The Captive and the Gift

The Captive and the Gift: Cultural Histories of Sovereignty in Russia and the Caucasus

Bruce Grant
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 216
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Captive and the Gift
    Book Description:

    The Caucasus region of Eurasia, wedged in between the Black and Caspian Seas, encompasses the modern territories of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, as well as the troubled republic of Chechnya in southern Russia. A site of invasion, conquest, and resistance since the onset of historical record, it has earned a reputation for fearsome violence and isolated mountain redoubts closed to outsiders. Over extended efforts to control the Caucasus area, Russians have long mythologized stories of their countrymen taken captive by bands of mountain brigands.

    In The Captive and the Gift, the anthropologist Bruce Grant explores the long relationship between Russia and the Caucasus and the means by which sovereignty has been exercised in this contested area. Taking his lead from Aleksandr Pushkin's 1822 poem "Prisoner of the Caucasus," Grant explores the extraordinary resonances of the themes of violence, captivity, and empire in the Caucasus through mythology, poetry, short stories, ballet, opera, and film. Grant argues that while the recurring Russian captivity narrative reflected a wide range of political positions, it most often and compellingly suggested a vision of Caucasus peoples as thankless, lawless subjects of empire who were unwilling to acknowledge and accept the gifts of civilization and protection extended by Russian leaders.

    Drawing on years of field and archival research, Grant moves beyond myth and mass culture to suggest how real-life Caucasus practices of exchange, by contrast, aimed to control and diminish rather than unleash and increase violence. The result is a historical anthropology of sovereign forms that underscores how enduring popular narratives and close readings of ritual practices can shed light on the management of pluralism in long-fraught world areas.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6019-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxi)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xxii-xxiv)
  6. 1 Promethean Beginnings
    (pp. 1-18)

    The classic political theory of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau long ago focused on the kinds of social contracts inherent in sovereign rule, where sovereignty itself might be thought of simply as “supremacy” with respect to leadership—the established right to rule over others through force, custom, or law. Talk of contracts invites consideration of broad, structural dimensions to which so many studies of sovereignty have confined themselves—the absolutisms of collective good, the legitimacies and necessities of monopolies over the use of force—yet as many scholars have noted, we see less attention to how sovereignty actually operates, how such...

  7. 2 Histories of Encounter, Raidings, and Trade
    (pp. 19-42)

    Historians of the Caucasus have long labored to find just the right metaphors to suggest Russia’s long series of encounters in the Caucasus region. The entrance of Russian forces into the diminished Persian realms of the South Caucasus on the heels of Peter the Great’s decisive victory over Sweden was intended to constitute another Russian success story in the early eighteenth century. Yet it soon became known among Russian publics as the proverbial kavkazskii uzel, or “Caucasian knot,” a tightly wound problem, hard to understand, harder to undo, and very man-made. “From the very beginning,” the Russian historian Lazarev wrote,...

  8. 3 Noble Giving, Noble Taking
    (pp. 43-62)

    With the flurry of decolonization and the rise of new states across the twentieth century, it became commonplace for scholars to look back and remark upon the depredations of imperial rule everywhere. Yet not all imperial forms of rule operated by the same logics, giving rise to a wide number of recent studies that reflect on how imperial rulers and their armies of administrators narrated and sustained the logics of conquest for themselves (Burbank and Ransel 1998; Calhoun, Cooper, and Moore 2006; Pagden 1995). While scholarship shows how civilizational hierarchies have been animated by the experience of difference, simply put—...

  9. 4 Rites of Encounter: Brides, Brigands, and Fire Bringers
    (pp. 63-90)

    When I first began work on the Caucasus, an experienced colleague in Moscow offered some advice. “The problem with the Caucasus,” she said, “is that social science fears that kind of place—as if it is all just too much. Too many peoples, too many languages, too much to take in. So everyone takes cover under their own roof, working in one village, with one dialect, maybe one century. When you study the Caucasus, you have to take it all as one.” I nodded approvingly, but in truth, I blanched at the prospect of what I knew she meant—the...

  10. 5 Captive Russians
    (pp. 91-123)

    Did Russia need to “bribe [its] spirit” (podkupit' nash dukh) with missions across the Black Sea, the Caucasus, and central Asia? In these famous lines, Dostoyevsky captured one of the many paradoxes of the gift of empire. In his Writer’s Diary of January 1881, Dostoyevsky celebrated the recent victories of Russian armies in Turkestan led by General Mikhail Skobelev, once of the Caucasus regiments and a decorated leader in the Russo-Turkish war (1877–1878), when Russia aimed to gain access to the Mediterranean and liberate Slavic peoples from Ottoman rule. Without question, Russia looked south and east for material reasons....

  11. 6 Caucasian Reflections
    (pp. 124-155)

    Struggles over sovereignty have long focused on the language of bodies—real and imagined—because so much of the supremacy inherent in sovereign forms comes in the exercise of power over human life itself, between taking and protecting it (Agamben 1998; Foucault 1997; Hansen and Stepputat 2006). Perhaps one of the reasons that the figure of Prometheus, one of the most famous captive bodies ever held in the Caucasus, has served so many changing scenes of political rule in the Caucasus for at least twenty-eight centuries is that firm stewardship in the Caucasus region by would-be overseers was never entirely...

  12. 7 From Prometheus to the Present
    (pp. 156-162)

    Empires, like the more abstract category of sovereignty that they look to exercise, are not concrete structures but flexible organizations based on ever-moving, contested relationships. The stability of empire, as in all forms of political rule, comes as often from the arts of persuasion—the logics by which sovereignty can be naturalized—as from the power of the sword. In both Russian and Caucasus histories of encounter, the gift became an increasingly shared natural logic of sovereign rule, perhaps among the oldest in anyone’s political playbook. We are all told to beware of strangers bearing gifts.

    The language of the...

  13. Glossary
    (pp. 163-164)
  14. References
    (pp. 165-184)
  15. Index
    (pp. 185-188)