- Russia on the Edge. Imagined Geographies and Post-Soviet Identity by Edith W. Clowes
The central theme of Russia on the Edge is the Russian search for self-identity in the former Soviet Union. Its theoretical foundation is the idea of the changing roles of the center and periphery in Post-colonial studies, as discussed by Edward Said and Homi K. Bhabha. Edith W. Clowes focuses on the shift from the temporal historic orientation to the spatial imagining of geographies suggestive of a dispersed variety of locutions. She argues that in contemporary Russia the traditional opposition of the western centers of the capitals and the Asian subconscious of the periphery has transformed into a metaphorical post-colonial north-south axis (153). In brief, Clowes describes the ambiguity of social and cultural positions of both the colonizers and the colonized in Russia. She astutely adds that the Russian state colonized its own subject (11). [End Page 348]
This vertical metaphor of the Russian colonizing tradition indeed deserves better development than it has so far received. Recent studies (Alexander Etkind, for example) move in that direction by showing how vertical, internal colonization by the government of its numerous subjects continues both in the periphery and in its changing centers.
The six chapters of Russia on the Edge offer analyses of a variety of self-representational projects. In "Deconstructing Imperial Moscow," Clowes deals with the literary and architectural images of a city first perceived as the center of Eastern Christianity, the "Third Rome," and in Stalin's time, as the center of Russia's colonial power over the Soviet Empire. Contemporary post-modernist texts serve as deconstructive tools questioning the reality of Moscow's very existence. To that thesis the author subordinates a considerable number of texts, from Evgeny Zamiatin's We to Tatiana Tolstaya's Slynx and Mikhail Ryklin's reading of the Moscow metro. Deconstruction of architectural and literary texts may have warranted separate chapters; this would have helped to avoid the unfortunate omission of fundamental works on Stalinist architecture such as those by Vladimir Paperny and Boris Groys.
The most revealing and influential ideological model of Russian identity discussed in the book is that promoted by Alexander Dugin. In "Postmodernist Empire meets Holy Rus'," Clowes provides a helpful description of Dugin's philosophy as combining Slavophil values, Eurasian thought from the 1920s, neo-fascism, and orientation towards what Dugin calls postmodernism, a fusion of the old left and the old right (44, 61). Dugin is steeped in a messianic tradition envisioning Russia as the nucleus of multi-polar resistance (51) to the liberal values of Western Europe and North America. Russian identity is defined first by the Russian Orthodox faith and, second, by putting the interests of the State and the Empire above those of the individual.
Clowes discusses developments only through 2006. However, the last five years have, indeed, demonstrated the decisive influence of Dugin's ideas on Russia's internal politics and military doctrine under the recent tandem rule of Putin/Medvedev.
The study also closely examines Viktor Pelevin's Chapaev and Pustota, which, as Clowes convincingly argues, is a parody of Neo-Eurasianism. Like Venedikt Erofeev and Vladimir Voinovich, Pelevin dismisses attempts to define oneself not only in terms of the Empire but also in terms of any unchanging space.
Although Dugin's striking project of national self-identification may seem shocking and even insane, it has produced a significant impact on the ideas of ultra-conservative and neo-Nazi thinkers and politicians. Dugin was a co-organizer, with Eduard Limonov (their ways eventually parted), of the oppositional National-Bolshevik Party.
Mikhail Ryklin, an expatriate living in Germany, is a prolific translator and philosopher of culture. He introduced major European philosophical texts of the [End Page 349] twentieth century to Russian audiences and thus influenced humanistic scholarship in Russia. Ryklin is a strong critic of the neo-Stalinism revived by Putin. However, despite frequent reference to Ryklin's works, the reader does not learn much beyond the self-evident, such as...