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Literary Epistemology of Sociality

The theoretical framework of the entire “Literary Epistemology of Sociality” section is laid out by Tatiana Venediktova’s article, which is devoted to new theories of sociality, inviting the reader to approach the processes of writing and reading literature and the mutual engagement between author and reader as spontaneous theorizing. The author emphasizes that literary language and form and the analytic/synthetic medium of literary imagination provide for a collaborative cultivation of the “metaphoric field” of the text, wherein representations of social reality are opened for minute reflection and experimental reassemblage. In particular, the article considers how an application of these theories may provide new efficacy in rereading the classical realistic novel (Balzac, Dickens).

Anatoly Korchinsky applies this methodology to other empirical material. His “Politics of Polyphony: Dangerous Modernity and the Structure of the Novel in Dostoevsky and Bakhtin” contains the hypothesis that in light of the “socio­logical poetics” of the 1920s and the contemporary epistemology of literature, the polyphonic novel, created by Dostoevsky and conceptualized by Bakhtin (first and foremost in his book Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Poetics in 1929) allows us today to reconstruct the principles of social imagination of the writer, as well as related political ideas and intentions. From this point of view, polyphony is seen as one of the most ambitious and integral artistic interpretations of modern sociality, experienced in a catastrophic regime and requiring the abandonment of an active political action aimed at social changes.

For his part, in the article “‘At what distance does love for humanity end?’: Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in 1877: The Social Epistemology of the Novel”, Jens Herlth examines the relationship between the novel and the social imagination in late 19th-century Russia, as reflected in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s polemics against Part 8 of Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina. At the core of Dostoevsky’s reflections was the question of compassion for the Slavic population of the Balkans. His ideas are analyzed against the backdrop of the frequent tendency, in contemporary critical discourse, to cross the boundaries between fiction and social reality. This tendency allowed both writers — Dostoevsky and Tolstoy — to put into question the dominating regimes of representation, on the literary as well as on the political level.

Ilya Bendersky’s “The Road Through a Blizzard: The Concept of ‘Journey/Discovery’ and the Search for Sociality in Leo Tolstoy’s Prose” addresses the social dimension of Leo Tolstoy’s thanatological prose based on material from the short story “Master and Man.” The research is focused on the relationship between the narrative form of the text, its social thrust, and experience stemming from the poetic act, which are intrinsic to the “journey/discovery” concept.

Hayden White: Contexts and Reframing

Guest Editors Nikolay Poselyagin, Andrey Oleynikov

This section was originally conceived as a memorial: a year ago, on March 5, 2018, Hayden White passed away, and it was important to sum up the results of his work and to reflect on his legacy. The authors of the section, however, simultaneously, yet individually, turned to White’s later works, in which he did not so much criticize historians’ writin­g as much as he took it outside the academy and gave social meanin­g to it, thereby returning a kind of legitimacy to historiography. Reflection over his legacy, which always contains the danger of canonization, suddenly turned into theoretical reframing, and the “usual” postmodernist became an ethical philosopher.

Elena Trubina’s essay “Recalling Conversations with Hayden White in Santa Cruz: ‘Not Everything Was Thought Through’” is devoted to the themes and problems discussed over the course of conversations and correspondence with Haуden White: the nature of historical knowledge and its connection with endowing the past with meaning, the links between reflecting on the past and existentialism, and the possibility of interdisciplinary work in humanities. Taking White’s phrase “Not everything was thought through”, by which he described his work on Metahistory, the author writes about the price paid by the supporter of interdisciplinary work for attempts on the disciplinary powers of others.

Andrey Oleynikov, in his “Hayden White as a Public Historian,” attempts to look at Hayden White’s theory of history as a project to promote a special kind of public history, one in conflict with professional historiography. The meaning and content of this project is clarified through its comparison with Michael Burawoy’s public sociology project. While Burawoy sees his public sociology as part of a disciplinary matrix, the “heart” of which is occupied by professional sociology, White’s public history does not have any respect for professional historiography and is aimed at its complete dismantling.

The article by Igor Kobylin and Feodor Nikolai, “Hayden White’s ‘Philosophical History,’ or On the Advantage and Disadvantage of Life for Historiography,” is devoted to the recent historiographic debate that unfolded around the ethical dimension of Hayden White’s tropological concept. In a number of critical texts, White’s project was interpreted as a “spiritual exercise” designed to strengthen the moral authority of his theory and to justify its academic power over empirical research. The authors question this interpretation and suggest another reading: Hayden White indeed criticized professional empirical historiography, but he did not compare it to professional theoretical speculation, but to the ability of everyone to ethically (and politically) “practice” history, responding to its affective impact.

Peter A. Safronov turns to a set of Hayden White’s ideas and literature on the philosophy of time in his “Historiographic Caesura: History and Discontinuity,” where he discusses the relationship of history and historiography. Based on the White’s theorization of a writing of history and history-as-writing, in his philo­sophical essay, Safronov demon­st­rates ways to implement his own prog­ram of “materialistic” historiography.

Political Imagination

This section focuses on the role of political imagination in cultural and literary practices. The “political imagination” is understood here as the ability of the human mind to produce fictions that have consequences for political practices.

The “Political Imagination in Cultural Practices” section opens with an article by Elena Marasinova entitled “‘Inbor­n Fear’ or ‘Instilling Morality’: The Phenomenon of the Moratorium on the Death Penalty in Russia in the Mid-18th Century”. It is devoted to the moratorium on the death penalty, which was secretly introduced in Russia in 1741 and strictly observed throughout the reign of Elizabeth Petrovna. The paper exami­nes the reasons and circumstances of the Empress’s decision to not use the death penalty, the ritual of the theatrical “political death,” the conditions of keeping convicts sentenced to capital punishment, but pardoning them. The phenomenon of the 20-yearmoratorium on the death penalty in Russia in the mid-18th century is explored on the basis of a representative collection of published and archival sources and is included in the wider socio-cultural and political context of Europe’s public life of the period, which allows us to understand its significance from a historical perspective.

Mikhail Velizhev’s “Michel Foucault, Pyotr Chaadayev and the History of Madness in Russia” highlights the functions of madness in Russian culture and legislation during the first half of the nineteenth century (particularly in the context of the 1836 Chaadayev case, or the arrest of the “insane” Matvei Dmitriev-Mamonov). He interprets the use of “apparent” madness as a way to get out of criminal punishment, which suggests a corrective to the methodological view of madness laid out in Foucault’s Madness and Civilization. Velizhev argues that in the first half of the nineteenth century, both the authorities and imperial subjects could perform various acts with reference to the concept of “madness.” Defining which acts were performed by what actor and in what circumstances is only possible through a reconstruction of the context of the actor’s utterance and his presumable “intentions.” The article is based on previously unpublished archival materials.

Ilya Vinitsky’s article “The Song of Liber­ty: ‘The United States of Russia’ in the Political Imagination of a Russian-American Con-Man” studies the restless political imagination of Ivan Narodny (1869–1953), a Russian-Estonian-Ame­rican “revolutionary,” con artist, arms dealer, journalist, writer, art critic, playwright, and “friend” of Roosevelt, Gorky, Lenin, Tolstoy, Rimsky-Korsakov, David Burliuk, and Roerich. The founder of the imaginary United States of Russia and the author of the Declaration of Independence of this imaginary state, Narodny was also the creator of nume­rous literary hoaxes, including the phantasmagorical odyssey of the revolutionary anthem of Russia, written by the old American poet Edwin Markham (1852–1940) in 1960. In the article, it is shown how the history of this anthem in Narodny’s imagination plays upon political tendencies, ideas, and images characteristic for American impressions of Russia in the first half of the 20th century. The article also poses the task of developing a historical and cultural metho­dology for the analysis of the “Narodny Phenomenon,” which would lay the foundation for a historical subdiscipline studying the functioning and significance of liars, frauds, and con artists in culture.

The section “Political Imagination in Literary Translations” starts with Alexei Zavgorodny’s “Ernest Charrière’s Dead Souls,” which examines the first complete French translation of Gogol’s narrative poem Dead Souls, which served as the main French-language source for the assimilation of this work in France over the course of more than 60 years. Existin­g assessments of this work, which cast doubt on the relevance of French literary critiques about the narrative poem in this era, are often too emotional and contain factual errors. The task of this work is to attempt to evaluate Ernest Charrière’s translation objectively.

The main concept in Daniil Aronson’s article “Political Imagination and Poetic Translation in Divided Germany: A Study of Several Esenin Translations” is the con­cept of “the other” (das Fremde), which was introduced into their translation theory by German romantics at the turn of the 19th century. In contrast to authors of the prior era, they considered the task of literary translation to be not so much the most accurate transmission of the content of the statement as much as mediation between principally different cultures. This theoretical shift coincided with a new political reality in which nations were defen­ding their political and cultural autonomy. More than 100 years later, West Germany was attempting to pursue a national state policy at the same time East Germany was presenting itself rather like a universal humanist project. This difference in the means of political self-representation corresponded to several distinguishing characteristics of the practice of litera­ry translation on the different sides of the Berlin Wall. Using a series of West and East German translations of Sergei Esenin done during the Cold War period, the author of the article examines how characteristics of the collective political imagination could affect the (non)translation of specific poetic techniques.

Nonconformism as a Performative Mirror of the Regime

Guest Editor Klavdia Smola

This section is devoted to little-known artis­tic practices and artifacts, which, bein­g on the opposing side of official culture, at the same time turned the regime as an element of its aesthetics. The art and the literature of this era of authoritarianism willingly or unwittingly performatively reflected their repressive environment and became an iconic sign of the system.

In the article “Yuri Trifonov’s The House on the Embankment and Late Soviet Memory of Stalinist Political Violence: Disavowal and Social Discipline,” Kevin M.F. Platt analyzes Trifonov’s novel, which is usually interpreted as a historically truthful work about the Stalinist era. With such an approach, the main meaning of the story is overlooked, which tells less about the past than it does about the late-Soviet present in which Trifonov lived. At the basis of the analysis offered by Platt lies a model of late-Soviet society, in which Stalinist collec­tive violence was given a key structural role in societal life. After Khrushchev’s “secret” speech in 1956, Soviet citizens who were aware of the repressions were to keep quiet about them under threat of expulsion from socialist society. Platt examines Trifonov’s novel as a compilation of these historical methods, regimes of knowledge, and moral compromises that supported this social order.

Toma´sˇ Glanc’s “The USSR as a Device in Pavel Pepperstein’s Artistic Practice” studies the strategies of reclaiming Soviet identity and the Soviet past in literature of the post-Soviet period, including the status of “late Soviet writer.” Against this backdrop, Pavel Pepperstein’s position stands out. For him, late Soviet ideology is interesting as a subset of mystical religious movements. The exa­mination of the USSR as the last phase in three centuries of autocratic Confucian radicalism, or as a mandala that shows an approach, which, on the one hand, uses data from political, cultural, and religious history, and on the other hand, opens up unexpected horizons for their interpretation. This is the essence of Pepperstein’s inspection.

In "‘Writing with a Deficit’: Dmitry Prigov and the Nature of a “Second Culture” Pavel Arseniev argues that the work of deixis in Prigov’s cycle Housekeeping can be examined as the seed of an original theory of reference in which the word could be replace things or exist on an ontological level. If avant-garde poetic modes of actions sought to endow the word (as such) with the status of a thing (futurism) or even replace representation with the production of real things (productivism), the conceptual gesture reversed this relationship and privileged the semiotic aspect of things (and their absence). If at one time Mayakovsky sought to “write not about war, but by war,” then Prigov made the late-Soviet deficit of goods not only a subject or even an indexal fragment of the reality of his poetic narrative, but also an instrument of poetic action, an apparatus for the (re)production of formally “poor,” but “taking a number” texts. Prigov aims to “write not about the deficit, but by the deficit”.

Completing the section with her own article, “The Aesthetics of Relationships Under Authoritarianism,” the section’s guest editor Klavdia Smola traces how the authoritarian regime became an actor in the work of late-Soviet writers and nonconformist artists and how the codependence of the government and unofficial (life)work anticipated alternative cultures of the 2000—2010s. Smola interprets the gesture of the regime acting as a co-actor as a consistent radicalization of conceptualism, abandoning the framework of “historical” conceptual art. The newest artistic practices of communication refer to this culture of the communist underground, which due to the fragmentary nature of public spheres of unofficial art, created not a large utopia, but a series of “microutopias” (Burio).

In Memoriam: Oleg Yuriev (1959–2018)

This memorial section is dedicated to the memory of Oleg Yuriev, an outstanding poet, prose writer, and essayist, who had lived in Germany since the early 1990s. Not only Russian authors who were close with him — Olga Martynova and Alexey Porvin — but also his German colleagu­es — Thomas Stangl, Ursula Krechel, Barbara Honigman and Robert Schtripling — speak about his poetry and prose. The section is completed by a fragment of Oleg Yuriev’s prose poem “The Circumstances of Courses of Actions” (published by Olga Martynova and Dmitry Yuriev).

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