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DISCOURSES OF DOMESTICATION

Section compiled by Konstantin A. Bogdanov

Oxana Timofeeva’s “Uninvited animals” applies the idea of domestication to the problem of the unconscious in contemporary philosophy and theoretical psycho analysis in its relation to animality. Timofeeva investigates the case of so-called uncanny animals, such as insects or parasites, which cannot be categorized as properly “wild,” but also not as either “domestic” or “homeless.” She proposes a new interpretation of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” based on Freud’s idea of the uncanny and a hypothesis of the inhuman subject of the unconscious.

“On a short leash: domestic masters,” an article by Ilya Utekhin, addresses the problematic situations systematically reproduced in the everyday life of dog owners, and particularly the problems of social interaction between dog owners and other people. Humans often tend to anthropomorphize their pets; as a result, participants interpret their interactions with animals according to different frames of reference. Just as the tail “wags the dog,” the dog often puts its owner into a position of subjugation.

Konstantin Bogdanov offers “A non-Russian chreia. Use, concern, intractable words,” an article addressing the broad use of the concept of “domestication” in the history of language and literary culture. Bogdanov assumes that in a broad sense, this concept helps to clarify the axiological aspects in the ideology of speech practice — from the experience of speech acquisition to the development of general discursive strategies of social communication. The historical aspects of these strategies are examined using examples from the history of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russian rhetoric, with its preferred use of devices that work emotionally on the audience rather than through syllogistic persuasion. The rejection of the formal rules of “speech domestication” was meanwhile expressed through the “natural” triumph of the speech element — in freedom of thought and feeling. Russian literature itself, meanwhile, appears as a history of “free” or “unrestricted” literature, shunning the compulsory nature of rhetorical fireworks. At the same time, Bogdanov assumes that both the positive and the negative consequences of the defamation of rhetorical education in this story deserve study: the discursive effects of “untamed” speech include the full range of the authorities’ inarticulateness and the collective logorrhea of Soviet and post-Soviet culture.

 

REREADING CLASSICS OF THE HUMANITIES

Sergey Zenkin’s “The ambivalence of the sacred and verbal culture (Bakhtin and Durkheim)” regards the notion of ambivalence, utilized by Mikhail Bakhtin in order to explain “carnival” laughter and speech. This ambivalence had an important correspondent term in sociology: the famous ambivalence of the sacred, discovered in Great Britain by Robertson Smith and conceptualized in France by Durkheim. Naturally enough, sociologists were little concerned by the verbal aspects of the opposition sacred/profane, privileging its material and behavioral manifestations. Bakhtin, who might have known some of their ideas, tends to fill that lacuna by providing a metalinguistic theory of ritual (and therefore sacred) word and laughter; he considers them as bearers of a double magic, destroying and reviving at once. Bakhtin’s theory, mainly stated in his book on Rabelais, became a methodological point of juncture between philology and philosophy of language, on the one hand, and sociology and anthropology, on the other hand — in other words, between introspective and external approaches to the sacred.

An essay by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, “Essay, life, lived experience (György Lukács in 1910 and the situation of literary criticism today)” examines the genre of the essay and the question of why it has remained relevant for such a long time (and, perhaps, is more relevant today than ever before). Gumbrecht hypothesizes that today’s existential situation persists in a state of ceaseless transformation, lacking clear contours and generating the nostalgic desire to find oneself for at least one second in a space of intense experience (perhaps this is also the reason for the rebirth of our need for aesthetic experience). But many people find the prospect of coming face-to-face with the challenges of the present unbearable. In the critical essay, however, we receive the intensity of existence as if from far away, such that the intensity is softened. What is more, in this essay we hear the echo of an individual aesthetic experience in which the call for intensity of experience is actualized, opening up the gamut of individual (first and foremost, irrational) reactions to it. In asking himself why the essay genre is the most conveni ent for embodying these existential experiences, Gumbrecht turns to György Lukács’ classic “meta-essay,” “On the essence and form of the essay” (1911). Gumbrecht shows how the young Lukács conceptualized this genre in line with his philosophy of life and effectively suggested a form for the essay now in greater demand than ever before.

In “About a philosophical murder,” Alexander Markov examines the identification of academic work with sophistry that took shape in the culture of Russian modernism. F.F. Zelinsky and other Russian enthusiasts of classical philology saw sophistry not as a technique of persuasion but rather as the creation of a widely-accessible language of culture that would enable the conservation of that culture. Sophistry was seen as more of a conservative movement, and the opportunity arose to oppose it to experiments in contemporary philosophy. The ancient sophists were also seen as creators of a life-building program, but the defectiveness of this program was emphasized in contrast to philological connoisseurship.

In his article “Nomothetic literary studies: a rough sketch,” Oleg Sobchuk discusses the past and present state of attempts to create a “scientific” approach to studying literature. The article claims that, despite their differences, various endeavors of this kind — like Russian formalism, structuralism, empirical and computational literary studies, etc. — share the same core principle: they develop not ideographic, but nomothetic theories. In other words, they do not highlight the unique aspects of individual works of literature, but formulate global patterns or even “laws” of the literary field. The general discussion is followed by two sub-chapters: one reflecting on theoretical aspects of the nomothetic literary studies, namely the theories of literary evolution; and the other dedicated to the quantitative and computational methods applied in such investigations.

 

IN MEMORIAM BORIS DUBIN (1946—2014)

The obituary section is dedicated to the memory of the cultural sociologist and translator Boris Vladimirovich Dubin (1946—2014). The section includes a number of Dubin’s previously unpublished texts (“Translation as a strategy of literary innovation,” “Symbolic man: toward a historical anthropology of the social humanities,” “Goodbye to the book” and others), articles analyzing Dubin’s theore tical investigations from T. VaizerI. Kaspe and I. Kukulin, and a bibliography of Dubin’s work.

 

THOMAS MALTHUS AND 19th—20th-CENTURY RUSSIAN CULTURE: A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT BETWEEN SCIENCE AND LITERATURE

Section compiled by Ricardo Nicolosi

The articles in this section examine the reception of Thomas Malthus’ ideas in Russia from an unusual angle. At the forefront are the counterfactual thought experiments in Malthus’ population theory, their rhetorical and narrative aspects, as well as their reception in the context of 19th— and 20th-century Russian culture. With reference to examples from the work of V. Odoevsky, N. Fyodorov, A. Bogdanov and A.N. Tolstoy, these articles illuminate this aspect of the reception of Malthus’ ideas in Russia (which is garnering attention for the first time only now), focusing first and foremost on the phenomenon of the symbiosis of scientific and literary discourses. On the one hand, the thought experiment method was applied in order to develop alternative conceptions and to contrast them to Malthus’ principle of population. On the other hand, Malthus’ approach was used as an example of “unsound” logic and was part of a methodology subject to refutation.

The first part of Riccardo Nicolosi’s “Apocalypse of overpopulation: political economy and thought experiments in T. Malthus and V. Odoevsky” addresses one of Malthus’ counterfactual thought experiments from his Essay… The extent to which the experiment is persuasive rests on the interaction between a reductio ad absurdum argumentative structure and a number of rhetorical narrative devices. The second half of the article investigates the artistic transformation of Malthus’ thought experiment in “The last suicide,” a story by Vladimir Odoevsky. Nicolosi focuses on the artistic charge of the counterfactual and its “shattering” effect. In a thought experiment, the power of this charge is restrained by rhetorical narrative structures, which fact allows Malthus to use it in affirming his theory; meanwhile, in Odoevsky’s story the power takes over completely, reducing the logic of Malthus’ experiment and the negative anthropology that lies at its core to absurdity.

In “A critique of ‘armchair’ science: Nikolai Fyodorov’s cosmist utopia as a Malthusian thought experiment,” Mika Erley shows the powerful influence of Malthus’ ideas and approach on N. Fyodorov’s Philosophy of the Common Task. This influence was ambiguous: Fyodorov borrowed Malthus’ method in his polemics with Condorcet, while Fyodorov’s treatise contains a fundamental critique of that method.

In the article “Revolution on Earth and on Mars: Malthusian thought experiments in A. Bogdanov’s Red Star and A.N. Tolstoy’s Aelita,” Natasha Grigorian asks: how can literary texts function as thought experiments, as such confirming or refuting the validity of an initial hypothesis? Grigorian examines Bogdanov’s and Tolstoy’s novels as interconnected responses to Malthus’ principle of population. They represent counterfactual thought experiments which aim to “test” the limits and possibilities for development of a socialist society facing the problem of overpopulation.

 

ANATOMY OF A PRACTICE

In “‘Bribers are to be caught and shot!’: an analytical report on bribery in the USSR in Stalin’s archive,” Pyotr Druzhinin brings to the reader’s attention and comments on a report submitted to Stalin by a former Ministry of State Security official in the 1946. Focusing on the problem of bribery in the Soviet Union, the report attempts to dissect this problem and propose ways to deal with it.

 

CLOSE READING

Maria Fedianina’s (MSU) “J. Baudrillard’s Symbolic exchange and death as ancestor-text to V. Pelevin’s DPP (NN)” addresses the reception of Baudrillard’s book in the work of one of Russia’s leading contemporary writers. Fedianina provides a detailed analysis of Pelevin’s collection DPP (NN), which came out in 2003 — that is, three years after the first Russian translation of Baudrillard’s L’échange symbolique et la mort (first published 1976). She demonstrates that despite the apparent lack of a connection, all of the works published in Pelevin’s collection (and not only the story “A Macedonian critique of French thought,” in which Baudrillard is mentioned directly) respond to one another, making up two original cycles that reflect two planes of reception of Symbolic exchange and death. Given Baudrillard’s semiotic (more precisely, post-semiotic) conception of consumer society, his scandalous nature as a figure in French thought, the openness of his work to second-guessing and re-thinking, his peculiar brand of academic hullabaloo and tendency to a form of criticism bordering on satire, he makes an ideal object for Pelevin’s postmodern irony, which only allows conclusions to be reached through their harsh rejection and parodic derision.

 

MARKED BY TRAUMA

Issue 125 of NLO featured an article by Tatiana Vaizer (RANEPA / The Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, Moscow), “The traumatography of logos: the language of trauma and deformation of language in post-Soviet poetry.” Proceeding from works by Giorgio Agamben and Irina Sandomirskaya investigating language capable of witnessing the unimaginable, as well as from lexical, grammatical and syntactic deformations in the poetry of Paul Celan and Robert Schindel, Vaizer discovered similar models of language destruction and appeals to the experience of the Second World War (within and without Russia) in the work of the younger generation of post-Soviet poets (born in the 1970s—80s), who did not experience these events simply by virtue of their age. Vaizer’s article, particularly its concept of historical trauma projected onto poetic utterance, provoked a very lively response on the part of poets, critics and humanities scholars. This section presents a discussion that opens with comments from Anna Glazova (Hamburg) and Eugenia Suslova (Nizhny Novgorod) and is continued by Kirill Korchagin (NLO The V.V. Vinogradov Russian Language Institute, Moscow), whose eloquently titled text “Art massacre: poetry as the art of war” reveals a number of problematic positions in Vaizer’s constructs. Further articles from Stanislav Lvovsky (Oxford University), “Distinguishing trauma” and Ilya Kukulin (Higher School of Economics, Moscow) present a comprehensive, profoundly articulated polemics with the very approach put forth in Vaizer’s article. The section closes with a no less detailed and carefully argued response from T. Vaizer.

- See more at: http://www.nlobooks.ru/node/6217#sthash.K7WSar0B.dpuf

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