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Russia on the Edge

Imagined Geographies and Post-Soviet Identity

Edith W. Clowes

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: Cornell University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-v

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pp. ix-xv

In January 1986, the new Borovitskaia Metro Station opened by the Kremlin wall in central Moscow. Built to remind the visitor of the low-arching hallways of the medieval Kremlin, the station’s visual centerpiece is a vast, gold and burnt orange mural depicting the map of the Soviet Union and its peoples growing as a tree among the towers of the Kremlin. Fifteen impassive human ...


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pp. xvii-xviii

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Introduction: Is Russia a Center or a Periphery?

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pp. 1-18

The dissolution of the Soviet empire in 1991 unleashed waves of self-doubt 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], ...

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1. Deconstructing Imperial Moscow

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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 ...

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2. Postmodernist Empire Meets Holy Rus': How Aleksandr Dugin Tried to Change the Eurasian Periphery into the Sacred Center of the World

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pp. 43-67

Since the late 1980s the fringe ultraconservative Aleksandr Dugin has become prominent in the public sphere, at fi rst 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 ...

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3. Illusory Empire: Viktor Pelevin’s Parody of Neo-Eurasianism

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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...

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4. Russia’s Deconstructionist Westernizer: Mikhail Ryklin’s “Larger Space of Europe” Confronts Holy Rus'

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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 ...

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5. The Periphery and Its Narratives: Liudmila Ulitskaia’s Imagined South

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pp. 120-139

In the critical discourse about national identity since the mid-1980s the fi gure 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 defi nition of “Russian” and “outsider” refers to both, although certainly more than before to the ...

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6. Demonizing the Post-Soviet Other: The Chechens and the Muslim South

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pp. 140-163

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 ...

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pp. 165-171

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 ...


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pp. 173-179

E-ISBN-13: 9780801460661
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801448560

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 732957154
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Russia on the Edge

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Russian literature -- 21st century -- History and criticism.
  • Russian literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • National characteristics, Russian, in literature.
  • Nationalism and literature -- Russia (Federation).
  • Cultural geography -- Russia (Federation).
  • Territory, National -- Russia (Federation).
  • Russia (Federation) -- Intellectual life -- 1991-.
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