- Russian Cosmism ed. by Boris Groys
Cambridge: MIT Press; and London: e-flux, 2018. 264 pp., 1 illustration. Cloth, $27.95, isbn 9780262037433.
This collection of translations is interesting, useful, and enjoyable. It introduces a philosophy little known in either English or the Western world. Russian Cosmism was a progressive movement in late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Russia. It was an intellectual counter to the rational Futurism that would eventually take hold as the guiding functionalist art and scientific ideology of the Soviet Union. Cosmism sought to understand the totality of human civilization with the universe as the basic unit of analysis. Sunspots, cosmic rays, and interstellar interactions with planet Earth could and did have an impact on human societies and political, economic, social, and artistic structures. It may seem far-fetched to the modern reader, but in a world where the Syrian War was brought about by climate change drought, where Russia's and China's reemergence into Arctic geopolitics has been brought about by warming seawaters and melting ice, and where Pacific Island nations are changing entire nation-state structures around rising ocean levels, a philosophy with a planetary perspective on human-nature interrelationality might be equally relevant today.
The book presents a series of translations of the key exponents of Russian Cosmism. There are original essays here in English translation from Alexander Chizhevsky, Nikolai Fedorov, Alexander Svyatogor, Valerian Muravyev, Konstantin Tsoilkovsky, and Alexander Bogdanov. Most of the authors are represented by multiple essays, making this a really excellent compendium of primary sources of Russian Cosmism in English. Under the umbrella of the science and art futurism of Cosmism, the collection covers astronomy, architecture, mathematics, anarchist politics, and science fiction. Such is the scope of the philosophy that it would be useful for anthropologists, historians, [End Page 355] political scientists, visual artists, cultural theorists, and Russian area studies experts. Particularly given the renewed attention on Eurasianism in contemporary Russian political ideology, there should also be quite an interest in a revival of the understanding of Cosmism from the perspective of Russia's political and cultural reemergence.
Cosmism was really about technology transforming society and art. Much of it seems science fiction to the contemporary reader, but Cosmism is the philosophical basis for much twentieth-century science fiction that later did become reality, in the development of space travel, modern medicine, global economic systems, and the melding of technology with everyday human life. Cosmist ideas were some of the first to take space travel as a serious engineering project, and ideas of immortality and resurrection through advanced biology are evidenced today in cloning, species revival, molecular medicine, and biochemistry. Culturally, Cosmism is the guiding philosophy behind science fiction, and from a cultural tradition that yielded so much science fiction that it helped to shape the present reality, perhaps global problems of climate change, clean energy transitions, food security, and oceans management could benefit from a reimagining of Cosmism, which had a strong influence in both cultural and scientific spheres and politically was also a forerunner of the transhumanist movement.
There are some truly outlandish ideas represented here though, for example, the Tektology of unifying all scientific systems as a means of conquering death and bringing in immortality through the human resurrection of anastasis. Whole-Earth command-economy structures are a foreshadow of the worst manias of the Soviet economic system. There are also the concepts of panpsychism, where atoms have feelings and therefore everything in the universe has consciousness derived from the atomic level, and Chizhevsky's heliobiology, where sunspots influence political movements through mass psychology. And in the "biopower" of Cosmism, we get the foreshadow of Eurasianism and the Gumilevian biopolity. Bogdanov brings it all back down to Earth on a more practical sociological level, arguing that if Cosmism is to be applicable to humanity, then humanity must converge into a monist unitary bloc. Therefore throughout all of this Cosmist thinking weaves the singularly Russian formation of monism and messianism, almost ensuring that Cosmism could only ever remain in the Russosphere and never achieve the planetary acceptance it would need to flourish.
Criticisms are mostly for the...