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In Search of a New “Grand Paradigm”: Franco Moretti

In recent decades, the era of “grand paradigms” in the humanities has looked like a thing of the past. This era was replaced by a mosaic of disparate “studies” woven together into a common framework — one that is common in terms of discipline only, not in terms of methodology, and cannot be reduced to any single universal denominator. At the same time, the search for new “grand paradigms” is far from over. It is extremely difficult to pursue science in a splintered world: after all, science, by definition, presupposes some kind of universal and unified scientific method, in the absence of which the epistemological foundation of any knowledge in the humanities comes into question. Otherwise, what would differentiate the humanities from the subjective interpretations of an idle essayist? In this case, can we even speak of a “science” in relation to the humanities? The literary scholar Franco Moretti offers his own answer to these questions. His method combines several concepts (the Formal Method of Opoiaz, the world-systems analysis of Immanuel Wallerstein, evolutionary theory) and joins them with the statistical calculations and algorithms of the digital humanities. One could debate at length the degree to which this particular synthesis is effective, or how productive Moretti’s results have been. Yet, his publication has proven very timely, as is attested by the heated discussions about Moretti’s method that have taken place in both the Anglo-American and the Russian academic spheres, including this selection of articles in NLO.

Pavel Arsenev’s “Seeing the Forest for the Trees: On Distant Reading and the Speculative Turn in Literary Studies” discusses the genealogy of the distant reading method proposed by Franco Moretti. It combines a contextualization of the method within the history of ideas, between the poles of the empiricism of facts and the “theoretical abstraction” of method, with its localization in the history of precise methods, particular in the humanities. By investigating the connections between quantitative formalism and the “qualitative” formalism of Shklovsky and Tynianov, as well as the distinctions between them, the author suggests a revision of the “biological tendency in literary studies” (which, beyond the bounds of literary studies, relates to Nikolai Marr’s “new science of language,” as well as to the individual research approaches of Gilbert Simondon and Bruno Latour). Finally, the author concludes by advancing the hypothesis that such a combination of (on the one hand) a reliance on empirical, and indeed “big,” data and (on the other) those epistemologically novel objects provided by the visualization of these data allows us to place Moretti’s method within the paradigm of speculative realism and to speak of a speculative turn in literary studies.

Book as an Event: Franco Moretti, Distant Reading

Guest editors: Oleg Sobchuk and Artem Shelya

In “Book as an Event,” we discuss the Russian translation of Franco Moretti’s Distant Reading, a book that was an intellectual challenge and methodological provocation in Anglo-American humanities scholarship from the moment of its publication (2013). In the Russian context, it has provoked no less lively and productive disagreements — regarding both possible ways of broadening the purview of philological research and the potential digital future of the humanities as a whole. No less interesting, and no less controversial, was the conceptual model that Moretti proposed as his approach: a combination of formalism, evolutionary theory, and the world-systems analysis of Immanuel Wallerstein, together with the technology of the digital humanities.

Scholarly Review in the Academic Culture of the 19th and 20th Centuries

Guest editor: Natalia Dolgorukova

This section is devoted to the history of scholarly review in the academic culture of the 19th and 20th centuries. It examines the practices of scholarly review in various academic traditions: prerevolutionary and Soviet periodicals, French Structuralism, and analytic philosophy. The cases under discussion provide the basis for discussing the key functions of review: review as an instrument in the formation of disciplines within the humanities and a source for clichéd ideas in scholarship; review as a form of reflection within an academic community and a means of constructing a collaborative identity; review as an index of the academic community’s relationship to the state and official ideology; review as a means of defining the criteria of scholarly rigor; review as an instrument of classification and an index of the state of a disciplinary field.

With the French-language publication of two works by Mikhail Bakhtin in 1970 (Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics and The Works of Francois Rabelais), the first reviews of his work appeared in French publications (Le Monde, Le Figaro Littérai re, La Quanzain littéraire). Many of the authors of these reviews counted Bakhtin’s works as part of the Russian Formalist tradition and called this thinker a Russian Formalist critic. In the context of how the historiography of humanitarian knowledge has developed today, it is entirely obvious that the methods and genealogy of the ideas forming the foundation for the works of this Russian thinker do not just go beyond the “formal method,” but actually argue against them. Natalia Dolgorukova’s “Bakhtin in France (Based on His First French Reviews in the 1970s)” presents an analysis of these first French reviews and attempts to answer the question of why they represent Bakhtin as a Formalist.

Andrej Likhatsky’s “Editorial Politics and the Review Process for the Journal Voice of the Past (Early 20th Century)” investigates the influence of the journal’s editors on the review process for a Russian historico-literary journal of the early twentieth century. The focus of this study is the journal Voice of the Past. The author’s attention concentrates on the personality of S.P. Mel’gunov, the publication’s editor-in-chief, who actively participated in selecting reviews for publication in the journal. One major aim guiding this editor’s policies was an attempt to drive “scholarly review” from the pages of Voice of the Past. He viewed the review process as an important instrument in the competitive struggle among historico-literary journals and so encouraged a particular type of review that was directed at the common reader.

Kira Ilina’s “The Evaluation of Masters’ and Doctoral Dissertations in Russian Universities During the First Half of the Nineteenth Century” reconstructs the history of the appearance of dissertation reviews in the universities of the Russian Empire. This research is based upon records kept in the archives of the Ministry of National Education in the Universities of Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Kazan. This collection of sources allows the autho r to analyze the practice of reviewing qualifying essays and changes in the criteria for evaluating scholarly production, to reveal the participation of officials from the Ministry of Popular Enlightenment in the formal review of scholarly writings, and to examine the circumstance s in which a process was fixed for legally demanding a dissertation review.

Oleg Morozov’s “The Criteria for Evaluating Scholarly Texts in Reviews from the Latter Half of the Nineteenth Century: The Journal of the Ministry of National Education” studies the role of journal reviews in the professionalization of the humanities in Russia during the imperial period. Reviews from The Journal of the Ministry of National Education were chosen as sources, as this was the leading scholarly publication in Russia during the second half of the nineteenth century, publishing works on philology, history, philosophy, Eastern studies, and pedagogy. The author uncovers the fundamental criteria used by scholars to evaluate the work of their colleagues: objectivity in judgments, persuasiveness of critical conclusions, confirmation of original hypotheses with quotations from sources, bibliographical comprehensiveness, and so forth. The author concludes that Russian academic society of the nineteenth century saw journal reviews not as a formalized, secondary genre (as they are seen today), but as an effective mechanism for enhancing the quality of scholarly research.

Sergei Matveev’s “‘A Bolshevik Scholar Ought To Make Objective Evaluations’: Reviews in Soviet Historical Periodicals in the 1930s–1950s” examines reviews published in Soviet historical periodicals in the 1930s–1950s. It explicates the norms and functions of scholarly reviews, determines the degree to which state ideology influenced this genre, and analyzes the peculiarities of reviews in multidisciplinary and narrowly specialized journals. The author offers answers to the following questions: To what extent did Soviet scholars use reviews as an ideological instrument? Which journals strictly maintained the norms of academic etiquette, and why were they able to do this? What branches of historical research did not fall under the absolute influence of official ideology? Was there any possibility of writing honestly about books published in the West?

Aleksey Pleshkov’s “Classicalization and Reviewing in Contemporary Analytical Theology: the Case of Neoeternalism” analyzes the concept of neoeternalism advanced by Eleonore Stump and Norma n Kretzmann in the early 1980s.

Neoeternalism played an important role in the discussion about the nature of divine eternity that unfolded in the second half of the twentieth century, offering a critique of the concept of temporalism dominant at that time and, in many ways, determining the vectors of future discussion of the concept. After a short overview of the context in which neoeternalism appeared and a discussion of the key claims of this framework, the author endeavors, firstly, to determine whether one can speak of Stump and Kretzmann’s text “Eternity” as a classic work, and se condly, to trace the role played by reviews of this text in the process of making this framework “classical.”

Bunin Revised

Evgeny Ponomarev’s “The Intertext of Dark Avenues: The Dissolution of the Novella in Ivan Bunin’s Late Work” is dedicated to a principally new interpretation of the final fictional work by Ivan Bunin: the book Dark Avenues. The author examines the book dynamically, demonstrating that the generic form of the novella changes substantially from the first to the third part and nearly dissolves at the end (the story “The Chapel”). The most important reason for these structural changes is the work’s powerful and multifaceted intertext, which reinterprets practically the entire Russian classical tradition, including Bunin’s earlier works (even The Life of Arseniev). The specific characteristics of this intertext, which have yet to be described, allow the author to speak of Dark Avenues as the beginning of Bunin’s turn from modernism to post-modernism.

Alexander Zholkovsky’s “The Place of “Visiting Cards” in Ivan Bunin’s Erotic Catalogue” comprises two parts. The first overviews the recurrent motifs of Ivan Bunin’s 1940s collection of short stories

The Dark Avenues – manifestations of the cycle’s central theme: cataloguing the various types of relationships among sexual partners and their consequences. The scholar identifies the set of principal narrative parameters that underlie the variation. The second part focuses on the structure of “Visiting Cards,” one of the signature pieces of the cycle. The typically Buninian story of a brief love affair is shown to unfold as an erotic experiment staged by the improvising authorial protagonist in tandem with a consenting — Madame Bovary-style — heroine.

In memoriam

Anri Volokhonsky (19.3.1936, Leningrad — 08.04.2017, Rexingen)

The section dedicated to the memory of the poet Anri Volokhonsky, an outstanding representative of Leningrad unofficial poetry, includes essays by Il’ia Kukui, Pavel Ryzhakov, and Vladimir Erl. It is also supplemented by short responses to the poet’s death by writers for whom Volokhonsky’s poetry held great significance. It ends with a selection of several poems that haven’t been published in the poet’s collected works.


This section is focused on the political implications of contemporary (Russian, Belarusian, American) poetry that addresses topical events in public life and associated documentary evidence. Thus, Vitaly Lekhtsier’s article “Exhibition and Research, or What’s Happening with the

Subject in Contemporary Documentary Poetry: Mark Nowak and Others” uses the work of a leading US documentary poet, Mark Nowak, to investigate the status of the hybrid subject of docupoetry and its political impact. Meanwhile, Yaraslava Ananka’s and Heinrich Kirschbaum’s articl e “Bilingual Disorder. The Implied (Non)Reader and the (Bela) rus(s)ian Subject in Dmitry Strotsev’s Patchwork Ode” analyzes the orientation toward a dual — Russophone and Belarusophone — readerly horizon in a poem dedicated to political events of the last decade in Belarus.

Vitaly Lekhtsier’s “Exhibition and Research, or What’s Happening with the Subject in Contemporary Documentary Poetry: Mark Nowak and Others” examines the status of the subject in documentary poetry, focusing on the work of one of the leading documentary poets in the USA today, Mark Nowak. The author introduces the fundamental methodological distinctions and concepts necessary for analyzing docupoetry texts and the subjective belonging of their discursive composition, while also making a brief review of arguments surrounding the genesis and nature of such poetry. Nowak’s poetry demonstrates how hybridic the subject of docupoetry can be, as it performs simultaneously an aesthetic evaluation and a humanitarian study of the document, an ethical transmission of the testimony enclosed therein, and a political act. The article locates Nowak’s work within the context of contemporary Russian documentary poetry.

Dmitry Strotsev’s Patchwork Ode poetically reinterprets political events in Belarus in the 2000s; it is addressed to both the Russian implied reader (who is superficially acquainted with the specifics of Belarusian life) and the Belarusian reader (whose attention is focused primarily on the painful relevance of the “ode”). Yaraslava Ananka’s and Heinrich Kirschbaum’s “Bilingual Disorder. The Implied (Non)Reader and the (Bela) rus(s)ian Subject in Dmitry Strotsev’s Patchwork Ode” poses the question of what such an orientation toward a dual readership introduces to a reading of the text. The authors demonstrate the ways in which the Belarusian anti-totalitarian and anti-imperial orientation of the poem destabilizes the Russian language of the work. The bilingual disorder of the lyric subject reveals dissonances between message and channel, demonstrating the (im)possibility of Russian-language poetry in Belarus.

Close Reading

Roman Katsman’s “‘Freakish Sacrifices’: The Problem of Victimhood in Alexander Goldstein’s Novel Quiet Fields” This article examines Alexander Goldstein’s novel Quiet Fields in light of Eric Gans’s anthropological theory of violence and sacrifice, as well as in the context of contemporary Israeli-Russian literature. As the article’s analysis shows, Goldstein’s writing reflects a tendency to overcome the victim paradigm characterizing contemporary cultural thought. The “Bibliography” section contains reviews of the latest literature in the field of the humanities. In the “Chronicle of Scholarly Life,” one can find synopses of several 2017 conferences.

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