This issue centers around a series of con-tributions based on the themes of a conference titled “Dignity as a Historical Concept and Central Category of Our Age,” which was held jointly by the NLO publishing house and the European University in Saint Petersburg on 2-4 June 2017.
The contemporary discussion of dignity in the humanities is related, first and foremost, to the works of Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit, whose 1995 book The Decent Society paved the way for the elaboration of this concept, as well as such concepts as honor and humiliation in the collective and individual consciousness of modern life. In the intervening years, the concept of dignity became an important object for analysis in Western thought: from the perspective of contemporary researchers, the evolution of conceptions of personal, corporate, and state/national dignity can, when influenced by various socio-cultural factors, bring about radical upheavals in various societies.
The preservation or revival of a nation’s dignity is a commonplace in the public discourse of various governments. Social movements of the most varied political orientations and degrees of radicalism explain their actions as a reaction to humiliated dignity and honor, while private individuals wonder: how can they preserve their own, individual dignity amidst all the political, ideological, and informational chaos that constantly seems to surround them? To this end, it is necessary to establish the meaning of this concept, which dates back to antiquity and has acquired a multitude of interpretations over its 2,500-year history, including some that conflict with, or even directly contradict, each other. In several thematic sections, this issue’s authors strive to construct the history of this tradition and understand how the semantic content of the term “dignity” has changed in the time between Ancient Greece and today.
Dignity as a Philosophical, Historical and Legal Concept
The discussion of this topic begins with a section intended to serve as an introduction to the major issues surrounding the notion of “dignity”: the appreciation of this word as a philosophical category is inseparable from its history in European languages and role in European culture. We present here an article by Avishai Margalit, the founder of dignity studies, which establishes the place of dignity as a category among other philosophical concepts. Igor Surikov’s article, in contrast, traces ideas of dignity in classical antiquity, which would be of fundamental significance to the entire history of Europe thereafter. In Russian history, the concept of dignity had a complex and consequential fate, being associated with a range of political and legal categories that began evolving in the 18th century, continued to evolve through the Soviet period (when this concept once again began to play a major role), and remain active day (when the problem of “defending one’s honor and dignity” has been preserved).
While examining the problem of providing a rationale for the moral respect for persons as such, Avishai Margalit’s “Human Dignity Between Kitsch and Deification” points out the dangers inherent in both fundamental humanistic strategies. Idealization of the Human as the possessor of attributes originally ascribed to God creates a culture of domination, while a sentimental view of persons as potential victims gives rise to a culture of victimization. In the author’s opinion, respect for persons can only be founded upon their own membership in the human race, which signifies the ability of any person to occupy a purely horizontal iconic relationship to all other persons.
The category of dignity was born in Europe during Antiquity. The Ancient Greeks viewed this category as one that was still coming into being, and consequently, its terminological apparatus had yet to be fixed. The lexeme ἀξίωμα was favored, but it means more nearly “authority” than dignity in the proper sense of the word (ἀξίωμα correlates more closely with the Latin auctoritas than the Latin dignitas). With the formation of a Roman civilization that was fundamentally intended to be oligarchical, the concept of dignitas came into full force. For the ancient Greek poleis, especially the democratic ones, it was totally unacceptable to acknowledge any special “dignity” on the part of certain citizens as compared to others. In his “The Terms for Dignity in Ancient Greek and Latin: The Birth of a Category in the First Two European Civilizations,” Igor Surikov also examines the peculiar qualities of legal proceedings against aristocrats in ancient Athens and ancient Rome. This leads to a paradoxical conclusion: in the circumstances of Antiquity dignity and democracy (at least, radical democracy) were not considered wholly compatible.
Elena Marassinova’s “‘The Loss of Honor and Dignity’ in 18th-Century Russia” traces the role played by the category of dignity in Russian legal discourse of the 18th century. Eighteenth-century Russia knew not only physical death sentences, but also various ways of socially and personally destroying a condemned individual, including public dishonoring, branding, loss of status, political punishment, and so forth. During the period of Elizaveta Petrovna’s rule, so-called political death, or being put on the block, was forbidden insofar as it was a practical imitation of a death sentence and so evidently contradicted the Empress’s promise not to enact this type of punishment. Under Catherine II the term political death was gradually changed to civil executionand applied exclusively to representatives of the nobility. But despite all the nuances of applying punishments that “injured one’s honor,” they possessed a common quality: the state strove to defend itself by means of depriving what it understood to be the contents of a person’s dignity.
In her “A Person’s Dignity as Personal Property: The Metamorphosis of Russian Laws on Disparaging Information,” Xenia Cherkaev examines the history of Russian laws protecting dignity and honor. Pre-revolutionary jurists considered it impossible to defend legally an individual’s personal dignity because it could be injured only by oneself, not by society. But when the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism registered its ethical framework, the law extended its protections to the moral character and dignity of citizens among other immaterial personal goods. When the USSR collapsed, the Moral Code disappeared but the defense of “honor and dignity” remained: the law now defines dignity as a “moral and legal category,” corresponding to generally accepted social standards.
Codes of Honor and Dignity in the Behavioral Culture of Russia from the 18th — 20th Century
The articles of this section are devoted to examining how the concept of dignity and the related concept of honor functioned in Russian culture. The authors demonstrate its functioning in three cases: Larisa Nikiforova and Anastasia Vasilieva address the semantics of the pose in Russian portraiture of the 18th century; Oleg Proskurin address one episode in the biography of Alexander Pushkin, which turns out to be extraordinarily revealing from the perspective of how the category of dignity functioned in 19th-century Russian society; and Aleksei Popov examines a much later narrative—a story written by author Yuri Poliakov at the very end of the Soviet period, which reflects, in a distinctive way, how concepts of the honor and dignity of a Soviet citizen functioned in the context of Cold War discourse.
Larisa Nikiforova’ and Anastasia Vasilieva’s “The Iconography of Dignity and Choreographed Poses in Russian Portraiture of the 18th Century” is devoted to the corporeal embodiment of dignity, which is revealed to mean for the 18th century a correspondence between behavioral practices and social status. By analyzing a series of poses and gestures in 18th-century Russian portraits, it is shown that certain manners of posing are literally the choreographed positions that were codified in the late 18th-century French school of ballet and became visual signs of a noble posture in general. It is also shown that the visual representation of dignity took shape at the intersection of signs referring to noble dances, fencing, and the art of oratory, which also served, in fact, as practices for forming a specific aristocratic corporality.
In his “Insulted Dignity and the Right to Kill (Pushkin in the Spring of 1820)”, Oleg Proskurin examines Alexander Pushkin’s reaction to rumors that he was secretly subjected to corporeal punishment on the Emperor’s decree. It is shown that in response to these rumors (which Pushkin supposed to have been orchestrated by the highest authority) he planned to kill Tsar Alexander I in the spring of 1820. He intended to use the “ancient” model of tyrannicide as a template for his own act. The article examines how these plans were echoed and transformed in Pushkin’s literary works (the epistle “To Chaadaev”) and social conduct.
Aleksei Popov’s “The Case of Kostia Gumankov: Interpretations of Notions about ‘Honor’ and ‘Dignity’ in Soviet International Tourism” analyzes the social and psychological, as well as the moral and ethical, aspects of trips taken by Soviet tourists abroad on the basis of a comparison between Yuri Poliakov’s story “The Parisian Love of Kostia Gumankov” (1991) and archival and published historical sources on this subject. The author attempts to establish how exactly the ethical categories “honor” and “dignity” were used on the Soviet side as instruments of influence, oversight, and ideological resistance vis-à-vis capitalist countries during the Cold War. In this context, he characterizes social and psychological means of collective cooperation and (self-)oversight of the behavior of Soviet tourists traveling abroad. On the basis of the sources utilized, the author reaches a conclusion as to the partial effectiveness of these mechanisms, which raised the general level of discipline among Soviet tourists but did not achieve absolute success.
The History of Political Languages and Modes of Publicity
Guest editors: Mikhail Velizhev and Timur Atnashev
Research concerning modes of publicity in Russia is a new trend in intellectual history that can augment the methodological toolbox of the history of socio-political languages and political ideas. The present section gathers together original historical cases from the 18th-20th centuries that demand to be interpreted in terms of not only the utterances themselves within their linguistic contexts but also the often-conflicting ideas held by participants in the political process about the norms and conventions of political communication. The authors and editors of the section investigate these ideas and norms, which affect the reception of concrete texts, revealing their connection to the political philosophy espoused by participants in the event, and also demonstrate the transitions or shifts between divers modes of the publicity: struggles at court and notes to the Emperor (Empress), salon discussions, bureaucratic planning discussions, competition over controlling public discussion in print, appeals for independent public opinion and freedom of speech.
Kirill Ospovat’s “Execution of the Author: The A.P. Volynskii Case, ‘Absolutism,’ and the Issue of Political Literature in 1740” discusses the historico-cultural contexts and conceptual implications of the trial of A. P. Volynskii (1740), a grandee under Empress Anna Ivanovna, executed on the charge of a state conspiracy. The story behind the accusation was founded not so much on Volynskii’s actions, or even his ideas, as on textual strategies that came across as being too bold—on his pretensions to authorship and authority. Both Volynskii’s texts and the monarch’s reaction to them were inscribed in the context of court literature as it emerged in Russia, the poetico-political practices and interpretations of the device of allegory, as well as in theoretical discussions about the permissibility or punishability of an utterance in the system of absolutism all across Europe.
The section continues with Victoria Frede’s article “Public Opinion, the View from Above: Alexander I’s Unofficial Committee.” The concept of public opinion was used in Russia in the late 18th and early 19th centuries for the political legitimization state rule. As opposed to the majority of studies, which examine the phenomenon of public opinion from the point of view of ruled subjects, the present article describes this phenomenon from the position of those in power, focusing on the secret advisory organ under Alexander I, the Private Committee. Deeply influenced by sentimentalism, the committee presumed that lofty moral and ethical qualities were a necessary condition for full-fledged participation in the political process. Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of Russian nobles were thought to lack these qualities and therefore to have no right to a voice, which was reflected in the extreme secrecy of the committee when discussing reforms. Only after they had fallen from the Emperor’s good graces did the members of the Private Committee show a willingness to confer upon the chorus of judgments among the public the status of “public opinion.”
Mikhail Velizhev’s “A Reluctant Politician?: Historiographer, Monarch, and the Public Sphere in Early 19th-Century Russia” addresses the question of determining the addressee in one of the key texts of the 19th-century Russian politico-philosophical canon: the memoir “On Ancient and Modern Russia” by N.M. Karamzin. The author demonstrates that as a historiographer Karamzin was pulled into a whole network of court connections, prescribing for him a specific role in relation to his patron and protector, Emperor Alexander I. The “On Ancient and Modern Russia” memoir, which was harsh in its tone and conclusions, appeared to be a violation of court etiquette. On this basis, the author advances the hypothesis that the text was addressed directly to the Russian monarch and suggests that in March 1811, upon meeting with Alexander in Tver’, Karamzin was acting primarily as the author of the History of the Russian State, which was being composed at the time. He became a politician reluctantly just as soon as the Grand Duchess Ekaterina Pavlovna gave this tract, against his wishes, to the Emperor.
In his “Switching Regimes of Publicity: How Nina Andreeva Facilitated the Transformation of Glasnost into Freedom of Speech,” Timur Atnashev examines the transformation of the Soviet public sphere through the example of Nina Andreeva’s well-known 1988 article “I Cannot Compromise My Principles.” The author analyzes the context of this publication, which appeared when Gorbachev and his team were preparing a revolutionary political reform. He examines the language, argumentation, and genre of this text, which, according to the conventions of the “letter to the editor” genre, offered itself as an orienting text offering a new Party line. The author shows that Nina Andreeva was indeed the main author of the letter. The political struggle that unfolded after Egor Ligachev’s attempt to use the text to limit Aleksandr Iakovlev’s influence on the press led to a number of unforeseen consequences, including two days of discussion at the Politburo and a transition from a regime of controlled Glasnost to freedom of speech—for which none of the participants was ready.
Postmodernism in the Era of “Rightward Shifts” and Populism
This thematic section is devoted to “right,” conservative versions of postmodernism, which have become widespread in contemporary Russian culture—first and foremost, political culture. It opens with an article by Mark Lipovetsky, who discusses the applicability of postmodernist terminology to the description of current political culture in Russia. It analyzes different misuses of postmodernism in contemporary Russian culture, in particular, Alexander Dugin’s interpretations of this concept. There follow several texts related to this article—polemicizing with and refining its propositions—by Jonathan Brooks Platt, Ellen Rutten, Maria Engstro¨m, and Kevin M.F. Platt.
Jonathan Brooks Platt’s “The Mystery Will Be Revealed (No Criticism, Please)” responds to Mark Lipovetsky’s discussion of how the term “postmodernism” is used in contemporary Russian cultural and political discourse, calling for a broader, macro-historical perspective. As distinct from the more dialectical practice of “shim mering,” associated with Moscow conceptualism, the radical stiob practiced by Timur Novikov’s New Academy is fundamentally post-critical, reflecting a global cultural trend that accompanied the neoliberal revolution of 1989—91. It is this avantgarde moment — the last avant-garde — that ushered in the shift in thinking Lipovetsky describes, a shift that begins in late/post-Soviet art, far in advance of similar tendencies now observable in western culture.
To what extent do media-specific communication modes colour the debate on Russian politics and/as postmodernism? Which affective norms dominate the emotional community among whose members Mark Lipovetsky observes a reactionary postmodern turn? Ellen Rutten’s “Reactionary Sincerity” argues that insights from media studies and emotion studies can help us to unpack the complex story of Russian reactionary post modernism. To illustrate this point, the author zooms in on the concept of sincerity — a concept that sparked vivid attention among postmodern Russian writers, filmmakers, curators, and theoreticians — and the reactionary turn that we witness in post-Soviet sincerity rhetoric between the perestroika era and today.
Maria Engstro¨m’s “Metamodernism and Post-Soviet Conservative Avant-Garde: Timur Novikov’s New Academy” deals with the Neo-academism movement, which has been launched in Leningrad in 1989 by Timur Novikov (1958—2002), an artist and an art theorist. The New Academy of Fine Arts became the first community of an aesthetic “reactionism” and in many respects anticipated the ideological conservative turn of the mid-2010s. Engstr?m interprets the neo-academism as an attempt to overcome the artistic practices of post-modernism and as the first metamodernist movement in the post-Soviet visual arts.
In responding to Mark Lipovetsky’s article on postmodernism, Kevin M.F. Platt’s “Postmodernism Is not the Problem, or ‘Get on your knees and pray/We don’t get fooled again’” concurs with Lipovetsky’s description of the distinctions separating postmodern art, literature and theory from the practices of so-called “post-modern” politicians and their “theoreticians.” Yet he also argues that debates about good and bad postmodernism and whether “postmodernism is to blame” for the rise of postmodern politics reflect an erroneous comprehension of social and cultural history. Postmodernity is a social condition. Postmodern politics is a symptom of this social condition. Postmodern art, literature and theory responds to and describes postmodernity, providing the tools necessary for comprehension of the current moment, including postmodern politics.
American Poetic Postmodernism: The Linguistic Archaeology of Rosemary Waldrop
This section gives the reader — for the first time in Russian — a wide panoramic view of the works of one of the leading contemporary American poets, theoreticians, and translators, Rosmarie Waldrop (b. 1935). In addition to the poetic cycles “Hölderlin Hybrids” and “Trace Histories,” it also includes her programmatic essay “Thinking of Follows” from her anthology Moving Borders: Three Decades of Innovative Writing by Women (1998). The preface by Aleksandr Ulanov, titled “Uniting Through Rupture,” sketches Waldrop’s linguistic strategies in the context of her multifaceted work in theory, translation, and publishing.
The “Bibliography” section opens with a pair of items dedicated to the concept of dignity: a survey by Evgeniy Savitskiy tracing the fate of the category of dignity in Anglo-American philosophy and a book review by Igor Kobylin for Humanity without Dignity by Andrea Sangiovanni.