- On Deconstruction and Ethnicity
In a recent issue, Kritika published a review by Edward L. Keenan of Tat′iana Vilkul’s Liudi i kniaz′ v drevnerusskikh letopisiakh serediny XI–XIII vv. (The People and the Prince in Medieval Russian Chronicles of the 11th–13th Centuries).1 In his review, Mr. Keenan also referenced my own evaluation of Vilkul’s book and provided some pointed criticism of my views on Vilkul’s monograph.
While Mr. Keenan enjoyed Vilkul’s book, he was not as laudatory in his assessment of my own critique of this work. Although Mr. Keenan has every right to criticize me as he sees fit, I find it discouraging that he does not back up his aspersions with any tangible evidence or cohesive arguments. Keenan’s opinion of Vilkul’s work is saturated with platitudes such as “her [Vilkul’s] account … is convincing” (505–6) or “this [Vilkul’s] is an important book” (508). I find this type of approbation, based on personal taste rather than historical argument, to be irrelevant in a proper academic discussion. However, this is not the most disingenuous aspect of Keenan’s critique. Rather, Keenan’s review contains a variety of misleading calumnies about my person ranging from relatively harmless ones such as that I had previously been a “collaborator” (505) of Dr. Vilkul (I have not) to more acerbic denunciations that harm my reputation as an academic and fall far below the high level of Kritika’s journalistic integrity. In reference to my criticism of Vilkul, Keenan writes: “He [Lukin] seems to object to two things: first, the fact that Vilkul is so dismissive of all (prerevolutionary and Soviet Russian) historiography, including the work of recent eminences; and second, the fact that she is Ukrainian . . . . There is, however, a third possibility, as Lukin hints (421), that ‘narrativism,’ like other tendencies, has come from the West” (507).
These accusations are entirely unsubstantiated. I did not accuse Vilkul of being disrespectful to authoritative works, but rather of the fact that [End Page 1010] sometimes she is either entirely ignorant of previous research in her field or simply draws incorrect conclusions from such academic works.
The assumption that my criticism of Vilkul’s book is in any way connected to her citizenship or ethnicity is not only insulting but also absurd. According to Keenan, my statement that Vilkul is a Ukrainian scholar “leav[es] even the inattentive reader in no doubt as to Vilkul’s ethnicity” (507 n. 13). However, I truthfully don’t have any idea as to Tat′iana Vilkul’s ethnic origin, nor would the knowledge thereof have any influence on my perception of her scholarly work. That fact that I call Vilkul a “Ukrainian researcher” merely references the fact that she worked in Kiev. This designation carries neither a positive nor a negative connotation. I only use such an appellation in order to avoid tautology by constantly referring to Vilkul by her last name or through using pronouns such as “he or she.” For instance, in another recently published review, I often refer to Jonas Granberg, another colleague who conducts research on the medieval Russian veche, as a “Swedish scholar.”2 Naturally, this label is not in any way a slight or judgment against Granberg’s ethnicity. Furthermore, in the same edition of Kritika as the one in which he reviewed Vilkul’s work, Mr. Keenan also published his assessment of Geary and Urbańczyk’s Franks, Northmen, and Slavs. In the context of this review Keenan referred to the two authors as “a distinguished American medievalist and a Polish Scandinavianist” (508). Following Keenan’s logic, should one therefore conclude that he equates the high quality of Geary and Urbańczyk’s book with the ethnic origins of the authors?
The “third possibility”—that is, my supposedly negative opinion of the influence that Western theories have had on Russian historiography—is almost as insulting and absurd as the aforementioned “second possibility.” Keenan’s captious logic saddles me with a point of view that I not only do not share but have been highly critical of in the past.3 In fact, Keenan obscures the fact that in my...