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THE SEMIOTICS OF AUGUST IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY: THE IMPACT OF GLOBAL CATACLYSMS ON EVERYDAY PRACTICES

 

TRANSFORMING THE GENDER ORDER

 

In her article, Natalia Puskhareva (Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Russian Academy of Sciences) describes the gender systems that succeeded one another over the course of Soviet history. The position of women in Soviet Russia was the consequence of the etacratic gender order imposed by the state. The policy of Soviet authorities was aimed at involving women in social production and poli­tical life, but at the same time it presupposed state regulation of the family and the imposition of official discourses interpreting "femininity" and "masculinity."

Based on ethnographic field research, the article by Svetlana Adonieva (Saint Petersburg State University) and Laura Olson (University of Colorado) examines the age-determined social roles of women in a Russian village in various periods of the twentieth century and shows the "malfunction" that occurred in the transition from one role to another at the end of the Soviet period.

"'The Luminous Path': Domestic Service as a Migration Channel and Social Mobility Mechanism under Stalin," by Alissa Klots (Perm State University), analyzes domestic service in Stalin's Russia as a migration channel and upward mobility mechanism for peasant women. Paid domestic labor is viewed through the prism of gender and class relations in Soviet society. The passport system introduced in the early 1930s was both an obstacle and an impetus for female migration from the countryside. Domestic service, which traditionally provided employment for peasant women in cities, became an important mechanism of cultural integration for female newcomers looking for jobs in urban areas. The Soviet state tried to control the field of paid domestic labor by organizing domestic workers in a professional union. In the 1930s, the union's main goal was to train domestics for employment in industry and "promote" them to positions in plants and factories. This policy corresponded with the desires of domestics, who felt

the stigma of paid domestic work in a country ruled by the "dictatorship of the proletariat." Moreover, female domestics were unable to fulfill the Soviet gender contract of working mothers. In the early 1940s, the state took a different approach to domestic service and began promoting the idea of professional domestic workers. However, paid domestic labor remained an important stepping-stone for kolkhoz women looking for employment in cities.

Research on gender under state socialism has been predominantly concerned with women in the labor force, including issues such as the double burden, state and private patriarchy, and welfare. Little research has so far been published on discursive spaces open for negotiation of gender or the generation of new meanings or positions. Using samples from official bureaucratic rhetoric, and journalistic and popular texts (including the novels "For Reasons Unknown," by Zdena Frybova, and "Memento," by Radek John), Libora Oats-Indruchova (Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for European History and Public Spheres) argues, in "The Beauty and the Loser: Cultural Representations of Gender in Late State Socialism," for the existence of diverse discourses of gender in late state socialism, from an unchallenged and unremarked residual patriarchal discourse to proto- feminist elements and, even, alternatives to both. While the dominant emanci­patory discourse conserved some traditional preconceptions about the gender order, traditional attributes of femininity also had a resistant, even subversive, potential. The emancipatory discourse, fashioned with the fa§ade of traditional femininity, opened a textual space for limited proto-feminist imagery. Traditional models of masculinity, however, did not have the same resistant or subversive potential, but instead were either co-opted by the authoritative ideological dis­course for its state-socialist hero or bound up with images of criminal or semi- criminal behavior. In the absence of acceptable models of masculinity that would be free of ideological baggage, an alternative discourse of masculinity that places the male body at its center emerges in the textual sample examined in the article. Imperfect and incomplete as the state-socialist emancipation project may have been, it did broaden the range of discursive positions available to women, although not to men.

 

SEXUAL REVOLUTION

 

In her essay, "Sexual Revolution and Its Discontents," Dagmar Herzog (Graduate Center, City University of New York) challenges standard assumptions about the liberalization of sexual mores and laws in Western European nations in the post-Second World War era, inquiring into the complex interactions between the rise of consumer capitalism, the invention of the birth control pill and the spread of pornography, on the one hand, and the emergence of radical activism on behalf of sexual freedoms, contraception and abortion access, and gay and lesbian rights, on the other. The essay documents the rich variety of ways sexual revolutionaries and opponents of the Vietnam War theorized the possible con­nections between sexual emancipation and social justice more generally, but also emphasizes just how many ambivalences the sexual revolution unleashed already as it was happening, not least among heterosexual men.

The article by Arthur Clech (EHESS, Paris), "The Russian Homosexual, 1905-1938: Paradoxes of Perception," deals with the history of perceptions of homosexuality in Russia during periods when these perceptions were changing: after the 1905 revolution, after the 1917 revolution and, finally, during the emergence of the Stalinist regime. It is precisely during transitional moments in history that social norms are questioned. Yuri Lotman proposed the "dual" model for Russian culture, as opposed to the western cultural model, where a certain transitional space exists. However, parallels with the western history of culture and sexuality are not limited to comparisons of cultural models. Clech attempts to understand the extent to which western queer history influenced perceptions of homosexuality in Russia. The period 1905-1938 is also interesting because attempts were made to overcome this "dual" cultural model. For example, during the period after the 1917 revolution, Bolshevik legislation reflected the desire to obliterate the distinction between homosexuality and heterosexuality. However, the paradox in perceptions of Russian homosexuals is that it is quite difficult to say whether changes in these perceptions were a "rupture" or a "transition."

 

TRANSFORMING RELIGIOUS BELIEFS

 

In "The Idea of 'Humanity' from Lessing to Thomas Mann," Jan Assmann (University of Konstanz) links the notion of "humanity" to the cosmopolitan idea of an allgemeine Menschenreligion, elaborated by such religious thinkers as Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Moses Mendelssohn. This idea was a means of combating the absolutism of differences that gave rise to religious intolerance, the principal problem of the eighteenth century. In the Twentieth century, the absolutism of differences was transformed, especially in Nazi Germany, into a totalitarianism of differences, whose proponents included such disparate thinkers as Carl Schmitt (with his concept of the "state of emergency") and Oswald Spengler (who divided humanity into "civilizations," incapable of ever finding common ground), and whose opponents included Thomas Mann, who proposed the concept of the "unity of the human mind."

In "The Twentieth Century: A New Religious Imaginary," Alexander Panchenko (Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkin House), Russian Academy of Sciences) surveys the key changes that religion, as a social concept, practice and form of collective imaginary, underwent during the Twentieth century. Seculari­zation in modern Europe not only challenged conventional religious institutions, but also led to the emergence of new religious ideologies and practices, which were often concealed by wholly "secular" concepts and representations. One of the stalking horses of the "new religious imaginary" was science, perceived and advanced by ideologues and practitioners of secularization as a universal means of "disenchanting the world." The essential role in restructuring conventional notions of religion and shaping "science-oriented" forms of religious discourse was apparently played by the revolution in physics in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries: electromagnetic field theory, the invention of the radio, electron theory, the discovery of X-rays, quantum mechanics, etc. The concepts of "energy" and "field" soon came to be used by theorists and practitio­ners of various occult and para-scientific doctrines, from theosophy to Russian cosmism. In order to show the specific features religious practices and communi­ties inspired by the ideology and metaphorics of scientific discourse can possess, Panchenko examines two specific ethnographic cases — a Party investigation of Novosibirsk rerikhovtsy (followers of Nicholas Roerich) in the late 1970s, and the history of the post-Soviet religious movement known as the Church of the Last Testament.

 

ARTISTIC REFLECTION

 

In "Franz Kafka's Real August," Kirill Kobrin (Moscow/Prague) investigates the impact of the beginning of the First World War on Kafka's work. He closely examines the trace left by political events of those days in the writer's prose works and diaries. Kobrin arques thatthe year the month, even — the war started may well have been the most important point of Kafka's writing career. He did not react explicitly to the war itself but reflected the sensibilities "responsible" for the unspeakable conflict. "The Trial" and "The Castle" both stew from these sensibilities, from the phenomena that formed the new, "total" world.

Mikhail Yampolsky (New York University) examines the work of Alexei Guerman in his article "A Local Apocalypse: On Alexei Guerman's Film Khrustalyov, My Car!" The October Revolution put Russia at the center of a world historical process focused on achieving a certain telos — communism, whose advent would be tantamount to the "end of history." But long before this telos is attained, a "local apocalypse" interrupts the movement of history in March 1953 in connection with Stalin's death. In the article, Yampolsky analyzes Alexei Guerman's film Khrustalyov, My Car!, a representation of this event. He argues that, in the Twentieth century, eschatology enters history and is his- toricized. The eschaton looming behind teleological history militates against the model of history as grand narrative, in which meanings are immanent to the self-development of the historical process. The eschaton is transcendent in rela­tion to history and introduces meaning into it from the outside. Intermeshed with eschatology, history as such loses its meaning, while historical narrative is sub­jected to an incursion of symbols, allegories and analogies readable only via a vague relationship with the transcendent. The eschatological model of meaning helps us understand the complex poetics of Guerman's film: Guerman rejects coherent narrative and recreates the system of eschatological incursions into a world gradually losing its internal historical sense.

Tomas Glanc (Humboldt University, Berlin) discusses the work of Czech poet Frantisek Hrubin in his article "From 'A Sunday in August' 1958 to Wednesday, August 21, 1968: Notes on the Poetics of Getting Stuck." The play "A Sunday in August" (1958), which Hrubin wrote on a commission from Prague's National Theater, was a turning point: it is regarded as marking the start of a new era of postwar Czech drama. The poetics of the play and its first staging were marked by an absence of events, the uneventfulness of a summer interlude and a multifaceted aesthetic of emptiness and getting stuck, which were programmatic in the work. The play's author and producers themselves were aware that their story — "softened," "anxious" and "trembling," whose lines were "out of focus," hovering over the souls of the characters like insects above a pond's surface — was a mirror on whose banks the action took place. This rhizomatic movement of thoughts and utterances was the impulse or expression of a catharsis that lasted and developed until another August day, a day signifi­cant not only for Czechoslovakian culture: Wednesday, August 21, 1968.

 

THE NEW MEDIALITY AND POPULAR CULTURE

 

The essay by Helen Petrovsky (Institute of Philosophy, Russian Academy of Sciences) is entitled "Matter and Memory in Photography: Boris Mikhailov's New Documentality." Drawing on Benjamin's concept of the dialectical image, Petrovsky insists on treating visual data, photography in particular, as a special

form of historical evidence. The truth told by the photograph does not boil down to a set of visual signs that may easily be deciphered as so many cultural codes. Instead, there is a hidden dimension in photography, an implied form of reference that points to a shared affective experience of the past. It is this expe­rience that makes photographs meaningful — in other words, plainly visible in the first place. Analyzing Boris Mikhailov's remarkable series from the Soviet and post-Soviet periods, Petrovsky introduces the notion of anonymity, which enables her to account for the specific documentary nature of Mikhailov's work.

Gian Piero Piretto (University of Milan), in his essay "The Spring That Crashed in August: 1968 in Paris, Prague and Moscow," compares the events of August 1968 in these three cities. May 1968: students in Paris invade the streets to fight against power and institutions. Cobblestones are removed from the ground both to attack brutal policemen and to free the "beach" existing underneath, hidden by centuries of authority and control. August 1968: Soviet tanks invade the streets of Prague to repress the socialist spring supported by Alexander Dubcek. Young people in Prague invade the streets to argue with young Soviet soldiers who, from the top of their tanks, cannot quite understand what the matter is. August 1968: seven people in Moscow "occupy" the Lobnoye Mesto on Red Square for a few minutes to demonstrate against the Soviet invasion of Prague. In a matter of minutes, they are arrested and taken away to a police station. The analysis of these events focuses on some photographs taken during these days (or on the lack of pictures, as far as the Moscow demonstration is concerned) and investigates the evolution of gestures, gazes, expressions, dialogues and attitudes in different cities, different cultures and different political situations. The com­bination of the gaze and walking, the consequence of everyday strategies, takes us from May-August 1968 to August 1991 and winter 2012 in Moscow, through the examination of more pictures, to verify how political, social and cultural involvement has changed and developed from decade to decade, transforming obsolete habits of Soviet mass participation into original and spontaneous cul­tural practices.

"From Nomadism to Sedentarianism: Woodstock vs. MTV," by Andrey Logutov (Moscow State University), explores two major events in the history of popular music that both happened in August: the Woodstock music festival of 1969 and the launch of MTV in 1981. Starting with the conceptual framework advanced by Simon Frith, who distinguished three basic social functions of mu­sic (transcendent, popular and folk), in combination with the "nomadic" theory of Deleuze and Guattari, Logutov sees Woodstock and MTV as embodying two extremes in popular music practices, i.e., the nomad-like journey of the listener towards the locus of music, and the broadcast journey of music into the home. The types of sensibility triggered in these two settings prove to be quite different as well. The difference may be articulated in terms of variations in levels of "authenticity" as they are perceived by the listener. However, both events are related in the way they have transformed the music market and inscribed musi­cal experience in everyday life.

Irina Sandomirskaia (Sodertorn University, Sweden), in her article "From August to August: Documentary Film as an Archive of Stolen Revolutions," explores the genealogy of a particular documentary film format from the 1920s to the late 1980s, i.e., throughout the entire span of Soviet history, in order to describe the origins, development and eventual fall of the Soviet Union as a phe­nomenon of cinematic reality. With the purpose of representing the Soviet Union as a totality, Dziga Vertov invented the method of filming "from border to border." With the camera "jumping" from one geographical or cultural extre­mity of the multi-ethnic Union to another, footage was produced so as to be later incorporated into the complete film (in this case, One Sixth of the World) using the principle of dialectical montage. Thus, by splicing genetically unrelated cultures and lifestyles, the film produced a cinematic reality in which all differences appeared structurally and ideologically unified. This format later became crucial in the production of Stalinist propaganda (here analyzed via Mikhail Slutsky's A Day in the New World, 1940), and still later, in the so-called poetic documen­tary cinema of the Thaw, whose purpose was to challenge the Stalinist represen­tation of total Sovietness and reformulate it in a new, non-totalitarian way (as in Uldis Brauns's 235 000 000 000, 1965). Sandomirskaia goes on to argue that documentary cinema of the glasnost era also employed the same format, this time not for the demonstration of totality but in a filmic analysis of its collapse (as in Juris Podnieks's Soviets, 1991). To understand this dynamic of transfor­mation and permanence, she draws on Walter Benjamin's film theory and Gilles Deleuze's notion of the time-image. She describes Soviet documentaries as chronicles and archives of stolen revolutions.

 

SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS AND EVERYDAY PRACTICES

 

In his article "Trust in Russia: Meaning, Function and Structure," Lev Gudkov (Levada Center, Moscow) provides a theoretical analysis of trust as a social cat­egory. Using empirical date from studies by the Levada Center, Gudkov demon­strates that there is a strong lack of trust in social relations in Russia, which has catastrophic consequences in politics, economics, morality, and so on.

The section continues with an article by Catriona Kelly (University of Oxford), "'In Still Waters Devils Breed': August as Working Month/Holiday Month in Soviet Culture." Early Soviet legislation (beginning in 1918) did not make a firm link between the legal entitlement to holidays and a particular season. Indeed, the implication was that leave might take place at any time of year and was not necessarily taken as a block. In the Stalin era, the leader's own behavior (a spatial displacement to the Crimean coast did not signify a slackening in productivity) drove the general attitude to periods of leave at lower levels of Soviet society, too. Leave was seen as a benefit that might need to be revoked in extreme situations (cf. the general cancellation of leave during the Second World War). In the post-Stalin era, however, opportunities for leave expanded, and there was an increasing assumption that taking leave in the sum­mer (including August) was the norm, even though there was no official period of leave for government agencies. By the time of the 1991 coup, therefore, a view of August as a period when most people were on holiday had become entrenched, and with this the attitude that events taking place in the month were somehow abnormal. In this respect, the arrangements for otpusk (holiday time) in the So­viet era become an example of how the "etatization of time" (the phrase used by Katherine Verdery) could be not simply a way of disciplining the population in a punitive sense (making peasants work to a year-round cycle), but also of providing incentives for the development of a fundamentally new attitude to the disposal of time and to the annual cycle.

The article by Julia Sneeringer (City University of New York), "'Assembly Line of Joys': Touring Hamburg's Red Light District, 1949-1966," deals with the Reeperbahn, Hamburg's notorious red light district (also famous because it was there that the Beatles launched their career). In the postwar years of the

West German "economic miracle," the area became a real magnet for all those craving pleasure and entertainment, both Germans visiting Hamburg and foreign tourists. Originally a special zone where one could experience a wide variety of sensual pleasures (moreover, anonymously, without fear of condemnation from society), the Reeperbahn was the harbinger of trends that would shock West Germany in the late 1960s, when people's sexual behavior became more open, and a greater tolerance of interracial couples and homosexuality emerged. In this sense, one might say that the Reeperbahn was at the forefront of social development in the city and the country. But here more profound trends in the development of West Germany were at work, in particular, economic trends, for example, the aggressive marketing of consumer goods linked to sexuality, which was an extreme expression of the postwar capitalist boom. By analyzing texts on Hamburg and the Reeperbahn written by various authors prior to 1968, Sneeringer attempts to capture the dynamics of changes in people's attitude to sex, consumption and leisure, and draw broad conclusions about the history of West German civil society as seen from the perspective of consumer choice and democracy in its daily manifestations. Sneeringer approaches these subjects by researching numerous tourist brochures, travel expenditure accounts and illustrated publications of the period dealing with Hamburg.

The article by Sven Reichardt (University of Konstanz), "Is 'Warmth' a Mode of Social Behavior? Considerations on a Cultural History of the Left- Alternative Milieu from the Late 1960s to the Mid 1980s," deals with the com­prehensive countercultural milieu from the late 1960s until the early 1980s. Life style and habitus within this undogmatic and widely peaceful radical leftist milieu were guided by the principle of "warmth" (friendliness). This alternative principle of warmth corresponded with developments in West Germany's increasingly individualized consumer society. Countercultural social behavior was neither a departure into a land of freedom nor into a reign of normlessness. It was a form of self-guidance and governmentality with its own contradictions and coercions.

 

TRANSFORMING THE URBAN ENVIRONMENT

 

Nadine Rossol (University of Essex), in her article "Performing the Nation: Sports, Spectacles, and Aesthetics in Germany, 1926-1936," challenges the notion that the Nazis invented the use of aesthetics for staging their mass events. She argues instead that the time span from the mid 1920s to the mid 1930s can be considered as a whole in regards to the development of political aesthetics and festive culture. A stress on rhythm, moving bodies, wholeness and national com­munity characterized the Weimar Republic and strongly influenced festivities, parades, sporting events and spectacles organized by the republican state. By the mid 1930s, the public was well accustomed to the use of aesthetics in mass events staged by political organizations and the state alike. Grounding what is often termed the "Nazi aesthetic" in the time of the republic changes com­monly assumed ideas about state representation in Weimar and Nazi Germany. The young republic was more keen on and successful at the staging of political spectacles than has been generally assumed.

Alan Smart (New York City), in his article "The Provo Bicycle Trick: Radical Form as a Vehicle for Pedestrian Content," analyzes the left-wing scene in Ams­terdam in the 1960s. Between 1965 and 1967 a radical social movement known as Provo convulsed Amsterdam and marked the city's transition from a gritty port and provincial secondary city to a hub of art, design and bohemian counterculture and, finally, an urban model of the post-industrial "new economy." One of the defining practices of Provo was the staging of events, termed "happenings" in the style of performance art, designed to disrupt or contest the quotidian functions of urban life and provoke a response from the authorities. Provo happenings took up forms and concepts from performance and "non-object" art, radical political practice, architecture and urban planning, and forced an engagement between them. The resulting actions provided not only tactical models for urban practice but also telling illustrations of the realignments taking place between these terms in the late 1960s and the changing way that the city, as both a social space and the object of urban planning and design, was conceived.

In her essay "The Body of the Media and Medial Incorporeality," Oksana Bulgakova reflects on the role of contemporary visual media, which generate the total phantom environment in which the individual dwells.

Oleg Pachenkov (Center for Independent Social Research, Saint Petersburg), in his article "Urban Public Space in the Face of Contemporary Challenges: Mobility and the 'Abuse of Publicness,'" examines the effect on public life and urban public spaces of such typical phenomena of late ("high") modernity as an increase in the pace of life, mobility, the compression of time and space, indi- vidualization, etc. Pachenkov also outlines possible new approaches to the study and interpretation of the impact of these processes on urban lifestyle and public spaces. His overall conclusion is that, given the changes under way in social reality, social scientists must reconsider the usual categories for describing the urban public sphere and public spaces and develop new approaches and new modes of thinking and understanding current processes.

 

ANEW MAPPING OF THE HUMANITIES

 

This section features four surveys dealing with subdisciplines in the humanities focused on transformations of private life. Ilya Vinitsky (University of Pennsyl­vania) provides an overview on works on the history of emotions; Alexei Vasiliev (Russian Institute for Cultural Research), an overview of literature on memory studies; Vladislav Tretyakov (New Literary Observer), a survey of books on the history of sexuality; and Evgeny Dobrenko (University of Sheffield), a review of recent research on the history of Stalinism.

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