NLO № 139 focuses to a significant degree on reconceptualizing the twentieth-century legacy of the humanities. The issue’s contributors address four major theoretical programs: that of the Formalists, of O.M. Freidenberg, Yu.M. Lotman and M.L. Gasparov. The articles on the Formalists and Lotman ask explicitly how the ideas of these classic thinkers of the humanities can be used in today’s context. The pieces dedicated to Gas-parov and Freidenberg touch in a more indirect way on matters connected to the scholars’ work: the publication and analysis of previously unpublished materials connected to Gasparov’s literary scholarship and of Freidenberg’s Siege-era notebooks (a survey of her scholarly legacy can also be found in the “Chronicle of Scholarly Life”).
Russian Formalism’s Second Century (In Anticipation of the Collection Era of Ostranenie)
(Editors: Jan Levchenko, Igor Pilshchikov)
This section reflects the results of a 2013 congress held in Moscow, which was timed to coincide with the hundred-year anniversary of Russian Formalism, and anticipates a collection of articles on the themes of the conference soon to be published by the NLO publishing house. Russian Formalism is a fairly well-researched topic, and NLO frequently publishes materials addressing the Formalists’ theoretical views and the context of their scholarly efforts. The authors of this group of articles seek to describe the contemporary state of Formalist ideas, their fate and relevance to the humanities today.
In “Art, Law, and Science in the Modernist Key: Shklovsky, Schmitt, Popper,” Peter Steiner asks why the concept of ostranenie, despite its obvious vagueness, has enjoyed worldwide fame for more than one hundred years. The reason for this, as Steiner argues, lies in the fact that it fits well the modernist epis-temological paradigm that utilizes the notion of exceptionality as its primary explanatory principle. The logic underlying Viktor Shklovsky’s understanding of art in terms of frustrated expectations bears striking similarity to Carl Schmitt’s determination, which finds the ultimate source of legality in the state of emergency (Ausnahmezustand) as well as to Karl Popper’s demarcation of scientific hypothesis on the basis of its singular falsifiability by empirical facts.
In “Non-Art in Formalist Aesthetic Theory,” Igor P. Smirnov examines the central controversy of Russian Formalism, which lay in the extrusion of sense from the work of literature. Having replaced the very notion of the practical meaning of art, this theory was fraught with the problem of art and non-art being indistinguishable. The mature period of OPOYaZ theory, the mid-1920s, was
so full of arguments and illustrations that it rapidly reached a point of crisis, or, so to speak, self-cancellation. The Formalists were pressed to define their own theory as a phenomenon of history. The radical renouncement of meaning – the most popular notion of early Formalism – turned to its compensatory expansion as soon as the school attempted to review and renew its own terms. In this respect, Russian Formalism easily continued nineteenth-century discussions about litera ture being strictly polarized between the notions of life and art.
In France, reception of the Russian Formalists can’t be separated from the development of structuralism in the 1960s. The main intermediaries have been, to varying degrees, Roman Jakobson, Tsve tan Todorov and Gérard Genette. After this first approbation, more historical readings followed, often by specialists of Russian culture. But what was Shklovsky’s place in this fairly consistent reception of Russian Formalism? In “The Ideas of Victor Shklovsky in France: Translation and Reception (1965-2011),”Catherine Depretto discusses the history of French translations of Shklovsky, which successively highlighted the writer, the theoretician of literature, and then of the cinema. Depretto also asks if these different stages correspond to the history of the reception of Formalism, or if Shklovsky’s case is somehow special.
The second article, Robert Bird’s “Between Symbolism and Socialist Realism Against Formalism: Pavel Medvedev, Andrey Belyi, and Boris Pasternak on the Edge of the 1930s.” As a Marxist theorist of literature and culture, Pavel Medvedev formulated his most important ideas in polemics with the formalists. As a historian of literature and an editor for the state publishing house, Medvedev left his most abiding traces in the work of Aleksandr Blok, Andrei Belyi and Boris Pasternak. On the basis of his writings and his correspondence with Belyi and Pasternak, Bird attempts to define the common ground between Medvedev’s Marxist aesthetics and symbolist legacy, and also to define the point of their common disagreement with formalism.
FROM THE PHILOLOGICAL LEGACY
I. Yuri Lotman
The articles in this section focus first and foremost on the late works of Yu.M. Lot-man, in which the scholar arrived at broad philosophical generalizations that in the 1980s-1990s seemed mostly speculative. Furthermore, Lotman was unable to see much of this work through to the finish. However, in more recent times the models proposed in Lot-man’s late works have turned out to be unexpectedly relevant in light of recent developments in the social sciences. The Lotmanian ideas of dynamic systems with membrane-like borders; the center and periphery, which trade places and even spill over into one another; an explosive mode of evolution with moments that sharply increase the degree of prognostic unpredictability (‘contingency’); the egalitarian coexistence and shared dialogue of different cultural systems, with the refusal of one system to dominate the other – all of these notions are finding parallels in contemporary social science and humanities knowledge. The articles in this section analyze which of Lotman’s ideas have been received to the greatest degree by the humanities in contemporary Russia.
In “Yuri Lotman on the Text: Ideas, Problems, Perspectives,” Suren Zolyan seeks to generalize, systematize and discuss possible developments of Lot-man’s ideas about the text as a generator of meanings, and about the unity of its structural, communicative and pragmatic aspects. Zolyan exami nes the following questions: 1) the prag matic and socio-cultural criteria for distinguishing text from ‘not-text’; 2) the text as a heterogeneous, polylingual and polysemantic object; 3) text and addressee; the active role of the reader in revealing the semantic potential of the text; the text in the process of communication and interpretation; 4) the text as dynamic object (“self-expanding logos”); the triad of ‘text – intellect – culture (the semiosphere).’ Zolyan demonstrates that for Lotman the concept of the text (and its distinction from not-text) was dynamic, appearing as a function of three variables: the sign composition, the addressee and the context. As a furthe r development of these ideas, Zolyan proposes describing the semantics of the text as a system of relations (functions) between a multitude of possible worlds and a multitude of possible contexts.
In “‘I don’t like this figure at all’: Lot-man on Eisenstein as a Predecessor to Structuralism,” in light of Yu.M. Lotman’s negative relationship to S.M. Eisenstein, Mikhail Trunin examines a number of Lotman’s judgments regarding the film director. Trunin analyzes memoirs and archival documents as well as published texts, and shows that the key point of divergence between Lotman and Eisenstein was the question of historical fact.
Vadim Parsamov contributes the article “On a Series of Lectures that Lotman Never Gave (‘The Decembrists’ Era’).” In the late 1980s, Yu. M. Lotman was planning to offer a special lecture series called “The Decembrists’ Era.” The lectures never happened, but the syllabus remains. Comparing this syllabus with earlier works by Lotman on the history of the Decembrist movement, as well as with his unpublished correspondence with Yu. G. Oksman, Parsamov is able to reconstruct the probable content of the lecture series and to trace the evolution of Lotman’s views on the liberation movement in Russia.
II. Mikhail Gasparov
This section presents the publication of part of the scholarly and epistolary legacy of M.L. Gasparov – Gasparov as a scholar of Russian poetry of the first half of the twentieth century (primarily of poets like Osip Mandelstam and Maria Shkapskaya). Included are materials connected with Gasparov’s work on the Mandelstam Encyclopedia (some articles he wrote for the encyclopedia on key poems by Mandelstam, editorial notes and presentations at a roundtable discussion devoted to the encylopedia), as well as letters from Gasparov to another scholar of Russian modernist poetry, Viacheslav Sapo-gov, who was preparing part of Maria Shapskaya’s poetic legacy for publication and consulting with Gasparov in this connection.
Pavel Nerler presents “Mikhail Gaspa rov and the Mandelstam Encyclopedia,” a collection of materials written by M.L. Gas-parov in connection with the Mandelstam Encyclopedia, inclu ding comments on the glossary, a 2001 round-table presentation on the project, and a fragment from a body of articles prepared by Gaspa-rov for the encyclopedia (on the poems “I don’t know since when…”, “The Horseshoe Finder,” and “Milemarkers of the distant transport…”). The publication is preceded by a brief description of Gas-parov as a Mandelstam scholar and as author of the Mandelstam Encyclopedia.
In “‘She deserves to be remembered’: Mari a Shkapskaya in M.L. Gasparov’s Letters to V.A. Sapogov,” Pavel Glu-shakov describes the scholarly contact between Gasparov and Sapogov, a scholar of early twentieth-century Russian literature. In particular, the two scholars were both inte rested in the personality and literary work of a forgotten Silver Age poetess, M.M. Shkap skaya, and devoted great efforts toward resurrecting her name and publi shing her poetry. The article also includes letter s about Shkapskaya written by Gasparov to Sapogov.
III. Sofia Starkina
Sofia Starkina was a specialist on the Russian avantgarde, particularly on the works of Velimir Khlebnikov, whose first scholarly biography she authored. This section includes a bibliography of her work and a previously unpublished article, “Aleksei Kruchenykh and Velimir Khlebnikov as Co-authors: New Materials.” This article discusses oeuvres co-authored by Khlebnikov and Kruchenykh. A particular emphasis is put on unpublished texts including poems by Kruchenykh intensively edited by Khleb-nikov. Poetics of this texts and polarity of their authors’ interests is analyzed. It is argued that other examples of collaboration between these two prominent figures of Russian avant-garde may be discovered among the manuscripts of 1910s.
Writing as Anthropology Of the Everyday Life of the “Soviet Person”
This section presents two articles demonstrating the anthropological experience of the “Soviet person” through the logic of everyday writing. Everyday writing (diaries, notes, reports, etc.) was a practice that allowed the writer to construct his/her Soviet identity or, stubbornly resisting it, to turn to writing as a means of survival.
The protagonist of Irina Paperno’ s “‘The Siege of Human Being’: Olga Freidenberg’s Notes from the Leningrad Blockade in Anthropological Perspective” was one of the key theorists of the twentieth-century Russian humanities, though she remains largely unread. Paperno examines Freidenberg’s notes from the Siege of Leningrad through the
prism of her theoretical views, showing that, in describing the experience of Siege everyday life, Freidenberg took the position of an anthropologist and ethnographer with regard to her own experience. Her notes are distinguished by an acute political orientation – field observations sit side-by-side with theoretical generalizations, formulated in the categories of philosophical anthropology and political philosophy.
In “The Economy of Writing: the Mediali-zation of the Chelyuskin Robinsonade,” Galina Orlova analyzes the process of medializing the Chelyuskinites. Like Leningrad under siege, the ice-floe was a sort of island in a state of emergency. The everyday writing of the Chelyus-kinites in their isolated Arctic simultaneously reflected and constituted the anthropological experience of the writers. However, in this case Orlova discusses the construction of the “bright Soviet future”: the Arctic ice-floe as a collective project embodied the utopian creation of the new Soviet person.
Both articles offer an analysis of “Soviet” everyday experience in light of the concepts of writing, corporeality and power as articulated by philosophers like Hannah Arendt, Michel de Certeau, Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben.
Poetic Experience – Community Experience
The articles that make up this small section represent attempts to answer one of the key questions in thinking about contemporary literature – what is the nature of a literary community? In order to answer this question, one must also clarify what it is that connects and maintains the ties between people who write, while simultaneously demarcating them from society at large; what communicative strategies exist within the community; and finally, what are the distinguishing features of the texts generated by this particular type of community life. The artic les proffer answers to these questions using a broad range of materials: from the community of German Romantics that existed in actual space to the mostly virtual communities of modern Russian poetry, which include participants who have already died.
Ivan Boldyrev’s “Secrets and Community: the Place of History in Eleusis” presents a commentary on H.W.F. Hegel’s Eleusis (1796). Boldyrev discusses a paradox: insisting on the ontological inadequacy of language, Hegel simultaneously emphasizes the need to keep secrets. The author discusses this seemingly senseless concealment from a philosophical-historical perspective, from the viewpoint of the decline of the present and the anticipation of a co ming community of the consecrated. The dialogue between Hegel and Hölderlin, and their discussion of mysteries that have no determined content, demonstrate how a vow of silence can become indistinguishable from the need to share a secret, and how this publicity is connected to the very essence of a speculative dialectics, with its vulnerability both literary and political.
Since the beginnings of the secular era, when religion grew unable to provide a universal base for community formation in the European context, poetry – linked with philosophical thought – has been seeking for ways of building a community still founded on spirituality but freed from religious dogma. The era of Romanticism tried to resolve this crisis through the affirmation of inspiration and creativity. Аnna Glazova’s “The Night Community” starts by questioning the presuppositions of the Romantic notion of creative freedom and moves on to discuss various instances in contemporary Russian poetry where the question whether a poetic community is possible has been raised anew.
In “A Community beyond the Text,” Igor Gulin proposes the existence of a dimension of collectivity in otherwise complicated, slippery literary texts. Through examining primarily prose works by Sergey Sokolovsky and Arseny Rovinsky, Gulin looks for places in the writing that act as points for the emergence of a community. These places are found in the space that lies beyond the text, which resists interpretation and requires a different method of reading, one founded on trusting the other’s linguistic gestures.
Between Prose and Poetry
This section presents articles treating contemporary experimental “hybrid” literature, perched on the border between prose and poetry. The past few years have seen this area become ever more important for contemporary Russian poetry, which is in the process of seeking intermediate forms between the poetic and the prose text (along the lines of English ‘prose-poetry’ or French poèmes en prose). Due to the efforts of poetry scholars (including M.L. Gasparov) and the poetic tastemakers who followed their judgments, the border between poetry and prose remained untouchable for most of the twentieth century; only recently, with the decline in influence of Russian poetry scholarship on poetic practice, has this boundary begun to blur.
The section opens with Galina V. Zalomkina’s “Autres horribles travail-leurs? The Cognitive Transcendence of Contemporary Russian Poets in Light of the Aesthetics of Rimbaud’s Voyance.” The work of a number of contemporary Russian poets shows the influence of specific aesthetic principles discovered by A. Rimbaud, who considered the main purpose of poetry to be the overcoming of the limits of cognitive experience. Vagueness, entanglement, and heterogeneity of the poetic utterance presuppose considerable effort of the part of the reader in order to catch the multidimensional and variable meanings stemming from the combinatory and associative potentials of language, and subject to active cogitation. Liberation from the clichés of perception opens the way to unfamiliar aspects of reality and language, and leads to a new type of writing which does not distinguish between prose and poetry. Unlike Rimbaud, contemporary Russian poets do not consider the transformation and intensification of perception to be traumatic, and the whirlwind of cognitive possibilities is the main source of balanced joy.
In “The Body Not Speaking and the Instant of Silence (In the Context of Underground Poetry),” Boris Kolymagin examines the relationship between the body of not-speaking and the instant of silence through unofficial Soviet-era poetry. The corporeality of silence is connected with spatial, tactile and psychological
characteristics. The corporeality of the instant – the blink of an eye – depends on the work of the eyelid. Kolymagin highlights strong and weak silence, poetic and pre-poetic silence. Considering the experience of silence in verse, analyzing the voids and choruses of not-speaking, he concludes that the instant of silence is organically present in poetry and constitutes part of poetic speech.
In “Between Poetry and Prose,” Igor Vishnevetsky presents a short comparative analysis of two experimental books, both winners of the 2015 Andrey Bely prize: Sergei Zavyalov’s Soviet Cantatas (poetry prize) and Polina Barskova’s Tableaux Vivants/Living Pictures (prose prize). Both collections are examined in the context of the authors’ creative paths. Vish nevetsky also discusses the liminal literary practices that are moving Zavyalov and Barskova, along with other experimental Russian writers, beyond the limits of strict divisions between poetry and prose. He proposes looking at the ‘prosaicization’ of experimental verse, as well as experimental prose’s appropriation of elements of the ‘poetic utterance’ as a highly productive trend in the development of contemporary Russian literature.
Issue № 139 also presents surveys of new literature in the humanities, in-depth reviews of works of contemporary literature (including poetry), and a survey of key events in scholarly life. Furthermore, the “Bibliography” section includes a survey of “Intellectual History Today: Nostalgia for Interdisciplinary Transfer, Eclecticism and Problems of Theory,” which examines recent publications in intellectual history toward distinguishing key trends in the discipline over the past several years. The “Chronicle of Scholarly Life” includes a survey of the XXIII Lotman Readings, which were devoted completely to the life and scholarly legacy of O.M. Freidenberg (also the subject of one of the issue’s articles – see above), and of the conference “Russian Formalism & Eastern and Central European Literary Theory: A Centenary View”.