The Visual Dominant in Eighteenth-Century Russia
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: Northern Illinois University Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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A book that has taken this long to produce accumulates debts too numerous to repay but which at moments like this deserve to be made visible. My profound gratitude goes to the many friends and colleagues who have provided advice, encouragement, criticism, and stimulating dialogue over the years. These include: Victor Zhivov, Irina Reyfman, Alexander Levitsky, Gitta Ham-...
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The Enlightenment emphasis on vision as the privileged means of understanding the world played a particularly important role in the development of modern Russian culture, for which the imperative to become visible, to be seen was a central motivation and goal. This, in short, is the central proposition of this book. The French philosopher Bruno Latour has written that “a new visual culture...
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For many people, including many Russians, modern Russian culture begins with the nineteenth century. Before that, there is nothing, a great blank or but a faint glimmer in the dark. The central role of Peter the Great in “turning Russia to the West” in the early eighteenth century is acknowledged, but the subsequent hundred years is more or less of a blind spot, an interim or at best a preparatory phase, a lacuna...
Chapter Two—The Moment of the Muses
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The desire for visibility undoubtedly plays an important part in all human activity, and especially in political culture, in which ostentatious display may bolster and legitimize an individual’s—or a regime’s—hold on power. Such self-presentation figured centrally in Russia’s early modern stage of national development. Displaying Russia “on the stage of universal fame,” as pictured in the Petrine scenario, involved an anticipatory vision of future greatness, of maturity and completeness...
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A fundamental structural problem of monotheism concerns the knowability of God. If God is by definition a perfect and absolute being, existing on a transcendent level that is inaccessible to human beings, how can He be known or communicate with us? On the one hand, there are the various miraculous forms of revelation, either through special intermediaries (angels, messengers, prophets, or, like Jesus, an incarnation into human flesh) or via more or less direct...
Chapter Four—The Staging of the Self
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Russian classicist tragedy, which dealt predominantly with historical subject matter, represents a further stage in the dynamic of Russian self-consciousness. The mirror-stage model again offers a compelling framework, insofar as this development is experienced as “a temporal dialectic that decisively projects the formation of the individual into history.”1 History emerges as a crucial arena,...
Chapter Five—Virtue Must Advertise
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The focus of previous chapters has been the images of the jubilant self in triumphal odes and the heroic self retrospectively projected back into history in tragedy, which offered a validation of an ideal self exalted by tragic circumstances. In this chapter the analysis is extended to apply the values expressed in tragedy to the sphere of ethics and self-representation. In this sphere as well, eighteenth-century Russian...
Chapter Six—The Seen, the Unseen, and the Obvious
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In this chapter, the ideal associated with true vision will be asserted and challenged in two types of mostly poetic works. The first group exemplifies the discourse of “physicotheology,” which asserted that the visual evidence of the physical world attests to the rational structure of the universe and proves the existence of God. The second group, associated with the Book of Ecclesiastes, took a more skeptical stance, describing...
Chapter Seven—The Icon That Started a Riot
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Attitudes toward vision are examined in this chapter—not as expressed in literary or philosophical works, but as they clashed at a particular historical moment, during Moscow’s infamous Plague Riot (chumnyi bunt) of September 15–17 (old style), 1771, that was sparked by the struggle for control of an icon. The riot, in which a murderous mob rampaged through the Kremlin and other parts of the city, claimed the...
Chapter Eight—The Dialectic of Vision in Radishchev’s Journey
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If the triumphal odes offered a comforting vision of greatness; and Russian historical tragedies validated virtue in extreme circumstances; if memoirs and essays on ethics defended the love of honor and self affirmation; and physicotheological works confirmed the obviousness of virtue; if Catherine’s politics argued...
Conclusion—Russian Culture as a Mirage
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Radishchev’s successive stages of vision offer a striking illustration of Latour’s proposition, with which this book opened, that “a new visual culture redefines both what it is to see, and what there is to see.”2 What Radishchev saw—joyful images of Russian greatness alternating with visions of misery and reproach—was defined by a complex negotiation between inner and outer perception, moral and psychological...
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Page Count: 357
Illustrations: 8 halftones
Publication Year: 2011