Russian Culture at the Crossroads: Paradoxes of Postcommunist Consciousness.
The book promises to focus on the continuity and change in Russian culture, to bring to life Russian intellectual traditions, and to give the reader some insight into the key junctures in the historical development of Russian culture: "It is about 'spiritual' qualities more than material ones." Actually, Russian intellectual traditions are not presented adequately. Only occasionally are the names of Russian thinkers of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries mentioned - Nikolai Stankevich, Timofei Granovsky, Ivan Turgenev, Nikolai Ogarev, Sergei Bulgakov, Paul Florensky, Vladimir Solovyov, Dostoevsky, Nikolai Berdiaev - and even then often in but a single line. Belinsky, Dobrolyubov, Chernyshevsky, and Pisarev are accorded more space, but the cultural metamorphosis, the so-called Religious Renaissance, which took place in Russia between 1890 and 1910, is not discussed. The philosophy of Vyacheslav Ivanov, who advocated a complete freedom of the spirit; Fyodor Sologub with his simultaneous glorification of God and Satan; Vasily Rozanov's pseudobiblical religion of sex; the Third Testament of the Ghost-Motherhood in the ecstatic dreams of D. S. Merezhkovsky and Z. N. Hippius; Vladimir Solovyov's promotion of a reunification of all Christian churches; Lev Shestov, one of the most active participants in the religious, historical, and philosophical movement of 1890-1910 - none of these is presented in the volume. Thus, the complex flood of ideas which was typical of the Russian intelligentsia at the turn of the century is not treated here. The modern reader should not remain unacquainted with the spiritual maximalism and metaphysical philosophy of these latter-day Russian "Diogeneses," but Nikolai Zernov's informative study of this period, The Russian Religious Renaissance of the Twentieth Century (1963), and Sergei Makovsky's excellent essay "Russian Symbolism and the Religious-Philosophical Meetings" (1954) are not even listed in the index. Nevertheless, the Religious-Philosophical Meetings in St. Petersburg were of indisputable value, since they provided an opportunity for the Russian intelligentsia and the clergy to discuss their views and ideas openly. Moreover, the Meetings prompted the union of Western culture and Eastern Christian tradition.
Instead, well-known facts and concepts abound in the book. For example, the rubric "socialist realism," a basic method of literature and art conceived by Stalin, Zhdanov, and Maxim Gorky as a further development of Lenin's requirement of "partyness of literature," is fore-grounded in Maurice Friedberg's article on literary culture, occupying eight pages of his eighteen-page presentation. Actually, the theory of socialist realism was discussed by Gleb Struve as early as 1951 in his book Soviet Russian Literature: 1917-1950, as well as by R. Hingley in his essay "The Soviet Russian Congress" (1959) and Gleb Zekulin in his article "Socialist Realism" (1960). Furthermore, in his "Notes" Friedberg makes references to his own and others' writings dating back to the early 1950s and 1960s. References to some newer sources would be more useful and inspiring.
The reader is well acquainted with the material presented in the volume, including "communal apartments" in the Soviet Union, from the writings of Mikhail Zoshchenko as well as of other Soviet writers, and also from the media. It is not apparent for what educational or research purposes the lengthy volume here assembles these outdated facts and concepts.
Temira Pachmuss University of Illinois, Urbana
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|Publication:||World Literature Today|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1996|
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