. These narratives took shape in three discourses (ideological, quasi-medical and folkloric) and reflected the complex of meanings Soviet culture ascribed to Western, public and “authoritative” things (inaccessibility, prohibition, prestige, fear).

Anna Kirzyuk’s “Three Black Volgas: Si­lence and Fear in Soviet Urban Legends” addresses urban legends about a terrible black Volga (car), which circulated in the 1950s–80s in the USSR and other Warsaw Pact nations. Kirziuk highlights three types of plot, analyzes the histori­cal context of their origins and compares their semantics and pragmatics. She suggests that the two specifically Soviet plots are connected with the experience of Stalinist repressions.

The section continues with an article by Galina Yuzefovich, “‘Shameful Consu­merism’: The Consumerist Neurosis in the ‘Consumer Heaven’ of the Soviet Baltic States.” During the 1960s–80s, many things that remained inaccessible through­out the rest of the Soviet Union were legal and easily acquired in the Baltic States. This was true of various areas of consump­tion, beginning with information and end­ing with so-called “general merchandise” [promtovary]. However, due to the limited nature of the Baltics’ goods, visiting consumers — for the most part, repre­sentatives of various types of the Soviet intelligentsia — maintained an ambivalent and difficult relationship to them for the duration of the entire Soviet period.

The section closes with an article from Maria Volkova, “Diamonds in the Glass: Ideal Things in the Post-Soviet ‘Soviet Utopia.’” In the 1980s–2000s, narratives have emerged about good Soviet things that represent the correct Soviet system of consumption. The greatest number of these are devoted to the diamond-cut glass; ideas about the glass are isomor-phic to the utopian notions of the 1920s regarding “correct things”: they empha­size the glass’s functionality, which makes it useful to society.


Discourses of Domestication - 2

Guest editor: Konstantin A. Bogdanov


In common usage, the concept of “domestication” (from the Latin domus, house, and the possessive formant -ticus) is connected to the domestication of animals or plants. But how do we define this process of domestication epistemo-logically: are we talking about accultura-ting nature or “naturing” culture itself? Or does the Nature/Culture dichotomy in this context reveal glitches, failures that necessitate a search for epistemological (and terminological) substitutes? Domesti­cation points to everything that — outside of the semantic division between Nature and Culture — serves as a “home” for people. In this “home,” nature turns out to be the foundation and continuation of cul­ture, rather than something to which cul­ture is opposed. Meanwhile, the “home” of Culture includes everything that occu­pies and concerns people, that makes them feel their helplessness in the face of Nature — for instance, an encounter with death or with “monsters” — and in the face of the inevitable flow of time — in particular, interactions with one’s own his­torical past. The process of domesti cation makes all of these phenomena “familiar,” “tame,” open to interaction without the risk of harm and even possible to use to one’s advantage. At the same time, they also clearly mark off the border that we use to mentally encircle the “general space” of an individual and — in an extensive sense — everything that has any kind of outside/alien relationship to it.

In “Coming Home to God: Notes for a History of Domesticating Life after Death,” Mikhail Shishkin, Jr. examines the image of home as a representation of life after death in Western culture of the early modern period. He studies the his­tory of the metaphor, its origins, internal structure and functionality. Shishkin also analyzes ironic readings of the meta­phor, in which it loses its “comforting” meanin g but continues to be used to indicate death and dying.

Annick Morard’s “Domesticating the Other: Monster Shows in Russia” exami­nes a little-studied yet typical component of entertainment culture from the time of the Kunstkamera to the end of the nineteenth century: “monster shows” in Russia. Peter the Great’s enlightenment project was founded on the desire to pre­sent the public with curious, astounding and also “monstrous” phenomena, but the spread of “monster demonstrations” in various urban cultural spaces gave new forms and significance to this phe­nomenon, as analyzed by Morard. The apparently contradictory approaches of either “humanizing” or “brutalizing” the monster ultimately testify to persistent efforts to either domesticate or tame the Other, as embodied by the monster.

An article from Lyubov Bugaeva, “American Girl and the Domestication of History,” examines the “American Girl” project – a successful commercial enter­prise that includes 46cm dolls of the same name, films, interactive narratives, video and computer games and many items of clothing, furniture, etc. The pro­ject’s basic task is to create conditions in which contemporary little girls and pre-teens can “see” historical events, feel “what it was like” to be a little American girl in 1904 New York City or during the American Revolution in Virginia. Bugaeva examines the strategies for bringing history into the domestic space of the child, which have made the American Girl project one of the most successful in terms of making foreign experience intimate and domesticating history.


Sociology of Reading

Natalia Samutina’s “Practices of Emo­tional Reading and Amateur Literature (Fanfiction)” addresses the question of emotional reading in the digital age. In her study of readerly strategies, Samu-tina uses amateur online-literature (fan-fiction), in particular, a Russian-language Harry Potter fanfiction community. The readerly strategies typical of fanfiction are placed in the context of contempo­rary theories of emotional reading, which demonstrate the cultural and historical genealogy of the dichotomy between critical (distanced) and emotional (engaged) reading in the culture of modernity. Using several concrete examples, Samu-tina describes the ‘emotional landscapes’ of fanfiction reading, and analyzes the specific features and tasks of engaged reading.

In her “Contemporary Poetry and the ‘Problem’ of its Not Being Read : A Re-conceptualization”, Evgenia Vezhlian examines the possibilities for a sociologi­cal conceptualization of poetry as a dis­crete phenomenon, articulated within the space of literature and boasting its own distinct patterns of existence. At the same time, bearing in mind the syn-chronic processes that de-hierarchize and decentralize literature, she turns to alternative theories and methodolo­gies besides the accepted Bourdieusian structural approach to ‘fields.’ Rejecting the search for the ‘reader of poetry’ as understood in essentialist fashion, Vezh-lian looks at various, empirically appar­ent modes of reading poetry.


Close Reading

Roman Katsman’s “Jerusalem: Denis Sobolev’s Dissipative Novel” examines the poetic and ideological features of Jeru salem (2005), a novel by Denis Sobolev, against the background of post-Soviet literature’s ceaseless at­tempts to rethink the novel genre and to The “Bibliography” heading features a group of articles on the cognitive appro ach to the humanities. Denis Akhapkin and Lyubov Bugaeva present a survey of edited volumes and monographs on cognitive literary move past the framework of postmodern thinking. In his discussion, Katsman incorporates Sobolev’s culturological study Jews and Europe and his Haifa tales — which constitute chapters of a future (or ongoing) dissipative novel. and film studies released over the past five years. The “Chronicle of Scholarly Life” inclu des an account of the 2016 XXIV Bannye Readings (“Strategies of Cultural Resis tance and Achieving Au­tonomy in Closed Societies”).