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Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More

Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation

Alexei Yurchak
Series: In-Formation
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More
    Book Description:

    Soviet socialism was based on paradoxes that were revealed by the peculiar experience of its collapse. To the people who lived in that system the collapse seemed both completely unexpected and completely unsurprising. At the moment of collapse it suddenly became obvious that Soviet life had always seemed simultaneously eternal and stagnating, vigorous and ailing, bleak and full of promise. Although these characteristics may appear mutually exclusive, in fact they were mutually constitutive. This book explores the paradoxes of Soviet life during the period of "late socialism" (1960s-1980s) through the eyes of the last Soviet generation.

    Focusing on the major transformation of the 1950s at the level of discourse, ideology, language, and ritual, Alexei Yurchak traces the emergence of multiple unanticipated meanings, communities, relations, ideals, and pursuits that this transformation subsequently enabled. His historical, anthropological, and linguistic analysis draws on rich ethnographic material from Late Socialism and the post-Soviet period.

    The model of Soviet socialism that emerges provides an alternative to binary accounts that describe that system as a dichotomy of official culture and unofficial culture, the state and the people, public self and private self, truth and lie--and ignore the crucial fact that, for many Soviet citizens, the fundamental values, ideals, and realities of socialism were genuinely important, although they routinely transgressed and reinterpreted the norms and rules of the socialist state.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4910-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Chapter 1 Late Socialism: An Eternal State
    (pp. 1-35)

    “It had never even occurred to me that in the Soviet Union anything could ever change. Let alone that it could disappear. No one expected it. Neither children, nor adults. There was a complete impression that everything was forever.” So spoke Andrei Makarevich, the famous songwriter and musician,² in a televised interview (1994). In his published memoirs, Makarevich later remembered that he, like millions of Soviet citizens, had always felt that he lived in an eternal state (vechnoe gosudarstvo) (2002, 14). It was not until around 1986 and 1987, when reforms of perestroika (reconstruction) were already afoot, that the possibility...

  5. Chapter 2 Hegemony of Form: Stalinʹs Uncanny Paradigm Shift
    (pp. 36-76)

    The protagonist of a popular Soviet television comedy released in 1975, The Irony of Fate (Ironiia sud’by), gets drunk with his buddies in a Moscow sauna on New Year’s Eve and by accident ends up on a plane to Leningrad. Upon arriving in Leningrad, the drunk hero, still thinking he is in Moscow, gives a taxi driver his Moscow address. A street of the same name, Second Street of Builders (Vtoraia ulitsa stroitelei), exists in Leningrad; as in Moscow, the street is located in a new district built in the 1970s on the outskirts of the city. The big apartment...

  6. Chapter 3 Ideology Inside Out: Ethics and Poetics
    (pp. 77-125)

    A fascinating mixture of sarcasm and nostalgia—for both the recently ended socialism and the new post-Soviet capitalism—animates Victor Pelevin’s book Generation P (1999), which takes place in Russia in the first post-Soviet decade. The book’s title refers to the last Soviet generation, to which Pelevin, born in 1962, himself belongs. In one scene the protagonist, Tatarsky, a member of this generation, is drinking with his former party boss, telling him how impressed he used to be, during the Soviet period, with the boss’s skills in writing ideological texts of a powerful rhetorical form and no obvious meaning:


  7. Chapter 4 Living ʺVnyeʺ: Deterritorialized Milieus
    (pp. 126-157)

    Writer Sergei Dovlatov wrote about the passions of the “sixtiers” (shestidesiatniki) generation²: “Neils Bohr used to say, ‘There are clear truths and deep truths. A clear truth is opposed by a lie. A deep truth is opposed by another equally deep truth.’ … My friends were preoccupied with clear truths. We spoke about the freedom of art, the right for information, the respect for human dignity” (1993, 23). This preoccupation with clear truths has also been called “the honesty psychosis” and “the active obsession with categorizing life choices as honest and dishonest” (Gessen 1997, 114). Dovlatov compares this concern with...

  8. Chapter 5 Imaginary West: The Elsewhere of Late Socialism
    (pp. 158-206)

    A joke popular in the Soviet Union in the 1970s went like this:

    One man says to another: “I want to go to Paris again.”

    The second one exclaims in disbelief: “What!? You’ve been to Paris before?”

    The first one replies: “No, but I have wanted to go before.”

    The joke exploited the profound paradox within the concept of zagranitsa, which literally means beyond the border and in practice means “that which is abroad.” Zagranitsa came to reflect the peculiar combination of insularity and worldliness in Soviet culture. Most Soviet people believed that the communist ideals and values they represented...

  9. Chapter 6 The True Colors of Communism: King Crimson, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd
    (pp. 207-237)

    Western rock and roll had a phenomenal appeal to the Soviet youth coming of age in the 1970s. This music became such a ubiquitous and vibrant part of Soviet youth culture that the party sought a more nuanced understanding of its effects on ideological convictions. In the early 1980s two famous sociologists of youth who were both ardent party members of an older generation organized debates with young Soviet audiences around the country, intending to explore the extent of Western mass culture’s influence on the lives of Soviet youth. In the debates, the sociologists provoked their audiences by arguing that...

  10. Chapter 7 Dead Irony: Necroaesthetics, ʺStiob,ʺ and the Anekdot
    (pp. 238-281)

    Around 1980 a curious group of artists called Mit’ki (pronounced meet- KEE) appeared in Leningrad. Its members turned their daily existence into an aesthetic project, performing the practice of living grotesquely vnye (inside/outside) the sociopolitical concerns of the system. According to the group’s mythology, a real Mitëk (singular of Mit’ki, pronounced mee-TYOK) did not know any “news” of the Soviet world, did not read newspapers or watch television, and did not even go shopping unless absolutely necessary. In fact, he knew only two local shops, a wine shop and a bread shop. The fact that the Mit’ki made no effort...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 282-298)

    This book began with a paradox: the spectacular collapse of the Soviet Union was completely unexpected by most Soviet people and yet, as soon as people realized that something unexpected was taking place, most of them also immediately realized that they had actually been prepared for that unexpected change. Millions became quickly engrossed, making the collapse simultaneously unexpected, unsurprising, and amazingly fast. This complex succession of the unexpected and the unsurprising revealed a peculiar paradox at the core of the Soviet system. For years that system managed to inhabit incommensurable positions: it was everlasting and steadily declining, full of vigor...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 299-318)
  13. Index
    (pp. 319-332)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 333-333)