The 117th NZ issue is part of a joint project between three journals: NZ, “New Literary Observer” and “Fashion Theory”. The project focuses on the concept of decay or decadence as a vital element of modernity. The idea is to talk about historical decadence (from the time when Charles Baudelaire invented the notion to 1 August 1914), but also about decadence as an outlook, a world view, a style and even a way of political and artistic thinking, which has been repeatedly manifested in the last and this century.
The issue comprises three thematic sections as well as the journal’s regular columns. General questions of decadence seen as a way of political thinking and even a form of ideological outlook, presented across the time spectrum, are analysed in the essay “Eternal Degeneration” by Igor Smirnov (Political Theory and Depolitisation Practices).
The issue opens with a section titled “Exhaustion Zeitgeist”. The concept of exhaustion is used here as a general framework for such notions as disease, last ecstasy and death, which form an extremely vivid characteristic of decadent ways of thinking and mentality. However, this section does not always focus on the historical period of decadence, with the exception of an essay by one of our editors, Kirill Kobrin. “‘The Berghof’, Modernity’s Pandemic Disease” interprets Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain” in a cultural and ideological vein. In “‘This Is My Faith!’ Religious and Connoted Vocabulary in Ego-Documents of Narodnism in Late 1870s — Early 1880s Russia”, Vitaly Fastovsky describes some examples of the use of religious vocabulary and Christian exaltation in secular autobiographical writings. In her short study “New World and Old Death: Urban Cemeteries in the 1920s—1930s USSR”, Anna Sokolova considers the theme of death, typical for decadence, in relation to the early Soviet era, with its orientation towards the future. Finally, the French essayist Danièle Sallenave offers an interpretation of one of the most important strands of decadent ways of thinking, ruins and the ruination of “the great past”, in an extract from “Le principe de ruine”, her book about a journey to India. Sallenave attempts to explain how many types of modernity she can see before her, and how “third-world” modernity co-exists with the ruins of colonial European modernity, which came to an end in these parts of the world.
From the theme of disease, dying and death considered in its material and immaterial aspects, to another part of a major cultural and political style that is decadence: its special relationship with the future. Recognising the return to the past as the future, decadence is willing to melancholically recall the times when the future existed. The second section of the issue, titled “Decay of the Future”, opens with a translated excerpt from “Imaginary Cities”, a book by Irish culturologist Darran Anderson, which analyses “images of the future” from several utopian books written in the late 19th and early 20th century. The British cultural commentator and architecture critic Owen Hatherley offers a completely unexpected view, interpreting the now world-famous slogan “Keep Calm and Carry on” as the embodiment of the current post-crisis nostalgia for 1940s—1950s “British socialism” (see a translated extract from his book “The Ministry of Nostalgia”). This is followed by three pieces on a cultural political trend that identifies the future with the return to a particular historical era. Here the “image of the future” is presented as the image of a heroic, “noble” and at the same time enchantingly grim past: the Middle Ages. Pop cultural images of “the Middle Ages”, needless to say, have nothing to do with the real period of European history; and yet, the further from the academically strict, scholarly discourse, the more powerful and attractive the popular image becomes. The American cultural scholar Richard Utz outlines the history of the notion of “New Medievalism”, from 19th-century amateur antiquaries to “Game of Thrones”, and from Donald Trump’s symbolic public gestures to groups of historical re-enactors. Dina Khapaeva projects the issues of New Medievalism (Neomedievalism) onto the Russian case in “Neomedievalism Plus Total Restalinisation of the Whole Country!”, while a piece by Artem Klyuev and Anton Sveshnikov presents a brief review of the historical re-enactment movement, from amateur groups to a business model and further, to political activities.
The second section is thematically linked to NZ regular columns. Nostalgia vs. melancholy, a major dilemma of a decadent mind, is analysed by Vladislav Degtyarev in “Proserpine’s Eternal Return: Melancholy on the Threshold of Decadence”. The same subject viewed in relation to a certain technique (writing, sound, audio recording) is further considered by Anatoly Ryasov, who uses contemporary material, touching upon the themes of hauntology and nostalgia for the future that never was (“An Imaginary Link Between Writing and the Past: Notes on Technique, Philosophy and Style”). One of the most powerful utopian images of the future, along with the remarkable fate of its creator are described in Dmitry Panchenko’s Case Study piece “Tommaso Campanella in the Last Year of the 16th Century”.
Another geographical, historical and sociocultural space where the notion of decadence existed is the late Soviet Union, from the beginning of Brezhnev’s rule to perestroika. This is the subject of the issue’s next section, “Late Soviet Decadence”. Here decadence is understood as an analytic framework referring to artistic thinking and social imagination, the products of a certain outlook typical for those times. The theme is introduced by Vadim Mikhailin’s article “A Disfigured Fragment: On the Nature of Late Soviet Decadence” and continued by Igor Kobylin, whose piece is centred on the Soviet TV series “Under Expert Investigation”. Nadezhda Grigoryeva shifts the focus to the times of perestroika, when the decay of the present and the prospect of the future (understood as the return to the brilliant past) were closely intertwined notions. Grigoryeva’s piece, “Underground Troubadours, or Perestroika of Decadence” talks about the late Soviet and perestroika-era rock music scene. Finally, Mikhail Anipkin sketches an “anthropological portrait of the last Soviet generation”.
The issue traditionally includes Alexander Kustarev’s column Political Imaginary (“The European People vs. The European Union: From Democracy to Aristocracy and Back”) and Alexey Levinson’s Sociological Lyrics (“Down the ‘Special Route’: Where to?”). Culture of Politics contains two pieces: Alek D. Epstein’s “Art Activism in the Times of Putin’s Third Term: The Descendants of Moscow Conceptualism and Sots-Art in the 21st Century”, and Alexey Golubev’s “Shame for the Nation: Affective Identification and Political Statement in Early 21st-Century Russia”. The issue ends with our regular New Books section, which includes Stepan Sureyko’s review of “The Traces of Holocaust in the Images of Polish Culture”.