Russia on the Edge

Russia on the Edge: Imagined Geographies and Post-Soviet Identity

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Russia on the Edge
    Book Description:

    Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russians have confronted a major crisis of identity. Soviet ideology rested on a belief in historical progress, but the post-Soviet imagination has obsessed over territory. Indeed, geographical metaphors-whether axes of north vs. south or geopolitical images of center, periphery, and border-have become the signs of a different sense of self and the signposts of a new debate about Russian identity. In Russia on the Edge, Edith W. Clowes argues that refurbished geographical metaphors and imagined geographies provide a useful perspective for examining post-Soviet debates about what it means to be Russian today.

    Clowes lays out several sides of the debate. She takes as a backdrop the strong criticism of Soviet Moscow and its self-image as uncontested global hub by major contemporary writers, among them Tatyana Tolstaya and Viktor Pelevin. The most vocal, visible, and colorful rightist ideologue, Aleksandr Dugin, the founder of neo-Eurasianism, has articulated positions contested by such writers and thinkers as Mikhail Ryklin, Liudmila Ulitskaia, and Anna Politkovskaia, whose works call for a new civility in a genuinely pluralistic Russia. Dugin's extreme views and their many responses-in fiction, film, philosophy, and documentary journalism-form the body of this book.

    In Russia on the Edge, literary and cultural critics will find the keys to a vital post-Soviet writing culture. For intellectual historians, cultural geographers, and political scientists the book is a guide to the variety of post-Soviet efforts to envision new forms of social life, even as a reconstructed authoritarianism has taken hold. The book introduces nonspecialist readers to some of the most creative and provocative of present-day Russia's writers and public intellectuals.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6066-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. [Map]
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. INTRODUCTION: Is Russia a Center or a Periphery?
    (pp. 1-18)

    The dissolution of the Soviet empire in 1991 unleashed waves of selfdoubt in many quarters of Russian life.¹ Throughout the 1990s Russians felt disempowered, politically adrift, lacking a sense of national dignity. As Viktor Pelevin joked in his 1993 novel, The Life of Insects, after 1991 Russians wondered whether Moscow was still the “Third Rome” [Tretii Rim], or, instead, had slipped into the “third world” [tretii mir].² The Russian word for “world” (mir) is the word for Rome (Rim) spelled backwards. Had Moscow—long a political and cultural center—now become merely a city on the peripheries of the influential...

    (pp. 19-42)

    Creative moments in the lives of the world’s major cities often come during times of identity crisis. Even before the return of Soviet Russia’s capital to Moscow in March 1918, the imperial Russian capital, St. Petersburg, experienced a crisis of identity—it had always been, as the great historian V. O. Kliuchevskii allegedly remarked, the “center on the periphery.”¹ In his path-breaking novel Petersburg (1916), Andrei Belyi brought to the surface the fissures in identity that had been widening throughout the nineteenth century—Asia versus Europe, center versus periphery, Mongol versus Slav, revolutionary versus bureaucrat. In Belyi’s rendition, St. Petersburg...

  8. 2 POSTMODERN IST EMPIRE MEETS HOLY RUS': How Aleksandr Dugin Tried to Change the Eurasian Periphery into the Sacred Center of the World
    (pp. 43-67)

    Since the late 1980s the fringe ultraconservative Aleksandr Dugin has become prominent in the public sphere, at first speaking from the far right of the Russian cultural and political spectrum, later merging into the mainstream, masquerading as a geopolitical theorist. Since 2000 he has enjoyed an audience among some right-wing, pro-Kremlin ideologues and more recently he has rebranded himself as a cultural critic. Stung by Russia’s post-Soviet regression into the background of world events, he has vociferously asserted outrageous ideas about Russian identity, using neo-imperial metaphors of Eurasian geography and territory. Dugin’s chief concern is the revival of Russian identity...

  9. 3 ILLUSORY EMPIRE: Viktor Pelevin’s Parody of Neo-Eurasianism
    (pp. 68-95)

    Among the most popular novels in post-Soviet Russia, Viktor Pelevin’s Chapaev and the Void (Chapaev i pustota, 1996), starts with a preface by an imaginary editor, who addresses his readers as the “peoples of Eurasia”—they are not Russians nor is Russia a place on the map.¹ The novel’s title refers to the popular Civil War hero Vasily Chapaev, the commander made famous in a 1923 novel, a 1930s film, and hundreds of jokes. Pelevin’s editor wants to bring his readers the “truth about Chapaev,” that “has been hidden for too long from the peoples of Eurasia” (ChP,9). The novel...

  10. 4 RUSSIA’S DECONSTRUCTIONIST WESTERNIZER: Mikhail Ryklin’s “Larger Space of Europe” Confronts Holy Rus'
    (pp. 96-119)

    Returning to Berlin in January 1927 from a two-month stay in Moscow, Walter Benjamin wrote scathingly of his home city: “For someone who has arrived from Moscow, Berlin is a dead city. The people on the street seem desperately isolated, each one at a great distance from the next. All alone in the midst of a broad stretch of street. . . . What is true of the image of the city and its inhabitants is also applicable to its mentality: the new perspective one gains on this is the most indisputable consequence of a stay in Russia.”¹ Almost seventy-five...

  11. 5 THE PERIPHERY AND ITS NARRATIVES: Liudmila Ulitskaia’s Imagined South
    (pp. 120-139)

    In the critical discourse about national identity since the mid-1980s the figure of the north-south geo-cultural axis has begun to compete with the east-west axis of modern Russian consciousness and of traditional “orientalism.”¹ The post-Soviet debate about the definition of “Russian” and “outsider” refers to both, although certainly more than before to the north-south axis. The issue of the stature of post-Soviet Russia is couched solidly in north-south terms. For example, the worry in the 1990s of Russia turning into a “banana republic” draws on a decidedly southern image from the post-colonial world.² In his novel The Life of Insects...

  12. 6 DEMONIZING THE POST-SOVIET OTHER: The Chechens and the Muslim South
    (pp. 140-164)

    In the Russian geographical imagination the Caucasus Mountains have long been the site of exotic nature and untamed humanity, the Other, resistant to the perceived civilizing forces of Russian empire. The Caucasus embody life force. They are a place where the Russian protagonist feels both reinvigorated and threatened, discovering himself through confronting alien people. We think of Mikhail Lermontov’s letters from the Caucasus. While climbing Krestovaia Mountain in 1837, he wrote: “really I can’t explain or describe this amazing feeling: for me the mountain air is balsam; away with melancholy, my heart is beating, my chest breathes high—at this...

    (pp. 165-172)

    Who is a Russian? Where is Russian identity located? Why is Russia in such trouble, as Petr Pustota quips in Pelevin’s novel? And is there a solution? Was the end of the Soviet Union the catastrophe of the century that Putin claimed it was? Or was it an opportunity to think differently about being Russian? Since the early 1990s Russian public discourse has divulged an obsession with the geographical ideas of center and periphery and with the question of post-Soviet Russia’s global status—whether as a center or a periphery. While insisting that Moscow return to its former glory as...

  14. INDEX
    (pp. 173-180)