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547 Ab Imperio, 2/2002 Ekaterina DYOGOT HOW TO QUALIFY FOR POSTCOLONIAL DISCOURSE Here are the two typical conversations about Russia between a person living outside of it (A) and a person living inside of it (B): 1) A: “Everything here is like in the West (finally).” B is offended. 2) A: “Nothing here is like in the West (still).” B is offended. Note that B is offended whatever A’s attitude may be, approving or critical, and regardless of the identity of A: a former Soviet émigré, a never-Soviet American, or a happy post-Russian Estonian. Generally speaking, any cultural dialogue on Russia fits into these two models, and a dead end is only more or less succesfully masked. What can be done to make this dialogue more productive? A might suggest, “B must stop being offended and start simply discussing the matter – agreeing or disagreeing within the given frame.” Conversely, B might say, “A must stop giving frames, stop his comparisons with the West, and shut up.” This may sound naive, but there are others – other “Others,” to be more precise – who have done so. An African-American writer shares with us the following observation: because of his skin color, no white couple will leave a tip on the restaurant table near him. He knows the problem of distrust. “I know it, too!” the Russian writer screams. His or her skin is not black, but by workers in foreign embassies and customs officers he or she is invariably treated as a potential thief, beggar, or prostitute. He is the Other, but has no Other’s rights, the most important 548 E. Dyogot, How to Qualify for Postcolonial Discourse of which is the right to speak for himself: the African-American writer is given that right without question. Similarly, no man today would dare tell a woman who or what she is – that is for her to tell to him. When the Other is speaking, those who are not must be silent. This policy was conceived outside of Russia. The strategy of proclaiming Russia a space for the West’s dreams to come true, “the subconscious of the West” (Boris Groys), while popular during its inception in the 19th century, is now nothing more than banal. Its other versions have proven to be more theoretical and flexibile. The “Negritude” theory (formed in France in the 1930s) regarded the African as Europe’s Other and claimed that, for the world to achieve wholesomeness, it had to become “creolized,” because theAfricans’musicality, emotionality, and sexuality were the very qualities that Europe had suppressed. Meanwhile, such notions as “black = sexual” or “black = emotional” when expressed by whites would be qualified as racist, and their perception of the African culture as exotic would be seen as reactionary, imperialistic and hierarchical. Thus, the identity of the speaker becomes crucial. All this is easily applicable to Russian identity. There are, indeed, plenty of examples of how the West usurps the right to represent Russia and exploits it discursively. An ambitious theoretical statement from a Russian scholar is sometimes discouraged; often the only thing he can provide is a regional report, even in the best of cases. “Studying oysters, I am hardly interested in what they think about themselves,” an important Slavic scholar privately formulated. A Russian journalist is often disbelieved until a Western one emerges with a concurring opinion. A Russian artist or filmmaker, in order to be interesting to the West, is often required to be different, exotic, and almost dangerous. His independence from Western (i.e. universal) standards, both moral and aesthetic, is easily labeled as nationalism, while his sincere interest in these norms (as by some over-serious filmmakers) makes him into something even worse – a banality. The Western demand for the non-Western artist to keep from being different was long ago criticized as cultural imperialism. It is, however, exactly the opposite that has now become the more pressing problem. The increasing demand for the Russian artist to be different (in a Westernpredicted way), and to fight the cultural imperialism of Coca-Cola, Versace, Tarantino, and Baudrillard in order to show the “real Russia” – this is what is seen as...


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pp. 547-550
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