> 149, 2018 > Summary


19 2018

Fins de Sie`cle: The Anthropology Of Pivotal Periods Studying societies perched at pivotal periods is a continuation of one of NLO’s multi-year projects, which focuses on the anthropology of modern societies of various types (primarily closed societies). The metaphor of the ‘century’s end’ has long been present in cultural consciousness — the idea that at the turning-point between centuries, many different societies have witnessed stark collapses of worldview, lifestyle and value systems. At the end of the nineteenth / beginning of the twentieth century this idea was dubbed in French ‘fin de siècle’ and began to be associated with a cardinal shift of direction in literature, art and philosophy. The phenomenon itself, however, is much older — it can be observed at least since the beginning of the Early Modern period. The NLO editorial team suggests that we ask: what lies behind the fin de siècle? Is it just the ‘magic of round numbers’ and other run-of-the-mill stereotypes, or are there actually phenomena that actively change the entire cultural and social structure of society every time one century succeeds another?

The end of one century and beginning of the next often provoke an ambiguous reaction from contemporaries and their immediate descendents. On the one hand, contemporaries often perceive this time as one of general collapse, degradation and a loss of connection with past traditions. On the other hand, these same years see the development of new ideas about the world, new lifestyles, social structures, political regimes and aesthetic paradigms. These are moments of dismantling, when society’s basic temporal framework is redefined and new images of the past and present emerge alongside new programs for the future; old cultural paradigms are rejected. The social and cultural processes that were underway throughout the century begin to be perceived as a norm, established tradition, or even dogma; meanwhile, the new processes are seen as an abandonment of the old, collapse, decadence and ‘moral degradation.’ A revival of the archaic is suggested as a counterweight — its processes strive to be seen as a return to customary traditions and norms. But while contemporaries tend to see the more negative side of fins de siècles, we want to take a different view of these pivotal periods, seeing the constructive changes that they carry (which often only become noticeable many years after the fin de siècle itself has become part of the past).

These periods can be imagined still more broadly — as ‘reference points’ in a given society’s gradual move toward secularism and autonomy, points that accentuate all of the basic features of that process. At the same time, the boundaries of centuries invite investigation insofar as their study can help us to understand the laws according to which a society lives during less tumultuous times, when the explosive character of the last fin de siècle has nearly exhausted its revolutionary potential.

Humanities scholarship has paid the most attention to the late nineteenth — early twentieth century period, when both European culture and culture worldwide were developing the concepts and notions that enabled science and art to talk about modernity as a free-standing period of human history. This was also the time of the institutional formation of the modern sciences and the emergence of a new sphere of the everyday. Explosive processes in culture, literature and art were accompanied by revolutions in technology and urban studies; and all of this led to the world changing in unpredictable ways. However, the boundary between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was not the only such period. Before it, there was the end of the eighteenth century, marked by the French Revolution and the development of a new artistic and literary language appropriated from the emotional life of the private citizen; prior to this, the end of the seventeenth / beginning of the eighteenth century, when Europe was enjoying its Age of Enlightenment while in Russia the rule of Peter the Great put an end to the preceding state order; and before that was the boundary dividing the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the Baroque flourished. We can assume that the fin de siècle phenomenon is typical of the Early Modern period as such: virtually any society on its way to becoming modern experienced a serious societal and cultural pivot at the clash of two centuries: traditional ways of life were destroyed and qualitatively different projects for creating the future were generated. To all appearances, the 1990s can be added to this series: after the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc, the whole world became witness to a new social and cultural order.


As a prologue to this issue, we are publishing a translation of the article “Fin de siècle” by French historian Christophe Charle, which traces the history of this expression within French culture from its first mention by Voltaire to the concept’s heyday at the turn of the twentieth century, to its renewed popularity beginning in the 1980s. The specificity of the “fin de siècle” chrononym is the precocity of its self definition. Though many writers criticized the illusion upon which it laid (why should the arbitrary end of a century converge with the end of a historical moment defined by its lost illusions?), the expression became standard in public discourse and was in harmony with the economic difficulties, the political uncertain situation or the pessimistic mood diffused by a large segment of literary and philosophical productions characterized with the notions of “decadence”, “neurosis”, or degeneracy. Even if after 1900 a new more positive discourse coincided with the new century, the phrase survived in the longue duréand has been revived since the 1980s: there has been some kind of a mirror effect between the critical discourse on modernity or on postmodernism and the expansion of academic studies (in particular in English, but also in French and in German) which revisit with fascination what is now the other “fin de siècle”, perhaps in order to find clues to understand the present.

The Baroque as a Model For Fin de Siècle

The Baroque period can be called a model fin de siècle: on the cusp of the 17th and 18th centuries, literature and the other arts were restructured at a rapid pace, largely as a reaction to the classicism of the preceding epoch. For a long time, contemporaries and many of their descendants perceived the Baroque, against the background of the preceding classicism, as a period of decline and departure from humanistic ideals. The Baroque was newly discovered as a selfsufficient period in art and literature at the turn of the twentieth century, during the “classic” fin de siècle, when the Baroque began to be perceived as a parallel to modern art, which was also developing under the signs of decadence and decline. The authors in this section trace the specific ways in which Baroque aesthetics proved to be important for the later cultural history of Europe and why precisely the Baroque period was important to how the art of the fin de siècle understood itself. The authors in this section examine three subjects temporally removed from the chronological Baroque and proximate to the classic fin de siècle, for which Baroque art turned out to be an important means of selfdescription and self-understanding.

The section begins with Olga Matich’s article “Fin de siècle: The Baroque and Modernism (In-betweenness, Spatialization of Time, Visuality).” As a key concept of European modernism, the fin de siècle is applied to the Baroque in this article. It is considered as a period of in-betweenness producing a break between cultural epochs and cultural crisis, which result in the flowing of one century into the next; time acquires a spatial dimension; revival of the baroque in modernism; the fin de siècle chronotope as a time of decline, followed by renewal. Among the theoretical concepts, the essay applies R. Koselleck’s metadescription of historical time as the relationship of past and future events. The article examines baroque painting in Italy and Spain and avant-garde painting as well as the neo-baroque modernist novel Petersburg by Andrey Bely.

Kirill Ospovat’s “The Bronze Horseman: Baroque, State of Exception, and the Aesthetics of Revolution” links the symbolic spaces of the Russian imperial capital St. Petersburg as depicted in Aleksandr Pushkin‘s Bronze Horseman to the semantics of historical catastrophe explored by Walter Benjamin in his studies of German baroque and revolutionary Paris. Focusing on various literary appropriations of the “bronze horseman”, the equestrian statue of the city’s founder Peter the Great, the essay explores its evolving allegorical relationship to political crises from Pushkin to Andrey Bely, from the nineteenth century to the revolutionary era. As a symbolic language of the state of exception, the baroque was revived by avant-garde artists and scholars and made to resonate with the political aesthetics of their own time.

Evgeny Pavlov’s “Mortifying Writing: Konstantin Vaginov’s Leningrad Baroque” proposes examining Konstantin Vaginov’s novel Labours and Days of Svistonov as an allegory of Soviet modernity. Vaginov would appear to be the only Russian writer of the early 20th century whose writing is wholly in line with Walter Benjamin’s rethinking of the Baroque allegory. As they move onto the pages of his text, characters of Vaginov’s Soviet present become attributes of the past mortified by the insatiable eye of the writing subject. This strategy repeats the Baroque logic of negating. To Vaginov, writing means writing allegorically; it means petrifying trembling actuality which then becomes a tomb that writes and to which the writing subject is also sacrificed.

Transforming Social Space

During pivotal periods, social space is transformed: regimes of social interaction change and new types of public spaces emerge. Contemporaries actively make sense of these processes, while one’s descendants are often models for perfecting one’s own social practices. The articles in this section examine various cases to show how exactly such a transformation occurs. Two articles (by Ekaterina Dmitrieva and Evgeny Ponomarev) are devoted to restaurants has a new type of public space, and one (Roy Porter) addresses the broader question of how patterns and regimes of social interaction changed in Great Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century, during the early period of the Industrial Revolution.

Roy Porter’s “The 1790s: ‘Visions of Unsullied Bliss’” describes the British experience of the two revolutions, the French and the industrial, against Britain’s gradual transformation into a commercial and consumer society. After 1795, the initial enthusiasm about the French revolution declined, yet so did the old stability in the wake of the industrial revolution. These changes led to debate about the virtues and vices of the new age: whereas the utopian Robert Owen believed industry to be compatible with social reform, the pessimist Thomas Malthus considered the imbalance of production and reproduction an obstacle in the way to the perfectibility of society. Malthus’ ideas reflected the effort of the ruling classes to secure their position and contributed to what would come to be called ‘Victorianism’.

The section continues with Ekaterina Dmitrieva’s article “Carefree Swimming and Orgiastic Dance: Parisian guinguettes of the belle époque.” Guinguettes were little restaurants located in the outskirts of Paris on the banks of the Seine and Marne rivers. In the last third of the 19th century, they became the place where denizens of the demimonde, French aristocrats, and Bohemians (especially artists) gathered. This article pays particular attention to a guinguette called the “Frog Marsh” (Grenouillère) — an iconic venue of the epoch, located near the first nude beach in France. The balls held at the guinguettes, “unbridled dancing” (Maupassant), and the new emotion of the naked body appearing against a background of tailcoats and dinner jackets (which is also associated with the genesis of Manet’s painting Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe)—all this defined the emotional style of the period and new directions in painting that were also idiosyncratically refracted in literature.

Evgeny Ponomarev’s “The Capital Restaurant as a Phenomenon of findesiècle Russian Life (From Turgenev, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy to Kuprin and Bunin)” article analyzes the restaurant as a cultural phenomenon in Russian life. By using numerous literary sources, the author is able to trace the dynamics of everyday ideology associated with the restaurant as a cultural and social institution. The restaurant’s functions as a background for literary storytelling, its place in the development of literary plots, commentary concerning restaurants, the restaurant as a subject of fiction — all 693 this provides important information about how society perceived the restaurant during a particular period. The fin de siècle was characterized by a restaurant boom, which was associated with the rapid development and democratization of Russian society. The preceding period of the mid-nineteenth century and the subsequent Soviet period repressed the very idea of the restaurant, and in many ways their respective attitudes toward restaurant culture coincided.

Inventing Tradition

One of the primary means by which a pivotal period understands itself is the attempt to find stable bases for contemporary social and cultural practices, to invent a tradition capable of explaining the status quo and acting as an instrument for its maintenance. The articles in this section examine several subjects, each of which show exactly how such traditions can be constructed and function. The authors study these problems in a wide variety of cases — from the history of architecture (Vadim Bass, Ksenia Malich) to a rethinking of the concept of empire (Marina Mogilner’s article) and how the historical figures of the past appear in contemporary media (Ekaterina Dianina’s article).

This section begins with Vadim Bass’s article “The Invention of ‘Old Petersburg’ 100 Years Ago: Towards a History of the Most Successful National Endeavor in the Separation of Architecture and Politics.” At the turn of the 20th century, Petersburg underwent a transformation into a modern capitalist metropolis. This process radically changed the character of construction in the city, which came to reflect the latest architectural ideas and stylistic trends. Meanwhile, a group of artists, critics, and architects managed to create a unique fashion, popularizing the architecture and urban environment of the pre-bourgeois period, the undemocratic architecture of the imperial city. This process may be examined in the context of the democratization of art — a peculiar “downward drift” of values (in the axiological sense) that was a characteristic process of modernity: a new social reality ensured broader social strata access to lifestyle attributes, values, and artifacts that dated back to the social order of the ancien régime and were previously perceived as only the domain of the “elites.” There occurred a certain “privatization” of the classical city on the part of the artistic intelligentsia. This article will discuss various mechanisms that helped to realize such a transformation.

The section continues with Marina Mogilner’s article “Fin de siècle of the Empire: Vladimir Zhabotinsky’s Island Utopia.” The most famous fin de siècle in Russian history, that coinciding with the calendar beginning of the 20th century, was transformed into the fin de siécle — that is, it was conceptualized and described, first and foremost, by representatives of old and new cultural movements, primarily within the framework of an intertextual space they created, and it continues to be interpreted this way today. Reflections on the “fin de siècle of the empire” as a space of unstructured hybridity that disappears before one’s eyes, making way for the post-colonial political imagination of post-imperial nations, with their orientation toward homogeneity, exists in this space only in sublated and depoliticized form. In this article, Mogilner addresses a figure of the Russian fin de siècle in the early 20th century who at the time was already demanding a transition to a postimperial mode of existence and speech (description / conceptualization). Vladimir Zhabotinsky waged an uncompromising battle against the ambiguity of the fin de siècle, which embodied for him a false and degenerate imperial multidimensionality, multi-layeredness, and internal inconsistency. Zhabotinsky’s polemical texts of the early 20th century provide a basis for interpreting the calendar limit between centuries from the point of view of fundamental shifts within the Russian imperial order.

In her article “‘Instauratio Urbis’: How to Preserve a City. Debates on City Planning in the Netherlands in the first half of the 20th Century,” Ksenia Malich, like Vadim Bass, turns to the history of architecture at the turn of the century. At the turn of the 20th century, the issue of urban development was one of the key problems discussed by European architects. Architects were haunted by a fear of an expanding, sinister Metropolis that would trample humanity, make life in the city unbearable, and undermine traditional values and human interactions. The need to clear out the urban space seemed to be the primary task for architecture, and along with it questions were raised about expanding historical cities and building residences for socially defenseless residents. Among the proposed solutions, the concept of “instauratio urbis” (reiteration, restoration) was articulated — a traditional notion that one should restore the cultural significance of architecture as a repository of historical experience.

Katia Dianina’s “The Return of the Repressed Heritage: Nicholas II as a Work of Art” considers a pronounced conservative turn in Russian cultural politics at the turn of the 21st century. While typically the fin de siècle phenomenon is associated with innovation and transgression, the development of the opposite influence, a conformist pull back toward the tradition and the past, is an integral part of centennial transitions. The post-Soviet cultural experience presents a fascinating case study: what is new in the post-Soviet cultural landscape is the radical return of the repressed past. Revival (vozrozhdenie) and “our heritage” (nashe nasledie) are key concepts for the articulation of post-Soviet cultural identity. The common rhetoric of “lost and found” unites disparate efforts to restore pockets of displaced national heritage into a project of national proportions. The most recent Russian religious revival is perhaps the most conspicuous instance. We can consider the dramatic reorientation of secular culture toward antimodern religious aesthetics or the ardent veneration of age-old institutions of faith and their proliferation through restoration and new construction.

Transgression and Radical Aesthetics

At the turn of a new century, various types of radical aesthetics acquire especial importance. These are often received negatively by contemporaries but then become a sort of “visiting card” for the period. The articles in this section are dedicated to two quite temporally distant subjects, each used by the article’s author to show how cultural phenomena considered marginal can in time make a claim to occupying an important place in culture.

Dragan Kujundzic’s “Heart of Darkness as camera obscura” reads Joseph Konrad’s Heart of Darkness, written at the end of the XIX Century, as a snapshot of what is to come in terms of the ends of literature in the time of technical and mediatic reproduction. The story also speaks of the many ends to come, in terms of politics, mechanical elimination of bodies in colonialism and the Holocaust, or the ends of the world at the end of the anthropocene. Heart of Darkness is a story which speaks of the many ends of many centuries, those past and those, maybe, yet to come.

Dennis Ioffe’s “The Russian PostAvant-Garde and the Fin de siècle: the Aesthetics of Transfurism (Rea Nikonova, Serge Segay and beyond)” is primarily focused on the multi-faceted work of the leaders of Russian Avant-Garde movement known as Transfurism: Ry Nikonova and Serge Segay. Their art is analyzed sub specie its troublesome relations with Russian Conceptualism. The historical connection with the Russian Futurists (Khlebnikov and Kruchenykh) is examined in relation to pagan and archaic zaum’. The paper also deals with the subject of Modernist ideology and politics and the way it was reflected in the creative work of Nikonova and Segay. Additional discussion proposed by the article includes the issue of radical aesthetics of ultra-modernist life-creation and its contribution to the magnitude of textual innovations introduced by the Eysk duo, as well as the question whether it is safe to assume that their work represents a new kind of fin de siècle aesthetics.

The Rational and the Irrational

Fins de siècles are characterized by fierce battles between rationalism and various types of mystical and spiritual movements that reject or cast doubt upon European rationality. This was precisely the case during the classic fin siècle of the 19th and 20th centuries (cf. Natalie Rachard’s article examining these problems in the case of the interest for archaeology in France during this period). Spiritual searching attained a prominent place during the transition from a Soviet to a post-Soviet culture: the rise of New Age movements in the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s (Alexander Panchenko’s article) may be viewed, in many respects, as a prelude to the end of the 20th century, which was marked not only by the collapse of the USSR but also by a great wave of disparate spiritual movements, up to and including radical sectarianism (Marina Zagidullina’s article).

Finally, Mikhail Stepanov’s article examines the ways in which the spiritual searching of the late 20th century is reflected in the latest digital media, forming a specific space of eschatological expectations based upon unprecedented developments in technological capabilities. At the Paris World Fair of 1900, an important exhibition on antique costumes was held in the “Palais du costume.” Many objects came from the Egyptian site of Antinoé. A year later, an exhibition at the Musée Guimet became a sensation. It exhibited, in a quite macabre setting, a mummy identified as “Thais,” which was also discovered by Gayet at Antinoé. By looking at the impact of Gayet’s massive excavations at Antinoé, Natalie Richard’s “Death and Modernity: Archaeology in 1900 Paris” intends to Summary 696 shed light on several aspects of culture in the year 1900. First, she intends to show the relationship between the discovery of a non-classical, “archaic” antiquity and the invention of a new 20th-century modernity, both scientific (with the real and metaphorical figure of the archaeologist), and aesthetic; a modernity counteracting, but also feeding on, the sense of doom in fin-de-siècle culture. Secondly, she will study the relationship between this modernity and the new popular culture that characterized the end of the century, a new culture based on new medias (popular mass media, press photography, mass exhibitions).

In his “‘The Age of Aquarius’ for the Builders of Communism: New Age Culture in Late Soviet Society and the Problem of ‘Periods of Change’,” Alexander Panchenkofocuses on the eschatology and cosmology of late Soviet New Age culture. The particular case under discussion is related to the ancient astronauts or the paleocontact hypotheses, i.e., notions of ancient contacts between extraterrestrials and humans, which are understood to be the principal event in the history of humankind.

The fin de siècle of the late 20th century combined eschatological motives with a foreboding of ecological collapse and thus articulated the essence of collective trauma: the sensation of the total misguidedness of humanity’s shared path, while simultaneously remarking an escape that went not only back to nature, or back into the ancient past (idealized as authentic), but also back into one’s own corporality, which was declared to be a substitute for the spiritual. Marina Zagidullina’s “Post-Traumatic Reflection and Social Self-Therapy: How the Metaphor of ‘Spiritual Crisis’ Works” examines these phenomena as evidenced in linguistic practices, including “labyrinthine motion.”

Mikhail Stepanov’s “Digital Eschatology” focuses on the turn of the 21st century. Attention is devoted primarily to an analysis of relationships among the processes of medializing a person’s relationship to the world, the digitalization of culture, and the forms of social interaction. Religious teaching about eschatology as an orientation toward the “end of the world,” the edge where God “will be in all,” is understood in the post-secular age as a deification of the digital — a digital eschatology. The digital, adopted with rejoicing and horror, has become the last bulwark of technocratic fantasies (on the one hand) and has received artistic expression in popular culture (on the other).

In Search of Lost and Invented Time

The authors in this section concentrate on how contemporaries make sense of pivotal periods and what concepts they use to describe them. In regards to the classic fin de siècle, one may speak of two principle discourses to which contemporaries resorted when characterizing their time—these are the discourse of degeneration, associated with the names Cesare Lombroso and Max Nordau (Riccardo Niolosi’s article traces the distinctive characteristics of this discourse in Russian writings), and psychoanalytic discourse, which became, from the moment it appeared, one of the primary ways the epoch understood itself (Martin Davis’s article). This topic comes to a specific conclusion in Igor Smirnov’s article, which attempts a critical review of the principle discourses of the 20th century and follows their fate at the dawn of the 21st century.

In his “Fin de siècle: On the Psychopathology of Historicized Life” Martin L. Daviesuses the concept fin de siècle as a prism for investigating several temporal aspects of how humans sense and experience the fear provoked by the unstoppable aging of the world and resultant historicization of the world and history. This perspective enables us to uncover (on the basis of Freud) the psychopathological character of historicized life and its inherent performative inadequacy: the impossibility of fully suppressing desires, as a developed technocratic civilization demands. The author reaches the conclusion that the analysis of this pathogenic inadequacy from the point of view of the fin de siècle helps in uncovering the existential tropisms rooted within it.

This section continues with Riccardo Nicolosi’s article “Nervous Century: Russian Psychiatry in the Late of 19th Century and the ‘Degeneration’ of the Social Organism.” The first Russian psychiatrists proposed to conceptualize modernity as a period of degeneration, a fin de siècle in the bio-medical sense. The concept of degeneration — which was not only a scientific theory but also a “grand narrative” of the fin de siècle — served as a universal explanatory model for personal and social pathologies. At the same time, the socio-biological diagnosis of degeneration (Merzheevskii, Kovalevskii, Chizh) conformed to an official conservative discourse that regarded the reforms of the 1860s as the point of departure for the degenerative process. As a result of the study of neurasthenia being united with the theory of degeneration, the latter came to be regarded as an endogenous factor of modern civilization. However, unlike the European psychiatrists who regarded neurasthenia as the disease of modern life on the whole (Krafft-Ebing, Möbius), Russian psychiatrists perceived the cause for the “epidemic” spread of nervous disorders in Russia in the “abnormal” state of Russian society after the reforms. The final section of the article examines the history of a fictitious family written by Kovaleskii, which provides a vivid example of the narrative of degeneration, identifying the fin de siècle with the fin de race.

I.P. Smirnov’s “Catagenesis” examines the typical traits characterizing the endings of various epochs. If the opening bars of historico-cultural periods are characterized by hypertrophied subjectivity and the dominance of the agents over the objects of displacement, as the epochal conceptual energy is expended the objectively given prevails over personal volition, and the displaced components of the substitutive process take on exaggerated meaning. This work considers modernity’s interest in finalized history as a result of the degeneration of the post-modernist (post-historicist) model of the 1960s—1980s.

Corporeality, Kinesthesia, and Materiality During Fins de Sie` cle

The ends of centuries are also associated with changes in perceptions of space and matter — including reevaluations of attitudes toward the human body. The articles in this section examine the various ways in which attitudes toward space and one’s own corporality have changed among people living during historical turning points — how a new attitude toward space was associated with various bodily practices during the classical fin de siécle, for instance, with the vast spread of interest in dance (Roger Smith’s article).

Roger Smith’s “The Dance of Life” investigates the problem of losing the connection between values and rational scientific knowledge in the culture of the modern period, as well as the role of collective movement, especially free dance, in said culture. As the author observes, in the early 20th century, values came to be excluded from the system of rational investigation, which was modeled upon achievements in the field of the natural sciences. Among the multiplicity of philosophical concepts that offered divergent answers to the problem of the nature of values, there existed no general consensus that would allow this “crisis of reason” to be overcome. On account of their inability to solve the problem theoretically, people turned to practices of movement. Thus, the problem was transferred from the rational plane into the aesthetic. The author demonstrates that the difference between rational knowledge and value disappears in movement. As a vivid example of the practices of movement during this period, the author examines the phenomenon of dance. In early 20th-century culture, dance was frequently understood as the fullest embodiment of freedom and life itself. It was precisely the practices of movement, primarily in the form of modernist dance, that allowed people in the early 20th century to overcome the gap between rational scientific knowledge and the values of life and freedom. In dance, as in any other movement, the performer and the viewer embodied the value of life itself, blurring the line between subject and object that characterizes science.

Olga Annanurova’s “An ‘Indescribable Feeling’: The Perceptual Experience of Viewing Stereoscopic Photographs in A. Ivanov’s novel Stereoscope” examines the means of discussing viewer experience in Aleksandr Ivanov’s short story Stereoscope (1905). This fictional text may be seen as not only a work belonging to the experimental literary practices of its time but also as a model for describing a visual experience that took form in the second half of the 19th century. The space of the stereoscope metaphorically reveals questions about a new type of subjectivity, one’s relationship to the past, physical and spatial experience, personal memory, and the unconscious. Key aspects include the liminal position of the viewer and the sensations of waiting and ongoing transition.

Marina Zagidullina’s “Deus ex machina: What Expansion of Mechanics and Electronics Makes to Human” examines the evolution the technical in terms of how key civilizational concepts (God — Nature — Human — Machine) are understood in the philosophy of “the end of the century.” During the past century the technical has undergone a transition from the cult of the Machine to its dissolution in social practices and, in the early 21st century, even in the human body itself (from the corporality of the Machine to the machinery of the body).

Cultures of Sensibility and Attitude in Russian Literature at the Turn of a New Century

This section continues the key themes of the previous one, developing them in a different context — the context of the history of emotions. Changes in attitudes toward the body and space and the invention of new ways of describing time in pivotal periods are associated with the invention of new models of sensibility, which replace the old ones that have lost their relevance. These new models of sensibility can represent for contemporaries one of the main signs of a pivotal period, forming the basis of identities for people of a fin de siècle. Thus, Ilya Vinitsky’s article examines the invention of a culture of gallant love in the Russian 18th century, which had a great influence on the Russian poetic tradition up until the 20th century. In contrast, the articles by Jonathan Stone and Aleksandr Murashov are dedicated to the classic fin de siècle — to how the fears and hopes of the period created a specific emotional background that in many ways defined the whole epoch.

A modern culture of love emerged in Russia as a result of the Petrine reforms. Over the entire course of the 18th century, a Baroque (gallant) notion of cruel love and lover’s melancholy predominated in Russia before being attenuated by Karamzin and then transformed by Zhukovsky, who founded a new religion of love as revelation and transfiguration. This religion was later adopted and reconceptualized by other poets of the 19th century, from Batiushkov and Pushkin to Balmont, Briusov, and Merezhkovsky. In his “The Night Before the Execution, Or the Russian Love Lyric on the Eve of Its Birth,” Ilya Vinitsky considers the initial period of adapting the western tradition of love (“the art of heartfelt lamentation”), dating to the end of Peter’s reign and finding expression in the gallant poems, letters, and textbook on gallant behavior of the time. The article concentrates on the story of the “first Russian lyricist,” the cavalier Willem Mons, who lost his head in an affair with Peter the Great’s wife.

Jonathan Stone’s “A Decadent Metaphysics: Zinaida Gippius, Bram Stoker, and the fin-de-siècle Anxiety” is devoted to the culture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and to the place of decadent literature within it. The author points out that this period is characterized by a mood of restlessness and fear for the familiar world, a sense of the threat inherent in the modern period — that is, a sense of a crisis of corporality, a feeling of one’s own impending doom, and a fear that humanity, society, and culture will be degraded. The purpose of the present article is to push beyond a one-sided negative understanding of decadence and to show that this style may offer a constructive answer to the crises of the fin de siècle. As vivid examples of decadent prose, the author examines Braham Stoker’s novel Dracula and the short story The Living and the Dead by Zinaida Gippius. However, if Stoker’s novel presents decadence as a threat to the accepted values of Victorian England, this style acquires positive qualities in Gippius’s short story of the same year. As the author demonstrates through the example of this short story, decadence is not only an artistic style but also a self-sufficient metaphysical system, representing an alternative to the empiricism of the nineteenth century and to the flight into another world that characterizes symbolism and Christianity. In this metaphysical realization, 700 decadence can be seen as a vehicle for expressing the concerns of late 19th century culture and as a means for overcoming the fears of the new era.

Aleksandr Murashov’s “The Reflection of the fin de siècle in the Historiosophy of D. Merezhkovsky’s First Trilogy” examines the formation of a consciousness of the “end of an era” in Russian Symbolism, concentrating on the first novelistic trilogy by D.S. Merezhkovsky (1894–1904) and his works of literary journalism during this period. In his novels and essays, Merezhkovsky projects the situation of the late 19th century onto similar situations (the end of the ancient period, the end of the middle ages, and the beginning of the Renaissance) and creates a peculiar eschatological model of end and beginning. Particular attention is devoted to the concept of time at the “end of an era” in its relation to early Modernist eroticism, which played a central role in the Russian Symbolists’ striving to overcome personal immanence and escape into the “great” historical and eschatological time.

The Birth of the Subject from the Spirit of Decadence

The category of subjectivity defines the specific ways in which the people of a given epoch describe themselves, and this becomes, from their point of view, the basis of their identity. Each epoch prefers its own ways of discussing the subject, but pivotal periods are characterized by a combination of old ways of speaking about the subject (which are gradually becoming obsolete) and new ones (which have not yet fully taken form). The articles in this section investigate precisely this hybrid type of subjectivity in the specific case of the Russian 1990s — a time when culture saw a competition between various versions of subjectivity, presupposing mutually incompatible basic principles.

Helen Petrovsky’s “‘On the Side of the New Barbarians’: Balabanov’s Semiotics of a Generation” analyzes specific signs that are created by Alexei Balabanov’s cinema. Special attention is given to his film Me Too (2012). If this film is assumed to be a manifesto of Balabanov’s generation, then such a proposition can be seen from two different angles. On the one hand, a generation is something that has attained completeness, something that is homogeneous in social and axiological terms. On the other hand, however, it can also be regarded from the viewpoint of those relations that open it onto the past and the present. In this case, the signs of Balabanov’s cinema will be indiscernible to (or hardly decipherable by) other generations, including the one that succeeds the generation in question. The identification of these essentially dynamic and affective formations, among other things, helps to liberate the image of the 1990s from the negative ideological tags that have been obsessively attached to it ever since. The analysis draws on Raymond Williams’ concept of structures of feeling as well as Jean Epstein’s theory of photogénie. With the help of such tools one may disclose the presemantic, i.e., still suspended and yet already palpable, content of those works of art that give expression to social experience as it is being actually lived.

Victor Pelevin novel Chapaev and Void became one of the symbols of the 1990s as a historical turning point. The diversity of critical opinions has once again confirmed the originality of this work and its categorical divergence from discursive practices of the past. The majority of critics, however, agree in viewing solipsism and philosophical speculation as central components of the new subjectivity modeled by Pelevin: individual will in the novel appears not to be compatible with the existence of a collective, nor with corporeality, which serves as a linchpin for the individual. At a first glance, it is precisely this realization that induces the protagonist, Pyotr Pustota to search for freedom via an escape from physical reality and collective co-existence. In her “At Home Among Others: Victor Pelevin’s Concept of the Reader”, Julia Vaingurt advances the thesis that Pelevin’s model of the new subject that is born under the conditions of shifting political, social, and cultural systems, is much more complex than this summary suggests. In his attempts to acquire true selfhood, the protagonist truly does disdain the meanings that others impose on his life, but at the same time, this novel certainly does not ignore the ethical problems brought about by belittling the reality that other possess. Moreover, the novel searchers for possibilities of overcoming the Hegelian dialectic of master and slave and imagines relations that would not be effaced in either the concreteness of the human ego or in the uniqueness of the Other.

The Transformation of Gender Regimes

One of the most important signs and symptoms of a pivotal period is a shift in ideas about gender and the place that gender categories should hold in culture and society. European history in the Modern era may be viewed as the history of a gradual gender emancipation, which was, however, not linear but marked by significant leaps forward, as well as no less notable steps backward (for instance, in the case of the Soviet project, as Alla Mitrofanova’s article shows). One might consider literary testimony (especially in poetry) to be one of the most symptomatic types of evidence for the transformation of ideas about gender — a transformation associated with the appearance of a vast corpus of works aimed at representing bodily experiences and especially homosexual society. Dmitry Kuzmin’s article is dedicated to reflecting this, which is further illustrated by a selection of interviews with the poets and writers who have most actively elaborated the subject of gender during the 1990s and 2010s (prepared by Denis Larionov). Chris Nottingham’s article is dedicated to the classic fin de siècle in Great Britain. It examines how the emancipatory processes that occurred in other European countries appeared in their own way in Great Britain. This section has an appendix in the form of a fragment from the novel Fragoletta, or Naples and Paris in 1799 by the French author Henri de Latouche, who wrote at the turn of the 19th century. (The translation and the accompanying commentary were provided by Vera Milchina.) This novel may be considered the immediate reaction of a contemporary and author to the changes in the understanding of gender that occurred in Europe after the French Revolution.

In 1890 Havelock Ellis published his New Spirit, announcing the birth of the New Age. Similarly the Belgian poet Émile Summary 702 Verhaeren was no less convinced that something unique was underway: his “generation” was “raised high above all the past,” the “turning point towards the future.” There were also the “Societies,” with meetings and publications, promoting a plethora of causes: the “Social Question,” sexual reform, the “Woman Question,” clothing reform, vegetarianism etc. The analysis of the fin de siècle movement clearly demands reflexivity. Avoiding cause and effect, one can offer three contexts: its association with the new cities, its aspect of generational revolt; and its coincidence with the rapid development of new, “insecure professions,” in the fields of education, health and social work. In his “The summit of all that is past and the turning point towards the future:” Ambitions and Inspirations in the English fin de siècle", Chris Nottingham asks how far the claims of the fin de siècle activists stand up? To what extent were these years a watershed between past and future?

The section begins with Alla Mitrofanova’s article “The 1917 Revolution in Gender.” The 1917 Revolution was the result of a paradigm shift from classical ontology, with its stability based on the dualism of nature and reason, object and subject, male and female, to a radical constructivism — that is, a rejection of previous foundations and the acceptance of the assumption that reality is variable, event-driven, and contingent, causing accepted oppositions to split apart and regroup in new configurations. If classical binarism had gendered empirical foundations, the new construction had an explicit politics of re-describing gendered binarism. Mitrofanova attempts to demonstrate that the performance of gender norms was a necessary result of this paradigmatic shift. This shift was accompanied by a swell in the women’s popular movement and the formation of women’s parties, including both the feminist suffragettes and the Social Democrats before 1917.

Dmitry Kuzmin’s “‘What if we’re girls?’: Problems of Gender in Russian Poetry of the 1990s” considers Russian poetry of the 1990s from the point of view of changing conceptions of gender and gender identity. Unofficial Russian poetry of the 1950s—1980s, which provided the major reference point for post-Soviet poetry, was comparatively indifferent to problems of gender, so it was during the first post-Soviet decade that gender was discovered as one of the central objects of attention for contemporary poetry — grounded, in many respects, in the poetic tradition of Russian modernism. In these same years, a new gay literature was born (although it had sporadic predecessors, such as Evgeny Kharitonov), where the question of gender is posed especially acutely.

In 11 interviews with Denis Larionov, the poets and authors who most actively developed gender-related topics in Russian literature during the 1990s and 2010s answer a series of questions that allow us to trace the ways in which problems of gender were taken up in contemporary Russian literature and to what extent this topic continues to hold relevance. The following writers participated in the survey: Marina Temkina, Elena Fanailova, Nikolai Kononov, Lida Yusupova, Margarita Meklina, Polina Barskova, Slava Mogutin, Galina Zelenina, Marianna Geide, Elena Kostyleva, Oksana Vasiakina.

The “Bibliography” section occupies an important place in the present issue, as it provides a survey of recent scholarly literature devoted to the ends of centuries and the key events accompanying such periods. Boris Falikov’s survey examines the interest in occultism in Europe during the classic fin de siècle Summary 703 (in the cases of France, Britain, and Russia), making an important addition to the section dedicated to the relationship between the rational and the irrational. In his survey, Artem Zubov analyzes the concept of the century’s end as a period of “disruption” drawing a boundary between past and future in contemporary studies in cultural history. Anna Stogova contributes to the section devoted to transformation in ideas about gender with her survey of gender studies.