The Soviet Empire of Signs a History Of

November 9, 2017 | Author: Tomasz Szczuka | Category: Semiotics, Ideologies, Intellectual, Science, International Politics
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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements List of Abbreviations

ix xi

1. The History of the Tartu School in Focus: Issues, Theories, Methods The Tartu School: Toward Understanding Its History and Significance Approaching Soviet Science: Knowledge and Power Methodology, Data and Organization of the Book

1 2 8 12

2. Soviet Science and Academic Autonomy: The Structuralist Sturm und Drang Stalinist Science and Its Legacy Cybernetics, Structuralism and the Reform Movement in Soviet Human Sciences From Moscow to Tartu: Yuri Lotman and the New Beginnings

15 16 17 32

3. The Making of Parallel Science: The Tartu School and the Public Sphere Networks, Institutions and Parallel Science The Tartu-Moscow School (1964-1974): Playing the Glass-Bead Game The Tartu Discourse of Archaism The Tartu School as Lotman’s School (1975-1986) Politics and the Academic Intelligentsia during the Perestroika (1986-1991) Parallel Science and the Public Sphere in the Soviet Union

39 40 46 59 64 74 77

4. Toward a Global History of Structuralism: Roman Jakobson in the Center Structuralism and Semiotics in the West: Guidelines and Frontlines Poetics and Communication Western and Eastern European Structuralism on Evolution and History A Short History of the Reception of the Tartu School in the West

84 85 90 93 98

5. From Rules to Texts: The Idioms of Soviet Structuralism The Applied Semiotics of Modeling Systems Mythology and Folklore: A Mythopoetic Paradigm Text, Art, Human Nature: The Dialectics of Emergence Textocentrism as Cultural Politics

103 104 111 120 133

6. Thinking Culturologically: Tartu Perspectives on Culture The “Cultural Turn” and Russian Culturology Of Culturology: Competing Paradigms Tartu Culturology and “Imperial” Semiotics

137 138 144 161


7. Playful Self-Fashioning: A Neo-Historicist Theory of (Russian) Modernity Life into Theater: A History of Modern Personhood Playing Modern is Being Modern Theatricality and Modernity: The Prospects Conclusion Appendix A: Members and Associates of the Tartu School Appendix B: Personal Interviews Appendix C: The University of Tartu: A Historical Note Bibliography Index


166 166 171 179 183 188 191 193 194 217

Preface and Acknowledgements

This book is not intended as a final word in its field but as an invitation to a conversation. I issue this invitation to both those who are personally familiar with the subject matter of this book and those who have never given a thought to its major concerns. In particular, I invite the members, students, associates and admirers of the “Tartu (or Tartu-Moscow) School” to engage with my discussion of the ideas of Yuri Lotman and his colleagues, and with my use of the School as a case study to explore such issues as the role of science and the intelligentsia in late Soviet society. I challenge them to support, from the academic positions many of them occupy in the major world universities, further research in these issues, to be conducted from a variety of disciplinary and ideological perspectives. The kind of “recent history” this book explores is not “too early to be written” or “too political” to be written objectively, as I have often heard. I am certain that any intellectual pursuit is perspective-bound but this does not disqualify it automatically. I am also certain that any historical distance from the subject matter can bear the fruits of knowledge. This is especially true with respect to the sunken Leviathan of the former Soviet Union, the traces of which—from living actors to enormous amounts of perishable texts—are still with us but not for much longer. They cry out for our efforts to make sense of them. This is for a good reason: without delving deeply in the empirical thick of things just recently passed, we cannot even hope to start understanding the transformations that contemporary Russian and postsocialist societies are undergoing. Furthermore, I challenge Western humanists and social scientists to be more intellectually curious. One does not have to be an “area studies” specialist on Russia, Asia and Latin America to realize that there are inhabitable worlds outside of American and French cultural and social theory. The residents of these worlds may speak different national and conceptual languages, and they may have somewhat different concerns. Yet, these languages are by no means incommensurable and the efforts of translation between them are worthy of the investments of time and mental power. This book is an attempt of such translation. As such, it addresses not only the converted—who have interest in Russian society and culture and for whom the importance of Russian cultural theory is a fact—but also those whose research interests and intellectual pursuits lie elsewhere. Many people have already made an effort to meet these challenges. Over the years, the scholars from various disciplines and countries have responded to my invitation to contribute to this project by their recollections, observations, and comments (see Appendix B). I am immensely grateful to all of them for their time and attention. In addition, I would like to give my special thanks to those of my interviewees and conversants who are no longer with us, especially such Russian scholars of the highest caliber as Vladimir Toporov and Mikhail Gasparov. To Boris Gasparov, Elena Pogosian, and Andrei Zorin, among others, I


am grateful for the opportunity to stay in touch after our initial encounter and to continue our conversations on the Tartu School and its social context. This project has benefited immensely from the comments and encouragements of my professors at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and my older colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania: Andrew Pickering, Mark Steinberg, John Lie, Zsuzsa Gille, Jan Nederveen Pieterse, Randall Collins, Benjamin Nathans, Kevin Platt, Mark Adams, Nathan Sivin and many others. I am also grateful to critical comments and suggestions on the previous versions of this text that were provided by Slava Gerovitch, Bruce Grant, Alexei Kojevnikov, and Yuri Slezkine. To implement all their constructive suggestions is a long-term project, which goes far beyond this book. The International Dissertation Research Fellowship provided by the Social Science Research Council made possible the research on which this study is based. Several Centers and institutions provided their support at various stages of this project: the University of Tartu departments of Russian literature and semiotics, the University of Tartu library and archives, the MIT Archive, the Harriman Institute, and the major Russian archival collections: ARAN, RGALI and RGANI. The journal Kritika and the Duke University Press have published two pieces that are based on my research that led to this book (Waldstein 2007; forthcoming). These pieces only marginally intersect with this text; they compliment it and further develop some of its ideas. I am grateful to my alma mater, the Faculty of Philosophy of the Moscow State University, for helping me to gain access to Russian archives (this would be harder for a researcher armed only with a letter of introduction from a Western institution). I am deeply indebted to Lyubov Kiseleva and Roman Leibov of the University of Tartu for helping me to make my research trip to Tartu, Estonia, in 2001 possible and worthwhile. Finally, my thanks go to VMD Verlag Dr. Muller, which has agreed to publish this study. My special thanks go to my high school teacher of Russian literature, Margarita Viktorovna Koroleva—a student of Petr Bogatyrev (a great Russian ethnographer and a coauthor of Roman Jakobson)—who was instrumental in fostering my early interest in literary culture and intellectual history. Last but not least, my gratitude extends to my family and especially to Aya Ezawa, whose partnership has always been intellectually stimulating and who has been patient with me at the moments of exhaustion and frustration. To my grandfather, to whose memory this book is dedicated, I am thankful for what he was and still is for me.


List of Abbreviations


Akademiia Nauk SSSR (The USSR Academy of Sciences), 1925-1991 (see also RAN) Arkhiv Rossiiskoi Akademii Nauk (The Archive of the Russian Academy of Sciences), Moscow Bolshaia sovetskaia entsiklopediia (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia) Kommunisticheskaia partiia Sovetskogo Soiuza (The Communist Party of the Soviet Union) Eesti Ajalooarchiiv (The Estonian State Archive), Tartu, Estonia Institut mirovoi literatury im. Maksima Gor’kogo (Maksim Gorky Institute of World Literature of the Academy of Sciences) Institut slavianovedeniia i balkanistiki (Institute of Slavic and Balkan Studies of the Academy of Sciences) Jakobson’s Collection, or manuscript collection MC 72, the Institute Archives and Special Collections, MIT Libraries, Cambridge, MA Lotman’s Collection, or collections 135 and 136, the Personal Collections Department of the University of Tartu Library Novoe Literaturnoe obozrenie (New Literary Review). Rossiiskaia akademiia nauk (Russian Academy of Sciences), since 1991 (see also AN) Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv noveishei istorii, b. Arkhiv TsK KPSS (The Russian State Archive of the Newest History, former Archive of the CPSU Central Committee), Moscow Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv literatury i iskusstv (The Russian State Archive of Literature and Arts), Moscow Trudy po russkoi i slavianskoi filologii (Works on Russian and Slavic Philology); Trudy po znakovym sistemam (Works on Sign Systems) = Sémeiotiké. Vserossiiskii tsentr issledovanii obshchestvennogo mneniia (The Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion)


The following abbreviations are used in Russian and Estonian archival collections: f. op. d. l. F N s. l.

fond (collection, in Russian) opis’ (inventory, in Russian) delo (folder, in Russian) list (sheet, page, in Russian) fondi (collection, in Estonian) nimitsu (inventory, in Estonian) säiliku (folder, in Estonian) leht, lehekülk (sheet, page, in Estonian)

The Library of Congress transliteration system for Russian is used, except those proper names that are customarily used in English in other forms. All translations, unless otherwise noted, are the author’s.


Chapter One THE HISTORY OF THE TARTU SCHOOL IN FOCUS: Issues, Theories, Methods

September 1991. It is a warm and sunny day at the Sparrow (former Lenin) Hills in Moscow. About three hundred people are gathered in a large lecture hall in one of the buildings of Moscow State University. The hall is packed with professors and students, filling all the seats, leaning on the walls and sitting on the stairs between the seats and on the windowsills. People are desperately trying to find a place by walking almost over the heads of their colleagues. It is getting stuffy and misty. A corpulent professor hobbles to the podium: he has a lame leg since childhood. This is Viacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov, a polyglot and a student of Roman Jakobson. He introduces the speaker from the small university town of Tartu in Estonia. (A former Soviet republic, Estonia has just, in the aftermath of the August coup, acquired its full independence.) A squall of applause follows this announcement: the crowd has gathered for the sake of this speaker. His name is Yuri Mikhailovich Lotman. He is a grey-haired man with an uncommon mustache and a remarkable resemblance to Einstein. He speaks with a slight stutter and sometimes mumbles the words into his mustache. Yet his speech is overall clear as well as rich with intonations and imagery. He sounds at once like an old-fashioned professor and an elegant gentleman telling a story at the fireplace. He is talking about art as a window to human mind, culture as a dynamic process, history as an irreversible, non-linear and unpredictable process. A Soviet soldier during the Second World War, he draws a picture on the blackboard, a picture of a hill, a cannon and a target. “How to hit a target if there is a hill in the way?” He asks with a rhetorical gesture. The answer is that we have to establish at least two observation points on the sides of the hill and determine the coordinates of the target by tinkering with the data of both observations. The moral of the story is that every observation is situated and limited; it brings the fruit of knowledge only in cooperation and contestation with other observations. Culture – the main category and concern of Lotman and the school of thought associated with his name – is an interplay and a dialogue of multiple, distinct and not-fully-translatable “languages” and perspectives. There is no more any place for the singular “scientific worldview” on which Soviet Marxism claimed monopoly. Against the background of the recent failure of the Communist coup, Lotman’s speech sounds like a farewell to an entire epoch in world history. Although, for a few years before this event, I was intermittently watching the series of Yuri Lotman’s TV lectures on the history of Russian everyday life (byt), only on this day in the fall 1991 did I become aware of the existence and significance of the Tartu School of Semiotics, which Lotman chaired.1 Although their presence in the limelight of the media and the public sphere proved to be short-lived, Lotman and his School, which were particularly 1

Depending on the participant’s and the observer’s historical, geographical and ideological perspective, this School has also been called “Tartu-Moscow,” and “Moscow-Tartu” School. At times, I also use these designations, when absolutely necessary. Yet, the term “Tartu School” is sufficient in terms of brevity and recognizability.

active in the 1960s-80s, continue to enjoy a considerable presence in the collective memory and academic practice of many students of literature and culture in Russia, Eastern Europe and even select segments of Western academia. Over the last ten years, a number of articles and books have been written, which reconstruct and discuss the intellectual paradigm of the School. Definitely a part of this trend, this book is, however, not just another brick in the steadily growing Lotman/Tartu Industry. It is an attempt to break out of the narrow disciplinary limits of much of the existing literature on the School, as well as the constraints imposed by the traditional genre of the history of ideas. By considering Tartu semiotics as a party in the dialogue with better known academic trends like structuralism, poststructuralism and cultural studies, I introduce the ideas and research findings of Lotman and his colleagues to a broader public of cultural anthropologists, sociologists, and literary scholars, who are not specialists on Russia or the intricacies of the semiotic vocabulary. Furthermore, this book goes beyond the internal reconstruction of ideas and academic traditions in order to explore the emergence of these ideas in the historically changing contexts of institutional and disciplinary practices, and social and political engagements of the Soviet intellectuals. By relying not only on published texts but also on life history interviews, participant observation, and original archival research, I read the results of my research for, simultaneously, what they tell us about a particular academic school and about the world in which its representatives lived and worked. In the remainder of this chapter, I discuss the conceptual and methodological contributions of this book in more detail. The Tartu School: Toward Understanding its History and Significance “The Tartu School of Semiotics” is a shorthand designation for a circle of scholars active in the 1960s through 1980s, and clustered around periodic gatherings known as Kääriku and Tartu “summer schools” as well as a number of semiotic and philological periodicals published by the University of Tartu (see Appendix C).2 The work of the School has been vastly influential in the fields of linguistics as well as cultural, narrative and Slavic studies far beyond Russia and the Soviet Union. Its key representatives, Yuri Lotman and Viacheslav Ivanov, were among the formally recognized leaders of such international scientific movements as structuralism and semiotics.3 Yuri Lotman was a leading theorist and researcher in Russian cultural and literary history. As creators of what they called “cultural semiotics,” Tartu scholars were among the founding fathers of the discipline of “culturology,” which was formally established in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Most unexpectedly–from a Western perspective–for Soviet academia, especially for human 2

I admit that such titles as the Tartu-Moscow or Moscow-Tartu School of Semiotics reflect the nature of the phenomenon better. I use the term “the Tartu School of Semiotics” because it is shorter and because choosing another name would mean taking a stand in the debate between Lotman’s students and Moscow semioticians about priority. When I use one of the double city names in this book, I refer specifically to the period of the summer schools (1964-1974). The Tartu School studied here should not be confused with the group of scholars who are affiliated with the contemporary University of Tartu’s Department of Semiotics and who use the same name (see Torop 2000a). 3 According to Umberto Eco’s classical definition, “semiotics is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign” (1976, 7). Although semiotic ideas are present already in Plato and Seneca, the contemporary science of semiotics goes back to the independent proposals by Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) and Charles S. Peirce (1839-1914). As a separate discipline, semiotics was not established until the 1960s, when the International Semiotic Association (IASS) was founded on the initiative of Umberto Eco (b. 1932), Roman Jakobson (1896-1982), Julia Kristeva (b.1941) and others. Although Lotman, Ivanov and Toporov were unable to attend the IASS congresses, they served as the vice-presidents of the Association in 1968-1985.


sciences, the conceptual framework of the Tartu School was self-consciously non-Marxist (Flier 1997).4 Yet, far from being simply defined by this negativity, the School’s legacy is presently attracting the characterizations like “the Tartu School is an indispensable canon and the Golden Age of the Russian humanities” (Zorin 1998, 42). Whether as a model or as a point of departure, the oeuvre of the School serves as a yardstick for the current attempts to redefine the place of the humanities and intellectual culture in post-communist Russia.5 Finally, associates and students of Lotman and his colleagues currently constitute an enormous global academic network, which spreads from Moscow and Tartu to New York, Berkley, Los-Angeles, Jerusalem, Naples, Bremen and Edmonton, Alberta, and includes some of the leading Russian culture specialists in the world. The Tartu-related or inspired work continues to be Russia’s major intellectual export at the time when Russia has almost disappeared from most intellectual maps all over the planet. The importance of Lotman and the Tartu School in Russia and in some Western academic circles is hardly surprising, considering the breadth of topics covered by the members of the School, and the conceptual sophistication of their studies. Although Tartu semiotics emerged as an outgrowth of the international structuralist movement, the work of Tartu scholars is limited neither to linguistics nor to structuralism. Thematically, Tartu studies span the fields of linguistics, poetics, cultural anthropology and cultural history. Myth, ritual, folklore, film, ancient texts, modern literature, visual arts and everyday behavior are centerpieces of the Tartu University’s Trudy po znakovym sistemam (TZS, Works on Sign Systems, or Sémeiotiké), a series initiated by Yuri Lotman in 1964. These and other publications present a variety of perspectives, from classical structuralist studies of phonemic and metric structures of poetic texts to a non- or post-structuralist focus on the production and reception of literary and other texts in historically emergent social contexts. Some of the most distinctive projects associated with the Tartu School include Viacheslav Ivanov and Vladimir Toporov’s reconstructions of mythological mentality and its recapitulations in modern literature and culture; Boris Uspensky’s studies of space, time and “perspective” in the composition of visual and verbal arts; Eliazar Meletinsky and his group’s models of the narrative structure of fairytales and its transformations in modern culture; Lotman and Uspensky’s “semiotics of Russian culture” along with Yuri Lotman’s path-breaking theories of textual and cultural polyglottism.6 Since the early 1970s, “cultural semiotics” became the School’s brand-name: Lotman and his colleagues formulated a far-reaching program of studies based on the idea of, simultaneously, autonomy and heterogeneity of “culture,” which was defined as “the aggregate of all non-inherited information and the means for organizing and preserving it” (Lotman 1976a, 215). This doctrine summarized some of the main intellectual insights behind much of the Tartu literary and linguistic scholarship: the idea of irreducibility, robustness and the emancipatory power of literary texts and other cultural formations. About the remarkable ability of cultural texts to withstand the passage of time and the assault of hostile—e.g. political—environment, Lotman remarked once that “if such forces were applied in order to demolish a tank, it would immediately turn into sand” (2003, 293). On various levels, these insights transpire through Lotman’s controversial but provocative body of work in which he developed his original cultural history of modern postPetrine Russia along with his grounded theories of theatricality and “the poetics of everyday 4

In the Soviet Union and Russia, sciences (nauka) are differentiated into natural and human sciences. Social sciences are conventionally regarded as a part of human sciences (gumanitarnye nauki). 5 See, for instance, publications in the excellent intellectual and academic review, Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie (NLO), founded in 1992 in Moscow. 6 In English, see the collections of translations in Baran (1976), Lucid (1977), Lotman and Uspenskij (1984), Lotman et al. (1985), and Lotman (1990).


life” (poetika byta) in the culture of the late 18th–early 19th-century Russian noble men and women.7 In this book, I am discussing these and other aspects of the Tartu research and intellectual paradigm in more detail. In doing this, I build on a long tradition of insider reflections on, and analytical reconstructions of, the Tartu intellectual paradigm.8 Simultaneously, this book interrogates and problematizes a few habits of thought that are implicit in most of the writings on Russian humanities and intellectual culture, and proposes alternative ways of thinking. For instance, most of the intellectual reconstructions of the Tartu oeuvre suffer from certain disciplinary narrowness: they appeal to the audiences deeply familiar with the issues discussed within the fields of Russian literary history and/or semiotics. This is, in part, a result of the comparatively narrow overall reception of the School’s works, at least in the West. In North America, Soviet structuralists and semioticians have been extensively cited by the specialists in Russian literature, especially Roman Jakobson’s students, as well as some culture and media theorists (see, for instance, Eagleton 1996, 88-9; Eco 1976, 136-9; Jameson 1988, 165-173; Kristeva 1969; Portis-Winner 1987; Scholes 1982).9 Yet, even in comparison with other Russians who made a splash in the West—primarily Mikhail Bakhtin and Lev Vygotsky10—Tartu scholarship is almost unknown outside of the narrow circle of the initiates.11 To outline the reasons for this narrowness is one of my major goals. Yet, 7

For classical manifestos of Tartu cultural semiotics, see the “Theses on the Semiotic Study of Cultures” (Ivanov et al. 1973), “Russian Semantic Poetics as A Potential Cultural Paradigm” (Levin et al. 1974), and numerous papers and books by Yuri Lotman (especially 1970a; 1973d; 1976a; 1977b; 1978b; 1980; 1987; 1990; 1992). “Post-Petrine Russia” refers here to the period after the early 18thcentury Westernizing reforms introduced by the Tsar Peter the Great. 8 The Russian historiography of the School can be divided into a few stages: (1) an initial stream of descriptive, critical and praiseful literature produced in the 1960s and 1970s (see survey in Seyffert 1983), (2) the samizdat (underground “self-publishing”) polemics and the attempts of self-reflection in the 1970s-80s (e.g. B.Gasparov 1994a; Panchenko 1995), and (3) the stream of published memoirs, new criticisms and first properly historical and analytical studies produced after 1991 (see Cherednichenko 2001; Egorov 1999; Kim 2003; Koshelev 1994; Nekliudov 1994; Pocheptsov 1998; Städtke 2002). Western (American, in particular) literature can be classified according to a number successive waves of the School’s reception: extensive translations, reprints, reviews and a few analytical monographs in the 1970s (Kristeva 1968; Segal 1974; Shukman 1977), close attention to Lotman and Uspensky’s “semiotics of Russian culture” in the 1980s, a new wave of reviews after the publication of the collection of Lotman’s works with Umberto Eco’s (1990) preface, and, most recently, a series of attempts to position the School and especially Lotman in the context of Western scholarship (see Andrews 2003; Schönle 2006). 9 Roman Osipovich Jakobson (1896-1982) was a leader of the Moscow Linguistic Circle in 19151924, and later a co-founder of the Prague Linguistic Circle. After settling in the USA, he taught at Harvard and MIT. Jakobson is an essential figure for the history of both Russian Formalism and Western structuralism. His theories of distinctive features, the poetic function, metaphor and metonymy, and his communication model are key points of departure and contention for the contemporary humanities, and for the Tartu School, in particular (see chapter four for detailed analysis). 10 Mikhail M. Bakhtin (1895-1975) is an author of the philosophy of dialogism, which has left an imprint on such trends as poststructuralism, cultural studies and new historicism. Lev S. Vygotsky (1896-1934) laid the foundation for the “activity theory,” which dominated Soviet psychology in the 1950-80s. His “social-cultural” developmental psychology is a major reference for Western psychologists who oppose the dominant paradigms in cognitive science (Wertsch 1985). 11 This is based on my informal survey of American scholars in the humanities and social sciences. The data contained at the ISI Web of Science in the Internet only partially supports my findings. The


already at this point, I can say that one such reason is the narrow disciplinary scope of the existing historiography of the School. In effort to break the vicious circle of “narrow-scope reception begets narrow scope historiography and vice versa,” this book explicitly addresses the broader audience of scholars interested in cultural theory, history and anthropology, even if they are not Russia specialists and semiotics is not part of their active conceptual toolkit. Furthermore, by considering the Tartu School not only with respect to its Russian Formalist and other national “roots” but also with respect to its interactions and (dis)similarities with Western structuralism and poststructuralism, I wish to attract to Tartu the attention of the larger academic community. Furthermore, most of the existing literature on the Tartu School focuses on the internal reconstruction of the ideas of its members. If political, institutional and broader cultural context of their work is mentioned, this is usually either to eulogize or to criticize, even dismiss, the School’s research. For instance, in his attempt to write Yuri Lotman’s first biography, his long-time colleague Boris Egorov creates a heroic image of Lotman-the-truescholar, whose “world-class scholarship” stood out against the Soviet environment, which was composed of mediocre ideologists, opportunists and outright scoundrels (1999). Popular among members and associates of the School, this kind of “heroic” narrative takes for granted the binary vision of “science” vs. “society,” “scientific knowledge” vs. “ideology,” and “universal science” vs. “national historiosophy.” Paradoxically, the same approach is taken by the critics of Lotman and his group, with the exception that the School is placed firmly within its local social and historical context and thus denied the right to be “true science” (or, at least, this status is questioned in Hymes 1978 and B.Gasparov 1994a). Both perspectives presume that scientific knowledge is, as it were, free from social, historical and local context. That is, they tend to consider the development of scientific knowledge outside or despite this context; otherwise, ideas in question are anything but “knowledge”: they may be “opinions,” “myths,” or “ideologies.” This traditional scientism is overlaid in these narratives with the Cold War belief that Soviet political, institutional and cultural environment could only be an obstacle for developing world-class ideas and perspectives. This book is based on a more nuanced approach to the nature of scientific knowledge. I start with a simple point: just like any other ideas, scientific ideas are products of human social practices. This statement does not imply “social determinism” because both “science” and “society” are viewed here as products of these practices. Science and society can neither be reduced to the other, nor separated and treated according to radically different methodologies. Instead, they “co-evolve, each… constituting the other, … bringing it into existence and maintaining it” (Harding 1998, 3). This idea is in the core of the principle of symmetry, which is advocated within the sociology of scientific knowledge and science studies (Bloor 1976; Latour 1987; 1988; 1993). The “symmetry” between science and society maintains that no aspect of their composition is removed from the interaction at the outset. That is, not only externalities but even the most abstract scientific ideas and procedures can be fundamentally affected by the interaction. The same applies to the personal lives of academics, the dynamics of their intellectual networks and institutions, and the intellectual search results for Social Sciences and Humanities since 1965 show that the citation index of the School’s leader, Yuri Lotman, is only slightly lower then the one of Bakhtin, 2182 and 2576 hits correspondingly. These scores are significantly lower than the ones of Foucault, Bourdieu or Barthes (8294, 4638, 4582) but higher than the scores of other leading Russian scholars, Lev Vygotsky and Alexander Luria included (1644 and 1426). Other key members of the Tartu School score even lower: Ivanov (756), Toporov (528), Meletinsky (129) (see ISI Web of Science, contacted in April 2004). I attribute the discrepancy between my findings and these figures to the fact that, unlike Bakhtin, Lotman is intensively cited within a number of relatively narrow academic fields.


politics and culture of the time and place in question (see Collins 1998, 51). Thus, the history of ideas should not be separated from the history of intellectuals and the social/institutional history of their institutions and networks. This book is an attempt to write such an integral history. The main benefit of this—integral and symmetrical—approach to knowledge and society is that it allows us to break through to the “third realm,” the realm of practices that are both intellectual and social, as well as discursive and material, and which produce both objects to be known and subjects who know (cf. Foucault 1971). This perspective forces us to refocus our attention from the finished products to processes, from accomplished theories to micro-practices in which scientific research and theorizing is embedded: the practices of writing, discussing and publishing academic papers; selecting and dismissing certain sources, issues and intellectual interlocutors; procuring financial support for research projects; proposing and defending teaching curricula; negotiating with officials; mobilizing professional and wider public opinion; (not) signing letters of protest; inviting selected people to academic meetings; and networking and “selling” yourself on the international stage. While employing the symmetrical perspective outlined above, this book examines how the Tartu oeuvre was emerging over time, between the mid-1950s and the late 1980s, in the course of the interactions—cooperative and conflictual—between and among academics, officials, and students within changing institutional arrangements, shifting discursive formations and the cycles of “thaws” and “freezes” in national and international political contexts. This focus on emergence, or “becoming,” implies that I do not take for granted any historical or post factum definitions of what the Tartu School is “truly” all about (including the meanings of the terms used in its very name). All these definitions—that the School was all about making “true science” despite the hostile environment, or that it was just a product of some academics’ accommodation to the Soviet regime, or that it did not exist at all, beyond a club of friends in search of “fancy” symbols of social distinction—are at stake. I study their competition as an aspect of the historical process in which the Tartu School and its ideas established themselves. One of the most consequential implications of this anti-essentialist perspective is the idea that every course of action, analyzed in this book, has a strategic aspect. Both Lotman and his opponents were engaged in “strategic action,” that is in the relationships of power, at every single point (Bourdieu 1988; 1991). This idea is at odds with the more traditional view, which separates strategizing, manipulation, self-positioning and self-promotion from “pure” intellectual and scientific action, which is presumably motivated solely by the noble values of accumulating knowledge and contributing to the progress of the humanity. The fusion of these oppositions is usually attributed to “bad science,” which is motivated by group or individual power aspirations.12 Yet, in fact, the distinction between “pure scholars” and “manipulators” is at best a matter of degree. Every most selfless intellectual still seeks recognition and authority in, at least, her field. When she states and practices her political neutrality or lack of career ambition, she still positions herself within the academic field in a particular way, that is she behaves as a strategist of sorts. An action does not have to be intentionally manipulative to have a strategic and tactical aspect. To point this out is not, in and of itself, necessarily to doubt the sincerity of proclaimed beliefs or the “scientific” nature


The paradigmatic example here is Lysenko’s “agrobiology.” Trofim D. Lysenko (1898-1976) rejected genetics, or “Mendelism,” as a “bourgeois science” and put forward his own neo-Lamarckian theory of inherited characteristics which was supported by the Stalinist authorities in the 1940s and 1950s (see Joravsky 1970).


of the ideas in question. This is, rather, to go beyond the self-serving binary thinking, which attributes to “us” pure quest for truth and to “them” ruthless pursuit of profit. This concept of academic/intellectual action as strategic action has far-reaching methodological implications. To study practices, which constitute such objects as “the Tartu School,” is to look for a number of persistent patterns, or “strategies,” that run across various fields of action in which Tartu intellectuals were involved. 13 These strategies have different scope, lifetime, intellectual precedents and social preconditions. They may divide the Tartu community or oppose it to various outside groups. In short, instead of assuming what the Tartu School is “really,” or “essentially,” all about, I analyze it as a historically changeable field that is dominated and/or contested by a number of intellectual-cum-social strategies of action, the interaction of which underlines specific intellectual and social achievements of the members of the Tartu community. Based on this perspective, I argue that the history of Soviet semiotics was not the one of continuous accumulation of knowledge and working out of the shared stock of ideas. Rather, this history was characterized by the struggle between different visions of how Soviet human scientists should position themselves within national and international academic and other social fields. In particular, I talk about the “epistemic break” between early strong science-oriented program of structuralism, which was preserved by the minority of the original members of the circle, and the later culturalist and humanistic projects variously characterized as either “structuralism with a human face” or a form of poststructuralism (see Stolovich 1998). I argue that this shift in intellectual strategies was paralleled by the shift in the social strategies, which were favored by the Soviet structuralists and semioticians at different historical periods: from the struggle for institutional establishment and even hegemony in the 1950s-early 1960s to the withdrawal into the domain of what I call “parallel science,” or the “parallel academic public sphere,” in the 1960s through 1980s. Throughout the chapters of the book, I develop the ideal-typical opposition that, I argue, can capture the character of this evolution of Soviet structuralism and semiotics: the “Rule Idiom” vs. the “Text Idiom”. I consider these idioms to be both models of Soviet structuralists’ intellectual paradigms in, roughly, the 1950s and the 1970s, and exemplars of social and political strategies employed by elite Soviet intellectuals in the corresponding historical periods. I further argue that the research projects and theoretical statements developed within the Text Idiom fall into two major categories, what might be called “diachronic structuralism” and “neo-historicism,” that is two paradigms roughly associated with the works of the Ivanov-Toporov duo and Lotman respectively. I demonstrate that both of these perspectives strongly correlate with different strategies of constructing the realm of “parallel science” under the conditions of late Soviet socialism. Despite this and other minor breaks and splits, I argue that the mature Tartu idiom was stabilized through the pervasive discourse of archaism, a form of cultural conservatism aimed at reviving, restoring, and reconstructing—rather than deconstructing—the multilayered complexity of cultural—national and global—tradition. This discourse is reflected in Tartu methodology of research (for example, the focus on the reconstruction of archaic, traditional and classical subtexts within contemporary “cultural texts”), in specific thematic choices (the preference for the “high” culture of the past) and in such projects as the rehabilitation of the scholarship and art that was excluded from the official Soviet canon. I further show that this archaism provides a clue for understanding the peculiarly “aristocratic” and “imperial” idioms of culture developed by Yuri Lotman and his colleagues. I demonstrate that these idioms distinguish the Tartu School from most French structuralists 13

See Ann Swidler’s definition of strategy: “a general way of organizing action… that might allow one to reach several different life goals” (1986, 277).


and poststructuralists, as well as the representatives of contemporary cultural studies, postcolonial studies and other new fields. In a way, Roland Barthes’ term “the empire of sings” is more in accord with the Tartu paradigm then with French theories of text and discourse, which Barthes described as “democratic” and “republican” (1982; 1988). Finally, despite the strong non-conformist motives in both wider structuralist and specifically Tartu intellectual agendas, the whole Soviet semiotic enterprise was characterized by the discourse of depolitization—or “anti-politics,” to use George Konrad’s (1984) term—which was shared by Soviet semioticians with a large segment of the Soviet post-Stalinist intelligentsia. That is, in contrast to the transition from structuralism to poststructuralism in the West, the evolution from the early “strong program” to mature Tartu cultural semiotics was taking place within the framework of anti-political social and intellectual strategies. These strategies were based on emphasizing the stark distinction between culture and politics, science and power, as well as intellectuals and authorities (cf. Marx-Scouras 1996). Overall, I describe the history of Soviet structuralism and the Tartu School in terms of the succession and interplay between a number of intellectual-cum-social strategies and stances. Considered as intellectual stances, the idioms outlined above allow me to provide an overall and consistent picture of the development of Soviet semiotics and cultural theory in time. Considered as strategies of social action, they shed light on the social world in which Soviet structuralists and semioticians lived and worked. In the next section, I would like to briefly overview the nature of these insights and consider them against the background of the literature on Soviet science, knowledge and intellectuals in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union. Approaching Soviet Science: Knowledge and Power There was once time when Soviet science studies (naukovedenie) and Soviet science itself served as major inspirations for the attempts of the sociological understanding of scientific knowledge in the West. It is not a secret that Boris Hessen’s 1932 Marxist analysis of Newtonian physics was a major influence on Robert Merton (1957). The development of Soviet science was itself a vivid case of the transparency of science to social structures and processes, right up to the very “content” of science (1957, 534). Yet, in recent decades, Soviet science lost its centrality. This is partially due to the overall decline in interest in things Russian after the end of the Communist experiment. Another reason is remarkable resistance, which the field of Soviet studies exhibits with respect to the visions of science and knowledge outlined above: “the principle of symmetry, it seems, does not work for Russia” (Graham 1998, 5). In this book, I am trying to provide some conceptual, methodological and empirical resources for breaking this resistance. At one level, this resistance is strange. Robert Merton argued that the linkage between social structure and the development of science was most apparent in the “totalitarian” states (1957). In these states, he argued, academic prestige and political power, ideological orthodoxy and scientific consensus are fused so well that the researcher simply cannot treat science and society separately. However, Merton presumed that this was an abnormal state of affairs. In contrast, he contended, Western democracy provided adequate conditions in which science could fully adhere to its distinctive universalistic ethos. In effect, the proponents of the “totalitarian” theory of Soviet society both in the West and in Russia applied “externalist” explanations to “bad” science like Trofim Lysenko’s agrobiology and attributed the incidents of “good” science under socialism to the progressive development of “international [usually Western] science” during the periods of the weakened political/ideological control (Graham 1972; Medvedev 1972; Turchin 1981; Vucinich 1984).


This scholarship presumed the inherent hostility of “ideology” to science on the model of the supposed hostility of organized religion to free thought. According to this logic, the only situation when science could profit from the Soviet regime was when utilitarian considerations were winning over ideological ones among Soviet leaders. Finally, the key assumption behind these theories was a totalitarian image of Soviet society where deeply unpopular but powerful state keeps its subjects under its thumb by inciting fear and thus forcing them to either collaborate or passively accept their fate (e.g. Pipes 1994). Undoubtedly, this perspective has immense intuitive validity because it is based not only on traditional representations of the nature of science but also on the binary, us vs. them, renditions of their situation by many Soviet intellectuals themselves. Yet, the point of analysis is, among other things, to explain these renditions, not to simply take them for granted as some kind of “natural” framework. To understand why Soviet conditions fostered these binary perceptions, we have to go beyond them. By pointing to the social, institutional and cultural complexity of Soviet societies, many Soviet studies specialists criticized both the totalitarianism theory and the binary perspective already in the 1960s (see Fitzpatrick 2007). Yet, the implications of this criticism for the history and sociology of sciences started to be felt on massive scale only by the 1990s. In what follows, I outline some of the trends in posttotalitarian theories of Soviet science and society, the trends most essential for my exploration of the history of the Tartu School. One trend challenges the opposition between ideological and utilitarian considerations as well as, as it were, ideology and science. As David Joravsky (1983) argues, pragmatism was already a part of ideology: the Party’s support for Lysenko was as ideological, as it was utilitarian. Furthermore, Loren Graham (1972; 1998) demonstrates that scientists often genuinely engaged with officially sanctioned ideas. Such scholars as Evald Ilyenkov, Andrei Kolmogorov or Alexander Luria often used Marxist dialectics and materialism to produce excellent results.14 In short, good science was developed in the Soviet Union not only despite the regime, as it is often believed, but also due to both strengths and failings of the Soviet institutions and polices. The criticism of the opposition between ideology and science further leads to the realization that “Marxist-Leninist scientific ideology” was by no means a coherent system of ideas. In fact, it was “nothing more than a name for a multiplicity of different practices” (Walker 1989, 163). A combination of Marxist ideas with the tropes of, among other things, nationalist and technocratic discourses, and “Soviet ideology” was more a floating signifier than an all-encompassing worldview. Its robustness was largely due to its highly clichéd vocabulary, which took its shape by the 1950s and hardly changed since then until the very end of the regime (Epstein 1995; Oushakine 2001; Yurchak 2006). Furthermore, as the studies of Stalinist science demonstrate, the ambiguity of Soviet ideology was, to an extent, in the “vested interests” of both the nomenklatura (the Soviet Party-state elite) and the scholars. Due to this ambiguity, the Party authorities could reserve to themselves the final word in any contention and safeguard themselves from final commitments (Epstein 1995; Krementsov 1997; Urban 1985). Simultaneously, academics often managed to emasculate the attempts of state control by ritualizing political campaigns and thus reestablishing their own authority over their endeavors (Kojevnikov 2004; Krementsov 1997). Thus, the inconsistency of the Soviet official discourse had similarly 14

Evald Ilyenkov (1924-1979) was arguably the most important Soviet Marxist philosopher. Andrei Kolmogorov (1903-1987) was a leading Soviet mathematician, the founder of algorithmic complexity theory that has been applied to many fields, including the analysis of language and texts. Alexander Luria (1902-1977) is particularly famous for his work in cognitive psychology (see Bakhurst 1991; Luria 1976; V.Uspensky 1997).


contradictory effect on science and scientists. Yet, in the long term, it fostered the sense of injustice and thus contributed to the deterioration of the legitimacy of the Soviet regime among intellectuals. Another trend in “revising” the totalitarian model of Soviet science consists in arguing for its “normality,” rather then exceptionality. This is not an assertion of the essential conformity of Soviet science to “Western standards” but rather a call for a “symmetrical” perspective on Western and non-Western science as partners in interactions and as subjects to the same questions and research methods. One implication is that, for example, cybernetics was not just an American science “transferred” to the Soviet Union. Rather it was a “constantly revised project” across national borders (Gerovitch 2002). In what follows, I argue that the history of structuralism and semiotics provides a particularly revealing case of the dialectics between the local and the global in the human sciences. As a study of scientific and academic practices, this book is concerned as much with science as it is with scientists, academics and intellectuals at large. Like the studies of Soviet science and academia, the reflections over the predicament of Soviet intellectuals have routinely been structured around the binary model. Intellectuals vs. bureaucracy, or the apostles of critical thought and true knowledge vs. ideologists and careerists – this is a typical rendition of the major conflicts in Soviet society by many Soviet intellectuals and Western critics of totalitarianism (see Kagarlitsky 1988; Pipes 1994; Shlapentokh 1990). Yet, this image of the intelligentsia as victim and/or heroic resister totally neglects the actual status of intellectuals in Soviet society and obscures the complexity of the borderlines between social positions and ideologies among intellectuals and bureaucrats. As Zygmunt Bauman (1987, 178) put it, “by sharing with intelligentsia a legitimacy resting on claims to knowledge and by creating a stratum of knowledge-empowered persons, the Party reinforces a privileged situation for intellectuals.” Konrad and Szelenyi (1979) even go so far as to argue for the elective affinity between socialism and the “class interests” of intellectuals. We do not have to buy the argument about ”intellectuals on the road to class power” under socialism to agree that highly educated professionals, especially academics, constituted a privileged status group in socialist societies (see Fitzpatrick 1999; Verdery 1991). Despite lingering anti-intellectualism among both the nomenklatura and the lower classes, the intelligentsia’s distinctive “capital”—knowledge and culture—enjoyed considerable prestige within society and among political elites. One of the reasons the nomenklatura did not become the hereditary elite status group like aristocracy is that its children did not want their father’s occupations; they aspired for the occupations of intellectuals and highly-educated professionals (Churchward 1973; Faraday 2000; Lovell 2000). This was because, under socialism, education and culture were the most significant, along with political power, means of social promotion and distinction. Expert and general knowledge were essential in modernizing the country and in the competition with the West. In effect, intellectuals were not only subjects of control and persecution by the Party and security authorities. Their privileged status as experts and bearers of “culturedness” (kul’turnost’) gave intellectuals considerable bargaining power in competition for centrally allocated resources in the context of the economy of shortages, rank-order society and informal mutual favors networks (Ledeneva 1998; Lovell 2000; Verdery 1991). All these things are important to keep in mind when we analyze the public debates and under-carpet struggles among intellectuals in the Soviet Union. These were not binary struggles of “true” intellectuals against educated “sell-outs” and semi-educated “ideologists.” There were lots of “mixed” social positions and alliances built across these and similar categorical distinctions. The Soviet intellectual field was not composed of two camps, of “decent” and “indecent” people. It was composed of multiple competing centers of authority


and influence, with their distinctive visions of what “science,” “the intelligentsia,” and “intellectual autonomy” signify. Furthermore, such strategies as patronage, nepotism, and exchange of favors were not employed just by “opportunists” and “sell-outs.” In Slava Gerovitch’s apt summary, “depending on the position of their Party and government patrons, competing groups of scientists constantly shifted the knowledge/ideology boundary back and forth, trying either to invite or to prevent the authorities’ interventions” (2002, 20). There is a considerable amount of self-denial and double standard involved in the popular distinctions between justifiable “friendship” and “mutual help,” on the one hand, and illegitimate patronage and blat, on the other.15 All intellectuals made more or less frequent use of all of these strategies, and we should learn to refer to them with neither moral scorn nor admiration. I do not call for proclaiming that “all cats are grey” and there is no distinction between a Party bureaucrat in a high academic position, a world-renown scholar, and a dissident intellectual, unable to publish in the Soviet Union. The contestants in the Soviet intellectual field were differentiated by the amount and proportion of cultural, social and political “capitals” at their disposal (Faraday 2000; cf. Bourdieu 1984; 1988).16 Some academics had more to offer in terms of their academic pedigree then others; some had more political credentials then academic ones; some were connected by kinship and friendship ties to more influential people within Soviet academia, state leadership or in the West. Furthermore, Soviet science was particularly famous for considerable and, with time, widening gap between prestige and authority within institutional establishments and informal networks of peers (Adams 2000). This situation served in the 1960s as a basis for the establishment of what I describe in chapters 2 and 3 as “parallel science.” Yet, neither peer networks nor even “parallel science” was monolithic and necessarily oppositional to the formal institutions. Most academics, except those who chose to immigrate to the West, occupied more or less prominent positions within both realms, and their actual allegiances crossed the borderline between the formal and the informal at many points. In this book, I explore the validity and implications of these ideas and observations with respect to Soviet humanistic academia. By considering the Tartu School as a player in the Soviet academic field and itself as field of forces, I examine the strategies used by various relevant groups of intellectuals to establish the value of their resources (knowledge, in particular) and legitimize their privileged access to them. In particular, I focus on the strategies of “depolitization” and “archaism” which, I argue, served as a bridgehead between the intellectual enterprises associated with the Tartu School and the preoccupations of the School’s members as intellectuals, academics, Russians, Jews and representatives of other social categories. I further argue that the particular ways in which these strategies were reflected and refracted in the Tartu mode of cultural research have a lot to do with the forms of intellectual and personal communication established among Soviet intellectuals in the post-WWII period. More specifically, my argument is that the Tartu intellectual paradigm, as it emerged by the 1970s, had a number of strong affinities with the ways in which Tartu academics forged their 15

Blat is an informal system of quasi-market exchange of favors of access to scarce resources, the system which symbiotically coexisted with the formal socialist distribution system. Alena Ledeneva treats the distinction “friendship” and blat as a mechanism of misrecognition inherent in the nature of this system (1998, 60). 16 Pierre Bourdieu defines “capitals” as unequally shared and inherently scarce resources that yield power (e.g. 1984, 113). In this book, I will mention political capital (apparatus of administration and coercion), social capital (group membership and networks of influence and support) and cultural capital, or mastery one has of the cultural practices which a society recognizes as legitimate (Bourdieu and Passeron 1977).


collective identity. At this period, they presented themselves as a moral community of “high” and non-official culture-bearing intellectuals whose primary allegiance was not to the formal framework of Soviet academic institutions but to “parallel science,” which emerged in the 1960s as a sign of the increasing disengagement of academic intellectuals from the goals and meanings of the Communist regime. By pursuing this thesis in detail through the School’s intellectual and social history, I contribute not only to the historical account of Soviet human sciences but also to the studies of the Soviet public sphere and the culture of intellectual circles. Overall, by drawing on the critical perspectives outlined above, I conceptualize Soviet science without reverting to the oppositions of science vs. ideology and intellectuals vs. the “totalitarian state,” that is the key oppositions in the foundation of Cold War narratives that have so long cloistered studies of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, by focusing on postStalinist history, this work responds to the scarcity of research on this period. In this way, this study contributes to the young but growing field of cultural and science studies of the “late Soviet” society (see, for example, Derluguian 2005; Lahusen and Kuperman 1993; Yurchak 2004). Methodology, Data and Organization of the Book This dissertation is at once the work of intellectual history and historical sociology. The model of interpretation developed here aims at capturing both the historical particularity of the Tartu School and its place within the larger framework of social and cultural processes. Therefore, the sources of my research are not limited to the published academic studies and statements by the members of the School and their rivals. I have also conducted extensive research in the major archives of Moscow, Tartu and in the USA.17 In these archives, I examined official institutional documents as well as private correspondence among Soviet academics and with such prominent Western intellectuals as Umberto Eco, Roman Jakobson, Julia Kristeva, and Claude Levi-Strauss. This research allowed me to place the writings of Lotman and his colleagues within the context of Soviet institutional politics and transnational intellectual networks. Since most of these collections have not been fully accessible until recently, my book brings to the attention of the academic community large amounts of new data on the social history of Soviet science. Yet, the sources of my findings are not limited to texts of various kinds. In search for an adequate picture of human practices, I engaged myself in a series of close encounters with participants of the story I am recounting. In particular, during my year and a half long field research in 2001-2002, I have collected 26 formal open-ended interviews, mostly with Yuri Lotman’s colleagues, students, opponents and other leaders of contemporary Russian humanities and social sciences (see Appendix B). The encounters in Tartu and Moscow involved not only formal interviews but also informal conversations and participant observation during classes and conventions, PhD defenses and friendly gatherings, one-toone lunches and communal outings. In my formal interviews, I consciously took a long-term perspective on the interviewees’ lives in effort to locate their personal and intellectual experiences in the experiences of the corresponding generations, as well as their social and ethnic groups. These narratives provided my project with invaluable insiders’ comments on historical documents and gave me a sense of the evolution of the participants’ reflexivity well into the post-Soviet period. Furthermore, my research proved to be very timely: since the 17

In the US, I consulted the Roman Jakobson’s Collection (JC) at the MIT Archives, Cambridge, Massachusetts in the spring 2002.


early 2000s, when most interviews were conducted, two of the interviewees and a few of my other interlocutors died. The course of the interviews and participant observations made me acutely aware of the epistemological issues involved in studying intellectuals. The complexities of entering a conversation with an interlocutor and keeping it going brought my study to the fundamental issues of the relationship between the researcher and his or her subjects (e.g. Bourdieu 1977; Geertz 1973). The fact that these “subjects” were other intellectuals with competence and culture comparable to mine has contributed to the complexity of my research situation (e.g. Bourdieu 1988; Coser 1970; Geertz 1973; Latour 1987). With respect to my subjects, I cannot even claim the privilege of hindsight knowledge: most of them are—or were at the time of my research—academically active and in good health. Therefore, I had no other choice but to orchestrate my performances in such a way that we, my subjects and I, engage in a dialogue of mutually interested colleagues. That is, I could never take my distance and objectivity for granted; my own location and identity was as much at stake in these dialogues as the issues I sought to discuss. In a word, the study of scientists and intellectuals is indeed the most immediate realization of the ancient injunction to “know thyself.” In particular, during these research deliberations, I learned that my insider/outsider location with respect to my interlocutors granted me with a uniquely advantageous position for both conducting research and interpreting its results. Whereas previous researchers were mostly Russian or Western literary scholars, I was both Russian and “American” (as a graduate student at an American university), both a disciplinary outsider (a sociologist) and a sufficiently informed and favorable observer (a person who attended lectures of the leaders of the Tartu School, especially V.V.Ivanov, at Moscow University). For instance, the fact of my academic “outsidedness” put me outside of the intra-disciplinary group politics and granted me with the expertise (“sociology”) that most of my interlocutors did not claim to possess. At the same time, being a Russian person and a Moscow University graduate, I was trusted to have certain empathy and “cultural knowledge” that “a pure American” would not be expected to possess. This intermediary position between national and academic cultures made it easier for me to adopt “the working principle of uncertainty” according to which the researcher “does not [claim to] know [in advance] the nature of the society under study, nor where to draw the boundaries between the realms of technical, social, scientific and so on” (Latour and Woolgar 1986, 279). Following this principle, I have tried to avoid the dangers of identifying with my subjects and imposing my own assumptions on them. This being said, I also admit that Lotman’s personality and cultural studies have been not only objects of my study but also among the sources of my inspiration. In this book, I differentiate four major periods in the history of Soviet semiotics. The central episode of this history is the period of Kääriku /Tartu summer schools, i.e. 1964-1974. This is the period of what might be called “Moscow-Tartu (or Tartu-Moscow) school” per se. During this period, the School proved to be one of the centers of openly non-Marxist theorizing of myth, art and culture in the Soviet Union. Before 1964, one can talk about the broad structuralist movement associated with what may be called the reform movement in Soviet academia (1955-1964). At this stage, structuralists made most definite attempts to institutionalize semiotics as a separate “science” or a “universal science,” the “mathematics of human sciences.” After 1974, the relatively robust school-like network gradually disintegrated into a number of often hardly related projects and social contacts loosely connected by Lotman-dominated semiotic and philological periodicals. Still, one can speak about the persisting specter of “the Tartu School”—as a center of “parallel” scholarship in


Soviet literary and cultural studies—until late 1980s when it clearly turned into not much more than an empty label and a site of cultural memory. The text of the book is divided into two main parts. The first part consists of three chapters, in addition to this introductory chapter. In this part, I discuss social, cultural and intellectual history and prehistory of the School. The second part, which also consists of three chapters, integrates this history with a number of critical analyses and case studies of the School’s research and theory. Chapters 2 and 3 provide an analytical overview of the history of the Tartu School and pay particular attention to its changing (self-) definitions, thematic foci, patterns of association as well as strategies of participating in Soviet “academic wars.” In chapter 2, I explore the evolution of Soviet structuralist and semiotic movement from Stalin’s death to the emergence of the Tartu-Moscow School proper. By examining the School’s research and theorizing in mythology, art and culture, chapter 3 demonstrates the significant transformation of the intellectual idiom of Soviet Semiotics since the 1950s. I connect this idiomatic shift with the formation of the self-conscious “parallel public sphere,” the social space in which the Tartu network figured prominently. In effect, by analyzing friendship, colleagueship and patronage networks, as well as the rituals of belonging to close-knit communities, this chapter contributes to our theoretical understanding of Soviet science and the public sphere under socialism. Finally, in chapter 4, I turn to the major intellectual trends within international academic movements known as structuralism and semiotics. Apart from providing the conceptual and thematic background for consecutive chapters, this study challenges major precepts behind mainstream historical accounts of these movements and science in general. Based on this analysis, I discuss the reception of the School’s work in the West. In the following three chapters, I turn to specific theoretical contributions of the representatives of the School to communication and narrative theories as well as the theories of art and culture. In chapter 5, I trace in more detail the evolution of the School from the Rule Idiom to the Text Idiom as major organizing principles of the School’s theorizing and research. By considering interactions, similarities and contrasts with comparable Western perspectives, I define the distinctive approaches of the School to the major issues of cultural analysis and connect my findings to other aspects of the School’s history discussed earlier. In chapter 6, I delve deeper into Lotman’s both abstract and grounded theorizing on culture considered against the background of the “cultural turn” in the West and the Soviet “culturological” movement since the 1960s. This chapter also explores the tense coexistence between two different, structuralist and neo-historicist, frameworks within Lotman’s work. Chapter 7 analyzes Lotman’s studies in early modern Russian culture. Far from being just an illustration of the previous sections, this chapter reconstructs the grounded theory of the Russian gentry’s “theatricality” as a significant contribution to the contemporary theories of human agency and modern subjectivity. In the concluding chapter, I summarize the findings and contributions of the book to the historiography of the Tartu School, to the reconstruction of its paradigm, and to the theory and history of late Soviet science and intellectual culture.


Chapter Two SOVIET SCIENCE AND ACADEMIC AUTONOMY: The Structuralist Sturm und Drang

As in the West, the late 1950s and the 1960s in the Soviet Union were, for human scientists, the epoch of structuralism (cf. Marx-Scouras 1996; Pavel 1989). Structuralism was originally a theory of language that shifted the attention of linguists from the materiality of sounds and other elements of human language to the “deep structures” of relations, which appeared to determine the properties of these elements. Inaugurated by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), the structuralist academic movement reached its highest point in the 1960s, when its linguistic models were modified and applied to a variety of other fields, such as the study of myth, ritual, literature, and communication. This process was taking place in France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, the United States, and in the Soviet Union. Yet, despite being a transnational movement, structuralism developed along different trajectories in different national contexts. For instance, in 1940s France, structuralism was basically an external import without deep national intellectual roots (Pavel 1989, 125-132). On the contrary, Eastern Europe and Russia gave the world such related trends as “Russian Formalism” and the Prague School structuralism already in the 1920s.1 Yet, in the 1930s and 1940s, the center of the world structuralist movement shifted to the United States. At the same time, in Soviet academia and the arts, everything that smacked of “formalism,” that is the emphasis on the autonomy of linguistic and artistic “form” from the ideological “content,” was suppressed. Given this massive gap in the Russian intellectual history, all the more surprising is the impressive “neo-formalist revival,” which took place in the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death in 1953. In this chapter, I explore the institutional, discursive and political aspects of this revival by focusing on the Moscow-centered structuralist movement. I examine the ups and downs of this movement, and the strategies of action, which were adopted by its members in the Soviet “academic wars” for legitimacy and influence. I explain the reasons for its sudden emergence in mid-1950s and its sudden decline around 1963. This picture leads to the conclusion that the Tartu-Moscow School, inaugurated in 1964, was not simply a continuation of the structuralist movement but, in many respects, a new beginning, which was characterized by different social strategies and, eventually, by the new intellectual idiom.


The term “Russian Formalism” usually embraces the intellectual production of the Moscow Linguistic Circle (1915-24), headed by Roman Jakobson, and the Opoyaz (OPOIaZ), the Society of Poetic Language, which was established in 1916 and was active throughout the 1920s. The Prague School, active since 1928 to the 1940s, included both Czech scholars (Vilém Mathesius, Jan Mukařovský, René Wellek) and Russian émigrés (Roman Jakobson and Nikolai Trubetskoi) (see Erlich 1981; Merquior 1986; Steiner 1984).


Stalinist Science and Its Legacy Without necessarily falling into the trap of Russian exceptionalism, one can state that Soviet academic system, as it existed by the mid-1950s, was quite a unique phenomenon. Highly centralized and hierarchical, concentrated in a number of urban centers, fully funded by the state, and institutionally split into “fundamental” (basic, or theoretical) and applied research as well as research and teaching, Soviet science was a magnificent experiment in coalescing knowledge and power in the massive apparatus of the “empire of knowledge” (see Krementsov 1997; Vucinich 1984). Far from being just a product of the one-way imposition by the socialist state, this apparatus was, at different points in time, an outcome of the compromises between conflicting objectives within the politics of socialist modernization and the interests of the groups that were supposed to implement this politics, academic intellectuals in particular. In the early 1930s, when the Soviet scientific system acquired its distinctive shape, this settlement was a result of the tradeoff between various projects including Marxist materialism, socialist collectivism, technocratic rationalism, meritocratic ideology, anti-Western nationalism and anti-ideological academism. This tradeoff was achieved at the expense of more radical visions of proletarian science, which tried to abolish the distance between experts and “the masses” (Buck-Morss 2002; Vucinich 1984; Graham 2002; Kojevnikov 2004). Yet, this “symbiosis” of power and knowledge was inherently unstable. The communist authorities were torn between attempts to base their political legitimacy on knowledge claims and on the claims for egalitarian representation. On the one hand, the authorities needed intellectuals as “specialists in modernization,” or “transmission belts” between them and “the masses” (Bauman 1987; Dubin 2001). Therefore, Stalin’s government granted academics, especially researchers of the Academy of Sciences and professors of a number of elite universities, with high official prestige and remuneration, as well as with multiple privileges approximating the ones of the nomenklatura (Fitzpatrick 1999; Vucinich 1984). The beneficiaries included many older generation academics that were previously vilified as the “bourgeois intelligentsia.” Yet the more privileged as a social category intellectuals were, the more personally secure they felt, especially during the purges of the late 1930s and late 1940s-early 1950s. Furthermore, the Party continued to promote lower class cadres to the academic positions, especially the positions in university education and human sciences. This politics threatened to undermine the considerable social distinction of academic professionals, which was inherited from the imperial period and reinforced in the late 1930s and 1940s. Also, these upwardly mobile promotees (vydvizhentsy), often more competent in the ideological “newspeak” than in their disciplines, frequently served as vehicles of the politicized and ideologized atmosphere characteristic for Stalinist science (Krementsov 1997). Indeed, the late 1930s and 1940s were full of outbreaks of highly politicized debates often accompanied by spasmodic interventions by the Party officials and Stalin himself (e.g. his personal support for Lysenko’s Michurinist biology as well as his overturn of Marrist linguistics (see Krementsov 1997; Slezkine 1996)).2 The result was uncertain and nervous atmosphere of what the classical philologist Olga Freidenberg (18901955) called a “squabble”: 2

See, for instance, his personal support for Lysenko’s Michurinist biology as well as his criticism of Marrist linguistics (see Krementsov 1997; Slezkine 1996). Academician Nikolai Ia. Marr (18641934) was the founder of the “new theory of language,” which was considered the basis for “Marxist linguistics” in the 1930s-40s and was officially supported as such by the authorities. Yet, in his 1950 article, “Marxism and the Questions of Linguistics,” Stalin rejected Marrism and thus put an end to its domination in Soviet linguistics.


Everywhere, in all organizations and homes, a nasty squabble (skloka) is raging, a poisoned fruit of our order. Squabbling is a natural state for people who are rubbing against each other in a dungeon, helpless to resist the dehumanization they have been subjected to (Freidenberg and Pasternak [1956]1981). In effect, academics were torn between, for one thing, their appreciation of—or rather increasingly taking for granted—the social distinction and prestige in Soviet society and, for another, their irritation—and often deeply seated fear—caused by the state’s and the Party’s infringements on the personal and corporate autonomy of academics and academia. Indeed, on the one hand, Stalinist science provided academics with the security of tenure, shielded from the instability of student and public “demand,” and promised enormous opportunities for conducting long-term expensive research. The regime also allowed academics to widen their institutional base and resources. By the late 1950s, the Soviet Academy of Sciences was a corporation as close to a state within a state as one can be, with its own share of “socialist property,” its own labs, plants, planes, ships, spas, dachas, and expensive equipment (Vucinich 1984). At the same time, intellectuals felt highly vulnerable in the atmosphere of unpredictability nourished by the Stalinist policies of the “permanent revolution.” Their institutional position, professional competence and personal security were in constant danger. This was particularly true to the situation of educators and specialists in human sciences, where knowledge seemed to be more transparent to the authorities and thus more vulnerable to their interventions. In response to these challenges, academics tried to translate their particular agendas into the Party lingo, as well as to enter the patronage relationships with the members of the Central Committee. They often succeeded in emasculating the attempts at the Party control by ritualizing political campaigns and thus reestablishing their own authority over their endeavors (Krementsov 1997, 192). Yet, in the years of terror, personal links to leaders proved to be increasingly dangerous (a patron could appear to be an hidden enemy!). The problem with the acquisition of the Party ideology was that its content was deeply ambiguous or, one might say, flexible, to the extent that only the Party itself could, at any particular moment, pin down its “correct reading” (Gerovitch 2002; Epstein 1995; Walker 1989). In this situation, even the most vehement proclamations of one’s “Marxism” could have been used against academics: Stalin’s denunciation of the previously officially endorsed “new linguistic theory” of Nikolai Marr is the case in point particularly relevant here. This significance of language and the question “who controls language?” explains the focus of the 1950s reform movement in Soviet science on reforming the language of science. In this context, the centrality of linguistics and semiotics, the science of signification and communication, in this movement is also not a big surprise. Cybernetics, Structuralism and the Reform Movement in Soviet Human Sciences It is good to be a structural linguist: everything immediately falls into place - The Strugatsky Brothers, Escape Attempt After Stalin’s death, Soviet science immediately found itself in the state of flux. The Stalinist pact between intellectuals and authorities immediately came under attack. Frequent jerky alternations of official policies and preferences under Stalin satisfied neither the government nor the academic establishment. Under the conditions of the Cold War, scientists, especially physicists and mathematicians, accumulated sufficient political capital and social status to push for a major reform in organization and management of science (K.Ivanov 2002, 318). 17

Their demands included the domination of “fundamental,” or “pure,” science over applied science, and the guarantees of the expert’s authority over their expertise, as well as over the terms of its translation into practice (2002, 334). This reform movement proved to be quite successful, at least in the short term and especially within natural sciences. Scientists indeed managed to impose their agenda on the Communist leaders. They achieved particularly striking successes in rehabilitating and even institutionalizing some of the scientific fields and traditions, which were suppressed under Stalin. From genetics and cybernetics to structuralism and Vygotsky’s psychology—these are some of the success stories. The remarkable career of the new science of cybernetics from the “bourgeois pseudo-science” to “the science in the service of communism” is particularly important for understanding the history of Soviet structuralism (Gerovitch 2002). Cybernetics (from a Greek work for “steering” and “government”) is a the interdisciplinary study of complex systems, especially communication processes, and the mechanisms of control and feedback. Proposed in the late 1940s by Norbert Wiener (18941964), the idea of the science of cybernetics immediately attracted the attention of Russian scholars, of whom Andrei N. Kolmogorov (1903-87) was one of the most important. Among other things, cybernetics appealed to Kolmogorov as a method of “diminishing the entropy in the scientific community” by reformulating scientific knowledge in “exact” terms of control, communication and information. As such, cybernetics provided the academic reform movement with its grammar and vocabulary, something that Slava Gerovitch recently called “cyberspeak,” as opposed the “newspeak” of the official politicized discourse (Gerovitch 2002; V.Uspensky 1997). Obviously, linguists could not stay aside from the work of working out of this “ideologically neutral” language. Soviet structural linguistics emerged in the mid-1950s under the auspice of recently rehabilitated and very popular cybernetics. Structuralists and cyberneticians shared the common belief in the possibility of the universal method of problem solving, provided that problems are formulated in the right language. Following the logical positivist Rudolf Carnap (1891-1970) and the linguist Louis Hjelmslev (1899-1965), they declared that, before deciding whether a certain problem can or cannot be solved scientifically, “it is necessary first of all to formulate this problem clearly in some strict terms, for example, to pose it as a mathematical problem” (Revzin and Rozentsveig 1963, 34). Whatever does not survive the reformulation into this kind of “cyberspeak” would have to be expunged from the body of science. This “hygienic” concern constituted a key frame for the reception of the newly available Western achievements in what was known as “structural linguistics,” that is American descriptive linguistics, transformational-generative grammar and Roman Jakobson’s phonology and poetics. Although there were different views on the nature of the universal method and ways of achieving it, there was a widely shared consensus on the fact that language, including the language of science, is as it were independent of the political and economic conditions of its usage. This view had been vilified in Soviet literature as “formalist” since the campaigns against “the formal method” in linguistics and literary studies in the 1920s. Ironically, Stalin himself played a pivotal role in dispelling the exclusively accusatory usage of this label. In his explosive series of articles on linguistics and Marxism, he employed his crown move of distancing from the “excesses” of previously endorsed policies and accused the supporters of Nikolai Marr of inventing “formalism” “to facilitate their struggle against their opponents in linguistics” (Stalin 1950, 87). Stalin proclaimed that language is not a part of the superstructure, that it is not determined by the economic basis and that it manifests stability over time. That is, he not only dismantled the Marrist hegemony; he also de facto legitimized


the “formalist” idea of the autonomy of language and, whatever inadvertently, opened up the field of linguistics for academic debate. 3 Clandestine structuralists immediately jumped into the opening created by Stalin. Already in 1952, the young linguist Sebastian Shaumian published a paper, in which he advocated the interest in Western linguistic structuralism (see Seyffert 1983, 86-87).4 He argued that this interest is not a sign of “kowtowing to the imperialist West” but a way to assimilate the best in the Russian national academic tradition. Already 3-4 years later, these kinds of obvious references to Soviet ideological and nationalistic “newspeak” disappeared from the papers on structuralism. The academic reform movement, the 1956 Khrushchev’s speech and the rehabilitation of cybernetics made it possible to not only advocate but also practice the “ideological neutrality” of language. For instance, structuralists could argue for the autonomy of their methods and perspectives by invoking such ideas as Sebastian Shaumian’s “principle of homogeneity”: “scientific explanation within a certain theory cannot be built on facts lying outside the subject-matter of this theory” (1957, 44).5 According to Viacheslav Ivanov’s (1995: 3, 167) reminiscences of this period, “we were tired of the phraseology of the official philosophy. We wanted to deal with precisely defined concepts and with terms that were defined through rigorously described operations.” The alliance with cybernetics seemed to offer a prospect of implementing this program. Ivanov and his colleagues were intrigued by Roman Jakobson’s (1971c) translation of thermodynamic and information-theoretical parlance of “information,” “redundancy,” “codes” and “messages” into linguistics. The alliance with hard sciences, especially cybernetics and information theory, was perceived as a panacea against “ideology” and a recipe for the transformation of linguistics and other human sciences into “true sciences.” This alliance with natural sciences was enshrined institutionally and discursively in the multitude of “labs” (e.g. “the Machine Translation Lab”), which mushroomed in the late 1950s, and in the establishment of the Linguistic Section of the Academy’s Council on Cybernetics, established in 1959.6 The “scientization” of human sciences was achieved through the introduction of “mathematical methods” (statistical probability analysis, formal modeling, topology, game theory and more) and information theory in linguistic and later cultural studies. By associating themselves with prestigious and powerful natural scientists, Soviet structuralists established a distance between their conceptual language and their field of research, on the one hand, and the competence of other human scientists and philosophers, on the other. In response to this strategy, structuralists were accused of indulging in “terminological redundancies” and being plain arrogant. To this they had a ready made 3

This was not the only result of Stalin’s intervention. Vladimir Toporov recalls that, before 1950, there were very few opportunities for academic advancement for Moscow University students who specialized in comparative and theoretical linguistics. Yet, “after the discussion [initiated by Stalin], everything changed. Before, the ratio of the places for linguists and literary critics available in the graduate school (aspirantura) [of the Philology Faculty] was 5 to 35. After the discussion, they let in everyone who wished to study linguistics on the graduate level, 11 persons altogether,” Toporov included (Toporov, Vladimir. Interview by author. Moscow, July 2002). 4 Sebastian K. Shaumian (1916-2007) was a relative of a famous Bolshevik hero, Stepan Shaumian (1878-1918), and a leader of Soviet structural linguistics. Ivanov (1995 (3), 166) writes that Shaumian used his connections in the Central Committee [of the Soviet Communist Party] to rehabilitate structural linguistics.” In 1975, Shaumian immigrated to the US, where he joined the faculty of Yale University. 5 Targeted against the expansionism of official Marxist philosophy, this “principle” omitted the fact that structural linguistics’ own methodology was based on translating the methodology of hard sciences, i.e. sciences built on non-linguistic facts. 6 ARAN, f. 1807, op.1, d.110, l.29.


answer: “those who do not understand [what we say] cannot accuse [us] of arrogance; it is as if they would attend the symposium on astrophysics.”7 The alliance with cybernetics not only provided means for protecting the disciplinary autonomy of structuralism-dominated linguistics with respect to “ideology” but also justified the expansion of structuralism into other domains of human sciences. As Geoff Bowker (1993) demonstrated, cyberneticians were fashioning themselves as “specialists in generalities,” or practitioners of the “universal discipline.” In contrast to a traditional disciplinary strategy of “obligatory passage point,” they forged their discipline as a “distributed passage point” (1993, 122-123; cf. Latour 1988). That is, instead of advocating the distinct status of their field, they posited “cybernetics … everywhere you went,” i.e. as a universal mediator between different academic and social domains. If ordinary disciplines underlined their novelty with respect to the scientific tradition, the universal discipline, to quote Andrei Kolmogorov, faced a “grandiose task of including in its worldview the whole heritage of human culture which has developed, so far, in forms alien to it [cybernetics], including religious forms” (see V.Uspensky 1997, 242). Structural linguists fashioned themselves in a similar manner. They turned around Jakobson’s dictum that “every language is a code” into “any code is a language” (Ivanov and Shaumian 1961, 220). Thus a specific cyberspeak of structural linguistics was conceived as a universal language of science and a recapitulation of the “secondary modeling systems” of art, myth and religion.8 Such expansionist aspirations took the shape of the project of “semiotics,” or a science aimed at the study of “any sign system in human society” (Ivanov 1962, 3). Being defined this way, semiotics claimed the “foundational significance” of its methods for “adjacent disciplines in the humanities,” the significance similar to the one “of mathematics for natural sciences” (1962, 8). Hence, as semioticians, linguists and other humanists could claim not only to control their specialized vocabulary but also to be a “universal translator” and an arbiter of the meaningful academic discourse. The rhetoric of exactness and universality implied a particular vision of interdisciplinarity opposed to the one institutionalized in Soviet academia. Soviet MarxistLeninist philosophy was supposed to be the ultimate theory of nature, society and science and thus the super-disciplinary analyzer, coordinator and initiator of disciplinary research. In these respects, Soviet academia was an heir to the German Humboldtian model of the university in which philosophy played “meta-territorial” role (e.g. Collins 1998, 618-688). Yet, under the Soviet conditions, this role of philosophy did not guarantee the autonomy of science. On the contrary, philosophers were often perceived as agents of the Party state within academia. Indeed, the periodic interventions of Soviet Marxist philosophers into scientific debates were often ways of exercising the Party’s control over science (Kojevnikov 2004; Krementsov 1997). In practice, this model of interdisciplinarity implied the duplication of the philosopher’s newspeak on the disciplinary level and the ossification of local “orthodoxies” with their own “founding fathers” and “classics,” like physiologist Pavlov, biologist Michurin or linguist Marr (Krementsov 1997, 50). Simultaneously, the threat of philosophers’ interventions led specialists to sink into extreme disciplinary empiricism, often highly


The mathematician Vladimir Uspensky at the Symposium on the Structural Studies in Sign Systems, 1962, Moscow (ARAN, f.1965, op.1, d.285, ll. 179, 186). 8 These systems of cultural symbols are “secondary” in the sense that they are superimposed on the foundation of natural language, which supplies them with primary material and resources for further symbolization (Ivanov et al. 1973; Zalizniak et al. 1962). This is the early Tartu formula of the culture-language relationship.


sophisticated but accompanied by nothing more then highly specialized theorizing. 9 It is by immersing themselves in the narrowly disciplinary matters—for example, commenting on classical texts or discussing the principles of “text attribution”—that some of the leaders and allies of Russian Formalism, like Eikhenbaum, Propp, Tomashevsky, Vinogradov10 and Zhirmunsky, managed to slip through the years of Stalin’s terror.11 The strategy adopted by semioticians with respect to this arrangement was complex. They expressed their deep respect toward middle-level theorizing and empirical research, and claimed their descent from the formalist and other schools of the Russian humanities. Simultaneously, they appealed to the authority of natural sciences and Western scholarship for the support of their claim that the new methods of formalization and modeling allow to bridge disciplinary boundaries without any recourse to philosophy (see Ivanov 1962). In sum, semiotics was expected to retrieve the “meaningful” (non-ideological) aspects of disciplinary knowledge and overcome disciplinary conservatism and parochialism. It was to constitute a new, truly scientific center of power and cooperation in the academic domain. Correspondingly, in contrast to the popular image of the semi-educated official philosopher, a promotee with strong “provincial” accident, semioticians put forward the image of a new scholar as a Renaissance personality. This personality was expected to combine in-depth expertise in a number of domains with encyclopedic erudition in not only sciences but also arts and world cultures. This is the type that the Strugatsky12 brothers both advertised and parodied in their image of the “most structural (struktural’neishii) linguist.” Among specific exemplars of such a “scholar of the future,” the academicianmathematician Andrei Kolmogorov and the linguist Viacheslav V. Ivanov loom particularly large. Kolmogorov’s range of interests indicates that the alliance between natural and human scientists in the 1950s-60s was not just a one-way borrowing from hard sciences. Known for his pathbreaking studies in the theories of probability and information, Kolmogorov was also a passionate lover of literature and a practitioner of statistical poetics, one of the subtends in the wider structuralist and semiotic movement. He was a patron and a chief participant of the first major Soviet conference on structural poetics in Gorky (see Shukman 1977, 186). As Roman Jakobson, who was a frequent visitor to the Soviet Union after 1956, observed, In Moscow, where I had in general a fascinating time, I had a long conversation with Kolmogorov… he is entirely immersed in metrics and has a staff of some 20 people among whom there are remarkable workers with mathematical and linguistic


As Eliazar Meletinsky (1998, 513) recalls, his professor, Viktor M. Zhirmunsky (1891-1971), was not happy with Meletinsky’s education received in George Lukacs-dominated Moscow Institute of History, Philosophy and Literature. Zhirmunsky suggested that he should first learn how to do the laborious job of “comparing the sources against each other” before indulging in more abstract and theoretical pursuits. 10 Boris M. Eikhenbaum (1886-1959) was one of the leaders of the Petersburg Opoyaz. The folklorist Vladimir Ia. Propp (1895-1970) profoundly influenced contemporary narrative theory. Boris V. Tomashevsky (1890-1957) is famous as provider of the systematic account of the Russian formalist theory. Viktor V. Vinogradov (1894-1969) was close to formalists in the 1920s, arrested in 1934 for a few years, and de facto headed Soviet linguistics in the 1950s and 1960s. 11 In contrast, Grigory A. Gukovsky (1902-1950), literary historian known for his theoretical thinking and closeness to Marxism, died in prison soon after his arrest in 1950 (see on him in Lotman 1994b, 59-64). 12 The Strugatsky brothers, Arkady (1925-1991) and Boris (b.1933), are the most popular Soviet science fiction writers. Arkady Strugatsky was a specialist in Japanese and knew many Soviet structuralists personally.


training… Poetics and the resumption of the Opojaz search is, in general there [in the USSR] among the young linguists, one of the chief slogans.13 Viacheslav V. Ivanov was the most significant member of Kolmogorov’s research group and later a central figure of the Tartu School (see Appendix A). A son of an important Soviet writer, he had an incredible luxury of having access to the enormous home library as well as to the most creative Russians of the period (his dacha is neighboring the one of the poet Boris Pasternak (1890-1960)). Enjoying an opportunity of home schooling for health reasons, he made full use of the assets at his disposal and became, according to his contemporaries, one of the most broadly read persons in Soviet academia. A confidant of Pasternak and a favorite (in absentia) student of Roman Jakobson, Ivanov later made his name for his extreme linguistic, cultural and disciplinary polyglottism. The semiotic frontline of the reform movement in Soviet academia involved not only distinctive rhetorical figures and remarkable leaders. It also involved a number of distinctive strategies of institutionalizing the new trend in the Soviet academic system and, simultaneously, challenging the existing academic order. With the support of such influential scientists as Kolmogorov as well as “enlightened technocrats” like the admiral-engineer Axel Berg,14 scholars like Ivanov were engaged in the complex struggle for recognition of their new disciplines. By the early 1960s, these negotiations resulted in the establishment of the divisions of Structural and Applied Linguistics in the major universities, the Sector of Structural Typology at the Institute of Slavic Studies, and the Linguistic (later Semiotic) Section within the interdisciplinary Council on Cybernetics of the Soviet Academy of Science, headed by Admiral Berg. The 1960 resolution of the Presidium of the Soviet Academy of Sciences called for the establishment of the separate Institute of Semiotics. However, this major object of the aspirations of Soviet structuralists, the academic Institute of Semiotics, never materialized (Gerovitch 2002; Ivanov 1998a; 1998b; V.Uspensky 1998). Why was its establishment so attractive to the participants of the structuralist movement? Why did they lose? What would result out of their victory and what actually resulted out of their loss? Structuralism and Soviet Academic Institutions To answer these questions, it is necessary to remember that we are dealing with a distinctive academic regime, Soviet academia. For instance, in American academia, any new discipline would aspire to its own department or center, such as the departments of Communication Science, Film Studies or Women’s Studies, at major—but not necessarily Ivy League— universities. In contrast, the Soviet aspirants for recognition did not rush to Soviet universities. Even the most prestigious Moscow University did not attract the most important structuralists and semioticians into its newly opened Division of Structural Linguistics at the Faculty of Philology (see Appendix A). One reason was the choices made by the aspirants themselves: they largely preferred the institutions of the Academy of Sciences to universities, including their own alma mater, Moscow University (V.Uspensky 1998). The key to this issue is the fact that, unlike its American and most other Western analogues, Soviet academia was characterized by clear separation between research and 13

Jakobson to Taranovski, December 3, 1962. JC, box 46, file 43 (Original in English). Axel [Aksel’] I. Berg (1893-1979) was a nobleman and a marine engineer who managed to reach the heights of the Soviet hierarchy. An academician since 1946, a one-time deputy Minster of Defense, and a head of Soviet Cybernetics, he was a hero of contradictory legends among his intellectual colleagues (see Ivanov 1995; 1998a; 1998b). 14


education, or, roughly speaking, between the Academy and the University. This separation was an outcome of the massive reorganization of Russian science and academia accomplished in the 1920s-30s (Vucinich 1984). Although, in the 1920s, there was much effort invested in disestablishing “bourgeois science” and creating alternative “proletarian” structures–for instance, the Communist Academy in the 1920s,–“Soviet science” of the subsequent decades was a compromise between various projects including “technocratic elitism,” anti-Western nationalism and anti-ideological academism. By the 1930s, there seemed to be a broad consensus among administrators, Party bosses and academics about the need for state patronage over science, for non-competitive block financing and, last but not least, the separation between research and education. 15 An important consequence of this separation was the establishment of a new hierarchy between scholars: those occupied by “pure,” or “fundamental,” studies at the academic institutes had lower work loads, almost no teaching obligations (except for working with a small number of graduate students), had higher job security and lower personal responsibility for the outcomes of their work. According to Loren Graham’s calculations, 125,000 academics employed in the Academy system consumed 6.5% of the state research budget while 600,000 university professors only 7% of it.16 Moreover, as educators of the younger generation, university professors were much more vulnerable to challenges on political and academic grounds. Their curricula were highly standardized and watched by both academic and Party authorities. No surprise that, in effect, “The Soviet Academy of Sciences …was the major place of employment of the most outstanding fundamental researchers in the country” (Graham 1998, 83). Viacheslav Ivanov’s transfer to the academic Institute for Slavic Studies after his politically-motivated expulsion from Moscow University in 1959–he supported the poet Boris Pasternak at the time of his lynching in the Soviet media for publishing his Doctor Zhivago abroad–is more of a pattern than merely Ivanov’s personal case. Therefore it is not surprising that the academic institute was such an attractive idea. The Academy was perceived as a “haven” and a “free zone” for “true science” (Genis and Vail’ 1988). In the early 1960s, the Academy had the image of the most politically progressive and most intellectually liberal force in society (Churchward 1973, 150). Yet, amidst these rising expectations, many semioticians did not notice, or chose not to notice, that their image of the academic order was not radically different from the officially endorsed. For instance, look at the wording of Andrei Markov Jr.’s address to mathematical and structural linguists, “it is time to move from amateur studies in one’s spare time to serious goal-oriented work planned from a single center” (see Andreev 1960, 133).17 In a word, by the 1960s, the image of hierarchical, (institutionally) centralized, planned, state-funded and independent from education scientific research was largely taken for granted by all players in the academic field. The main issue was only who was going to be at the top of this system, the individuals of Kolmogorov’s and Ivanov’s circle or their opponents, the representatives of the disciplinary establishments or official philosophers. The Academy of Sciences was an establishment in which the expectation and demand of academic self-government seemed to be closer to reality then in any other Soviet academic institution. 15

“Funding of research within this system was not dispersed on the basis of competitive applications by individual researchers, but by block funding of institutes by the central Academy presidium, which got its money from the government” (Graham 1998, 84). 16 The rest of the budget was consumed by the industrial and defense system (around 800,000 personnel). Since I am primarily concerned with human sciences, this third branch of Soviet science does not directly concern us here. 17 Andrei A. Markov Jr. (1903-79), a son of Andrei Markov Sr., the author of the famous “Markov chains,” was a prime candidate for the directorship of the Institute of Cybernetics and/or Semiotics.


Thus, the structuralists’ struggle for recognition and independence was not a struggle against Soviet academic order. At stake was not independence from this order but a degree of autonomy and influence within this order. While challenging some rules of the game, Soviet structuralists followed other rules and often accepted them as natural. Consolidation of power in one center, personal patronage, lobbying and networking, exchange of favors, the rhetoric of “lagging behind” the West and concern for national honor—all these techniques of negotiating academic power were employed by both structuralists and their opponents. In fact, the struggle for the recognition of semiotics as an Academic Institute-worthy discipline proceeded along the typical rout that can be summarized approximately as follows: Let’s say a number of ambitious young people, well versed in some Western books, decide to sprout out. They go to the Central Committee and, if they find some sort of mediator, they receive a research institute. The demand [for new disciplines or fields was not market demand or competition based but] was mediated ideologically. [For instance,] the self-representation to the West was important.18 This is, of course, a crude picture based on the philosopher Mikhail Ryklin’s understanding of the experience of sociology with which he is more familiar. In a more general case, “books” were not necessarily Western; this could have also been the suppressed masterpieces of the native academic tradition (e.g. Russian Formalism). Yet, it is true that the patronage in the “higher spheres” was essential: for decades, Admiral Berg played the role of “the enlightened lord” for Soviet semioticians, while Kolmogorov and a few other prominent scientists provided a clout from influential “hard sciences” for a few years (see Ivanov 1995; 1998a). Furthermore, respectability in the eyes of the “West” was indeed an important argument of the aspirants to the institutional status: “How come that we do not have something while they [the West] do?” This argument was a common trump card used by geneticists, sociologists, cyberneticians and structural linguists. For instance, another patron of semiotics, the director of the Institute for Slavic Studies, argued for the establishment of the Institute of Semiotics as an equivalent to Roman Jakobson’s MIT linguistic center.19 The very fact of such analogy was expected to serve as a justification for the existence of the pressing need in semiotic studies. Furthermore, the early recognition of young Soviet structuralists in the West, such as their frequent appearance in international periodicals,20 served as an additional argument that could easily be translated into Soviet newspeak as “one more victory of Soviet science.” We should also not forget the importance of the government’s pragmatic concerns during the Cold War. Cyberneticians and semioticians appealed to the government’s strategic military needs such as code breaking and “machine translation,” or unmanned speedy translation of foreign academic, military and technical data. Structural linguistics in the Soviet Union received an enormous boost after the publication of the report on the Georgetown Experiment, the first public demonstration of the automatic translation from Russian to English.21 Semioticians also promised to formalize various branches of science 18

Ryklin, Mikhail. Interview by author. Moscow, July 2002. The letter of Petr Tretiakov, the director of the Academy’s Institute of Slavic Studies, to CPSU Central Committee, 1959 (ARAN, f.1965, op.1, d.226, l.17). 20 For instance, periodicals Poetics/Poetika/Poetyka (1961-66) and Sign-Language-Culture combined articles of young Soviet researchers along with such masters of European and American linguistics and semiotics as Chomsky, Chatman, Eco, Gombrich, Greimas, Jakobson and Wierzbicka. 21 See Filinov E.N. Istoriia mashinnogo perevoda (The History of Machine Translation), 19


and economy with a prospect of “optimal planning,” more efficient society-state feedback and thus enhanced governability of society.22 Thus, in addition to the anti-ideological and expansionistic rhetoric, semioticians used the languages of modernization, “scientific-technical revolution” and national security. They also advocated the values of professionalism and meritocracy as opposed to egalitarianism and “proletarian class instinct.” That is, far from being somehow non-ideological, they in fact made use of the plasticity of official ideology by opposing some of its aspects to others for their own benefit. Similarly, far from being a-political, they manipulated the internal divisions within the administrative apparatus by appealing to military and industrial authorities over the head of the academic and Party officials. Nonetheless, the resultant success was at best only partial: the Institute was not established. Moreover, after the most representative and aggressive demonstration of the structuralists’ aspirations at the Symposium on the Structural Study of Sign Systems in Moscow in 1962, the movement was harshly criticized by the chief Khrushchev’s ideologue, academician Leonid Ilichev (see V.Uspensky 1998, 297). By 1964, any further institutional expansion of the structural and semiotic research became highly improbable. Vladimir Toporov, myth specialist and Ivanov’s co-author, was writing in 1964 that “the publications of our sector [of structural typology at the Institute for Slavic Studies] are being attacked by the unconscientious [nedobrosovestnykh] people or even completely stopped.”23 The issue of the Institute of Semiotics disappeared from the official correspondence and the very word “semiotics” returned to the status of suspect terms. This fact explains why the organizers of the Kääriku summer schools, to be discussed shortly, did not mention semiotics in any of their official documents: “secondary modeling systems” was originally invented as a euphemism for the field of semiotics (V.Uspensky 1994). What happened? Why was the series of successes suddenly interrupted? On the one hand, the answer seems to be obvious: the short age of Khrushchev’s liberalism was coming to its end and the regime started to consolidate its ideological hegemony, which was undermined by the anti-Stalinism campaign. Of course, in comparison with Stalin’s suppression of the whole scientific trends, the 1963 clampdown on structuralism was very mild. It only forced Soviet structuralists to abandon their aspirations of expansion and to be satisfied with their gains and achievements to date. No careers, not to mention lives, were ended at that point of time. One might say that this mild clampdown was well in the spirit of the more “vegetarian” times, as opposed to more “carnivorous” Stalinism. Yet, this is at best only a partial explanation. It is too general and does not account for the details of the events. The Party intervention in 1963 should be considered in the context of a number of other processes, such as the internal struggles within the Soviet academic community, the changing outlook on the possible benefits of “mathematical linguistics” in the West and Russia, and the new trends in Soviet social life. Let me first focus at the first point in this list, on the “Soviet academic wars.” Soviet Academic Wars over Structuralism and Semiotics The Soviet field of power struggles is often portrayed as a binary opposition. Intellectuals vs. bureaucracy, the practitioners of critical thought and true knowledge vs. ideologists and careerists, —this are the typical renditions of the major conflict in Soviet society by Western critics of totalitarianism and often Soviet intellectuals themselves (see Kagarlitsky 1988; Pipes 1994; Shlapentokh 1990). Yet, this perspective obscures the ambiguity of the 22 23

See letters to CPSU Central Committee at ARAN, f.1965, op.1, d.226. See also Gerovitch (2002). Toporov to Lotman, March 17th, 1964 (LC, F135, s.Bt 1442).


borderlines between social positions and ideologies of intellectual and political elites in Soviet society. Although binary thinking was indeed strong among the actors in the Soviet academic field, all of them used binary categories to their own advantage. Furthermore, if we look at the actual strategies, employed by intellectuals, of acting and positioning themselves within Soviet public debates and institutional struggles, we encounter a large variety of often surprising trajectories and alliances (see Kojevnikov 2004; Krementsov 1997). In Slava Gerovitch’s words, “Instead of simple binary opposition, we have a confusing Möbius strip: it is no longer entirely clear who is on which side” (2002, 6). We notice that the competing strategies were built not in the idealized space of the binary oppositions but in a much messier multi-polar world in which the very labels of “intellectual” (intelligent), “scientist” (uchenyi) and “science” were at stake, as constantly contested and reinterpreted identity markers. In this context, the academic debates on structuralism and later the Tartu School reveal a lot about the late Soviet academic wars. If we listen only to structuralists, we get an impression that the critique of structuralism and semiotics was nothing but a series of academically shallow but politically dangerous attacks by the priests of Marxist orthodoxy and various “careerists” who tried to curry favor with the authorities (e.g. Ivanov 1995). Yet, if we also take the perspective of the other side of the debate into account, we get a far more complex and interesting picture. Indeed, structuralists tended to treat the critique aimed at them as at least “irrelevant” but more often “denunciatory.“ For example, in response to a philosopher’s accusation that structuralists “do not take into account the fundamental principles of Marxist dialectics,” Viacheslav Ivanov reacted by describing this criticism as a political denunciation in the spirit of the time of the cult of personality. Malicious, demagogic and absurd speech by [the philosopher] Gorsky has nothing to do with scientific polemics.24 Here, Ivanov refers to the period of Stalinism, or “the cult of the personality,” when indeed one could speak about the close overlap between scientific and political criticism. This is how one insightful student of Stalinist science describes the “spirit” of this epoch: “the disappearance of traditional scientific criticism is quite understandable—in the atmosphere of ‘permanent struggle’ and fierce political campaigns, any criticism could be perceived as a signal to start a new campaign” (Krementsov 1997, 52). In this situation, the academics in the 1930s and 1940s faced the choice between two options: either to engage in toppling their opponents by using the ideological newspeak and thus, explicitly or not, engaging the authorities, or to avoid any academic debate whatsoever. Yet, the fact that Ivanov could possibly respond to his critics by condemning their recourse to “ideology” indicates that he was acting no longer within the framework of Stalinist science. In the 1950s, the framing of one’s academic concerns in Marxist terms was no longer the only acceptable strategy of positioning yourself in the academic debate. Appeals to “pure science,” as we have seen, could openly compete with appeals to “scientific ideology.” Moreover, the former became a new exclusionary strategy: whoever does not share cyberspeak and, especially, openly refers to newspeak (including serious marxist analysis) is outside of the proper scientific discourse. In certain circles and institutions, this meant that you had to change your workplace. If not because of the administrative pressure then because of the peer pressure.25 24 25

Symposium, 1962 (ARAN, f.1657, op.1, d.285, l. 176). See more on the nature and consequences of this peer pressure in chapter 3.


It is true that the extent of administrative power enjoyed by the structuralists, even through their patrons, was still very limited in comparison to the one enjoyed by some of their high-ranking critics, like Viktor Vinogradov, the director of the Academy’s Institute of Russian Language and the chief editor of the main Soviet linguistic journal, or Mikhail V. Khrapchenko (1904-1986), who later, in 1967, became a head of the Academy’s Department of Literature and Language. Yet, despite high official positions, not all these critics were academically insignificant: Viktor Vinogradov is an obvious example of combining both formal and informal intellectual authority. Furthermore, by no means all critics were “bosses” (nachal’niki) or active promoters of Marxist orthodoxy. The nationalist literary critic Vadim V. Kozhinov (1930-2001), the traditionalist essayist Vladimir Turbin (19271993), Vasily V. Abaev (1900-2001), Viacheslav Ivanov’s professor of Indo-European linguistics, and a number of other critics were far from the heights of formal authority. Furthermore, if we follow Peter Seyffert’s (1983) detailed reconstruction of the Soviet debates on literary structuralism, we will see that only the minority of critics unequivocally positioned themselves as orthodox Marxists. More often, the only references to “Marxism” were limited to the ritualistically reiterated “truths” of Hegelian dialectics (the thesis of the “unity of content and form” in contrast to structuralists’ apparent “formalism”) and the classical realistic critique of “art for art’s sake.” Yet, this textbook Marxism usually coexisted with not specifically Marxist condemnations toward structuralists’ apparent anti-humanism, anti-patriotism, and their tendency, apparently, to reduce the specificity of art to language. For instance, some of the critics identified structuralist “anti-humanist” methodology with a technocratic version of totalitarianism (Kozhinov 1965). One opponent, the respectable Indo-European linguist Vasily Abaev, accused structuralists of participating in the “monstrous dehumanization” of the Soviet people (see Revzin 1997, 797; cf. Abaev 1965). The traditionalist philosopher Vladimir Turbin summarized this line of criticism as follows: “Structuralism is a sublimated human desire to imprison one’s neighbors” (1994, 43). All of these criticisms, in a deliberately abstract and obscure manner, identified structuralism with its supposed opponent, Stalinism. The charge of anti-humanism was often accompanied by a sense of the threat posed by structuralists to the “disciplinary integrity” of such humanistic disciplines as literary studies (literaturovedenie) (Seyffert 1983, 92). Some literary scholars, not only specialists in “socialist realism,” considered the extension of the methods of linguistics and cybernetics to literature and culture a way towards the new ideological domination, or an attempt to substitute communist ideology with the ideology of positivistic and West-oriented scientism (e.g. Abaev 1965). They saw in structuralism and semiotics considerable danger to the disciplinary culture of Soviet literary studies which was described as emphatically humanistic, historicist, Romantic, standard language- and classics-oriented. These sentiments are apparent not only in the publications of the period but also in private diaries and the memoirs of the contemporaries. For instance, according to Mikhail Gasparov (1994a, 411), the famous Pushkin scholar Sergei M. Bondi was distressed over the use of the quantitative methods in the study of poetry by structuralists: “Why do we need to count if we can hear.” Bondi was only one the most prominent among those who were upset, to put it mildly, about the structuralist challenge. In short, the aspiration of semiotics toward its super-disciplinary status encountered stringent resistance both from another super-discipline, Marxist-Leninist philosophy, and from within particular disciplines the representatives of which were afraid for their, already limited, control over their specialized knowledge. While this resistance was indiscriminately viewed by structuralists as the case of “ignorance” and “political denunciation,” it could also be seen as an effort by established disciplinary scholars to defend their remaining professional autonomy and cultural authority, as they understood these concepts. 27

The debate on structuralism and semiotics also shows that, despite using Marxist newspeak strategically, a large portion of mainstream academics in the humanities were firmly entrenched in specific disciplinary paradigms such as Indo-European linguistics, or in non-Marxist ideologies like Russian nationalism, Russian religious philosophy, and various 19th century intelligentsia discourses. If we try to paint the collective portrait of a typical critic of structuralism, it is going to include an eclectic repertoire of Romantic, nationalistic and social deterministic assumptions. According to Petr V. Palievsky (b.1932), his antistructuralist “camp” was “convinced that the concepts of national roots, civic responsibility, and class character are part of the very essence of literature” (see Seyffert 1983, 354). In sum, structuralists were criticized not so much for their non-Marxism as for challenging the established disciplinary borderlines, as well as a web of Romantic and Realist assumptions in the foundation of both Russian and Soviet humanities: the work of art is a unique image, or even a “reflection,” of reality in its “typical features,” created by the unique artistic genius, who, like the Hegelian “great personality,” is granted with the ability to sense the Zeitgeist and express it by means of his unique mastership (masterstvo) (see Clark 1985; Groys 1992; Tertz 1960). Overall, despite the persuasiveness of the politicized bipolar distinctions, the conflict outlined above cannot be reduced to the revolt of academic dissidents against the domination of “one and only scientific ideology.” To a large extent, the debate on structuralism was merely a part of the larger competition between different factions within the Soviet academic intelligentsia. The main stakes were academic autonomy, or the control over academic institutions and resources, and “symbolic” power, or power to make and sustain legitimate distinctions (see Bourdieu 1977, 171-182). In this competition, structuralists were not only rebels against, and eventually victims of, the Soviet ideological regime. They were also aggressive aspirants, who were facing the heterogeneous academic establishment, composed of both “new,” or “Soviet,” and “old” disciplinary and nationalistic intellectual elites. The temporary “defeat” of the structuralist movement in 1963 should be seen not so much in terms of “suppression” as in terms of “being outmaneuvered” by the competing academic groups. The Crisis of the Soviet Structuralist Movement in the early 1960s The strong resistance that the structuralist movement encountered within Soviet humanistic academia was only one reason for the failure of structuralists to establish their strong institutional base. There were a number of other important reasons. One could be the growing skepticism about the feasibility and utility of machine translation projects and the projects of formalizing and “mathematizing” linguistics not only in Russia but also in the US. Discussed in more detail in chapter 5, this factor, however, did not play significant role in the early 1960s. The Western critique of formalization projects and structuralism as a whole started to play its role in the Soviet debates only later in the 1960s. More importantly, the institutional and rhetoric strategies, which were adopted by Soviet structuralists in the 1950s, proved increasingly inadequate by the early 1960s. By their militant “scientist” rhetoric and intellectual elitism, structuralists managed to alienate not only many representatives of the same generation of scholars, but also some of their teachers and intellectual icons. I have already mentioned the examples of Vasily Abaev and Sergei Bondi. Even more significant is the fact that Viacheslav Ivanov and his colleagues failed to establish working relationships with still alive and active leaders of the 1920s formalism, Victor B. Shklovsky (1893-1984) and Vladimir Propp. Although the structuralists of the 1960s respected the classical writings of these authors, they considered Shklovsky and Propp of the 1960s “collaborationists,” “sellouts” and “intellectual dead 28

men.”26 Furthermore, the alliance with hard scientists was disintegrating. In 1962, Andrei Kolmogorov refused to attend the Moscow semiotic symposium, which was discussed earlier. Moreover, in 1963, he joined another meeting, the Symposium on the Complex Study of Artistic Creativity, which was aimed at sketching out an alternative to structuralism. Clearly, by 1963, Soviet structuralists were losing their allies. The agenda of the 1963 symposium, which was attended by Kolmogorov, helps to clarify what was wrong with the dominant strategy of action which was adopted by Soviet structuralists. As I mentioned earlier, they tried to reform Soviet humanities based on the assumption that the adherence to presumably precise rules of the scientific procedure and ethos would guarantee the independence of such new academic institutions as the Institute of Semiotics. Yet, Soviet structuralists tended to dismiss the possibility of “foolproof machines,” which were based on the rules and procedures of structural linguistics, and could be used by “any idiot,” in the words of Alexander Zholkovsky (1998, 168). They underestimated the ability of their rivals to learn and appropriate their “scientific” methodology and their revolutionary rhetoric of “exact science.” The 1963 symposium was a symptom of this appropriation.27 Organized by the established literary critic Boris S. Meilakh (1909-1987), this convention accepted as legitimate structural and mathematical (e.g. statistical) methods in linguistics and poetics but rejected their structuralist theoretical grounding. In short, formalization—yes, formalism and structuralism—no. In this, the agenda of the 1963 symposium followed closely the suggestion made by one of the leading Soviet official theorists and historians of literature: “If we [established literary scholars] tell them [Kolmogorov and his colleagues] what, for what reasons and in what direction should be counted, then we can find common language with them.”28 In effect, the symposium welcomed those who were ready to accept the instrumental interpretation of “structural and mathematical methods,” and thus ready to submit to the hegemony of those who accused structuralists of anti-humanism. By proclaiming “structural methods without structuralism,” the 1963 symposium effectively undermined the structuralists’ claim on the monopoly over “scientific” linguistics and literary studies, not to mention the humanities as a whole. Simultaneously, the very idea of the Institute of Semiotics, which was supposed to be dominated by structuralists, was appropriated by the disciplinary establishment and then dropped altogether. If in 1960 Andrei Markov Jr.—an ally of Soviet structuralists—was calling for the centralization of research in “cybernetic linguistics,” already in 1962 the rivals of the structuralist movement repeated the same call for institutionalization of structural, quantitative and semiotic studies on language and the arts. As one official philosopher pointed out, “semiotic studies cannot be dispersed, it is necessary to provide qualified ideological and scientific leadership from the single center for all academic studies [in this area]”29 Thus, the authorities and the disciplinary elites at first agreed to the establishment of the Institute, with a precondition that it included their representatives. In academic terms, this meant that the official recognition of semiotics was conditioned on two things: semiotics would have to abandon its universalistic claims, and it would have to submit to the authority of the existing academic paradigms and establishments. This is how Vladimir Toporov reflected on the possible effects of such a settlement: 26

Ivanov, Viacheslav. Interview by author. Moscow, July 2002. On the relationships between Shklovsky, Propp, Jakobson and the Tartu School, see also chapter 3. 27 Slava Gerovitch (2002, 279) similarly argues that cybernetics was, in the 1960s, “transformed from a vehicle of reform into a pillar of the status quo.” 28 Leonid I. Timofeev (1903-1984), ARAN, f.1902, op.1, d.37. 29 Symposium, 1962 (ARAN, f.1965, op. 1, d.285).


I do not doubt that soon we will witness the establishment of structural literary studies (perhaps, in [Boris] Meilakh’s variant by including, as founding fathers, everybody who is necessary (vsekh kogo nuzhno)),30 and semiotics (something in the same spirit), etc. Possibly, within these fields, a few serious people would be able to work in selected domains (specialized enough to be unintelligible).31 Once structuralists were neutralized, the idea of a separate Institute of Semiotics was quickly forgotten. After all, the aim of the anti-structuralists was, from the outset, the preservation of the status quo, not innovation. Thus, as a result of being outmaneuvered by their opponents, Soviet structuralists had not only to abandon their plans of establishment, hegemony, and expansion but also to face the prospect of becoming rank-and-file “technicians” within the watered-down version of their own project. Unlike Toporov, Ivanov and their circle, many members of the movement did not find this prospect too unappealing. They followed the example of Kolmogorov and settled with the narrowly technical definition of structural linguistics as a kind of computer programming. Within a number of centers of structuralist linguistics, which were established by 1962, they continued to work on the linguistic aspects of various state-sponsored projects like automatic content scanning of foreign specialized texts or creating algorithms of machine translation between languages (see Nauka 1976, 40-42). Although I abstain from making a judgment on the overall intellectual value of these “technical” studies, the effectiveness of this research was limited by the lack of access to computers; computer was a scarce resource, which was vehemently protected by the military authorities and natural scientists (see Gerovitch 2002). Of course, not all Soviet structuralists submitted to this settlement. There were a number of other social strategies and positions, which were available to less conformist members of the movement. One such strategy may be called “the art of niche-making” (shchelevedenie), to use Mikhail Gasparov’s expression.32 This is to define your field narrowly and make yourself “not interesting for kicking” (M.Gasparov 2000b, 78). In contrast to the strategy, which was chosen by the “technicians,” the strategy of niche-making involved setting your own research goals and setting them in terms that sounded as “academic,” “unintelligible,” and pragmatically irrelevant as possible. The self-proclaimed specialist in this strategy, Mikhail Gasparov excelled in the studies of the poetic meter and rhyme in ancient Greek and modern Russian poetry. Incidentally, his research currently enjoys considerable recognition among Russian and Western specialists not only in structural and historical poetics but in critical literary theory as a whole, partially due to his subsequent involvement with the Tartu School (see Wachtel 1998, 17). However, this is an exception. The usual cost of this strategy was obscurity, at least outside of a narrow research field. Another social strategy and position, which was adopted by Soviet structuralists in the 1960s, was public intellectual non-conformism. Public non-conformists did not look for safe niches, like Mikhail Gasparov, or struggle for controlling research fields and “the language of human sciences” per se, as Ivanov did early in the decade. They just did the kind of work they deemed necessary to be done without even attempting to position and justify this work 30

That is, major opponents of Soviet structuralists, as well as those practitioners of structural linguistics and poetics who were willing to cooperate with the anti-structuralist establishment. 31 Toporov to Lotman, March 17, 1964 (LC, F135, s.Bt 1442). 32 There is much self-irony in this label. Here, Mikhail Gasparov compares his colleagues and himself not even to soldiers hunkering down in trenches but with cockroaches hiding in the cracks, or slittrenches (shcheli), in walls and floors from the watchful gaze of the Big Brother (see Gasparov, Mikhail. Email to author, September 2002).


within the larger framework of their academic institutions and Soviet human sciences (see Apresian 1996; Melchuk 1998; Zholkovsky 1998). In a word, they behaved as if they could do whatever they wanted, whether their intellectual tastes corresponded to established conventions or not. In many cases, this was a part of a larger dissident strategy of exercising—legal and intellectual—rights and freedoms “without prior permission” (iavochnym poriadkom) (see Daniel’ 2001; Nathans 2007; Tökés 1975). If political dissidents tried to do what, they claimed, their “human rights” allow them to do, i.e. to think and speak freely, non-conformist academics exercised their right on academic autonomy without bothering to struggle for institutional reforms. The emergence of this position in the 1960s signaled a new stage in the unraveling of the contract between intellectuals and authorities. A growing number of intellectuals and academics, especially younger humanists, refused to make academic careers, defend dissertations or publish in official journals.33 The late Soviet guarantees of “job security” allowed them to be formally enrolled in academic institutions but their open non-conformism made them increasingly vulnerable politically. During the periodic anti-dissident crackdowns in the 1970s, some of these “academic dissidents” were expelled from their workplaces with a note “for incompetence.”34 Ultimately, when effectively or formally excluded from academia, a large number of non-conformists chose to emigrate (see Appendix A). To avoid such an end, one could engage in “stay home research” in addition to, or even instead of, the academic work within the frameworks of formal institutions. This was not necessarily a solitary business: since the 1960s, we can speak about the existence of the whole subculture of informal peer circles with their distinctive sites of intellectual and personal interaction: “home seminars,” “ evening seminars,” and “summer schools.” Some of these meetings were authorized, allowed or simply tolerated by the institutional authorities. They took place in empty classrooms of the universities and research institutes after work hours, or in some remote campuses and resorts. Otherwise, private apartments were the sites of the unauthorized seminars. Yet, in all cases, these gatherings were initiated and supervised by academics themselves, with minimal interference from the governing and censoring agencies. Often hosted by an energetic scholar, sometimes a woman, these “salons”—as these sessions were often referred to with some self-irony—were alternative forms of selforganization of the academic public. In comparison to “kitchen salons”—the sites of informal communication, where samizdat poetry was read and the newest “politically incorrect” jokes were exchanged, —academic salons were more formal and less spontaneous. They had structure, schedule, lists of participants and other attributes of a regular academic meetings. Established as alternatives to formal academic gatherings and institutions, academic salons were characterized by emphatic distancing from official procedures, language and symbolism. The hierarchies of prestige within this salon subculture often differed from, or even reversed, the official hierarchies. Yet, the participation in salons did not exclude the participation in the regular academic life. Despite some intersection with dissident circles, the academic salons were not dissident or underground organizations per se. Rather, they were institutions of what I analyze in more detail in the next chapter as “parallel academia,” or “parallel science.”


Zholkovsky, interview. Or rather “for incompetence” (za profneprigodnost’). In particular, Zholkovsky’s friend and prominent structural linguist Igor Melchuk (b.1932) was expelled from the Academy’s Institute of Linguistics in 1976 after publicly supporting Andrei Sakharov and other Soviet dissidents (see Zholkovsky 1998, 168). In the following year, he immigrated to Canada. He is currently professor at the University of Montreal. 34


The home and evening seminars, which were led by the psychologist and philosopher Grigory P. Shchedrovitsky (1929-1994), the sociologist Yuri A. Levada (1930-2006), the psycholinguist Revekka Frumkina (b. 1931), and by the structuralists Zholkovsky and Meletinsky, were among most respected among human scientists during the heyday of academic salons in the 1960s-1970s. Yet, particularly prestigious were semiotic summer schools in Tartu and Kääriku, Estonia, which took place in 1964-1974. A result of the encounter between Moscow structuralists and the Tartu University professor Yuri Lotman, these “schools” provided structuralists with a plausible alternative to self-enclosure in a narrow niche and to the self-marginalizing dissent. In the following section, I start discussing the nature of this alternative by focusing on the personality and the social standing of Yuri Mikhailovich Lotman. From Moscow to Tartu: Yuri Lotman and the New Beginnings The significance of the encounter between Moscow structuralists and Yuri Lotman is hard to underestimate. He appeared on the structuralists’ horizon at the moment when their movement was in deep crisis and all prospects of institutional establishment and expansion were in serious doubt. In this depressing circumstances, Lotman provided new opportunities for new beginnings. It is through the detour to Tartu that the Soviet semiotic project became what it is known for, the “Tartu-Moscow School,” and the base for the distinctive Tartu project of the “science of culture,” or “culturology” (kul’turologiia). In what follows I outline the circumstances that made possible the appearance of this Siamese twin-like alliance that changed Soviet human sciences to the extent that we can start to appreciate only now. What was Lotman able to offer to the Muscovites that they were lacking and could appreciate? To answer this question, let me start by telling the story of the encounter between Moscow and Tartu groups. As narrated by some witnesses, this encounter happened as follows: after familiarizing himself with the materials of the 1962 Semiotic Symposium in Moscow, Yuri Lotman, the professor and the chair of the Department of Russian literature at Tartu State University’s Faculty of Philology, sent his envoy, a third-year undergraduate student Igor Chernov, to Moscow, to the academic Institute for Slavic Studies, hoping to establish academic contacts. In Chernov’s narrative, “I went from the train station straight to the Institute. They [Toporov, Ivanov and their colleagues] were surprised: ‘What? You too!’”35 And thus the foundation for the long-term cooperation was laid. As most memoirs, this story should be taken cum grano salis: Moscow structuralists were not totally ignorant about the Tartu professor Lotman and his interest in structuralism. Yet, it is true that this was not the most obvious, or “natural,” alliance. First of all, Lotman was not a member of the academic or intellectual circles of Moscow linguists. Seven to sixteen years older than most Moscow colleagues (except for Petr Bogatyrev, Eliazar Meletinsky and Lev Zhegin (see Appendix A)), Lotman was a representative of a different generation. It is true, though, that he graduated—with honors—from Leningrad University only a year earlier then the key Muscovites, Ivanov and Toporov. Yet, he was a veteran of the World War II—he spent six years in the front-line army!—and thus was late with his studies. As most veterans and unlike Moscow structuralists, he was a member of the Communist Party. Despite this fact, Yuri Lotman was one of many Soviet Jews who, after graduating in the early 1950s, found themselves unable to continue their studies or find jobs on most campuses of the Soviet Union.36 The reason was simple: the year of his graduation 35

Chernov, Igor. Interview by author. Tallinn, October 2001. Lotman’s colleague Pavel Reifman and the Tartu philosopher Leonid Stolovich fall into the same category. See corresponding interviews by author, Tartu, Estonia, October 2001. 36


appeared to be the high point of Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaign against “cosmopolitanism” (Lotman 1994c, 36; Egorov 1999, 47). Moreover, he graduated in one of the most “ideological” majors, Russian literature. If he was a mathematician or even a linguist, his fate would probably be different. Paradoxically, however, the disadvantaged status of an unemployable Jew allowed him to avoid the usual mandatory allocation to the job in a small town, possibly in Siberia. He received a privileged status of “free allocation” which was usually granted to exceptional students wanted by the institutes of the Academy of Sciences or the military-industrial complex. Yet in Lotman’s case this status meant that he was out on the market. This was an extremely unusual position for a Soviet intellectual, including Moscow to-be-structuralists: most of them went straight to the graduate school after their graduation. As I mentioned, Lotman’s major in Leningrad University was Russian literature. This fact had a number of implications for Lotman’s distinctive position among Soviet structuralists. Due to belonging to the hereditary Moscow intelligentsia, the Muscovites like Viacheslav V. Ivanov were exposed to some of the most valuable cultural contacts with which their epoch could provide them. And yet there were few notable formalists or structuralists among their tutors.37 No surprise that, throughout the 1950s, they were in desperate search for tutors among natural scientists like Kolmogorov or emigrants like Roman Jakobson. They seemed to feel as parentless children in search for parents outside of their narrow specialization or even time and space. The obvious supplements of such parentage were books, often in foreign languages and out of print, unattainable for larger audience.38 This tutorlessness was one of the reasons for the scorn many Muscovites expressed for Soviet formal education. As I have argued, they usually associated their academic autonomy with the freedom to focus on “pure research.” In contrast, Lotman was fortunate enough to study with some of the major figures in Soviet human sciences, including Boris Tomashevsky, Boris Eikhenbaum, Vladimir Propp, Grigory Gukovsky and others. This fact not only left a deep imprint on his views but also on his attitude to and style of teaching. Lotman’s colleagues and students often admired in him what he appreciated in his mentors: The particularity of professors of that time [the 1930s and 1940s] consisted in their deep intellectual culture (kul’turnost’) which lacked affectedness and pretence. This culture manifested itself in invariable kindness (liubeznost’) to students and persistent readiness to see a colleague in a student (Lotman 1994b, 57). Lotman did not consider himself “parentless”; on the contrary, he had a sense of being firmly entrenched in the continuous Russian tradition of the scholarship in literature and cultural


Notable exceptions include: Mikhail N. Peterson (19885-1962), Petr S. Kuznetsov (1899-1968) and Alexander A. Reformatsky (1900-1978). Yet, these were all linguists, mostly specialists in phonology. Leningrad University had more professors with world names in folklore and literature studies. 38 Joseph Brodsky wrote about the significance of books and libraries for many Soviet intellectuals: “Books became the first and the only reality, whereas reality itself was regarded as either nonsense or nuisance… [E]xistence which ignores the standards professed in literature is inferior and unworthy of effect” (1986, 30). Ivanov and Toporov provide extreme cases of such a “bibliophily,” or a kind of worship of books and texts. For health reasons, Ivanov had an opportunity of home schooling that enabled him not only to devour his father’s rich library but also learn an enormous number of foreign and “dead” languages (see Ivanov 1995).


history, the tradition manifested by the Petrograd Formalism of the 1920s, in particular.39 Therefore, for him, to embrace structuralism and later semiotics meant not, or not only, to pay his debt to a contemporary fad or to protest against established scholarship. It was also to continue his student-teacher dialogue with his mentors and their colleagues on empirical and grounded-theory matters like the emergence of Russian national literary language or the analysis of the text. Therefore, although occasionally enthusiastic about ideas and theories outside of his field and in other languages as well as open to the ideas of his well-read Moscow colleagues, he was never an interdisciplinary erudite or a know-it-all in Western literature the way Viacheslav V. Ivanov is.40 To the technocratic and often nihilistic spirit of the younger Muscovites, Lotman added his own aura of the respectable “old-school” academic and educator. Despite or due to these characteristics of Lotman’s academic persona, he managed to establish himself as an important literary historian by the time of the first contact with Moscow semioticians. His studies focused on the interrelations between literature, ideology, and personal identity in Russian culture of the late 18th–early 19th century (e.g. Lotman [1960] 1997; [1966] 1997). Although he still routinely used some of the clichés of Soviet literary studies like the opposition of “progressive” and “reactionary” writers and styles, his studies carried a mark of the thorough positivistic training and the formalist methodology. His attention to not only great authors but also minor ones and the emphasis on symbolic structures of culture, rather then preconceived “class struggle,” distinguished his scholarship within the mainstream Soviet scholarship (Lotman [1959] 1997; [1965] 1997). Instead of judging literary works from the point of view of later generations, he focused on their meanings for their immediate producers and consumers. Furthermore, as a student of Russian Formalists, he could not avoid the debates on structuralism and semiotics. His first significant contribution to these debates, the paper on the delimitation between linguistic and literary concepts of structure, was already an international success (Lotman 1963). Although lacking in overseas connections (unlike the Muscovites), he managed to get across his point to the foreign academic community: his paper was not only immediately translated into French but also influenced French structuralists, as Julia Kristeva (1994) admitted. Yuri Lotman was also one of the first professors in the world who started to teach semiotics in the university setting. Since fall 1962, he lectured on structural poetics and semiotics (see Lotman 1964). Officially, this was an elective course for the majors in cybernetics (which existed only in Estonia at that time). Yet, in fact, in the spring 1963, only one student, Igor Chernov, Russian philology student, attended it. This one-to-one experience – the topic of departmental legends and jokes – contributed to establishing a particularly strong link between Lotman and his student.41 In fact, this two plus Lotman’s wife, Zara Mints, and later the linguist Boris Gasparov became the Tartu “branch” of the Tartu-Moscow School. Hence, although not a member of any Moscow circle, Lotman and his colleagues did not approach them out of the blue. He had a reputation and he had something to offer: his scholastic capacities and organizational skills as well as specific, unique in the Soviet Union, opportunities provided by Estonia. The latter point is particularly noteworthy. To recall, as of 1950, Lotman was an excellent but jobless graduate of Leningrad University. By pure coincidence, someone advised him to contact the newly established Pedagogical Institute in 39

Of course, this sense of entrenchment does not mean that he was familiar with all significant works of Formalists. For instance, some of the key works of Shklovsky, Tynianov, and, especially, Roman Jakobson became available to Soviet intellectuals only in the late 1950s. 40 Chernov, interview. 41 Chernov, interview.


Tartu, Estonia, and, unlike in Leningrad, Lotman immediately got the job (see Lotman 1994c, 35-40). In 1954, he joined the Department of Russian Literature at Tartu University and, in 1960, became its chair. What happened? The matter is that in 1950, Estonia was a recently acquired territory that became fully pacified only by the mid-1950s (Egorov 1999, 49-50; cf. Misiunas and Taagepera 1993). There was an urgent need for competent professors of literature and language because, according to Stalin’s laws of 1938, Russian was an obligatory subject in all national schools (Smith 2001, 61-62).42 As important vehicles of Sovietization, Russian language and literature were supposed to be among immediate priorities of the cultural politics of the government of Soviet Estonia. In this situation, Lotman’s Jewishness did not matter as much as it did in Leningrad. Moreover, for both disgruntled Estonian intellectuals and local communist officials, any specialist from Russia was an emissary—or even a “commissar”—of “the center,” regardless of his or her actual standing with respect to this “center” (see Egorov 1999, 69). This “emissary” role empowered Russian specialists like Lotman in the eyes of local officials and provided them with authority they lacked in Russia. Even if this role effectively separated Lotman and his colleagues from Estonian intellectual elites, this segregation was not without its advantages: it fenced off the “Russians,” for the time being, from local rivalries. In addition, Lotman happened to establish very trusting relationships with the Rector of the University, the Russified Estonian Fedor Klement (19031973, Rector in 1951-70). This relationship proved to be long-lasting and extremely useful for Lotman: as a member of the Estonian Communist Party’s Central Committee, Klement was an enormous organizational resource and an undeniable source of protection for Lotman’s upcoming initiatives.43 Yet, even without Rector Klement, Estonia of the late 1950s and the1960s provided unique opportunities for organizational and intellectual experimentation, of which the work of the Tartu School was only one (see Misiunas and Taagepera 1993). In this period, Estonia had the most relaxed political regime and the most prosperous economy within the Soviet Union. When Khrushchev taunted abstract art during the famous Manezh exhibition in 1962, this “politically incorrect” art was flourishing in Tallinn and Tartu. In 1964, Tartu hosted the first Soviet jazz festival. Partially due to the complete obscurity of their language, Estonian writers could write things inconceivable in Russian (see Veller 1995). No surprise, Estonian was the first language to which Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago was translated. In academia, the first Soviet Institute of Cybernetics was established by the Estonian Academy of Sciences in 1960. This fact is due to the peculiarity of the unequal imperial division of labor between Moscow and Tallinn. Each republic was forced to specialize narrowly but, while, for instance, Uzbekistan was a “cotton republic,” Estonia was more an electronics, furniture and dairy-products republic.44 Estonia was a site of all major economic experiments in the 1960s, from the introduction of the elements of “regulated market economy” to personal checks for large purchases (Misiunas and Taagepera 1993). In effect, 42

“National schools” were the schools where the primary language of instruction was a local language, not Russian. 43 This fact is noteworthy because, usually, the status of university rectors was lower (with the exception of major universities like Moscow University). This was a part of the general trend toward downgrading universities and reducing their functions to teaching (see Smith 2001). In effect, in contrast to the officials of the Academy who were responsible to federal and republican Central Committees, rectors were responsible to local city committees. This was, however, not the case of Rector Klement (see Egorov 1999, 62). 44 Although the video conferencing software Skype is currently hip, the essential role of Estonian programmers in designing it is hardly known among the general public. The public is even less aware of the not so distant historical roots of Estonia’s current technological sophistication.


the republic had strong educated middle class, relatively high standard of living and relatively tolerant regime. All these factors made Estonia a legend among Soviet intellectuals. Moscow and Leningrad intelligentsia perceived it as a “neighboring country” and “ the internal West” (Levin 1994; Toporov 1994).45 The republic attracted non-conformist intellectuals but, even among more settled ones, it was fashionable to buy or rent dachas (summer houses) in Estonia. In fact, Lotman established some of his first Moscow contacts by simply being neighbors with the Muscovites. It is not surprising that Kääriku and Tartu became essential sites of the Tartu School’s collective memory. Tartu, the only campus city in the Soviet Union, shocked Moscow intellectuals by its atmosphere of outlandishness (nezdeshnost'), starting with European architecture and ending with still existing “student fraternities,” perceived as the signs of institutional and intellectual freedom (vol’nitsa) (Lesskis 1994; Toporov 1994). The halo of “Westernness,” “foreignness,” and “frontierness” around Tartu, reported by most participants, enhanced the sense of taking part in a kind of initiatory celebration, as well as an exciting intellectual game on the verge of “the allowed.” Ultimately, Tartu and Estonia appeared to be Lotman’s primary organizational and political resources. An opportunity to meet periodically in a distant place and to publish in a practically uncensored series was more than the Muscovites could wish for at that point. Moreover, Tartu University provided them with access to students, that is the opportunity to reproduce as a school proper. As we know, most Moscow structuralists and semioticians ended up in the institutions of the Academy of Sciences (see Appendix A). These institutions provided secure job opportunities and excellent resources for research but they did not provide access to students. The alliance with Lotman provided this access. Of course, the attraction was not one-sided. The Muscovites were not the only ones who benefited from the alliance with the Tartu scholars. Yuri Lotman was extremely interested in expanding his academic network. In addition to advantages, the relative isolation of Tartu imposed its limitations. Although high in the local, formal and informal, hierarchy of prestige, the only university in Estonia was “provincial” according to the Soviet ranking. For instance, its library collections, rich in pre-1940 publications in all languages, were poorly supplied with new publications.46 Furthermore, the immunity from both local and central power struggles also implied very small scale of academic communication and exchange. Lotman’s initiative to set up a number of vibrant academic series, first in philology and then in semiotics, was an attempt to break through the isolation: the TRSF was established to put the Tartu department on the map during the International Slavic Studies Congress in 1958 in Moscow. This, however, was not sufficient. Connected to Jakobson and other Western philologists, the Moscow structuralists of Ivanov’s circle were literally the best contacts available for Lotman at the time. This being said, I do not want to present the Tartu-Moscow alliance as a result of the rational-choice-like calculated exchange of valuable resources. Lotman and the Muscovites had enough intellectual “roots” to share: Russian Formalism, especially Jakobson and Propp, the interest in the “forbidden literature” of Russian modernism and avant-garde, to mention 45

In the writer Mikhail Veller’s succinct summary, “Estonia smelled a little bit like Soviet Switzerland. Small-scale but comfortable. A kind of internal West. Semi-foreign semi-country. Fork in the left hand, knife in the right one, Finnish TV, liberalism. And not too far: it takes a night-train to get to Moscow or Leningrad” (Veller 1996, 57) 46 For instance, the 1972 annual report of the University’s Department of Russian Literature states that “the university library does not subscribe to any foreign [valiutnye]—beyond socialist countries— journals and special literature in Russian studies… In these respects, the level of the library collection is lower then even [sic!] in the bourgeois period [i.e. before 1940]” (EA F5311, N70, s62, p.8).


just a few points of convergence. In conjunction with these overlaps, the critical state of Moscow structuralism and the opportunities offered by Lotman shaped the unique moment at which the Tartu-Moscow School proper emerged. Hence, the emergence of the Tartu-Moscow community was an outcome of the evolution characterized by the dialectics of continuity and discontinuity, cumulative growth and gestalt shifts. For one thing, Tartu-Kääriku conventions were merely an extension of the Moscow structuralist movement. This fact is underlined by the continuities in membership and thematic preferences. If we compare the 1962 Symposium and the 1964 Kääriku summer school, we will notice that 16 of 28 participants of the Symposium delivered their presentations in Kääriku (Shukman 1977, 187-9). Summer schools and Tartu semiotic publications inherited some of the leaders of this movement, including Viacheslav Ivanov, Vladimir Toporov, Dmitry Segal and Isaak Revzin (see Appendix A). Undoubtedly, the social networks established in the 1950s served as a basis for much of the Tartu-Moscow membership. We can also speak about significant thematic continuities: in both cases, the aspiration was to expand the new science of semiotics from modeling natural and artificial languages to literary studies, sociology, history and the theory of culture.47 Yet, to overemphasize the continuity is to read history backwards, from the result to the processes through which it came to existence. Instead, I argue that the encounter between Moscow and Tartu intellectuals led to something that Lotman called in his last book an “explosive expansion” of the network of academic social and intellectual interactions accompanied by the substantive transformation of the intellectual paradigm, as well as the patterns of communication, publishing, and positioning oneself towards various audiences (Lotman 1992). Obviously, the expansion of the network did not happen without notable losses in membership. Such scholars as Academician Kolmogorov, Vladimir Uspensky, Melchuk, Apresian, Zholkovsky and others had nothing or not much to do with Tartu meetings. Igor Melchuk, leading specialist in quantitative linguistics and semantics, did not even recognize “semiotics” as something meaningful: a la Wittgenstein, he refused to consider literature, ideology, myth or everyday behavior as objects of structural, and thus scientific, study (Zholkovsky 2000, 176). Although his friend and coauthor Alexander Zholkovsky did not share his “nihilism,” he simply took liberty to ignore the invitation to attend the first convention in Kääriku and, predictably, did not get new offers in the next few years. 48 Furthermore, the scholars clustered around Viacheslav Ivanov were by no means the only players in the fields of structural linguistics and semiotics. Independent forms of semiotics were about to be developed by Yuri Stepanov (1971), Grigory Shchedrovitsky (1995), and later by Marxist-Leninist academician Khrapchenko, the author of what he called “Marxist semiotics” (1986). At the same time, as already the 1964 summer school indicated, the Tartu-Moscow alliance attracted a number of new people. Out of 26 contributors to the 1964 school, 12 had no significant record of participating in the structuralist movement. An interesting fact about these newcomers is that most of them were specialists in Oriental Studies (vostokovedenie), especially Indology. Lotman and his Tartu associates—also newcomers to the structuralist movement—were students of Russian literature.49 This inflow of Orientalists and Slavists 47

See Programma i tezisy dokladov v letnei shkola po vtorichnym modeliruiushchim sistemam, 19-29 avgusta 1964 g. (The First Summer School (1964): Program and Contents). Tartu: Tartuskii universitet (see the table of contents in Isakov 1991, 117-118; in English: Shukman 1977, 189) 48 Zholkovsky, Alexander. Interview by author. Moscow, July 2002. 49 Some of these new individuals included Indologists Lennart Mäll, Boris Ogibenin, Alexander Syrkin, and Lotman’s colleague and friend Boris Egorov (see Appendix A).


resulted in, and indicated, a significant shift in the thematic of semiotic publications: from the preoccupation with formal modeling of language and “extralinguistic semiotic systems” to close analysis of specific media, their role in the communication process and their historical context; from developing the all-purpose structural method to more object-specific studies of the mechanisms of representation and communication in the arts, in folklore and myth, and within other cultural genres. Of course, it took about five years for these changes to happen. Yet, the vector of the School’s evolution was clear and it pointed from the universally applicable method to object-specific and even historical perspectives, from system (langue) to parole, and from language to culture. This transformation had a notable correlate on the level of the dynamics of academic networks within the institutional and political framework of Soviet science. As I have argued earlier, much of the pre-Tartu structuralist movement aimed at creating new institutional centers of academic power, the centers which could potentially claim authority over the standards of the scientific procedure and truth itself. Other options included either finding a narrow niche in the existing academic institutions, or outright cooptation, or open dissent, which was often eventually followed by emigration. The participants of Tartu-Kääriku meetings did not entirely abandon any of these options, except that they gradually scaled down the revolutionary technocratic rhetoric of the early 1960s. Yet, the Tartu-Moscow alliance opened before them a decidedly new possibility to establish a “parallel” academic public sphere with its own autonomous intuitional structures, publishing opportunities, peer networks and prestige hierarchies. The social and intellectual characteristics of this social domain constitute the subject matter of the next chapter.


Chapter Three THE MAKING OF SOVIET PARALLEL SCIENCE: The Tartu School and the Public Sphere

In his retrospective essay written in 1989, Boris Gasparov—Lotman’s colleague at Tartu University in 1967-80—states that “Tartu intellectuals were searching for the means of separating themselves from the [social] context, of finding and demarcating a free, detached spiritual space—because the whole ‘inhabited’ space of culture was contaminated—to build on it their own separate world” (B.Gasparov 1994a, 282). Here, using the language of his circle, Gasparov outlines the major shift in the strategies of social behavior and identity construction among academic intellectuals associated with structuralism and semiotics. This shift, which was taking place in the second half of the 1960s, and some of its intellectual consequences are topics of this chapter. As I demonstrated in the previous chapter, Soviet structuralists’ dominant strategy in the 1950s and early 1960s was to make use of their social status, high patronage and connections, the liberalism of the Khrushchev’s Thaw and the rhetoric of scientism to gain the highest possible control over academic institutions and the terms of the interaction between science and politics. The failure to establish an alternative center of academic authority and influence in the form of the Institute (or Institutes) of Cybernetics and Semiotics resulted in major frustration of these aspirations. By 1964, structuralism-oriented linguists, folklorists and literary scholars found themselves faced with a very narrow spectrum of choices. They could allow their work to be defined by their opponents in purely technical terms; they could escape into highly specialized—“specialized enough to be unintelligible,” in Vladimir Toporov’s words—“niches” within the academic field, or to become intellectual and possibly political dissidents.1 Yet, another option presented itself in 1963 when Moscow structuralists encountered the Tartu group headed by Yuri Lotman. This encounter made possible the emergence of the Tartu-Moscow—or, Moscow-Tartu, depending on where from you are looking—School proper. In this chapter, I consider this School as a new type of the academic public, the institution of what I call “parallel science.” By exploring in details the historical transformation of the Tartu network over time and in relation to the wider social context, I attempt to understand the meanings in which this social space was indeed “parallel” to, as well as “separated” and “independent” from, Soviet society. In effort to address this concern, the chapter considers three major periods in the history of the Tartu School: the period of the summer schools (1964-1974), the epoch of Lotman-dominated Tartu School (1975-1985) and the perestroika period. I show that each of these periods is characterized by a number of distinctive social strategies. For instance, during the summer schools, Tartu scholars tried to achieve a high degree of public invisibility and “enclosure” within the narrow circle of friends and colleagues. Later, they took a more public and expansive stance, which ultimately brought them during the Gorbachev’s 1

Toporov to Lotman, March 17, 1964 (LC, F135, s.1442).


perestroika into the midst of highly politicized debates. Along with these changes, this chapter explores a number of common and persistent themes, which were characteristic for parallel science. For instance, I analyze how in the history of the Tartu School universalistic values of professionalism and moral life were intertwined with exclusionary techniques of differentiating “us” from “them,” and how the moral community of academic professionals was conceived in opposition to the world of ideologists, careerists and “uncultured” lower class promotes. The central section of the chapter is an exposition of the Tartu School’s dominant discourse of archaism. Here, I demonstrate how some of the major dimensions of the Tartu intellectual paradigm reflected and refracted the School’s location and role within the realm of parallel science. I conclude the chapter by outlining the implications of this my studies for the broader history and sociology of Soviet (parallel) science and the public sphere under Soviet socialism. Networks, Institutions and Parallel Science The concept of “parallel science” is one of the central in this book. Therefore, we cannot proceed without properly introducing it. Preliminarily defined, parallel science is a historically-specific form that some of the personal networks of academics took in the 1960s80s in Soviet Russia. Unlike institutions and personalities, networks only recently became the focus of attention of the students of Russian and Soviet science (see Adams 2000; Kojevnikov 2004). Following Mark Adams’ definition, “network” is here understood as “voluntaristic, private, and fluid set of interlinking personal relations and associations based on ties of trust, family, friendship, ‘old school ties,’ shared concerns, common fascinations, and so forth” (2000, 11-12). Unlike formal institutions and other “structures,” networks are loose, flexible, hard to trace and control. Although private and voluntaristic, they are often stronger and more durable then any formal structure. The role of networks in the history of science is hard to summarize in one formula. It is hard to imagine scientific and intellectual development without informal contacts and ties among scientists and between them and the broader public. At the same time, the legitimacy of academic disciplines and institutions often requires hiding or even suppressing the networking behind them (Adams 2000, 13). In Western academia, there are a number of procedures of regulating the role of networks. Anti-nepotism rules, blind peer-review, the competitive nature of job appointments and grant applications, —these are all the mechanisms of minimizing the influence of networks. Soviet rulers shared these concerns. Stalinist interrogators were particularly interested in exposing their victim’s networks of acquaintances. Yet, the centralized, hierarchical and rather irrational (in the Weberian sense) character of Soviet institutions, academic institutions in particular, led to bringing the networking and the mutual exchange of favors to the fore as necessary transmission-belts within the existing institutional structure (Ledeneva 1998). Even with respect to the Stalinist period, one can speak about the pronounced dualism between institutions and networks in Soviet academia. Interpersonal networks were relatively independent social milieus and forces, which proved indispensable in decision-making on both administrative and intellectual affairs (Kojevnikov 2004). Networks bridged between institutional and disciplinary boundaries, levels of the hierarchy, and between academia and authorities. Networking could provide you with a position of esteem and even power within Soviet academia but it could also undermine the significance of the official titles bestowed on you. Institutions and disciplines were, to a large extent, the fields of contestation between competing networks. When a field was occupied by one circle, e.g. the field of biology by Lysenko’s people in the late 1940s, then the members of the defeated networks retreated into neighboring fields, e.g. mathematics and physics in the institutes of the Academy of Sciences, under the protection of more powerful colleagues and 40

friends. Under this cover, the counter-networks of geneticists survived the last years of Stalin’s rule and later build the institutional bases for genetic research and for the eventual demise of Lysenko (Adams 2000). In human sciences, the coming to academic power in Soviet linguistics of Viktor Vinogradov and other anti-Marrists after Stalin’s 1950 anti-Marrism campaign can also be considered as a case of the takeover of the institutions by disciplinary counter-networks. As we have seen earlier, Soviet structuralists also relied on their preexisting networks to establish new personal and intellectual ties with “hard” scientists, sympathetic authorities and Western scholars. In doing so, they joined the forces with other previously suppressed movements—cyberneticians, geneticists, Vygotskian psychologists, critical Marxists—in their struggle for establishing their legitimacy within Soviet science and for reforming the power relations within academic institutions. As we have seen, their partial success was favored by the Cold War competition with the West and the role science was expected to play in it, as well as by the comparatively liberal atmosphere of the Thaw and the overall rapid expansion of Soviet academia. Yet, last two of these factors lost much of their validity around the mid-1960s. Khrushchev’s Thaw faltered already in his last years in office and was finally curtailed in the aftermath of the Prague Spring 1968. The institutional expansion of academia was stalled and ultimately stopped by the end of the decade, too (Graham 1998, 82). Most scholars were guaranteed safe academic employment and the opportunity to work within, at least, their narrow professional “niches.” Yet, the establishment of new institutions and challenging existing academic establishments from within formal academia became practically impossible. In effect, the independent significance of networks has grown immensely. Moreover, their organization and their relationship to the institutions started to change. Although academic networks continued to use formal institutions as fields of their contestations, the energy of many intellectually active scholars was increasingly invested in the work of home seminars, evening seminars, summer schools and other “institutions” of what I have called earlier “parallel science.” Since it appeared to be impossible to satisfy the intellectuals’ demands for academic autonomy and their control over academic professions within established institutions, a substantial segment of Soviet academics opted for alternative forms of self-organization of the academic public. Thus, the emergence of parallel science can be interpreted as a result of the widening of the gap between formal academia and a substantial group of Soviet academics. Of course, not everything about “parallel science” was entirely unprecedented. Soviet scientists always gathered in somebody’s apartments or in empty classrooms after work, even though in Stalin’s time this could be dangerous. These were important sites where interpersonal networks were established and maintained. Moreover, these were the sites where alternative hierarchies of worth with respect to persons and ideas were worked out. These were the sites of the so called “Hamburg Test,” or honest, but not blind, continuous mutual peer reviewing aimed at establishing “real reputations,” as differentiated from, or even opposed to, official reputations and ranks.2 Yet, what gave these kinds of Hamburg Test sites their particular character of the institutions of parallel science around the 1960s was the scale at which it became possible to effectively “specialize” in this alternative academia. 2

Viktor Shklovsky (1929) originally talked about the “Hamburg Test” (gamburgskii schet) in his memorable story about the custom of Hamburg circus wrestlers to test their real strength aside from public matches where outcomes were often predetermined by preliminary agreements between their agents.


The Brezhnev’s “Little Deal” meant not only the state’s tolerance of petty private enterprise and trade in exchange for at least outward political loyalty (Millar 1985). For academics, it also meant considerable job security, undemanding work hours and considerable tolerance of many alternative but not directly political forms of intellectual selforganization. The researchers at the Academy’s institutes enjoyed especially flexible schedules and few truly enforced job obligations, and thus they could grant informal seminars considerable amounts of their time. University teachers had less time but they were hardly required to do research. So, those among them who chose to do research had an option to focus on the readership and the Hamburg Test-style peership provided by parallel science. In these conditions, informal seminars and summer schools started to play the role of actual academic institutions with their own curricula and schedules of meetings, informal ranks and prestige hierarchies, procedures of recruiting “personnel” and establishing legitimate directions of research, and, finally, with their own distinctive sites of academic communication and even publishing bases. In effect, for a growing number of university students in the 1970s and 1980s, the previously unthinkable choice emerged: to make a career within formal academia or to concentrate on the institutions of parallel science, while resigning yourself to occupying a relatively minor, albeit stable, position in a research institute or a university for decades.3 Participation in informal seminars and circles became more of an aim in itself, rather then an important precondition for “making it” within formal academia. Overall, if the networks of intellectuals, as described above, permeated Soviet formal institutions, adapted them to their needs and used in their struggles for scarce resources, the networks of parallel science built their own institutions (seminars, summer schools, conferences) outside or at the margins of the framework of formal institutions and official discourses. All kinds of academics, from most established and “official” to most nonconformist and even dissident, had their own networks. In contrast, the networks of parallel science included only those who was seen or wanted to be seen as having an unorthodox agenda of some sort. Some of these members of parallel science were about to become open political dissidents or émigrés. For instance, for Alexander Zholkovsky, the seminar in his apartment in 1976-79 was a transition between being a Soviet scholar to being an émigré. Yet, for others this was their way of adapting to the Soviet conditions. Informal seminars and salons compensated for the increasingly constraining atmosphere of Soviet institutions, with their pressure to use ideological and clichéd language and with their bureaucratic inflexibility. For some established scholars, parallel science was a place where they could discuss with peers their less publishable ideas. For niche-bound specialists, the institutions of parallel science were ways of building bridges across expert domains. For all of them, this was a public space where they could with some veracity imagine themselves engaged in the pursuit of truth in the midst of the people who share this objective. At the same time, parallel science was not, as it were, politically dissident. Its dominant ideology was not anti-sovietism or anti-communism but rather “anti-politics” (Konrad 1984; Szacki 1995). As most reports on the aspirations of the participants of parallel science indicate, they tried to create the public sphere of social interaction that had nothing to do with the socialist state. They did this by indulging in all kinds of activities which were not marked for them as specifically “Soviet”: from studying ancient texts and going into archeological expeditions to simply spending time together interacting (obshchayas’) without using the medium of the Soviet newspeak (or while using it ironically). Anti-politics implied not direct resistance to official discourse but a sustained effort to be outside (vne) of this


See Alexander Ospovat. Interview by author. Moscow, September 2001.


discourse (Yurchak 2006, 126-157). In this outsidedness the members of parallel science saw the only possibility to fully realize their professional vocation. To what extent they managed to achieve this outsidedness is a disputed matter. For instance, Sergei Oushakine argues that the discourse that I have just briefly described above is characterized by “mimetic resistance”: by turning Soviet official value hierarchies upside down, Soviet dissidents and other non-conformists effectively imitated the structure of the Soviet discourse and thus demonstrated that they shared with the state the same vocabulary of symbolic means and rhetorical devices (2001, 207-8). In other words, both dissidents and official ideologists used the same categories and binary oppositions—Soviet vs. anti-Soviet, socialist vs. Western capitalist, international vs. national, progressive vs. reactionary—but shifted positive evaluation from one end of the binary to another. In short, dissidents were “anti- but real (nastoiashchii) Leninist[s],” in the words of Alexander Zholkovsky (1998, 167). Alexei Yurchak agrees that these mimetic patterns were characteristic for much of the dissident thinking and behavior. Yet, most of what he calls “deterritorialized milieus,” of which parallel science is an example, was represented quite differently. He describes how various groups of intellectuals, artists and young people positioned themselves as being “outside” (vne), being different with respect to any, official or dissident, binary oppositions. According to Yurchak, this self-positioning involved the “performative reproduction” of existing discursive forms but without paying attention to their literal (connotative) meaning. This performative shift “enabled new meanings, lifestyles, communities, and pursuits, all within the discursive field of the state but without being fully determined or controlled by it” (2006, 134). Thus, Yurchak emphasizes the positive and productive, rather then simply negative—restraining and suppressing—aspects of the Soviet discursive universe. Both of these perspectives correct the limitations of the other and, ultimately, clarify a lot about the relationship between parallel science and formal Soviet academia. In the remainder of this section, I describe the implications of these interpretations for understanding the character of parallel science. Most importantly, both Oushakine’s and Yurchak’s interpretations imply that the relationship between parallel and formal academia cannot be interpreted as the binary one between two groups or types of individuals with opposite moral characteristics: corruption, inauthenticity and “Sovietness,” on the one hand, and freedom, authenticity and outsidedness, on the other. In fact, despite considerable differentiation between formal and parallel institutional fields, practically all members of parallel science were employees of Soviet academic institutions and some occupied in these institutions the positions of importance. Nevertheless, the binary opposition just outlined was indeed a powerful trope that permeated the discourses of the historical actors and most Cold War accounts. Yet, in our analysis of Soviet society and culture, this binary opposition should be seen as an object of study rather then taken for granted as a premise of analysis. Furthermore, Oushakine is probably right when he states that binary tropes permeated both official and unofficial domains of social life. In the unofficial domain, this statement applies not only to steadfast dissidents, as Yurchak argues, but also to those who tried to create with their friends and peers “parallel” forms of public and private life, which would be, hopefully, “invisible” to the authorities. For instance, when these individuals attached high value to presumably apolitical domains and preoccupations which had to do with ancient history, classical literature and art cinema, this could be partially attributed to a kind of mimetic resistance to the official and dissident emphasis on political activism, as well as the official Soviet populism. By positioning themselves and their lifestyle as “non-Soviet,” not even “anti-Soviet,” they continued to employ and reverse the same set of binary oppositions,


which revolved around the basic distinctions of “us” vs. “them,” and the uncensored vs. the censored (i.e. included in and excluded from collective memory). As I am about to show by focusing on the case of the Tartu School, mimetic resistance was indeed a significant mechanism of identity-formation in the case of the members of parallel science. Their struggle with official taboos on names and ideas often turned into the creation of new taboos on specific people and ways of expressing yourself (cf. Etkind 1981). Their struggle with official literary and historical canon led to the creation of the new pantheons or, at least, to the refashioning and reshuffling the official ones. Their rejection of Soviet ritualistic and cultish attitude to science and culture led often to the creation of new rituals and cults. These new rituals were guarded with more passion by the self-elected “moral and intellectual elites” than official rituals by the political elites. The intellectuals’ “purely academic” Hamburg Test in reality often appeared to be a particular form of political correctness, with its own mechanisms of censoring and ostracizing. The shape of their inter-circle consensus on ideas and their substantial disagreements with outsiders are hard to ascertain because of the taboo on “friendly fire” (the critique of one’s own colleagues) and moral outrange with which any outside critique was met. Thus, although the members of the parallel science circles positioned themselves as “true scientists,” whose value judgments were firmly based on the rules of the scientific procedure, in actuality their intellectual and personal preferences were strongly shaped by the political frontlines, which, in their turn, were conceptualized in the terms supplied by the (anti-) Soviet discourses.4 As I hope to demonstrate in what follows, this perspective captures a lot about the mechanism of self-positioning and identity-construction among the members of parallel science. Yet, Oushakine and like-minded critics exaggerate when they create an image of “the Soviet Discourse,” as a kind of hermetic semiotic cage from which there is no escape. For them, not only open anti-Soviet dissent but also various forms of “internal emigration” or “living not by lies” (Solzhenitsyn’s phrase) were myths, self-deceptions and forms of false consciousness. Some critics even describe the discourses of anti-politics “tacit legitimizing ideologies of the Brezhnev’s regime” because, by reproducing the structure of the Soviet discourse, these discourses created an impression of its naturality, for Russia, and eternity.5 Alexei Yurchak’s portrayal of the parallel, or in his parlance “deterritorialized,” milieus of social life under socialism is more nuanced. The anti-political discursive strategies may be illusions in a sense that they were based on denying their seep roots in the Soviet reality. Yet, these strategies were not merely illusions; they had palpable social realities behind them. The lifestyles and attitudes, which emerged within these milieus in the 1960s and 1970s, were indeed new in comparison to the previous historical period. Although these lifestyles and attitudes often reproduced the clichés of the Soviet discourses, the authorities did not fully control the directions, which these reproductions and extensions followed. For instance, the comradery of the friendship circles and kitchen salons was, of course, in part relying on the officially sanctioned values of collectivism and “the well-rounded personhood.” Yet, something else was also happening: the participants of parallel milieus 4

In his memoirs, Alexander Zholkovsky provided a colorful illustration of what Oushakine calls mimetic resistance. After immigrating to the US, he suddenly realized that his image of “free” Western world was very much shaped by opposing Soviet realities and Soviet representations of the West (1998, 10-12). Even his brand of structuralism, which he perceived as truly “modern” and “Western,” appeared to be hopelessly outdated in the real West (see chapter 4 for a discussion of the Western reception of the Tartu School). 5 Vladimir Romanov, private communication. The philosopher Mikhail Ryklin expressed similar ideas in his interview to me.


decoupled these values from the rule of the Party and thus reclaimed their meaning for further creative use. Similar things were happening among scientists. As Yurchak argues with respect to what I call parallel science circles and communities, they were made “possible and thriving… by the state itself: from the immense prestige accorded to scientists in the Soviet society, state-sponsored academic institutions where scientists were relieved of teaching duties, relative financial and political independence, and freedom to choose research topics, to statepromoted discourse on the value of scientific and cultural knowledge, creative arts, music and literature, and so on” (2006, 141). All these and a number of other aspects of the Soviet system made possible the existence of the working academic quasi-institutions outside of the framework of formal academia. Enabled but hardly intended by the Soviet system, parallel science allowed its participants to create their own, fully controlled by academics, institutions of science, that is to do something they could do with only very limited success within the framework of formal Soviet academia. Many memoirists even present the parallel science model of intellectual autonomy as the closest when one can possibly get to intellectual freedom, under any regime (see Koshelev 1994). Whatever nostalgic, these impressions are onto something. Indeed, how many Western scholars would mind if they were offered an opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of conducting almost any research they wished to conduct and care only about the opinion of the reference groups they chose for themselves, having not to think about pleasing grant-givers, fellowship providers, fussy students and tenure commissions, while, at the same time, having a decently paid, prestigious and tenured position already by their late twenties? Of course, this picture is slightly idealized because the status of the Soviet scientist not only made possible these “freedoms” but also posed considerable—but varied from position to position and from discipline to discipline—limitations on them. Yet, what is true about this model of intellectual autonomy is that the actually working institutions of Soviet parallel science were closer in their character to the early modern gentlemanly “republic of scientists” then to the contemporary Western academia of specialized professionals (see Shapin 1994). Like this “republic,” the Soviet community of parallel science was a community of personally acquainted intellectuals whose personal “virtue,” whatever its historically specific definition, and general cultural capital was not less important in estimating their professional “weight” by their peers then their specialized knowledge and achievements. Whatever inadvertently, the Soviet academic regime enabled this model to be not only imagined but also, to a considerable extent, practiced within Soviet academia. To dismiss, as Oushakine and like-minded critics do, this model as “Soviet” and thus “delusional” (how can any type of autonomy be possible under the Soviets?!) is to universalize the contemporary Western model of intellectual autonomy and reject the possibility of other real and imaginable alternatives. While Yurchak’s perspective is more nuanced, both of the approaches just outlined share a common weakness: both try to come up with the single mechanism which would account for the relationship of the Soviet educated class to official discourses and institutions. I argue, in contrast, that mimetic reproduction and performative extension of Soviet cultural forms were indeed important but by no means the only mechanisms in question. As I show in my analysis of the Tartu School as an institution of parallel science, there was a multiplicity of ways of absorbing, reworking, rejecting and disavowing Soviet cultural forms, often in very creative ways. This multiplicity reflected the heterogeneity of Soviet culture, which even Yurchak underplays. The Soviet cultural universe was a mélange of socialist and nationalist, equalitarian and elitist, progressivist and traditionalist ideologies, tropes and figures of thought and speech. Thus, none of the inhabitants of this universe related to all its aspects in the same way: while rejecting some of them, she employed others 45

opportunistically, still others she reinterpreted in her favor and with still others she identified wholeheartedly.6 This means that, while the Soviet discursive universe was a unique combination of varied discourses, this universe was hardly a cage, as imagined by Oushakine. Although political binaries indeed colored most of the personal and social relations among Soviet citizens, especially intellectuals, these binaries were able to neither define the full meanings of various alliances and conflicts between individuals and groups, nor predict specific intellectual choices these individuals and groups made. As in other societies, identities and distinctions in Soviet academia were also structured by personal tastes, cultural predilections, class-based biases, and ethnic attitudes and stereotypes. For understanding the mentality of the members of parallel science, these critical considerations have at least one fundamental implication: although anti-politics was the dominant discursive and rhetorical strategy of parallel science, the specific results of its deployment differed widely depending on particular definitions of “political,” “soviet,” and “scientific” in use. Depending on these definitions, the state of being “outside” (vne), nonSoviet, could be interpreted in more or less liberal or nationalistic, elitist or populist ways. These definitions, in their turn, cannot be understood only with respect to “the Soviet discourse.” We should also inquire into their historical precedents, their comparative context and their social background. Ultimately, since Soviet political and academic authorities did not have under their full control any of the discourses that comprised the Soviet intellectual universe, it is not really an interesting question whether anti-political discourses and “parallel” practices were indeed able to leave the cage of Soviet culture. It is more interesting to inquire into what exactly their “outsidedness” and “parallelism” consisted in; how it was constructed in the course of everyday interactions and negotiations on, for example, educational, researchrelated, administrative and personal issues among academics and between academics and officials; what consequences parallel science institutions had for Soviet academia as a whole; what the experience of parallel science means for understanding the public sphere under socialism and, finally, what the intellectual implications of this experience were. The Tartu-Moscow School (1964-1974): Playing the Glass-Bead Game The alliance between Tartu and Moscow structuralists proved to be quite durable: as a dense network of personal, institutional and intellectual interactions, it persisted for at least ten years. The visible manifestation of this stability was the existence of two central institutions of the School, Kääriku summer schools and Tartu periodicals, especially Σηµειϖτιkη (Sémeiotiké), or Trudy po znakovym sistemam (TZS, Works on Sign Systems). To get a better insight in the nature of these social forms and their intellectual significance, let me start with the very concept of “summer schools.” Of course, the term is simply a category in the formal Soviet nomenclature of academic gatherings. Yet Lotman and his Moscow colleagues selected this term not by accident (see V.Uspensky 1994). Along with various conferences, colloquia, or symposia, the “summer (fall or other) school” was a form of association which was popular among 6

For instance, Yuri Lotman, as a war veteran, embraced the Soviet interpretation of the World War II, at least for most of his life. As a professor of Russian literature, he also embraced the Soviet cult of “high culture” and classical literature. Yet, he was also working on decoupling the intelligentsia’s notion of Russian culture from Soviet official and popular culture. As a Russian-Jewish intellectual, who happened to work and live in Soviet-occupied Estonia, he opposed the machinery of the Soviet bureaucratic empire but endorsed the benefits of the multi-ethnic cultural realm created within this empire (see more in chapters 5 and 6).


scientists, especially mathematicians, physicists and biologists in the 1950s and 1960s. 7 Initially designed as a form of postdoctoral education, “schools” allowed for prolonged–for a week or more–stay in resorts or otherwise remote areas for purposes of exchanging the latest achievements in specific, often interdisciplinary, fields. Since most of the Soviet research centers were located in Moscow and other large cities, the geographical seclusion of the places like Kääriku provided conditions for intensive personal communication and complete immersion into the new material. Moreover, “schools” tended to be organized by the academic units of rather low level (departments, sectors, etc.) and thus academics could, to a large extent, control program and attendance themselves, with minimal interference from academic and nonacademic authorities. Although frequent in natural sciences, summer schools were not practiced in Soviet humanities or social sciences before the Kääriku initiative. The idea that the academics, who represented not only different institutions but also various disciplines, could gather in a remote location, far from academic officials and philosophers, seemed to sit uneasily with the very nature of Soviet human sciences as “ideological” disciplines. The idea that scholars had considerable control over participation sounded likes a recipe for trouble. Indeed, the Kääriku gatherings were often accused on secretiveness, elitism and esoteric language (see examples in Seyffert 1983). To be sure, if they were not frequently associated with rhyming semiotic (semiotics) with semitika (“ the Jewish science”), these characterizations would not be far from truth. The Kääriku summer schools were indeed not open to any scholars; they were highly exclusive and even secretive. Yet, according to many participants of these gatherings, it was precisely this atmosphere of “exclusivity” that allowed for what Viktor Shklovsky named the “Hamburg Test” communication, the “authentic” and unrestrained interaction among peers (V.Uspensky 1994; Tsivian 1994; Lesskis 1994). The idea of the Hamburg Test communication evoked the old imagery of the “republic of the scientists” (Bauman 1987). This was a conversation among the equals who have been chosen presumably not according to their ideological or even formal credentials but according to their “purely academic” and “genuine” contribution as estimated by their peers. In the eyes of their participants, such occasions as the Kääriku summer schools were like pure lab experiments aimed at “distilling” undistorted scientific results and simultaneously at estimating the “real worth” of each participant (see Levin 1994; Lesskis 1994). Such occasions served as sites for establishing the network of mutual peer recognition and assessment independent from the official institutions designed to promote and filter academic cadres. If the Tartu-Moscow School can be compared to a kind of “republic of reason,” summer schools were its parliament, the site where the judgments of truth and worth were pronounced and new, second science hierarchies of academic worth established. For many participants, Tartu gatherings were also distinguished by their ability to combine academic respectability with comradely informality. For many, spending time in Kääriku was a form of leisure: these gatherings involved jolly banquets, communal song singing, and quiet walks on the banks of the lake (Levin 1994; Tsivian 1994). Yet, this was also an opportunity to get to know closely some of the best scholars in a number of fields, including Roman Jakobson or Petr Bogatyrev.8 The very opportunity to argue with anyone, regardless of ranks, was exciting for young Soviet scholars raised in the highly hierarchical atmosphere of Soviet universities. Probably, this sense of easiness, equality and creativity 7

The 1990s issues of the journal Priroda (Nature) are full of often nostalgic memoirs about these gatherings. 8 Petr G. Bogatyrev (1893-1971) was the only representative of the Jakobson generation who actively participated in the work of the Tartu School (see also Appendix A). Bogatyrev was a coauthor of Jakobson and a member of the Prague School. Unlike Jakobson, he returned to the Soviet Union in the late 1930s.


found its way into Lotman’s later definition of literary salons as “circles of friends who, while having fun, create the world of culture.”9 The Hamburg Test world of Kääriku and Tartu has also been compared to Hermann Hesse’s Castalia, the community of the players in the glass-bead game, the pure exercise of intelligence (see Levin 1994). As we learn from Hesse’s (1969) novel, this game is a “game with all contents and all values of our culture” and its goal is to grow and sustain the “true aristocracy of spirit.” Unlike chess, this is not a game in which one can win. It may have a few basic rules but its whole “culture” is multilayered, intuition-based and implies multiple degrees of initiation. Thus, in many contemporary accounts and recollections, the impressions of equality and comradery unproblematically coexist with the images of the Castalian Brotherhood of the Initiated with a hierarchy from freshmen to magistrae ludi. What these images have in common is the idea of the aristocratic nature of the Tartu community. Each image envisions a distinction between the “contaminated” “outside world” and the inner domain of “trustworthiness” and “strict professionalism,” or the free world outside of the established institutional and political authorities. Although these images are merely images and thus they cannot be fully trusted as “descriptions of reality,” they provide points of departure for understanding the School as a social and a discursive form. The Tartu-Moscow School as a Parallel Science Network The Tartu-Moscow academic community was one of the most successful attempts to create a working model of “parallel science” alongside with Soviet academia. As many participants noted, the point was not revolutionary change or escape into hiding. Their aim was to “go back to normal science” presumably interrupted by the interventions of the Communist regime. What did this return involve? How did the Hamburg Test apparatus of discussing and selecting the “worthy texts” work? How was the impression of “purely scientific” environment created and nourished? In what follows, I try to answer these questions by disentangling some of the specific patterns of cooperation and opposition, as revealed by the work of building circles, managing publications, choosing themes and citing sources. As I have mentioned, summer schools and Tartu publications were very selective institutions. Although officially anyone could apply to participate in summer schools and submit a paper to Sémeiotiké, in fact, “to get to Kääriku without special invitation or reference was hard if not impossible.”10 “Unknown” candidates were treated with suspicion and eliminated automatically.11 The number of attendees was limited to the participants of previous schools and people strongly suggested by a number of most authoritative participants. Any additions to the list of participants were evaluated by Yuri Lotman who, in case of doubt, consulted with the members of the “core,” usually Viacheslav Ivanov or Boris Uspensky (see Appendix A). Hence, the selection procedure consisted in blackballing and non-blind peer reviewing. The “politics of closed doors” was partially motivated by realistic considerations: the Tartu University sport base could accommodate not much more than 20 persons at a time. In fact, the popularity of the event attracted up to 60 visitors per day by the end of the 1960s.12 Since some of these people were neither invited nor welcome, Lotman urged his colleagues 9

Lotman’s lectures at Tartu University, spring 1982 (LC, F136, s.45). Nekliudov, Sergei. Interview by author. Moscow, September 2001. 11 Outsiders were filtered by standard rejection letters with formal reference to the fact that the “list and number of participants [of the summer schools] has already been approved by the ESSR [Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic] Ministry of Higher and Secondary Education” (EA, F136, s. 63). 12 Lotman to Toporov, 1966 (Lotman 1997, 676). 10


to limit the circulation of the news about upcoming summer schools “to avoid attracting outsiders and simply idle people (prazdnoshataiushchiesia).”13 He was concerned that large numbers of people could stifle the intimate atmosphere of the narrow gathering and distort the “purity” of the Hamburg Test. The proclaimed selection criterion was, of course, quality and solidity of academic work. However, in practice, this criterion was much more complex and contradictory. Mutual acquaintance and collaboration was obviously a condition sine qua non for being even considered. If we try to discern the largest clusters of the schools’ participants and contributors to Tartu publications, we find three groups according to the institutional affiliations of their members: Lotman’s associates from Tartu University and scholars from two academic institutes, the Institute for Slavic Studies and the Institute for Oriental Studies (see Appendix A). The core of the Tartu-Moscow School was composed of the generation who graduated from the university in the early 1950s and their students of 1956-60 years of graduation (correspondingly 7 and 11 out of 33 most frequent participants of the summer schools). Most of Moscow members were graduates of the Philology Faculty of Moscow State University and knew each other since student years. Some of the co-authorship or professor-student relationships date back to the years at the university: here, the Ivanov– Toporov alliance is the most obvious example. Furthermore, this network of acquaintances was often based on deeper social and even kinship ties. Many of the frequent participants were members of small and, to the large extent, inbred “hereditary intelligentsia,” which was primarily composed of Moscow and Leningrad-located intellectuals—academics, artists, highly educated professionals—in at least the second generation.14 Of course, this does not mean that all of these children of intellectuals had French governesses in their childhood or dachas in the elite “writers’ village” of Peredelkino, as was the case of Viacheslav V. Ivanov. Rather, their lifestyles and upbringing was closer to the one of most other members of the School, who came from middle to lower middle class backgrounds of the rank-and-file intelligentsia—school teachers, librarians, engineers, and doctors, Still, my point is that the preexisting social ties and shared “high-cultural” capital powerfully structured the relations between, and the selfperception of, the core members of such exclusive social formations as the Tartu School. Another important “family” connection is the Jewishness of many participants: at least 19 of 33 scholars considered themselves Jewish or half-Jewish. Although baptized Jews started to enter the Russian intelligentsia after the 1870s reforms of higher education, their greatest inflow was jump-started by the 1917 Revolution. The Revolution abolished the “the Pale of Settlement” and the requirement of baptism. Some of the most important intellectuals of the turbulent 1920s and the later period in Russia were Jewish (for example, Viktor Shklovsky, Yuri Tynianov and Lev Vygotsky). Yuri Slezkine explains this overrepresentation of the Jews among not only technical and scientific but also humanitarian intelligentsia by the exigencies of modernization and assimilation: in effort to embrace “modernity,” the Jews not only passionately embraced the cultural canons of the host nations—in the Soviet case, the Russian literary classics, first of all—but also often took upon themselves the role of “administrating the spiritual possessions” of these nations as writers, critics, readers and other cultural workers (2004, 69). In effect, even after the openly anti-Semitic campaign against “cosmopolitanism” during the last years of Stalin’s rule, the 13

Lotman to Uspensky, 1973 (Lotman 1997, 546). Yuri Lotman was a son of the layer and the doctor, and he attended one of the best schools in Leningrad. Alexander Zholkovsky was growing in the family of the musicologist Lev Mazel’ (19072000). Viacheslav Ivanov was a son of the prominent Soviet writer, Vsevolod Ivanov (1895-1963). Through his father’s connections among writers, poets and literary critics, Viacheslav Ivanov had access to the intellectual networks of which Roman Jakobson was a member (see Ivanov 1995). 14


proportion of Jews among Soviet intellectuals did not change significantly. If “Russian scientists [were] one fifth more numerous than their share of the Soviet population, … Jewish scientists [were] over seven times more numerous than their share” (Hutchings 1976, 32). Still, the high concentration of the Jews within a single circles made it particularly suspicious to the authorities and some of the competing intellectuals, especially those who tended to render semiotika as semitika (see Lotman 1997, 209; 247). Another particularity which distinguished Tartu gatherings was a number of academic couples: Lotman and Mints, Toporov and Elizarenkova, the Lekomtsevs and the Revzins. In contrast to many other informal intellectual salons, there were 9 women among 33 most active participants of the summer schools (see Appendix A).15 Yet, by no means all women in this group were “spouses” or partners of the male scholars, and even spouses usually had their independent research preferences and competences.16 This is worth emphasizing because, despite considerable efforts of affirmative action, women were still, to a large extent, underrepresented in academia. Philology, which included the study of language, literature, myth and folklore, was standing out as a particularly feminized field: elite Philology Faculties was often called “the faculties of noble maidens.” Yet, as this expression indicates, philological education still tended to produce either “cultured wives” or teachers for high schools. The Tartu School did not fully escape the consequences of this deeplyentrenched gender inequality, either: Tartu women tended to specialize more narrowly and— unlike Lotman, Ivanov and other men—produced much less theoretical statements of interdisciplinary significance. Of course, this is only a rough social portrait of the Kääriku community. There were plenty of participants who did not subscribe to any of the categories mentioned above. For instance, Boris Mikhailovich Gasparov, a graduate of the “provincial” Rostov-on-Don University, originated in the local Armenian community in a family of lower middle class intellectuals (school teachers). He was not a relative of another Gasparov in the group, Mikhail Leonovich: “Gasparov” is a widespread Russified Armenian last name. Furthermore, like Boris Gasparov, most members of the School did not enjoy the privilege of participating in the preexisting networks of intellectuals and artists by the right of birth. For them—the children of the rank and file provincial intelligentsia—the university education in Moscow and Leningrad, and the university-based teacher-student and friendship relationships, served as the only way to make up for this disadvantage. Yet, despite these “exceptions,” my preliminary generalizations about the social background of, and the nature of the ties within, the Tartu School retain their validity. The elite intelligentsia upbringing and connections, and even Jewishness should be seen not as causes but as symbols of the group identity of the School. The symbols like “the intelligentsia,” “cultural classics,” the “Jewishness” and “kinship” were embedded in such practices, or “interaction rituals,” as recurrent gatherings (e.g. the summer schools), mutual citations, as well as repeatedly showing signs of “understanding” certain references, remarks, linguistic and rhetoric figures (see Collins 1998; Goffman 1967). To become an identity symbols, it is not enough for a certain social characteristic to be out there; it should be 15

Most important intellectual and academic salons of the 1960s and 1970s were predominantly male (e.g. Moscow Methodological Circle, Yuri Levada’s seminars, etc.). At best, the woman was a “hostess,” as in case of Revekka Frumkina’s “psycholinguistic seminar” that took part in her apartment (see Frumkina 1997; 2002). 16 Tatiana Nikolaeva was among the founders of Soviet “text linguistics,” a variety of discourse analysis. Tatiana Elizarenkova, the spouse of Vladimir Toporov, is a world-class authority in ancient Indian texts and rituals (especially the Rigveda). Zara Mints, the wife of Yuri Lotman, was a Soviet leading specialist on the Russian poetry of the Silver Age (early 20th century). This list can be continued (see Appendix A).


singled in the course of the negotiations, even struggles for social prestige and influence. Only then, positions become dispositions, or taxonomies and categories through which the members of a community perceive and construct themselves and the world around them (Bourdieu 1977; 1984; Collins 1998). For instance, the Jewishness was often considered a symbol of the Tartu School’s identity by Jewish and non-Jewish participants and the opponents of the group. This fact may be in part a manifestation of the characteristic homology in Soviet discourses between the distinctions of intellectuals vs. non-intellectuals and Jews vs. non-Jews (Gudkov and Levinson 1992; Slezkine 2005). Both the Jews and the intellectuals bore an ambiguous status of having privileged access to knowledge and being politically disenfranchised. Thus, other things being equal, a Jew was a more probable candidate for in-group membership. This is particularly visible in the politics of the Tartu University department of Russian Literature headed by Lotman. After 1962, when Estonian language was no longer a requirement for the entrance exam, he and his colleagues made efforts to enlist as many students from Soviet centers like Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev as possible. Before the department became a fashionable place to study, the pool of non-Estonian candidates consisted mostly of those who did not get enough points to enroll in major Soviet universities. In this category, the Jews had the highest probability of being considered because, in places like Kiev State University, they were often laid off clearly based on their nationality. As a result, Lotman’s department produced a large number of significant scholars, dissidents and simply intellectuals with the “wrong fifth entry” (that is, the ethnicity entry that stated “Jewish”) in their passports. Similarly, “purely intellectual” origins as a symbol of group identity implied not only kinship or family acquaintance but also the presumption of sharing certain cultural capital in the form of the ability to recognize and use in everyday and academic communication the specific stock of artistic, intellectual and historical references. Around 1960, these references included often forbidden or unavailable poetry of the Silver Age, as well as the books of Hemingway, Kafka and a few other Western authors (Ivanov 1995(1), 195). The hero of the day, the poet Boris Pasternak, had just been ostracized by the official press for accepting the Nobel Prize. Hemingway and Kafka had recently been translated and their books were hard to “acquire” (dostat,’ or procure through the black market). As Ivanov phrased the core of this kind of cultural elitism, “one of Stalin’s main crimes is that he did not understand Pasternak” (1995(2):199). In general terms, the participants of the Kääriku gatherings were expected to possess certain intelligentnost’, or “intellectual culture.” This is a complex concept that includes family background, cultural capital as well as a sense of collective and individual difference based on the presumed ability “of independently rediscovering cultural treasures and values” (Grigory Pomerants, cited in Solzhenitsyn 1975, 245). In principle, according to various accounts of “intellectual culture,” this ability is not supposed to depend on social background and formal education. Yet, in reality, these were significant markers of distinction. Viacheslav V. Ivanov’s memoirs are full of caricatured images of Soviet philosophers and philologists as “petite hooligans” (shpana), “bandits,” “informers” (stukachi), ignorant and inept persons (nevezhdy, bezdari) “straight from swine herding” (Ivanov 1998b, 335).17 One of my interviewees summarized the “infallible criterion” of the intellectual and even moral


The last epithet refers to Dmitry F. Markov (b.1913), a loyal Soviet literary historian, a specialist on Slavic literatures and socialist realism. Later, in the 1969, he became the director of the Academy’s Institute of Slavic Studies, that is Ivanov’s boss.


features of a speaker: if he speaks with soft “g” (г’), he is not one of “us,” true intellectuals. 18 This might sound like plain class-based prejudice but Tatiana Nikolaeva explains its background as follows: if Western radical intellectuals of the 1960s were rebelling against their bourgeois fathers, “for us, bourgeoisness was something inherited from grandmas and grandpas, something ‘they’ did not have. And we cherished it” (1998, 164). Here, one can see the clear opposition between “us,” true intellectuals called to inherit and preserve the cultural treasures of the past, and “them,” the new Soviet barbarians, the intelligentsia aspirants, academic careerists, intellectual dilettantes, cowardly sell-outs, and masked KGB agents. Indeed, attempts to understand the School’s collective sense of identity inescapably point to the conditions of the social and discursive struggles of the 1960s-70s in the Soviet Union. As I have already mentioned, the ideological space was sharply divided by the usthem binary oppositions. It is not that the political and cultural elites were indeed divided into two camps but the language and symbolism of such division was a crucial aspect of collective and individual behavior. Therefore, it is not surprising that one of the central categories, which enframed most of the ways in which the Tartu School’s members differentiated “their own kind” from outsiders, was “hygiene.” As we know from Mary Douglas, the rituals and rhetoric of hygiene, cleanliness and purity is about inclusion and exclusion. In her words, “rituals of purity and impurity create unity in experience” and “uncleanliness and dirt is that which must not be included” (Douglas 1966, 2, 41). “Hygiene” (gigiena) was also an actual category that circulated among Soviet intellectuals and referred to the exclusionary strategy of circlebuilding based on the assumption of the binary division of the social (and intellectual) field into “us” and “them.”19 Formally speaking, “them” were those the very contact with whom should be avoided, even in a confrontational mode. If expansionist strategies of the early 1960s were dictating direct confrontation, the Tartu ethos was privileging avoidance. According to Lotman, certain authors are by default not to be read or cited, even for purposes of critique. In his words, “to struggle with infinitesimal and foolish (especially if they are [morally] dirty) adversaries is easy but it is not an honorable deed.”20 In this particular case, Lotman talks about a scholar known for his undisguised anti-Semitism. However, more often, much less specific criteria of exclusion were in use. For instance, consider Ivanov’s note made to Lotman about one submission to Sémeiotiké: NN “has written a good paper but, in the extrascientific plane, his behavior has been impermissible… [therefore], I believe, we should not publish him.” 21 Alternatively, Alexander Piatigorsky recommended one of the candidates by saying that Y is “the most honorable person, a person on whom one can rely completely.” 22 These examples demonstrate that, whatever highly valued, the discourse of professionalism was always entangled—but not wholly identified—with the expectation of high moral standards and trustworthiness, or virtue (or “honorability,” poriadochnost’). Like 18

The soft “g” is characteristic for some of the southern accents of Russian and for Ukrainian. Since many Soviet cadres in nomenklatura and scholarship were children of workers and farmers from Ukraine and Southern Russia (including Khrushchev, Brezhnev and even Gorbachev), this dialect was characteristic for them. For Russian-speaking intellectuals, this sound became one of the most offputting markers of social and intellectual inferiority. 19 Ospovat, Alexander. Interview by author. Moscow, September 2001. 20 Lotman to Fialkova, 1982 (Lotman 1997, 715). 21 Ivanov to Lotman, 1969 (LC, F135, s., p.39). I am not sure what exactly Ivanov means here. The addressee of the comment is the Indologist Alexander Syrkin, a non-core member of the School who alter emigrated to Israel (see Appendix A). 22 Piatigorsky to Lotman, 1963 (LC, F135, s.1180, p. 4). Here, the recommendee is V.A.Zaretsky, who actively participated in the structuralist movement in its early period.


in the case of the 17th century Royal Society, the participation in the Tartu School-related activities was premised on the particular kind of family background, intellectual horizon and, most importantly, social behavior. Poriadochnost’ is a complex category privileged by the Soviet intelligentsia’s practices of self-representation and self-cleansing. Although often described in terms of the basic moral values–honor, sincerity, trustworthiness, and ability to hold the word, –it usually functioned as an identity marker of either the intelligentsia in general or its specific circle within the framework of the us-them opposition. For instance, in the Tartu circle, it was almost sufficient to “have a difficult life,” that is to have your father arrested under Stalin and your family exiled to Siberia or Kazakhstan, to be eligible for the membership in the circle.23 Simultaneously, it was enough to have a certain vague–often unformulated and unclear even to the key players–aura of unreliability around you to be suspect. 24 This could be a gossip about your connections with “organy” (the code word for the KGB) or an otherwise enviable career promotion. Such “obviously dishonest deed” as taking the position of a recently fired colleague was a sure way for being excluded from the circle. 25 Other reasons could be signing a letter in support of Soviet politics (for instance, the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia) or even refusing to sign a protest letter (against this invasion or in support of Brodsky, Siniavsky or other dissidents). At the least, an honorable person was expected “to play dirty tricks (podlosti) on their neighbors only when compelled to, and take no pleasure in it” (Grigory Pomerants, quoted in Solzhenitsyn 1975, 245). Yet, most criteria were much more ambiguous. They involved not many explicit norms or rules. They rather had to do with the networks of acquaintances with their shared references and hierarchies of prestige. To be outside of these networks implied being suspect a priori. This suspicion had a clear political flavor to it: the presumption was that if “we” do not know you, your interest in “us” is motivated by the authorities.26 Ultimately, in most contexts, poriadochnost’ meant “political correctness,” the Soviet intelligentsia style.27 These identity rituals defined the Tartu-Moscow School as a rather typical Soviet intelligentsia’s “public” of the 1960s-70s with its rather strict informal prestige hierarchies and harsh peer pressure (for other examples, see Kagarlitsky 1988; Shlapentokh 1990). Viacheslav Ivanov’s analogy between Tartu gatherings and a Masonic lodge is revealing 23

Boris Uspensky to Lotman, early 1970s (LC, F135, s.1470, p.36). For instance, this was the case with a couple of otherwise highly regarded literary historians close to Formalism and Structuralism, Alexander (1938-2005) and Marietta (b.1937) Chudakovs. In his 1966 letter to Uspensky, Lotman wrote: “How about the Chudakovs? They are very nice and will be upset, if they are not invited, but for a number of Moscow colleagues there is some sort of ‘yes, but…’ about them, the meaning of which I cannot grasp fully” (Lotman 1997, 475). 25 Margarita Lekomtseva told me a story of one young man who frequently attended Tartu student conferences and other School-related meetings in Moscow. When he took the position of a recently fired colleague, i.e. committed a “non-honorable” deed, the doors of all structuralist gatherings and related intellectual salons were shut for him. Lekomtseva accidentally “discovered” him only in the 1990s: he was peacefully teaching at Moscow University (Lekomtseva, Margarita. Interview by author. Moscow, July 2002). 26 Ann Malts, a long-term Lotman’s associate and assistant, made the following ironic remark in her 1974 letter to Lotman: “ I composed negative responses to all unknown pilgrims to the summer schools and attached to the envelopes unique 4-kopek stamps with the slogan ’50 years to the Soviet KGB’” (LC, F135, s.854). 27 The peer pressure among intellectuals was at times even harder to resist then the pressure of the authorities. In the late 1960s, the refusal to sign protest letters could cost you not only respect of your peers. You could also be forced to change your workplace. The sociologist Vladimir Shlapentokh (b.1926) remembers that he was threatened by his pro-dissident peers with the sanctions from the liberal authorities and even KGB (!) if he did not sign a protest letter (Shlapentokh 2003, 180). 24


because it points inadvertently to the inequalities implicit in the culture of the Hamburg Testing. For instance, it mattered who introduced a new participant, a “core” member or somebody else.28 The highest authority was granted to the generation of Pasternak and Akhmatova as well as Jakobson and Bogatyrev, “the legendary generation of those born around 1890s-1900s [who constituted] the moral environment which sustains ethical patterns and makes possible the transition of culture [to new generations]” (Frumkina 1997, 216). Their approval and support legitimized the authority of the younger leaders like Lotman and Ivanov. To be true, not all the members of the older generation were uncontested authorities. Strong moral demands were applicable even to scholars whose scholarship was recognized as a part of the School’s tradition. In particular, Viacheslav Ivanov could not forgive Viktor Shklovsky and Vladimir Propp for what he believed was active or passive collaboration with the regime. In his opinion, Shklovsky went further than other Russian Formalists in adapting to the establishment of loyal Soviet intellectuals. He evolved from a radical Formalist academic into a co-opted Soviet writer who did not hesitate to confess his loyalty in his writings, to vote for officially desired decisions in the Union of Soviet Writers or to openly condemn his former colleagues. 29 Ivanov’s animosity was shared by some Tartu scholars. For instance, Lotman wrote to Egorov in 1984 that Shklovsky “castrated himself intellectually and became inept” (1997, 331).30 An important aspect of the lodge-type communication within the Tartu circle was the taboo on public critique of one another, especially in print. “Do not shoot at our own,” demanded Lotman and justified this requirement by the need to defend weak structures like the summer schools and Sémeiotiké (see Zholkovsky 2000, 84). In fact, as I have already mentioned, any public debate was suspect among most Soviet intellectuals. Yet, most reprehensible was the behavior of an in-group member who moved internal rivalries and debates to the public domain. This was the case of two key members of the early 1960s structuralist movement, Alexander Zholkovsky and Yuri Shcheglov, who first ignored the invitation to the first summer school and then were no longer invited. In response to such neglect, they published a critical article in the major academic journal. This article ended with a biting characterization of Tartu semiotics “as more or less sophisticated transliteration of banal or approximate ideas” and Tartu studies as “results of mass fabrication timed for the days of small and large semiotic festivities,” that is primarily the summer schools (Zholkovsky and Shcheglov 1967, 89). As a result, these scholars were for a number of years barred from the Tartu circle, and thus—because of their increasingly non-conformist intellectual position and political behavior—they lost practically the only opportunity to publish for almost ten years. This exclusion allows Zholkovsky to call himself today “a dissident among dissidents.”31


Olga Revzina told me how she was reprimanded for inviting somebody to Kääriku on her own initiative. One of the School’s leaders told her: “remember, what applies to you does not apply to others” (Revzina, Olga. Interview by author. Moscow, July 2002). 29 Ivanov, interview. 30 An important aspect of this attitude is the hostility, which developed in the 1960s between two formerly best friends, Shklovsky and Jakobson (Galushkin 1999). This was partially due to the competition for intellectual priority at the time of the Formalist renaissance in the West and in Russia. At another level, Jakobson and his Russian colleagues rejected the intellectual and political evolution of Shklovsky and his generation since the 1920s, and Shklovsky could not accept this. Finally, Shklovsky committed a “sin” of publicly criticizing the ideas of Jakobson and the Tartu School in print (Shklovsky 1969). 31 Zholkovsky, Alexander. Interview by author. Moscow, July 2002.


Of course, even though the Tartu community was based primarily on personal ties as well as highly politicized and moralistic oppositions and categories, its members conceptualized their collective identity in terms of being the true community of professionals. The main assumption here was that the political boundary between “us” and “them” roughly corresponded to the frontier between “true science” and “ideology,” and “professionalism” and “amateurism.” This distinction was strategic in a sense that its main function was to establish a symbolic boundary and not to subscribe to some fixed set of principles or ideas. As we have seen, the early structuralist ideal of formalized rule-abiding scientific communication gave way to a sense of the shared situation circumscribed by vaguely defined norms and dispositions woven into the texture of informal intellectual networks. This is how one of the youngest participants of the summer schools, Sergei Nekliudov, describes his sense of the School’s identity: There was a foggy, without clear boundaries and, to a great extent, mythological image of some new science with not quite clear, but tempting possibilities, [as well as] an image of the elite intellectual corporation which rejected mortifying traditions and was free from social hypocrisy (Nekliudov 1994, 320). Of course, this is a recent reflection, which was made upon the passage of time. Still, this memoir alerts us about the multiplicity of actual intellectual agendas of the participants of the Lotman-organized summer schools. Throughout the book, I will explore this multiplicity. At this point, however, I am more interested in deciding whether any sense of intellectual coherence was present or developing in the course of the 1960s. For answering this question in the first approximation, I look not for common theoretical manifestos, which the Tartu School did not produce until the early 1970s, but rather at the distribution of thematic preoccupations as reflected in the titles of the Tartu semiotic series, especially Sémeiotiké. Common Themes and the Privileging of the Past The summer schools were closely tied to Sémeiotiké volumes. There was a certain division of labor between these major sites of the School. The summer schools served as filters for selecting and as occasions for polishing the ideas to appear in Sémeiotiké. The intermediate stage was the publication of the school’s presentations in the low-circulation brochures of Programma i tezisy dokladov (The program of the summer school and the theses of the presentations; see Isakov 1991). Not all presentations became articles in Sémeiotiké. Furthermore, the summer schools served as justifications for the overrepresentation of non-Tartu scholars in the Works (TZS and TRSF): any series of the university’s Acta were, in theory, supposed to publish the contributions by local professors.32 Yet, due to the perseverance of Yuri Lotman and the support by most successive university Rectors, the case of Sémeiotiké was precisely reverse: over 80% of contributions were coming from “outsiders.”33 The effect of this combination of selectiveness and openness was remarkable: not being a major Soviet academic journal, Works on Sign Systems soon attracted major reviews in Tel Quel, Change, Linguistics, PMLA and other major Western academic journals (see, for example, Kristeva 1968). 32

Lotman to Ivanov, 1964 (Lotman 1997, 647). As Appendix A indicates, there were only 6 Tartu scholars among 33 most frequent contributors: Yuri Lotman, Zara Mints, Igor’ Chernov, Boris Gasparov (since 1967), as well as a few Estonians: e.g. Lennart Mäll, a specialist on Buddhism and a Piatigorsky informal student, and Jaak Põldmäe, a specialist in metrics. 33


Between 1965 and 1975, Sémeiotiké was a bi-annual edition of quite large size (over 500 pages), especially large in comparison with most other publications of Tartu University (maximum 200 pages in humanities and social sciences). Over 20 contributors participated in each volume. In the beginning, there were no subheadings but, when they were introduced in 1969, this was a mere institutionalization of the actual thematic categorization already present in the 1967 edition. The major headings included: “Myth, Folklore, and Religion as Modeling Systems;” “Semiotics of Art;” “Poetics: The Analysis of the Text;” and “Publications and Reviews.” In the 1971, the section of semiotics, or typology, of culture was added. The rest of the sections included papers that were harder to classify. Let me provide a short outline of the kinds of specific topics included under the above headings (see the bibliography in Isakov 1991). The section on myth et al. included the papers on - the nature of the mythological mentality (Piatigorsky);34 - the relationship between natural language and other semiotic systems (Boris Uspensky and others; for non-Tartu analogues, see the works on language and culture in American anthropological tradition of Boas, Sapir and Whorf); - the reconstruction of the Indo-European mythology (Ivanov, Toporov; for the sources of inspiration and methodology see the works of August Schleicher, Georges Dumezil, Mircea Eliade and, of course, Roman Jakobson); - the structure of the narrative based on the analysis of fairy-tales (Meletinsky, Nekliudov; see the works of Vladimir Propp, Claude Levi-Strauss, and Claude Bremond); - the structure of Oriental, especially Ancient Indian, ritual and other religious texts (Piatigorsky, Elizarenkova and many others). The section on the semiotics of art comprised the works dedicated to - the comparison between art and science (Ogibenin); - the typology and systematic comparison various art genres (Bogatyrev); - the works on the space-time composition of medieval Russian icons by Leonid Zhegin and Boris Uspensky; - the relationship between art and cosmology (Toporov); - the semiotics of music notation and tonality (Boris Gasparov); - the relationship between literature and folklore (Levinton, Lotman); - the semiotics of film (Ivanov, Lotman). The section on poetics included the papers that dealt with - the relationship between natural language and poetic language (Lotman, Revzin); - metric and rhythmic analysis of poetry (Lotman, Mikhail Gasparov) - the structure of tropes (Yuri Levin); - the structure of poetic genres (Dmitry Segal, Tatiana Tsivian); - intertextual analysis (Lotman, Toporov, Tsivian) - the structural analysis of specific poetic texts, from Ovid to Russian avant-garde (Lotman, etc.); - the statistical approach to poetry through compiling frequency dictionaries (Mikhail Gasparov, Zara Mints) The section of publications and reviews was a particularly important part of the whole project of Tartu semiotic publications. Contrary to the model of the contemporary academic journal, this section was not very much dedicated to reviews or translations of the current, Russian or Western, academic literature. What we see here is a set of republications, or even first-time publications, of the works written in the 1920s or 1930s, as well as reviews of the valuable, 34

Some of the major contributors to the topics are in brackets.


from the point of view of Lotman or his Moscow colleagues, but forgotten or previously suppressed and out-of-print studies. As Lotman formulated the ideology of this section, “the undeniable aspect of any well-formed academic trend is the recognition of its own research method in its relation to preceding scientific and cultural tradition” (Lotman 1967d, 363). This credo was formulated, in part, to counter the critics’ accusations of historical nihilism. Instead, Lotman argued that he and his colleagues were trying to retrieve and reintroduce into the contemporary research practice the best of the classical research in human sciences. In this way, Tartu semiotics was presented as a modern recapitulation of everything “worthy to remember” in the previous humanistic tradition. The critics of Tartu semiotics often picture it as a kind of neo-Formalism. Indeed, Eikhenbaum, Jakobson, Shklovsky, Tomashevsky, Tynianov and other others figure prominently among authors cited, commented and republished in Sémeiotiké. One reason was that, in the 1960s, the republication of the works of Formalists was still a necessity. Even though Shklovsky and Propp were still alive, their early works were hardly available and Tartu semioticians were among their major propagators. Yet, the Tartu series are even more famous for reintroducing the works of Mikhail Bakhtin, Pavel Florensky and Olga Freidenberg to the academic debate and usage. Pavel A. Florensky (1882-1937), mathematician, Orthodox priest, and Platonist religious philosopher, who perished in the gulag, developed an important idea of the “reverse perspective” in Russian medieval iconography as an alterative to the dominant Western linear perceive in visual arts. This idea left a particularly strong imprint on Boris Uspensky and his analysis of multiple perspectives and their “distortions” in written and visual arts (B.Uspensky 1970; 1995; cf. Panofsky 1997; Gombrich 1960). Similarly, Olga M. Freidenberg (1890-1955), classic philologist of Nikolai Marr’s school and the first Soviet woman who became the Doctor of Philology, influenced Lotman’s theory of art and Ivanov and Toporov’s studies of archaic myth (see Ivanov 1976; Lotman 1973c; cf. Lafferrier 1978). In 1973, Viacheslav Ivanov wrote a long article, which claimed Mikhail Bakhtin to the history of Tartu semiotics (Ivanov 1973b). In this piece, Ivanov inscribed Bakhtin in the lineage of the significant predecessors of Soviet semiotics. Many of the aspects of this inscription remain debatable to this day. In particular, Ivanov made a strong point for Bakhtin’s authorship of the writings of Voloshinov and Medvedev. With this, many specialists on Bakhtin disagree (see Emerson 1997). Ivanov is also criticized for dissolving the discontinuities between Voloshinov’s Marxism and Bakhtin’s dialogism, which had roots in German Neo-Kantianism and Russian religious philosophy (Titunik 1976). Yet, this attempt to appropriate Bakhtin to semiotics should not be treated only as a tactic in “the Bakhtin wars,” although the name of Mikhail Bakhtin is indeed being claimed by various traditions, from nationalistic traditionalism in Russia and post-Marxist cultural studies in the West. Ivanov’s attempt also exemplifies–as Ivanov himself insists–a more general intellectual stance, the consistent preference for the past as a source of interpretative models and meanings. In these sense, the vector of the intellectual development of the Tartu School is opposite to the one of Western cultural theory and cultural studies. The “cultural turn” in Western human sciences in the 1970s resulted in refocusing the concept of “culture” from mythological and classical past and the non-Western other to contemporary ordinary life in developed societies (Sewell 1999). In contrast, Soviet semiotics announced, as its primary goal, the return to archaic and classical “roots” of contemporary cultural phenomena. Even the topics of the early 1960s studies of contemporary cultural practices, like divination or “the advertising screams of peddlers,” were chosen as either representative of some atemporal semiotic principles or as practices about to disappear in the course of the socialist modernization. Later, the focus shifted decisively towards the cultural


history before the twentieth century, with the exception of the studies in Russian modernism and avant-garde. There are a number of reasons, which Lotman and other Tartu scholars and students provide for such privileging of the past. In particular, they appeal to the hardships of truly “non-ideological” study of Soviet and even Western societies in the Soviet Union. For instance, during their interviews with me, both Viktor Zhivov and Mikhail Lotman noted that the Tartu scholars did not want to mix up with the “bad company” of careerist scholars who, they belief, dominated the field. Although Yuri Lotman did not want to spend his time and nerve cells on constant quarrels about contemporary political issues with “morally inferior” opponents.35 Lotman’s students exemplify somewhat different argumentation. 36 They appeal to the idea that, since the object of their study is culture, they should study what has already “settled to the bottom” (otstoialos’) and acquired the ability to persist in time. They also often point to a simple fact of their specialization in specific phenomena of the past. They return to a more “political” argument by stating that the study of the present simply does not allow for a much needed distancing between the language of the subject and the meta-language of the researcher. Finally, Lotman’s students and associates argue that their maitre was simply not interested in the artifacts and symbols of his contemporary culture: Soviet official culture seemed too secondary and obvious while dissident and underground culture was also perceived to be outside of perennially valuable “literature” and “culture” proper.37 Thus, the arguments for the privileging of the past appeal to either political situation or to narrow disciplinary orientation, or to both. Both of these justifications are representative of the period. For Soviet intellectuals, the past was often a form of escape from the Soviet present, and from various taboos on discussing the contemporary situation. For instance, while explicitly focusing on the Russian Middle Ages or post-Petrine period, one could safely reflect on the present by making analogies. In Boris Kagarlitsky’s (1988, 106) words, Soviet sociologists, historians and political scientists have developed a special sort of associative thinking. They study the actual problems of their own country, but to mention these problems is forbidden. All that remains is to examine similar problems on the basis of the material of other countries and other periods… Using ‘thirdWorld’ material, he [the researcher] constructed a model which is applicable also to our understanding of Soviet society. That is, the privileging of the past was not a way of excluding the present or avoiding any references to the situation in which researchers found themselves. Rather, it was a form of reflecting over the present situation but in the mode of disavowal, that is by treating it indirectly, through hinted associations and the choice of historical data. Tartu semiotics presented revealing illustrations of these points. As I argue below, the methodological privilege it granted to the past was also a strategy of reflecting about the present as if under erasure, in overt denial. Furthermore, Tartu structuralist methodology itself, with its weakness for establishing a-temporal models and cross-historical homologies, fitted Kagarlitsky’s “associative thinking” quite well. This match between structuralist 35

See, for example, Lotman to Fialkova, 1982 (Lotman 1997, 715). For instance, Jelena Pogosjan, Roman Leibov and Jelena Grigorjeva (interviews by author. Tartu, October-November 2001). 37 Mikhail Lotman testifies that his father respected Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) as a public figure and a publicist but did not consider him an important writer. His point was as follows: “everything is simple and transparent in Solzhenitsyn.” Mikhail Lotman and other critics disagree (Lotman, Mikhail. Interview by author. Tartu, October-November 2001). 36


methodology and more general intellectual strategies of the Soviet intelligentsia allowed Tartu scholars to transform the need and the pressure to avoid talking about the present directly into a virtue. In what follows, I will discuss the end product of this transformation, the discourse of archaism as a set of social positions, intellectual assumptions and research strategies. The Tartu Discourse of Archaism To be conscious is not to be in time But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden, The moment in the arbor where the rain beat, Be remembered; involved with past and future. Only through time time is conquered. - T.S.Eliot, Four Quartets Lotman and his colleagues often privately called themselves “archaists.”38 Originally, “archaism” was a term introduced by Yuri Tynianov39 (1929) to describe the intellectual movement in the early nineteenth century Russia that defined itself in opposition to the so called “innovators” of Russian language. The debate between innovators and archaists was, in the nutshell, between the supporters of the writer and historian Nikolai Karamzin’s attempts to create the “middle level” (neither sacred, nor profane, or vernacular) secular written language enriched by educated oral speech and liberal borrowings from French, on the one hand, and those who called for the resurrection of the “language of the sacred books” as the only authentic national language and for its protection from “foreign incursions” (Lotman and Uspensky [1975] 1994; Tynianov 1929). Tartu scholars preferred to call themselves “archaists” not so much because they subscribed to Romantic and nationalistic conservatism of the nineteenth century intellectuals.40 Politically and in terms of his personal style, Lotman was closer to cosmopolitan and liberal “innovators.” What made Tartu scholars toy with the mask of archaists was the original archaists’ radical, almost avant-gardeish, zeal for experimenting with language. In effort to reconstruct the “original” and “archaic” state of language, the archaists were, in fact, engaged in ruthless breaking of linguistic routines and “smoothed out” clichés of “polite salon talk ” (see Lotman and Uspensky [1975]1994). What attracted Tartu scholars to archaists was their ability to take “leap forward through the deliberate posture of backwardness.”41 They recognized in archaists the kindred souls who tackled, just like Soviet semioticians, the essentially modernist dilemma, as formulated by Baudelaire, Eliot and Benjamin: How to represent eternal and immutable amidst the chaos of “the ephemeral and fleeting” forms of modern life? How to break through to the ever-present edifice of culture in time, in history and in modernity? (see the epigraph; cf. Harvey 1990, 21-22). The response


Lotman’s students are my major sources of information of this self-designation of Tartu scholars (e.g. Leibov, Roman. Interview by author. Tartu, November 2001). 39 Yuri N. Tynianov (1894-1943) was one of the leading members of the Opoyaz and the Russian formalist movement. He is particularly remembered for his theories of “literary fact” and “literary evolution” (Tynianov 1977). 40 The most notable exception is Vladimir Toporov, who expressed deep interest in the philosophy of Heidegger and other conservative Western thinkers (see Toporov 1993; 1995 and further discussion in chapter 5). 41 Gasparov, Boris. Lecture at Columbia University. October 8th, 2002. Cf. Marshall McLuhan’s dictum: “we march backward into the future” (Bowker 1993).


that the archaists chose, “the deliberate posture of backwardness,” appeared to be particularly resonant with the ethos and social situation of the members of the Tartu School. A key aspect of this archaist strategy of tackling with historical dilemmas has been respect for memory as a “moral force.” This is how the leading Tartu scholars expressed this sentiment: memory, recollection is not only something that enables a man to bring his own life into correlation with history, but is also a deeply moral principle opposing forgetfulness oblivion and chaos, and serving as the basis for creativity, faith and truthfulness (Levin, et al. 1974, 50). To clarify the background to this de facto self-identification on the side of “memory” as opposed to “forgetfulness,” let me first backtrack a bit and compare the Tartu discourse of archaism with earlier discursive strategies employed by Soviet structuralists. As I have argued, Soviet structuralists of the 1950s and 1960s modeled their social and academic behavior on cybernetics with its claims on being a universal discipline. This discourse involved an assumption that cybernetics and semiotics allow for purely synchronic observation and modeling of any sign system (for example, language or myth), the observation unencumbered by time, memory and history. According to Ross Ashby (1956), memory is a property of a “handicapped observer.” One implication of this move was the idea that the whole previous tradition of the humankind was fully recapitulated in the cyberspeak.42 This tradition thus does not require its previous media, like religion, ritual or even original academic works published before 1950. Such attitude to tradition was perceived as a guarantee of the full “scientization” of human sciences, or at least linguistics for the moment. Indeed, in science, new contributions often render previous ones obsolete, and even still powerful paradigms, like Einstein’s theory of relativity, are usually not taught via their original statements. Yet, the assumption behind the Sémeiotiké publication section seems to be the opposite: the original contributions by previous, often ancient (like Panini, ancient Sanskrit grammarian) and forgotten or simply suppressed authors have value of their own. Furthermore, by becoming “predecessors” of “modern semiotics” they actually acquire value rather then lose it. Their original texts become objects of significant amount of commenting, playgrounds of Tartu theorizing and applied fields for exercising Tartu methodologies of textual and historical analysis. Such commenting and historiographic literature is no longer just a side “hobby” or a political/territorial game in addition to the purely “scientific” and ahistorical modeling of various sign systems. In fact, it is a crucial part of the larger trend: to focus on “reconstruction” and “revival” of the past meanings. Since the mid-1960s, “reconstruction” becomes a buzzword of Tartu semiotics. Much of the empirical work published in Sémeiotiké reconstructs something, from Ur-myths and underlying conventional codes to various contexts of production and consumption of literary texts. Tartu and Moscow non-semiotic publications are also full of “reconstructions” and “recoveries” of suppressed and forgotten poets, artists and whole artistic traditions. In fact, Tartu is famous not only for its semiotics and cultural theory but also for its role in reintroducing the whole layers of Russian artistic culture, such as modernism (the so called “Silver Age” of Russian poetry) and avant-garde. For most Tartu students and many Soviet literary historians, the Blok Readings (Blokovskie chteniia)—periodic conventions dedicated the culture of the Silver Age and held in Tartu—were as important as semiotic summer 42

According to Zholkovsky (1998, 168), Igor Melchuk often wondered quite seriously: “What good could have possibly been written before 1946?”


schools.43 Finally, even elementary modeling systems, the objects of synchronic modeling, were often chosen because of their rarity and being on the verge of extinction: from “the advertising screams of peddlers” to “the [bourgeois] etiquette” (see Bogatyrev 1971; Ivanov 1973a; Tsivian 1994). Hence, the historiographic trend in semiotic publications was a part of the larger “archaizing” preoccupation of Tartu scholars with historical—and often marginalized or suppressed in the Soviet Union—cultural heritage at the expense of contemporary official and popular culture. Tartu and Moscow semioticians saw their movement as primarily a “restoration movement,” that is a collective effort to recover forgotten and suppressed layers of national and human culture, and to endow some of them with the prestigious status of “classics” (Seyffert 1983, 238). It is not surprising that Tartu-related scholars were not opposing themselves to classical philology, as Western (post) structuralists often did (see Barthes 1986). On the contrary, throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, Soviet semioticians increasingly perceived themselves as heirs of what they considered as a forcibly interrupted lineage of Russian human studies, of which Russian Formalism is an exemplar. One way to conceive of this “restoration movement” is, literally, as a kind of Restoration after the failed Revolution. Yet, to make most out of this analogy, we should keep in mind all of the contexts on which this revolution vs. restoration opposition could have been projected by Tartu scholars. One context has already been mentioned: the overall failure of the social and, as we will see, intellectual strategies associated with the 1950s academic reform movement. Another is, obviously, the Bolshevik revolution which, as we have seen, was consciously perceived by Tartu intellectuals as an anti-cultural force of imposed amnesia. The whole voluminous work of “resurrecting” the names of suppressed artists and scholars has been permeated by the sense of post-revolutionary restoration in this sense (Egorov 1999; Isakov 1991). Finally, semiotic resurrection was perceived by its practitioners as a post-Enlightenment attempt to clear up the mess left by the attempts to realize the Enlightenment project, with its contempt for tradition and its opposition between civilization and nature. All of these levels are present in Viacheslav Ivanov’s attempt to formulate the general ideology of the Tartu archaism: Underlying human culture is the tendency to overcome death, a tendency expressed, in particular, in the accumulation, preservation and constant processing of knowledge about the past… The twentieth century, which posits the questions of the ‘limits of civilization,’ endows this truth with particular urgency… The issue is how to ensure the most reliable transmission of the achievements of our civilization… The question is not how to reach immortality, as in mythology, but how to preserve and transmit to new generations the most complete information about humanity (or specific civilization or its particular member), which can come to its end at any moment. [Ultimately,] human culture is a protest against death and destruction, against growing disorder, or homogeneity and entropy (1973a, 148-149). In this paper—“The Concept of Time in 20th Century Art and Culture,”—Ivanov (1973a) conceptualizes culture as essentially what persists, by necessity, in time but also despite time and its implications, “destruction, oblivion, misinterpretation and misuse” (Segal 1974, 133). Time is an enemy of culture: it leads to “the avalanche-like increase in information and the growing inability of human recipients to cope with it, to the interference with, or suppression 43

Blokovskie sborniki (Paper collections in honor of Alexander Blok), edited by Zara Mints. Tartu, since 1964 (see Isakov 1991).


of, cultural memory accompanied by social neurosis” (1974, 133). Thus, cultural semiotics, according to Ivanov, is a kind of therapy of the social neurosis of forgetfulness. The value of these quotes is that they encompass most of the ways in which Tartu scholars tended to use “culture.” “Culture” was defined through the opposition to “time” but “time” was understood on at least three levels: as a universal property of the world, as “modern times,” or modernity, and as simply “our time,” the time which Tartu intellectuals happened to inhabit. Thus, if time in the first sense stands against human culture per se, then time in the last sense opposes the specific culture of the Tartu circle. Furthermore, Tartu archaism can be seen as a paradigm for interpreting culture as a vast space woven by analogies, responses, citations and paraphrases. These associations happen in time and they are definitely shaped by its flow. Yet, for Tartu scholars, the thrill was to discover the historical “depth,” or “the whole thick mass,” of previous cultural meanings, or “subtexts,” behind contemporary cultural practice. The promise of archaism was to see the least significant contemporary reality as a part of the grandiose web that spans across time and space. In this framework, to access a contemporary event or practice is to focus not so much on the way past cultural resources are employed and remolded in the present moment but on these resources themselves. As Geoffrey Hartman (1997, 29) formulated this attitude, culture is “a means to age a modern practice instantly.” Therefore, Tartu scholars had a methodological preference for “reconstruction,” that is they tried to remember what had been forgotten by means of “close reading,” structural analysis, statistical calculations and circumstantial evidence. This is a continuation of classical philology, one might say. 44 Indeed, in contrast to most French structuralists, who opposed their “writerly” attitude to the philological “readerly” one, Soviet structuralists and semioticians would proudly accept the title of a philologist. In this, they followed not only many classical Russian philologists, whose names they reclaimed from oblivion, but also an important trend of “retrospectivism” in Russian modernist literature of the 1920s-30s (see Clark 1996). Just like Russian Formalism was based on the insights into the practice of avant-garde futurist art, especially poetry, the Tartu scholarship associated itself with both the practice of Russian classical literature and the “acmeist” trend in the early twentieth century modernist literature represented by such poets as Osip Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak. In their manifesto-like analysis of the acmeist poetry and artistic self-reflection, five major Tartu-related scholars subscribed to the militant “philologism” and “retrospectivism” of Russian acmeists (see Levin, et al. 1974).45 Osip Mandelstam46 (1979) came up with the language extremely resonant with the Tartu and Moscow semioticians’ sense of their intellectual and political situation: Social differences and class antagonisms pale before the … division of people into friends and enemies of the word: literally, sheep and goats. I sense an almost physically unclean goat-breath emanating from the enemies of the word. Here the argument which emerges last in any serious disagreement is fully appropriate: my adversary smells bad (1979, 113). 44

To remind, classical philology aims at “the purification of the tradition by the fixation of sound texts…, the interpretation of the author’s meaning…, a reconstruction of the literary tradition, bringing more clearly into the forefront the greatest surviving works, …a construction of an image of the past and its re-presentation to living generations” (Shils 1981, 145) 45 The title of this important essay is “Russian Semantic Poetics as a Potential Cultural Paradigm.” 46 Osip E. Mandelstam (Mandel’shtam) (1891-1938) was one of the most outspoken theorists of culture and art among Russian poets. In what follows, I mostly cite his 1921 essay, “The Word and Culture.”


Tartu scholars could also associate with Mandelstam’s proclamation that there is “only one authority: the magic of language, the power of the word” (1979, 123). What attracted Tartu scholars in Mandelstam most was not only his cultural elitism but also his theory and practice of the verbal art. Unlike futurists and formalists, he emphasized not only an estranging, or defamiliarizing, power of poetry; he also described specific intentionality of this power, toward the past. In his evocative language, “poetry is the plough that turns up time in such a way that the abyssal strata of time, the black earth, appear on the surface” (1979, 113). That is, poetry is a work of destabilizing today’s ordinary usage of words and uncovering what Lotman called “the thick mass” of connoted, forgotten and suppressed meanings. It is a recovery of the word as not simply a neutral medium of messages but “a Psyche,” a “living word” which “wonders freely around the thing, like the soul around an abandoned, but not forgotten body” (1979, 115). This freedom is achieved by means of accumulating past usages; poetry gains its aesthetic effect by realizing this accumulated potential, i.e. by surfacing and colliding contradictory meanings in the synchronic plain of the verse (Levin et. al. 1974, 64). In short, the most innovative and daring poetry is such only as an artistic “model,” or “reconstruction,” of the whole previous culture. Here, novelty and recuperation, modernism and classics go together. In Mandelstam’s summary, “classical poetry is a poetry of revolution” (1979, 116). Mandelstam literally provided a social and intellectual idiom for the majority of the members of the Tartu circle.47 His identification of the “people of the word” with “emigrants who survived the shipwreck of the nineteenth century” was a powerful badge of identity for Tartu intellectuals (1979, 144; see Levin, et al. 1974). Moreover, his articles foreshadowed, in unexpected ways, some of the contrastive developments within Tartu archaist paradigm. For instance, his insistence on the simultaneous co-presence of the historical epochs in the mind of the philologist and the poet was developed further by many Tartu scholars, especially Ivanov and Toporov. Most inclined to indulge in metaphysical speculations, Vladimir Toporov even predicted the establishment of the new type of consciousness, in which panchronic and simultaneous treatment of cultural values would prevail. “This type of consciousness would not be needed to be ‘fired up’ by contemporaneous events, for semiotic value would be restored to traditional signs, whereas the present would be taken up by the analysis of the rules of combination” (Segal 1974, 135). Similarly, Ivanov (1987, 5) developed a teleological conception of history: “It is possible to study experimentally the stochastic process of choosing texts, which prepares the creation of such a final text which is the target of the teleological development of the history of culture.” Most famously, in the works on the “semiotics of Russian culture,” Lotman and Uspenskij (1984) described the national culture as an embodiment of certain “cultural models” (e.g. “binary models”), persistent through time. Simultaneously, Mandelstam may also serve as a key for understanding Lotman’s decisively anti-teleological turn within archaist discourse. For example, Lotman fully shared Mandelstam’s critique of the ideology of progress: “In literature nothing is ever “better,” no progress can be made simply because there is no literary machine and no finish line toward which everyone must race as rapidly as possible” (1979, 119). Furthermore, in some of his remarks, Mandelstam prefigured Lotman’s (1992) concern with temporal emergence and the 47

The majority but not all. At different points in time, the archaism of the Tartu paradigm was criticized by such insiders as Boris Gasparov, Mikhail Gasparov, Alexander Piatigorsky and Alexander Zholkovsky. Zholkovsky, in his interview to me, repeated his original nihilist credo—“I am always an outsider… a formalist and a futurist… I am against any respectability with a beard”— and characterized the Lotman-Ivanov circle as “the kind of crowd (publika) the members of which want to be simultaneously innovators and the heirs of heavy volumes.”


“explosive” character of cultural evolution. Finally, as a School leader and an educator, Lotman was not satisfied with the status of a passive member of the “cultured minority” elite among “barbarians;” like Mandelstam, he saw his mission in “Europeanizing and humanizing the twentieth century” (Mandelstam 1979, 144). Thus, the discourse of archaism was a very polyvalent, even contradictory, framework that was open for diverse extensions in terms of theory and research. Yet, this framework was robust enough to provide the members of the Tartu School with a shared vision of “culture,” its place in contemporary society and their own relationship to this society. In fact, the archaist discourse served as a kind of bridgehead between Tartu research and the School’s politics of culture. By conceiving of culture as a “collective memory” of things that resist time, Lotman and his colleagues defined the object of their research as something larger and deeper than any of its contemporary interpretations and appropriations. Even some of their critics were fascinated by “the sense of multi-dimensionality, depth and thickness of culture—[the idea] that archaic and classical structures ooze through contemporary cities, languages, and so on,”—the vision that animated the studies of the Tartu School.48 One source of this fascination was the ability of archaist discourse to turn need into virtue, that is to transform the perceived need to avoid direct analysis of the present into the declaration of independence of humanistic culture and Tartu intellectuals as “culture specialists.” By asserting the independence of (archaic and classical) cultural practices and symbols from contemporary society and politics, Tartu scholars acquired the rhetorical means of insolating their competence as researchers and intellectuals from the standards of their contemporary Soviet academia and society. Simultaneously they provided their readers with a wealth of analogies to think about the Soviet present without directly confronting it. In short, far from being just a conservative ideology or an ideology of private “escape” and “internal exile,” archaism was primarily an ideology of the intelligentsia who found its claims on epistemic and cultural authority frustrated by the Soviet environment and found a way out in establishing parallel academia with its unorthodox hierarchy of academic worth, literary canon and standards of kul’turnost’ (culturedness) and intelligentnost’ (intellectual culture). The Tartu School as Lotman’s School (1975-1986) Around 1970, the favorable social situation around the Tartu-Moscow School started to deteriorate. Two major historical events are key for understanding what was going on: the Prague Spring of 1968 and the massive Jewish emigration to the West around 1973. The year 1968 had a devastating effect on many Soviet intellectuals. Before this year, it was still possible to believe in the transformation of the Soviet regime along either humanistcommunist or technocratic guidelines. Intellectuals like cyberneticians and semioticians could still hope for a kind of partnership with state and party officials, which could be based on precise “rules of the game”—formulated by the intellectuals, of course—and the institutional autonomy of academia. Even some Estonian intellectuals expressed hope that “sharks will turn into dolphins.”49 In contrast, by the end of the early 1970s, especially after 1968, there was a growing sense of the historical dead-end. For many, it was a matter of fact that “Brezhnev’s regime would be a Thousand Year Reich” (Shlapentokh 1990, 194) and the question was how to come to terms with this “fact.” For some, this meant starting to prepare for emigration. For 48 49

Lev Gudkov and Boris Dubin. Interview by author. Moscow, July 2002. A line from the poem by Rudolf Rimmel (see Misiunas and Taagepera 1993, 194).


others, it was a signal for excelling further in shchelevedenie, or “the science of nichemaking” (see Mikhail Gasparov’s cockroach tactic of hiding in the cracks of the Soviet “monolith”). For still others, Lotman included, it was a call for developing a series of tactics for preserving the achieved positions.50 In some ways, the set-up of the Tartu-Moscow community, as described above, was comparatively well adapted for surviving the hard times. Other movements, such as liberal sociology, pro-market economic theory or critical Marxism, may have achieved considerable success in institutionalizing their academic autonomy and authority by the late 1960s but soon they found themselves in a highly vulnerable position.51 By contrast, the esoteric language, obscure subject matter and remote location of the Tartu School made it relatively safe from such attacks. Mikhail Gasparov explained his own immunity by the fact that it was “not interesting to kick” him: not much political capital could be gained by engaging in the obscure subjects of metrics (M.Gasparov 2000b). Although the studies of culture in the Soviet Union were by no means politically neutral and safe, there was still a sense among authorities that the study of culture is like “the study of table manners,” harmless and arcane (see Kostiushev 1998, 34). Still, this is not to say that the conditions for Tartu-Moscow studies did not change substantially in the 1970s. Rector Fedor Klement—Lotman’s faithful patron for many years—was forced to retire in 1970. Summer schools planned for 1972 and then 1973 did not materialize. Some of the projects, like the “Semiotics and Art” series of Iskusstvo (Art) publishing house in Moscow, were banned after publishing two major monographs, Lotman (1970b) and Uspensky (1970). At last, the opponents of the school among local Estonian officials found something formally wrong with the very institutional bases of Tartu semiotics— summer schools and Sémeiotiké. Suddenly, it appeared that the university’s financial support for summer schools was supposed to be premised on the higher percentage of local participants. Similarly, Sémeiotiké was criticized for being overcrowded with “outsiders.” Around 1975, the University publishing house started to demand to increase the number of local scholars among contributors, cut the volume in half (because of, presumably, “paper shortage”) and exclude the Publication and Reviews section.52 Despite the defense apparatus created in the 1960s, at least two things made Tartu scholars very vulnerable. One was their dissident engagements and connections. Most of the Muscovites were so called “undersigners” (podpisanty): they participated in signing the letters in support of political prisoners like Brodsky, Siniavsky, Daniel’, Ginzburg and others. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the scholars in the humanities constituted the core of the dissident movement (see Daniel’ 2002; Nathans 2007; Tökés 1975). Three of Lotman’s students were prominent young dissidents who spent various terms in prisons throughout the 1970s and 1980s (Gabriel Superfin, Arseny Roginsky and Rafael Papaian). Larisa Bogoraz, one of the brave few who protested on the Red Square against the invasion of Czechoslovakia, was a scholar in the academic Institute of Russian Language. Another participant of this event, the poet Natalia Gorbanevskaia, was a close friend of the family of Lotman and Mints. They were in intensive communication both in person and by mail. Thus, it is not surprising that, despite Lotman’s emphatic opposition to any overt political 50

Lotman liked to repeat that “my department is my trenchpost (dzot)” (see Kiseleva, Liubov’. Interview by author. Tartu, November 2001). 51 The story of Soviet sociology is particularly emblematic in this respect. Although established only in 1968, the academic institute which supervised the sociological research in the USSR—the Institute of Concrete Social Studies—was “reorganized” in 1972 in such a way that most significant sociologists of the 1960s lost their positions and found themselves unable to conduct empirical studies and often publish until the late 1980s (see Shlapentokh 1987). 52 Torop, Peeter. Interviews by author. Tartu, October-November 2001.


engagements, his apartment was searched for an entire day in January 1970. This event is remarkable not only as a stressful incident (that later made it into the folklore of local professors and students). The search made it into The Chronicle of Current Events, the major underground (samizdat) publication that kept track of the human rights violations in the Soviet Union.53 In effect, Lotman became something like a dissident celebrity known far beyond academia. However, this fame was a mixed blessing in the context of Soviet academic power struggles. Another source of vulnerability was the nationality of most Tartu School members. Critics and officials frequently accused Lotman for promoting Jews as professors and students in the university department, which he chaired. During 1967 hire talks, Lotman writes: “In friendly circles, it was hinted to me that there are just enough Jews [in the department]” (Lotman 1997, 209). Since semiotics (semiotika) was often rhymed with semitika in private conversations among his opponents, Lotman was forced to constantly disentangle these concepts: “It is disgusting to prove constantly that semiotics is not masked Zionism.”54 The Jewish issue became particularly acute after 1973, when the Jewish emigration movement flourished. Between 1973 and 1980, 7 out of 33 significant participants of the School emigrated.55 To be sure, not all of them were Jewish. And yet, the pressure on Lotman increased. Since this time or even earlier, he was, beyond any doubt, under KGB surveillance precisely due to the suspicions over his “Zionist activities.” As one KGB report states, Lotman “was well-known for his systematic semitization” (evreizatsiia) of his university department,” as well as his contacts with Victor Erlich, the head of the International Committee for the Support of the Soviet Jews.56 Lotman’s attempts to dissociate himself from Zionism and “any form of nationalism” officially did not make him less suspect57. This and other political difficulties should not be interpreted as simply the realization of the “oppressive nature” of the Soviet state, somewhat moderated by the liberal 1960s and the Estonian political environment. As one can see, KGB was mostly concerned about political subversion associated with “Zionism” and emigration movement. As for local ideological and administrative authorities, they were rarely initiators of the witch-hunting campaigns in this historical period. In most cases, lower level officials, that is university bureaucrats and censors, were simply trying to be “on the safe side”: in certain situations they would rather impede a publication or a promotion than let it go. Moreover, the more educated (intelligentnyi) they were, the more “dangerous.” As Uspensky commented about some editors-censors, “it is better to deal with a bureaucrat, a burbon, than with an intellectual: [the latter sees more potentially politically incorrect ideas and wordings in your text].”58 Overall, 53

Khronika tekushchikh sobytii, issue 12, February 12th, 1970. Lotman to Egorov, 1973 (Lotman 1997, 247). 55 See Appendix A: Boris Gasparov (USA, 1980), Boris Ogibenin (France, 1974), Alexander Piatigorsky (UK, 1974), Dmitry Segal (Israel, 1973), Alexander Syrkin (Israel, 1970s), Alexander Zholkovsky (USA, 1979) and Yuri Shcheglov (USA, 1979). 56 Unfortunately, during my research in 2001, I had no access to KGB documents in either Russia or Estonia. I had a chance to look at the document, which I cite above, at the exhibition of the newly declassified documents at the Estonian National Library in March 2002. This KGB report is dated by January 28th, 1981. Victor Erlich (b. 1914) is, of course, know not only as a supporter of RussianJewish dissidents but as an author of the classical book on Russian Formalism (Erlich 1981). 57 See the text of Lotman’s “My statement,” which was written on the occasion of one of the Jewish Congresses in the 1960s (LC, F136, s.5, l.2). 58 Uspensky to Lotman (LC, F135, s.1471, l.89). Uspensky uses the nineteenth century nickname for intransigent and reactionary bureaucrat, which originated from the Old Regime dynasty of the Bourbons. 54


rather than promoting a consistent ideological agenda, Soviet officials were usually acting upon contingencies (see Kojevnikov 2000; Krementsov 1997). More significant sources of trouble for Tartu scholars were their opponents among intellectuals and academics, often positioned in such established seats of academic power as Moscow University or the Institute of World Literature (IMLI) but also in Tartu University. As late as in 1975, the major Soviet university’s standardized syllabus still called for the “struggle against bourgeois schools in literary theory,” including structuralism (Programma, 10). In 1972, the anti-structuralist “broad methodological front” – the expression of an IMLI academic – materialized in the annual series entitled Kontekst, as opposed to tekst, the Tartu catchword. It was truly a front composed of highly improbable allies like academician Khrapchenko, the promoter of the so called “Marxist semiotics,” and the celebrated cultural theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, who was recently “recovered” from oblivion and propagated by the stringent opponents of structuralism, Vadim Kozhinov and Vladimir Turbin. What made this alliance possible is the resistance of both Party and academic establishment to significant changes in the existing institutional and disciplinary balance of forces. As I mentioned earlier, academics were supportive of disciplinary stability not only because they wished to preserve their monopoly on certain branches of science but because any change meant at least for some of them a threat to what they considered their intellectual autonomy. The overlap between the interests of both authorities and the significant part of academic intellectuals produced what currently is known as “the security of cadres” epoch between 1970 and 1985. 59 I am far from lumping together Kontekst publications, KGB reports, the attacks by Estonian colleagues, and frequent, in the 1970s, check-ups of the work of Lotman’s department by the federal Ministry of Education and other agencies. Yet, the combination of these factors makes clear why the leadership of Tartu University felt it was under pressure to increase control over Lotman’s activities and to make formal requirements harsher for summer schools and Tartu semiotic series. Yet, at the same time, if Lotman and his colleagues were finding legal ways out, university officials rarely rejected their propositions. For instance, the last school in 1974 was possible under a new name, the First All-Union Symposium on the Secondary Modeling Systems. By upgrading the event, Lotman justified the invitation of the outside speakers. By moving to Tartu, he offered a way to cut on costs. Yet, to be true, this first symposium was also the last one. Similarly, the growing accusations of nepotism led to the settlement according to which Lotman quit his job as a head of the department and moved to the neighboring Department of World Literature. 60 Yet, according to his Tartu colleagues, he continued to be in charge of the administrative and “political” affairs of the Department of Russian Literature until his death.61 As for Sémeiotiké, its issues indeed thinned rapidly from 572 pages in 1973 to 308 pages in 1975 to 168 pages in 1977 and stayed in this size until the early 1990s.62 However, 59

This settlement brought to halt any significant institutional innovation: according to Graham (1998, 82), there were practically no new academic units established in the Soviet Union in this period. Furthermore, this security led to the noticeable aging of academia: as Sergei Nekliudov pointed out to me, he was consistently the youngest in all academic collectives he worked in until the late 1980s (Nekliudov, interview). Paradoxically, this was also a secure situation for many semi-dissident intellectuals as long as they did not enter open political struggle. 60 Indeed, Lotman promoted the joint hire of the Jewish couple, Pavel Reifman and Larisa Volpert, in the mid-1970s. 61 Isakov, interview; Kiseleva, interview; Reifman and Volpert, interview. 62 In his 1978 letter to Egorov, Lotman describes the ninth edition of Sémeiotiké as “extremely thin and sickly looking” (Lotman 1997, 269)


the issues became more frequent, often semiannual (see Isakov 1991). In effect, there was no significant dropdown in the quantity of publications: Sémeiotiké hosted 179 papers in 196475 and 175 in 176-1990. Although the section of reviews disappeared, Sémeiotiké continued its tradition of recovering the forgotten or suppressed past by publishing the works of the classical philologist Olga Freidenberg, the philosopher-phenomenologist Gustav Shpet (1879-1937), the symbolist poet, writer and theorist Andrei Bely (1880-1934) and a number of other “forgotten names.” It is not, however, that the Tartu School simply adapted to, and quietly continued its work under, the new social and political conditions. In fact, the emigration of a few key participants and the end of summer schools was the end of the Tartu-Moscow School proper. The lack of the institutionalized opportunity for gathering led to the substantial change in the nature of alliances on which the School was based. Primarily, the membership changed: in addition to four deaths and seven emigrations between 1970 and 1980, five other frequent participants stopped contributing to Sémeiotiké.63 The number of contributions from the remaining core Moscow members also dropped. This meant that they concentrated on their institutional niches in the Academy of Sciences. After ten years of internationally and nationally visible collective research, such slit-trenching strategy no longer led necessarily to obscurity and irrelevance. In effect, the publication politics of Sémeiotiké changed dramatically. If previously it was a mouthpiece of the School proper and any enlargement of the circle was very problematic, since mid-1970s, it became the voice of much wider circle of the representatives of “parallel science.” Among new authors, there was Aron Ia. Gurevich (1924-2006), the leading Soviet historian of Western Middle Ages; Sergei S. Averintsev (1937-2004), the cultural historian of Byzantium; and Lidiia Ia. Ginzburg (1902-1990), the literary historian and student of Yuri Tynianov, and other informal “stars” of the Soviet humanities. Lotman also occasionally invited representatives of the “friendly” academic trends and institutions: for instance, academician Nikita I. Tolstoi (1923-1996), the renown folklorist and cultural anthropologist, a colleague of Ivanov and Toporov in the Institute of Slavic Studies; and Peeter Tulviste (b. 1945), the Estonian psychologist of the Vygotskian school. Sémeiotiké also opened its doors to a number of Tartu professors and students, as well as to young scholars from Moscow, Leningrad, Riga and other Soviet academic centers. One of the key traits that most of these people shared was their precarious, off-center, if not openly marginal position in Soviet academia. For some innovative younger scholars, various Tartu gatherings were simply the only public sites for academic communication, while the Tartu series were the only places in which they were able to publish (see Zorin 1998a). As for older generation, the situation of Aron Gurevich is emblematic. This historian of European Middle Ages introduced to Soviet academia and developed himself some of the major ideas the French school of Annales, which was headed by Marc Bloch and Fernand Braudel. Although Soviet historians and philosophers harshly criticized his works for nonMarxism, he was able to continue to publish both in the USSR and abroad. At the same time, just like most Tartu scholars, he could not visit international conventions to which he was repeatedly invited. Moreover, he was allowed to do nothing but pure research: he could not teach in the “capitals” (Moscow and Leningrad), chair a sector, a department or edit a journal, have official students or participate in any committees, including dissertation committees (Batkin 1994, 81-82). Thus, he was granted with plenty of research time but 63

See Appendix A. The deaths are as follows: 1969—Lev Zhegin, 1971—Petr Bogatyrev, 1974— Isaak Revzin, and 1979—Jaak Põldmäe. The five dropouts are Tatiana Elizarenkova, Yuri Lekomtsev, Sergei Nekliudov, Elena Novik and Elena Semeka. Boris Egorov continued to publish prolifically in TRSF.


deprived of any formal access to academic power. Of course, like other members of the trio of the “Moscow virtuosi”—the Bakhtinian philosopher Vladimir S. Bibler (1918-2000) and the Renaissance scholar Leonid M. Batkin (b.1932),—he was welcomed to multiple home seminars and other semi-official gatherings, including the ones hosted by Tartu-related Alexander Zholkovsky and Eliazar Meletinsky in 1976-83 (see M.Gasparov 2001; Kagarlitsky 1988, 306). However, only Tartu publications and various conferences patronized by Lotman could ensure that Gurevich’s works were discussed at the early stage of their development and that his academic network spanned the limits of Soviet and international medievalist community. This new politics of “open doors” turned Sémeiotiké into a major journal of Soviet parallel science and Lotman into a key gatekeeper in the field of parallel scholarship. Notably, this transition in academic politics was associated with the transition in methodology, theory and thematic choices. By the mid-1970s, Lotman and many of his colleagues dropped their earlier aspiration for “precise” and “formal” object-free universal method of modeling and developed their post-formalist perspectives on (artistic) text and culture, including the culture of everyday life (byt). In Lotman’s words, this was a transition from syntax and semantics of culture to pragmatics of culture, the perspective that was open to a variety of methodologies, from topological modeling to “close reading” (see Lotman [1977] 1992). In effect, the years 1975-1985 was the period when Lotman’s most significant statements on the theory of culture and his major studies on the “semiotics of Russian culture” appeared.64 More aggressively than before, Tartu semioticians invaded the conventional fields of literary and historical studies, especially the studies of Medieval and classical Russian literature and culture. If previously their semiotic studies were largely distinct from their studies on the history of literature and culture, Lotman and his colleagues started to integrate both (semiotic) theory and history into the body of what they called “cultural semiotics,” or “Culturology.”65 Overall, the relative openness of the Tartu series to the outsiders ran parallel to their higher thematic richness. One implication of these shifts was the growing overlap between Sémeiotiké and the editions dedicated to the history of Russian literature (especially TRSF, or the Works of Russian and Slavic Philology). During the summer schools 1964-74, these were separate publications with different audiences and authors, even though with one editor—Yuri Lotman (see Isakov 1991). The TRSF was more of a departmental publication for Tartu professors and students of Russian literature. Yet, since the mid-1970s, the difference became harder to identify: in the words of Lotman’s associate, “if there was an important piece, we published it in whatever volume was coming out first.”66 For instance, Lotman and Uspensky published some of their major articles on the “semiotics of Russian culture” in the TRSF. Overall, in the 1970s, the Tartu School evolved from a tight group of personal friends and intellectual fellow travelers, a group without the single leader, into a broader and looser movement, which was clearly identified with Yuri Lotman. In the 1960s, the summer schools were motivated by a dream of a robust—if no longer “exact” and quantitative— structuralist “language” and possibly even theory of culture. As such, the Tartu-Moscow School represented one of the unorthodox projects in Soviet humanities, albeit particularly prestigious because of its international reputation. By the end of the 1970s, Lotman appeared to many, and fashioned himself, as the center of the broad front of all “healthy forces” within 64

These works are mostly translated to English in Lotman and Uspenskij (1984) and Lotman, et al. (1985). 65 Of course, this merger between theory and history started earlier (e.g. Lotman 1970a; 1973c; 1976c; Ivanov et al. 1973). Yet, only in mid-1970s, this trend started to dominate the Sémeiotiké publications. 66 See Kiseleva, interview; Torop, interview.


Soviet literary and cultural studies. Thus, his role as unofficial arbiter of intellectual tastes and anointer of legitimate research has increased immensely. The Tartu School became a kind of parallel science’s “establishment.” The Tartu School as “Establishment” The phenomenon of “unofficial establishment” was, to a certain extent, an effect of the hierarchical structure of the Soviet academic field. Just like institutional science was organized around the hierarchy of departments and institutes, parallel science was heavily centered around a few groups that managed to achieve certain degree of institutionalization and access to publishing. If the scholar was marginal in established science, unknown in the West or occupied too narrow a niche, he or she had practically no other choice than to be accepted by the existing centers of informal prestige and power. Other choices would be to quit academia altogether or to emigrate. It would be not an exaggeration to say that Lotman’s Tartu School became, by the late 1970s, a unofficial establishment that monopolized the whole sector of parallel science just like the School’s loyal opponents monopolized disciplines and fields within formal academia. Indeed, various Tartu academic gatherings and the publications under Lotman’s editorship were basically the only “game in town” for many literary and cultural historians, whose agendas and personal convictions did not fit into the framework of the official ideology and/or disciplinary orthodoxies.67 Even more importantly, only through Tartu could marginals access the Western academic public: by the late 1970s, Tartu was practically the only research project in cultural and literary studies, which was recognized in the West.68 Since, at this time, the Tartu School and Sémeiotiké meant Yuri Lotman, he effectively held in his hands the fates of many scholars who could not or chose not to publish some of their more unorthodox pieces in official journals. How did Lotman perform this role? What motivated him to choose or to reject a paper to be published in one of Tartu publications? How did rank-and-file member of parallel science react to Lotman’s rulings? One of the most revealing cases in point is Lotman’s publication in Sémeiotiké of a scandalous article by mathematicians Mikhail M. Postnikov (1927-2004) and Anatoly T. Fomenko (b.1945) entitled “New Methods of the Statistical Analysis of the NarrativeQuantitative Material in Ancient History” (Postnikov and Fomenko 1982). In this paper, on the basis of their statistical analysis of historical texts, the authors came to an astounding conclusion: by and large, the historical record of humanity before the fifteenth century is … fake. For instance, they found that there are too many coincidences of the time spans and the characteristics of the rules of certain kings and dynasties in very different civilizations and historical epochs. The conclusion was that these are the same kings projected onto the 67

For Alexander Ospovat (b. 1948), Tartu was “the only light in the window” in the whole Soviet humanistic academia. Ospovat is a representative of the whole younger generation of scholars who were not members of the Tartu School proper but were raised by Tartu student conferences and personal contacts with Tartu scholars. Other representatives of this generation include Andrei Zorin, presently professor at Oxford; Yuri Tsivian, film historian at the University of Chicago; Roman Timenchik, professor of Slavic Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Mikhail Iampolski, literary theorist and philosopher at New York University; Georgy Levinton, professor of the European University at St. Petersburg; Sergei Kozlov, an editor of Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, one of Russia’s chief intellectual reviews, and many others. 68 The exceptions to this rule are scholars like Mikhail Bakhtin or Dmitry S. Likhachev (1906-1999). Likhachev made a mind-boggling career from the gulag (1928-31) to the Academy of Sciences (1970). Revered and powerful under both Soviet and post-Soviet authorities, he was the major scholar of medieval Russian literature and an important ally of the Tartu School.


invented timeline by the early modern Western literati and the Jesuits. This was the first publication of what later became Fomenko’s The New Chronology, the intellectual blockbuster of the 1990s and a huge success among the students of the Russian university departments of history.69 Inadvertently, Lotman was instrumental in launching the career of this new, post-Soviet Lysenko. One may wonder how Lotman could buy into Postnikov and Fomenko’s conspiracy theory. To be sure, he was careful enough to supply the publication with his—albeit sympathetic, only mildly critical—comment. Originally, the idea of this publication came from Vladimir Uspensky, the mathematician and the brother of Boris Uspensky. Boris Uspensky, despite expressing multiple stipulations, saw, as he put it, “something” in Postnikov and Fomenko’s ideas, too. 70 At the surface, the ideas of “the new chronologists” seemed to overlap with Lotman and Uspensky’s ideas about the filtering, distorting and mythologizing role of historical narratives (see 1971). For both groups, culture was not necessarily memory of real events but memory shared by, and refracted through the minds of, “the people of the word,” that is the intellectual elite. Thus, it is quite thinkable to suppose that the literati simply invented history. Moreover, this supposition corresponded to the experience of the Soviet person: her textbook versions of historical events changed quite a few times during her lifetime. Yet, already at the early stage of negotiations about this publication, Lotman called it “nonsense” (bred) in private correspondence with Boris Uspensky.71 He was aware of the inadequacy between Postnikov and Fomenko’s sophisticated mathematics and their naïve perspective on the historical record. Furthermore, their historical revisionism was clearly going to far, to Lotman’s taste. In fact, Fomenko was much more radical in “deconstructing” history than any Western practitioner of contre-histoire or a listener to the “voices” of the subalterns (see, for example, cultural and post-colonial studies (see Loomba 1998)). Yet, ultimately, Lotman chose to ignore these considerations. After calling Postnikov and Fomenko’s paper “nonsense,” he immediate states: “we will publish it nonetheless.”72 This decision did not change even in 1982, when Fomenko asked to remove the paper from Lotman’s publishing plan because of the mounting criticism of his theories among established scholars. In response, Lotman pretended that paper is already in print and nothing could be done to stop it. There are a number of ways to account for this decision. One is Lotman’s persisting attraction toward natural sciences, from cybernetics in the 1960s to cognitive psychology and synergetic in the 1980s. Natural scientists carried much prestige for Lotman. Yet, more important is Lotman’s conception of the mission of the Tartu series: to attract all alternative and “healthy” forces in Soviet scholarship, to be the center of the unofficial humanities. As Viktor Zhivov pointed out in his interview, “when dominant culture lies too much, any iconoclastic effort is perceived as fresh wind.”73 Thus, when Lotman heard that the established critics involved the Central Committee in disciplining the “new chronologists,” it was a question of honor for Lotman to support “the persecuted.”74 69

Not to mention people like chess champion Garry Kasparov who passionately supported The New Chronology on TV in the 1990s (personal recollection). 70 Uspensky to Lotman, February 1983 (LC, F135, s. 1472). 71 Lotman to Uspensky, March 28, 1980 (Lotman 1997, 600). 72 Lotman to Uspensky, March 28, 1980 (Lotman 1997, 600). 73 Zhivov, Viktor. Interview by author. September 2001. 74 Alexander Zholkovsky claims that Lotman published one of his papers right after Zholkovsky’s emigration for the same reasons: “To publish an émigré in defiance of the authorities was for the Chief Editor [Lotman] a matter of honor, valor, and heroism, no matter subtle semiotic contradictions” (2000, 209).


As one can see, Lotman the editor was very sensitive to the politics of the to-bepublications in Sémeiotiké and other Tartu series. In the nutshell, both the content of the article and the public persona of the author were expected to maintain the border between the binary oppositions of us and them, between parallel science and “civil society,” on the one hand, and the loyal academic establishment, on the other. Whatever academically and intellectually problematic, the article by Postnikov and Fomenko did not challenge this symbolic boundary. By uncovering the gigantic conspiracy of the Jesuits (and, by implication, the established historical scholarship), they positioned themselves as true intellectuals, whose only role was to reveal the truth and to deliver it to the public. In its grotesqueness, their thesis appealed particularly well to the self-representation of the member of parallel science as a rebel, non-conformist and outsider to the “system.” Yet, this was on the level of the connotations that this thesis evoked; in its literal sense, it was politically safe: as one Central Committee official pointed out: “It does not matter for me when Julius Cesar was really killed” (Novikov 1996, part II). By contrast, the paper by two other scholars was rejected arguably because it did not have the characteristics just outlined. To be sure, two Moscow sociologists, Boris Dubin (b. 1946) and Lev Gudkov (b.1946), who submitted their paper on the possibility of studying society through literature to Lotman in the early 1980s, were not people from the street. They had good credentials (in terms of poriadochnost’, or “honorability” and “virtue,” as discussed earlier) and recommendations.75 Moreover, Dubin and Gudkov were definite outsiders to the establishment. As researchers under the auspice of the Lenin Library in Moscow, they could count only on very low-circulation, often intra-institutional, publications in library studies, which were hardly accessible or interesting to the wider academic public. The publication in Sémeiotiké would definitely enlarge their audience and possibly introduce them to Western academia. Later, in the 1990s, they achieved considerable recognition for their studies in cultural sociology but that is another story. Of course, the fact that Dubin and Gudkov had no science background and that they were social scientists was already “bad” enough. Lotman tried to keep as far as he could from sociologists because their subject matter, contemporary society, was too close to “politics.” From Lotman’s “anti-political” perspective, sociologists by definition were either too close to the authorities and the official newspeak, or they were in danger of harsher reprisals for their unorthodox ideas on the nature of Soviet society then most humanists, and thus close association with them was dangerous. Furthermore, as Dubin pointed out, “sociology was associated with ‘sociologism’ [i.e. the ‘vulgar Marxist’ opponents of Russian Formalists] of the 1920s and thus nobody [in Lotman’s entourage] expected anything good from it.”76 This may be one of the reasons why Lotman’s attitude to Yuri Levada, who was fired from Moscow University in 1969 for publishing not-quite-Marxist lectures on sociology, comprised both sympathy and distance.77 Yet, more importantly, for Lotman, the specific intellectual paradigm, in which Dubin and Gudkov worked, was highly problematic for him. Lotman was particularly put off by their critique of the literature-centric ideology of the Russian intelligentsia (see Dubin 2001). Dubin and Gudkov argued that this ideology idolized and mystified the texts of the classics and downplayed the role of the relations of power in language and literature. Although they did not at that time know Foucault and Bourdieu and cited mostly German 75

For example, the recommendations of Yuri Levada (1930-2006), a theoretical sociologist in official disgrace and a close Tartu ally (later a founder of VTsIOM and Levada-Center), and Igor Chernov, Lotman’s favorite student. 76 Dubin and Gudkov. Interview by author. July 2002. 77 Levada, personal communication; Dubin and Gudkov, interview.


reception theorists (e.g. Iser 1974), they argued, like many Russian and Western scholars in the 1990s, that the “fetishism of culture” is as much rooted in the intelligentsia’s resistance to the state as it is in its evolvement in the state’s policies of “socialist modernization” (cf. Lovell 2000, 22; 39). In the words of one Russian poststructuralist, Mikhail Iampolski, “in the absence of a market, the fetishization of culture replaces that of money and exchange value” (see Lovell 2000, 70). Although Dubin and Gudkov’s attempts to demystify the cult of culture were not as radical, Lotman correctly sensed that their framework challenged his milieu’s taken-for-granted oppositions between Power and Culture. Although by no means intended as a challenge to Lotman and his circle, the paper by Dubin and Gudkov was received as a threat to the deepest insights that underlined both Tartu theorizing of culture and their social strategies of positioning themselves in Soviet society. If Dubin and Gudkov did not directly attack Lotman and his supremacy over “parallel” literary studies, others did. One of the most revealing cases in point was the publication of the samizdat philological journal called Metrodor by a group of scholars and students of Leningrad University in 1982 (see Panchenko 1995). In this journal, serious critical articles and satiric doodles were mostly directed not at official science but at Vladimir Toporov’ s reconstructions of the archaic mythological structures and at Lotman’s cultural history of Russia. What was, and still is, a source of some controversy is the fate of this journal: after a few issues, the journal was banned and, moreover, its participants were excluded from the university “for subversive activity.” Nobody formally accused Lotman and his colleagues of “pulling strings” but the connection between criticism and expulsion has persisted in the memory of the Soviet philological community (see Levinton 2002). This case strengthened the point of those who positioned themselves within parallel science as opponents to Lotman’s diktat. The Case of Nikolai Karamzin’s letters To conclude this section, let me present one more case that is particularly revealing of the way, in which the Lotman-led Tartu School was involved in struggles for authority in Soviet humanistic academia. An angry exchange between the representatives of the “Literary Heritage” series78 and Lotman, who served these series as an academic consultant, grew out of an overtly technical disagreement on how to publish the private letters of Nikolai Karamzin (1766-1826), an important Russian writer and historian: should one use the eighteenth or the twentieth century orthography? On the basis of his theory of meaning generation in literary texts (see chapter 5), Lotman argued that “the modernization of orthography is not as harmless and painless for the author’s text as one might think” (Lotman 1972, 74). He was concerned about the preservation of the semantic richness of what he considered to be a classical text of Russian literary culture. To this, his opponents responded that the publication should be accessible to the general public.79 At one level, this was a debate between two different strategies of publishing classical literature: should we try to raise “the masses” to the level of the masterpieces or to adapt the texts to the level of the reader. It was also a conflict between the archaist assumptions of a classical philologist and the present-oriented stance of a pragmatic publisher. And yet, the heated atmosphere of the debate does not seem to correspond to its actual significance. The 78

The Literaturnoe nasledstvo series, established in 1931, is dedicated to publishing previously unpublished materials on the history of Russian literary and social thought. The series was (and still is) sponsored by IMLI, that is by the opponents of Lotman. 79 See the traces of this debate in 1978-1981 Lotman’s correspondence with colleagues (Lotman 1997, 274, 599, 613, and 616) and in Boris Uspenskii’s letters to Lotman (e.g. March 1980; LC, F135, s.1470, p. 33).


fact of the matter is that the academic debate on Karamzin’s private letters, not even some consensual masterpiece, went out of hand. The exchange between the series and Lotman turned nasty. They exchanged mutual accusations and appealed to other, more influential academics to serve as arbiters. Lotman’s letters to his colleagues were full of harsh words in respect to his main opponent, Andrei L. Grishunin (b. 1921), whom he accused of the Soviet habit of “cleansing history,” as well as of “secret insinuations” and improper networking. Lotman referred to the debate as a “struggle,” even “war.” Ultimately, after many years of deliberations, Lotman won and Karamzin’s letters were published in their original orthography. Why did this overtly minor accident was such an important matter for Lotman? Why is it important for us? My answer to both of these questions is that the debate on orthography in the private letters of a nineteenth writer was a debate on who defines the canons of “high” culture and who controls their transmission to the wider public. Here, “who” refers to the representatives of the academic establishment and parallel science. Since parallel academia was an integral part of Soviet academia, the outcome was not preordained even under the Brezhnev’s regime,. Lotman’s ultimate “victory” in the late 1980s was greatly helped by the new role and power of the elite intelligential under Mikhail Gorbachev. Politics and the Academic Intelligentsia during the Perestroika (1986-91) The period of Gorbachev’s perestroika was not only the last attempt of reforming the communist regime. It was also an apex of the elite intelligentsia’s aspirations for social significance and influence. We have already seen how, by means of various identity rituals, Tartu and Moscow semioticians managed to circumscribe “their own” space within Soviet academia without exposing themselves as a threat to existing order, to the extent that some younger marginals started to perceive them as a part of the larger Soviet academic establishment. However, the alliance forged between Gorbachev’s cohort of the reformist authorities and the West-oriented liberal intelligentsia of “the 1960s generation” (shestidesiatniki) provided new opportunities for achieving the correspondence between the intelligentsia’s vision of its position in society and its actual place in it. A lot has been written about the relationships between the authorities and the intelligentsia under Gorbachev (e.g. Faraday 2000; Kagarlitsky 1988; Shlapentokh 1990). To make a long story short, it was a period when selected groups of intellectuals seemed to achieve what socialism promised, or seemed to promise, but never truly delivered. This was the time when liberal journals, which were filled with the unmaskings of the past and the present of the regime, were receiving the highest subscription rates ever (Lovell 1998). This was the time when fragile and stuttering dissident academician Andrei D. Sakharov (19211989) became a national hero. The internationally-renown representatives of the intelligentsia were taking high positions in the state: they were elected into the new Soviet and regional parliaments and composed the newly established Presidential Advisory Council. In sum, Gorbachev’s rule seemed to bring the vision of the “intellectuals on the road to class power” quite close to reality (cf. Konrad and Szelenyi 1979). The Tartu School was not outside of these trends. For two years, Viacheslav Ivanov headed the prestigious Library of Foreign Literature, the main reservoir of non-Soviet academic and other publications in the Soviet Union. He was also a deputy of the Soviet parliament and an activist of the “democratic opposition” in it. Yuri Lotman also became a public intellectual in Estonia during the rise of the national and democratic aspirations as well as the tensions between the Estonian and Russian population. Lotman’s public pronouncements of this period were quite characteristic of the ideology of the liberal Soviet intellectual of the late 1980s. 74

On the one hand, Lotman supported the national aspirations of Estonians and defended them against accusations in nationalism. Due to this support, he damaged a number of long standing relationships with people like Academician Dmitry Likhachev.80 However, he also protested against the politization of the national divisions between Russians and Estonians and, instead, emphasized the conflict between local “civil society” (Estonian and Russian) and the bureaucratic “center.” Simultaneously, he advocated a new, “post-Soviet” vision of the Soviet space as no longer bureaucratic and ideological but “humanistic” one (Lotman 1988b; see also Waldstein 2007). If political power and influence of intellectuals, especially academic intellectuals of the Tartu School, were still miniscule, their academic situation changed considerably. Basically, Gorbachev’s rule led to further expansion of parallel science into the domain of the established, formal academia. Some of the leaders of the former gained privileged positions in the existing academic hierarchies as well as received an opportunity to create their own institutions. In 1989, Viacheslav Ivanov managed to establish the Department of World Culture at the central bastion of Soviet Marxist domination, the Faculty of Philosophy at Moscow University. Meletinsky and Nekliudov established the research Institute of Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the newly established Russian University of the Humanities in Moscow. Culturology, which was previously an informal name for a multitude of projects, including the Tartu semiotics of culture, became an official discipline in the national university curriculum (see chapter 6). In 1992, a number of Tartu scholars became full members of the Russian Academy of Sciences, i.e. achieved the highest possible level of institutional recognition available for Russian scholars.81 This transformation of the circle’s location within the Soviet academic field left a noticeable imprint on its academic work of the time. This is particularly evident in Lotman’s last book, Kul’tura i vzryv (Culture and explosion) (1992). In it, he not only freely refers to contemporary political situation but also proposes what reviewers called a “new politicallymotivated discourse” (Delcheva and Vlasov 1996, 148). According to this discourse, in addition to past-oriented historical reconstructions, semiotics should also be a science of making conscious choices between available opportunities under the conditions of extreme unpredictability, that is the situations of “explosions.” In contrast to the emphasis of the classical cultural semiotics of the 1970s on the continuities of national development, Lotman puts emphasis on the marginalized and suppressed paths it could have taken. He argues that, in the contemporary situation of high unpredictability (he means the 1989-1991 period), it is possible to revitalize these traditions and, ultimately, shift from Russian to European “cultural models” (1992, 270). Continuous with both the liberal intelligentsia’s Westernism and Tartu “archaism,” this position reflects a late Soviet intellectual’s optimistic estimation of his social authority and ability to influence the course of national development. At this point, it is important to stipulate that the expansion of parallel science into the institutions of established science did not lead to the symmetrical turning of the tables in Russian academia. Most of the School’s opponents, even those who made their career in socialist realism and Soviet Marxism, did not lose their positions. Furthermore, since the academic field was much more fractured than its binary renditions, the new science of culture—kul’turologiia—appeared to be a highly heterogeneous assemblage of often incompatible and competing groupings. The members and successors of the Tartu School by 80

In the late 1980s, Lotman published a newspaper response to the open letter signed by six prominent Russian cultural leaders, including Likhachev and the Russian Orthodox patriarch Aleksiy II. Answering their accusation in nationalism directed against the Estonian independence movement, Lotman imputed Russian nationalism and even residual Stalinism to his “faltering friends” (see LC, F136, s., ll.40-42). 81 For instance, Mikhail Gasparov, Viacheslav Ivanov, and Vladimir Toporov.


no means monopolize this field; they just constitute, at the moment, its most prolific branch that enjoys the most recognition among Western colleagues and grant-givers. A more definite outcome of the changes in national and academic politics is the end of the Tartu School per se. Already in 1986, at the “memorial” summer school in Tartu, many presentations were dedicated to the assessment of the collective work for over twenty years (published in volume 20 of Sémeiotiké, 1987). As indicated by the shrinking volume of Lotman’s correspondence by the end of 1980s, personal relations were wearing off, even with his closest collaborators like Boris Uspensky (see Lotman 1997). Whatever may be personal reasons for this cooling of the relationships in particular cases, the general case is that the Tartu School as a kind of academic community and a personal circle was losing its social relevance. It existed as a framework for knowledge production in the polarized “us”/’them” social environment where intellectual autonomy was constantly at stake. As a parallel science institution, the School was more than a community of like-minded scholars. Yet, with the opening of new opportunities for converting their accumulated cultural capital into the loci of academic influence, Tartu and Moscow semioticians ceased to need the School’s framework of academic communication and mutual assessment. The epoch of perestroika and the gains it brought to the intelligentsia appeared to be short-lived. Yet, the dissolution of the ultimate symbiosis of power and knowledge and the final guarantees of intellectual autonomy was short-lived. The failure of the 1991 August coup and the breakdown of the USSR in December of the same year gave the last boost to the hopes on a new compact between power and knowledge, the one based on the equality of the partners and the full guarantees of intellectual autonomy. In fact, however, these events were last nails in the coffin of the intelligentsia’s extraordinary status in Soviet society, the status of the state’s major ally in its efforts to modernize society and its major opponent. Intellectual positions were losing their appeal among the wider masses for some time before 1991 but such indicators of the intelligentsia’s symbolic power as the circulation rates of major reviews (“thick journals”) and the demand on “high culture” items (for example, book collections) dropped down rapidly (Lovell 1998). The strata of the intelligentsia who profited most from Gorbachev’s rule were the biggest losers of the 1990s. The loss of social status, economic wellbeing and stability and cultural prestige were some of the dimensions of this situation (Faraday 2000; Lahusen and Kuperman 1993; Lovell 1998). Most painful was the failure of the illusionary alliance between the intelligentsia and the state as well as the hopes of preserving the multicultural post-Soviet space. Many leaders of the 1960s started to feel homeless at home. At the end of 1991, after reading his course of lectures in Moscow University, Viacheslav Ivanov took off to a position at the University of California, Los Angeles. Boris Uspensky had already been teaching in Italy. Yuri Lotman made his last appearance in Moscow in September 1991, right after the August coup. In his lecture on September 12th, 1991, at which I was present, he was offering to the public the conception of his last book, Culture and Explosion (Lotman 1992). Paradoxically, exactly when this book announced the newly political and activist role for semiotics and culturology, Lotman was pushed out of his activist mood by the constellation of physical and social circumstances. Hardly recovered from the stroke when his speech capacities were severely damaged, Yuri Lotman soon lost his wife as a result of minor but unsuccessful operation performed in Italy in 1990. Surrounded by his faithful young students during his last years, he confessed that he had nobody to speak to. To the post-Soviet reality, he referred with a mixture of irony and grief: “I like the world of my memory more than the one I see around myself” and “The situation is laughable and unlike all preceding life: I feel


like a dinosaur (mastodont) who accidentally walked into a modern elegant boutique (passazh).”82 Yuri Lotman died on October 28, 1993. My historical narrative will not move beyond this date. In what follows, I plan to turn the clock back to the years before the 1950s. In the next chapter, we will overview the relevant trends in the history of Russian Formalism and Western (post-)structuralism with an aim of reconstructing the conceptual, terminological and thematic “roots” of the School’s intellectual agenda. Parallel Science and the Public Sphere in the Soviet Union Now, based on the preceding discussion, let me summarize some of the characteristics of parallel science. On the one hand, the emergence of the networks and the institutions of parallel science was a result of the disillusionment of a sizable group of Soviet intellectuals— mostly connected through various disciplinary counter-networks—about the prospects of reshaping the power hierarchies within Soviet academia in their favor. In these respects, parallel science is a form of resistance or, for some, escapes from disheartening social realities as well as constraining and hollow official ideologies and symbols. Yet, on the other hand, in contrast to anti-establishment movements in the West, there was no option of creating separate private institutions, publishers, journals or foundations in the Soviet Union. As we have already seen, parallel science depended on the formal Soviet institutions for research and publishing facilities, employment, money, sometimes space and protection, or at least tolerance of the authorities. Moreover, much of the everyday operations of parallel science depended on either pragmatically using or taking for granted various aspects of Soviet reality: from official edification of science and cultural canon and the state-guaranteed job security to the mechanisms of patronage, nepotism and exchange of favors. Yet, this does not mean that the “independence,” or even simply “difference,” of the parallel science communities with respect to formal academic “collectives” was just a daydream. Within the realm of parallel science, you could enjoy all the major benefits of the Soviet system but also avoid many of its shortcomings, such as the Party’s ideological control, the use of no longer meaningful clichés, the bureaucratic hierarchies and their inefficient operation. Of course, most members of the parallel science networks could not travel abroad and many were intentionally kept at the arm’s length from students but this was a comparatively mild price to pay for relatively comfortable and undemanding work environment and the benefits of enjoying the close-knit company of the best Russian minds of the time. After all, as far as I remember, Kant wrote his “Critique of the Judgment of Taste” without having seen a single worthy original art piece and without even stepping outside of Königsberg!83 Thus, far from being defined simply by the negativity of saying “no” to the Soviets, the space of parallel science was also a positive set of social and discursive positions within Soviet society and academia. Due to being perceived as existing “outside” of Soviet society, these positions afforded their occupants with considerable disadvantages, especially in comparison with the members of the institutional establishments, who had access to various administrative and other resources. Yet the parallel science positions also granted their occupants with immense advantages to these elites, not to mention rank-and-file scholars who did not manage to find their way into the close-knit parallel science networks. One 82

Lotman to Sonkina, 1993; Lotman to Egorov, 1992 (Lotman 1997, 358, 442). For more on this period, see Waldstein (2007). 83 It is not that I do not see the benefits of international academic exchange for most of us who are not immanuel-kants. My point is that we should not overestimate the extent to which Soviet science was isolated from the world and the impact this relative isolation had on Soviet scientists.


advantage was that the leaders of parallel science communities relied on the resources provided by both their official positions and their membership in “parallel” institutions. For instance, in addition to being a world-renown leader of Tartu semiotics, Yuri Lotman on the 1960s through the 1980s was also an important member of the pedagogical establishment in the Soviet Republic of Estonia. As professor and, in 1960-77, the head of the Department of Russian Literature at the only, at that time, university in Estonia, he made a notable imprint on the local deliberations and policies on teaching Russian language and literature (see Waldstein 2007). Of course, this was rather limited administrative and political power, in comparison to some of the established opponents of structuralism, who often headed research institutes and held keys to the whole disciplines. Yet, Lotman was also a central figure in the network of parallel science. This position gave him and his group the kind of prestige and influence that most of his highly positioned opponents did not enjoy. This prestige was coming from the perception of the Tartu School as existing outside (vne) of formal Soviet institutional realities and thus, by definition, outside of political and academic power. This was a prestige based on the assumption of Lotman’s and his colleague’s relative disinterestedness and powerlessness, which was associated with the idea of intellectual autonomy. Yet, as we know from Bourdieu, this perception and self-perception can itself be a form and a resource of power, power that is not perceived as such and that is recognized as merely a legitimate claim on prestige and recognition (1977, 171-182). In addition, Lotman was able to further support this “symbolic power,” which resided in the claim of being totally vne politiki (outside of politics), by managing to put together and sustain over time the working alternative institutions of academic research and training. This combination of symbolic and institutional authority was the basis of Lotman’s and the Tartu School’s high status not only among other members of parallel science but also among the outsiders, the members of formal academia on the various levels of its hierarchy. Under the conditions of the lack of formal power, this prestige served as a powerful source of influence. In other words, its reputation was the School’s “capital” which was indispensable for its members’ interventions in the Soviet academic wars. I believe my study have demonstrated even more than this. In fact, as a stronghold of academic autonomy, parallel science is also an advantageous strategic springboard for the eventual expansion of its participants back into the realm of formal science. Let me unpack this a little bit. As I pointed out earlier, by the 1960s, some of the counter-networks of the Stalinist period gained access to institutional power.84 Other counter-networks, including structuralists in philology, achieved more modest results in these respects by the time when the possibilities for further institutional change became negligible and the system ossified. Emerging in this period, parallel science was in fact a form in which these left-out counternetworks institutionalized themselves. Far from being simply an act of desperation or resistance, the establishment of parallel science turned out to be an act of self-assertion; an act of achieving, by new means, essentially the same goals that were not achieved fully at the time of the academic reform movement: academic autonomy and control over the meaning and practice of “science” and “culture,” and the de facto ability to draw the demarcations between knowledge and power. The Tartu 1970s project of the science of culture, culturology, is definitely one of the most complete expressions of these aspirations. Lotman’s project of “the semiotics of Russian culture,” his efforts to create the unified front of “healthy” forces by publishing unorthodox works on culture, his sometimes noisy run-ins with official publishers and ultimately the establishment of culturology as a discipline at the 84

In human sciences, the successful rise of Vygotsky-Luria psychology is a prime example (Joravsky 1989).


end of the perestroika—these are some of the steps of the strategy (by no means all planned and masterminded) of reentering formal academia not as outsiders but as prominent, if not dominant, insiders. Far from being just an effort to “exit,” to be outside of Soviet science, the project of parallel science was also a strategy by the counter-networks to “reenter” it and occupy in it the position that their representatives thought they deserved. This strategy is particularly characteristic for the later period in the history of the Tartu School. At the time of the Kääriku and Tartu summer schools, Lotman and his colleagues tried primarily to keep a low profile and to be as invisible to the authorities as possible. They tried to keep themselves as a small exclusive circle of like-minded colleagues and friends. At a later period, Lotman became the center of the unofficial establishment. His later strategy was more the one of visibility: Lotman was at that time refashioning the Tartu series into the public forum of potentially all of the unorthodox scholarship in the studies of culture and a major center of the humanities in the Soviet realm and, possibly, on a broader international scene. 85 This kind of visibility and the aura of autonomy and prestige attracted to such institutions of parallel science as the Tartu School young and most intellectually promising scholars and drew off the attention of the West from the established Soviet scholarship. Although only the directors of research institutes and the deans of university departments, as well as a handful of loyal scholars, were allowed to attend international conferences, it was Lotman and the members of his circle who were consistently invited to these conferences. These kinds of things could not fail to provoke considerable irritation and resentment on the part of the intellectuals who were more centrally located within Soviet academia. As we have already seen and will still see, this resentment was an important, although not the only, motive for attacking such groups as the Tartu School. Yet, what is more interesting is that the authorities and established scholars usually could not just ignore these groups, or proclaim them non-existent, or even make them disappear by some minor or major clampdown. Some of the opponents of the Tartu School, as we have already seen, were highly positioned academic officials. They arguably had enough power to rein in the development of parallel science. Indeed, they used this power on a multitude of specific occasions, for instance when individual promotions and publications were discussed or the number of pages and copies of the new Sémeiotiké volume were negotiated. Yet, the final clampdown never came, at least in the case of the Tartu School and many other cases. To some extent, these facts reflect the growing ineptness of both the Soviet academic establishment and the whole regime by the 1970s. Yet, these facts also reflect what I call the symbiotic character of the relationship between formal and parallel science. Historically, this symbiosis can be seen as an extension of the relationships between academic institutions and personal networks of academics, as discussed in the beginning of this chapter. These relationships can also be described as symbiotic: one implies and compliments the other, even though more or less significant discrepancy between, for instance, the recognition within your close circle, by your coworkers and by your bosses is a part of the game. Networks struggle for institutional resources and institutions try to rely on 85

Such processes as the conversion between Tartu semiotic and historical research at Tartu, the shifts in Lotman’s publishing policy since the mid-1970s and his run-ins with the Literary Heritage series, as described above, can be seen as the strategies of capturing the dominant positions in the field of Russian Studies. On the significance of this field, Mikhail Iampolski writes as follows: “The institutional field of human sciences in [Soviet] Russia was hierarchically organized around Russian studies… It dominated over other research fields to such an extent that it attracted anyone who wanted to participate in the academic commonwealth seriously and be in the center of academic thought… The control over Russian studies meant in practice the control over Russian philology and, as it were, the humanities” (Iampolski 2001, 102)


certain personal networks to be efficient in their work. Furthermore, individual members of networks work on converting their “network capital” (respect, recognition, personal acquaintances) into “institutional capital” (access to research facilities, students, publishing and money), and people with ranks make sure that they do not lose their respect among people by whom they aspire to be respected. With the emergence of parallel science, this symbiotic relationship did not unravel but became more complex. Some of the most vibrant counter-networks, e.g. Soviet structuralists, created their own institutions and these institutions—with their national and international visibility and prestige—became prime assets in the competition with the dominant networks in charge of formal institutions. Yet, by itself, this prestige and reputation of some parallel science groups do not give us reasons why the institutional establishment and the state tolerated parallel science as such. We should already know well enough what parallel science scholars owed to the Soviet system, even though they did not like to admit this. Yet, what did state and academic institutions got out of this symbiotic relationship? In fact, both formal academia and the Soviet regime “needed” parallel science for a number of reasons. The existence of informal seminars and summer schools channeled the protest energy of the intelligentsia into a presumably non-conformist but still non-political direction. The same applies to the whole discourse of anti-politics. Furthermore, parallel science was “needed” to raise the flexibility of the increasingly bureaucratized academic system. The institutions of parallel science provided alternative channels for communication across the administrative divisions between the Academy and the University, between research institutes and departments. In part due to the establishment of direct and regular connections between scholars without the mediation of their bosses, Soviet science and especially humanities retained considerable amount of intellectual vibrancy at the time that is often referred to as “the period of stagnation.” Furthermore, in the 1960s and 1970s the Soviet authorities were particularly concerned about their international reputation. The more a parallel science group like the Tartu School was known abroad, the more both local (e.g. Tartu University) and central authorities were disposed to be either tolerant or even supportive of this group. Of course, the influence of the West was not straightforward and there were many cases when the recognition by the Western public or academic opinion caused both the outcry of the official media and, at least, administrative and professional “difficulties.” In the world of the arts, the case of the poet Boris Pasternak comes immediately to mind: after publishing his Doctor Zhivago abroad and receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1958, he was publicly humiliated and forced to reject the award. Yet, by the 1970s, these cases became very rare. If anyone was publicly humiliated among scholars, this was usually a local celebrity without the international clout.86 Finally, it is important to remember that neither the Soviet academic establishment nor the authorities of various levels were a homogeneous bunch. There were a number of competing groups, some of which more or less openly stood by various parallel science groups. Among other reasons for this support, one stands out: to support a group like the Tartu School was a method of gaining prestige, a way to (re)establish one’s status as a scholar and an intellectual among other scholars or to become known as an “enlightened administrator.” Although this reputation was not always beneficial in the eyes of the top leadership, it allowed an established scholar or an academic official to retain his or her integrity and self-esteem in the situation when the Soviet power-knowledge empire gradually 86

For instance, the sociologist Yuri Levada was fired from Moscow University because of the “ideological mistakes in his lectures” (“In Memoriam” 2007).


unraveled and the alienation between authorities and intellectuals, the bearers of political power and “cultural capital,” deepened. This last observation points to the fact that, although the relationship between formal and parallel institutions was symbiotic in the short terms of a few decades, the emergence of parallel science was, nevertheless, a symptom of the unraveling of the Soviet system. By establishing such domains as parallel science, intellectuals further pushed the leadership in the directions it could not take without allowing the qualitative changes in the foundations of the social system. It is the direction in which Gorbachev moved, to some extent, by granting intellectuals, scientists, artists, and professionals considerable legal autonomy and power over their symbolic resources and expert knowledge without withholding the state’s obligations of financial and other support. Yet, this new consensus in making proved to be extremely shortlived and did not withstand the advance of market economy. One last point I want to make about parallel science is as follows: like formal academia and the academic establishment, the field of parallel science was not homogeneous. Where there are institutions, there is also a distinction between institutions and networks. Networks, in their turn, can be dominant and counter-networks, of which the first control established institutions while the latter aspire to such control. Thus, Lotman’s Tartu School of the late 1970s and 1980s, as described above, was a classical “establishment” but within the framework of parallel academia. Everything said before about parallel science applies primarily to this kind of establishment. This means that there was a large, and growing, number of Soviet intellectuals who were effectively excluded from both formal and parallel science. The implications of this point require separate study, which may potentially bring interesting insights into the sociology and politics of intellectual elites in the Soviet Union. To conclude, I want to throw in some reflections on the implications of my analysis of parallel science and the Tartu School as its exemplary institution for the much debated issue of the public sphere and civil society under Soviet socialism. This issue came to the fore especially in the 1980s and 1990s, immediately before and in the aftermath of the fall of state socialism (e.g. Keane 1988; Szacki 1995). The main question was whether (post-)socialist societies had anything similar to the public sphere and civil society which in the West, according to many political theorists, played historically and still play a pivotal role in establishing and maintaining political democracy. Here, I cannot overview all the intricacies of the debate and its implications for understanding Soviet society. Thus, my discussion is going to be necessarily schematic. In the nutshell, “civil society” was one of the key slogans of the, primarily, East European dissidents and other non-conformists. Vaclav Havel called upon his compatriots to create social domains where they can “live in truth” and ignore the very existence of their totalitarian states (Havel 1986). His critics argued that neither truly voluntary civic and social organizations and institutions (civil society) nor truly free public discussion (the staple of the public sphere) is possible under totalitarianism. We have already familiarized ourselves with Sergei Oushakine’s (2001) idea that the dissident discourse under socialism was mimetic with respect to the major tropes of the official discourse. Similarly, Jerzy Szacki argues that dissident “civil society” under was simply negative with respect to, and thus dependent on, socialist society. Thus, “individualism” of the members of this “civil society” was in fact but conformism, the desire “to be like others who refuse to submit to the state’s dictate” (1995, 85). Szacki further argues that, devoid of its proper economic foundation, the private property, socialist “civil society” was merely a transplant of Western ideas and ideals on the soil, which was still alien to them. Following the same logic, Marc Garcelon states that socialism, especially in its Russian version, did not know Western distinction between the private and the public sphere (1997). Instead, he differentiates between official “social” and unofficial “intimate” domains, which correspond approximately to the distinctions 81

between socialist economy and “black market,” between the distributions through official channels and through blat networks. My distinction between institutions and networks may also be an analogue here. Based on my discussion of parallel science in the Soviet Union, I conclude that all of these perspectives, although insightful to some degree, are based on universalizing and idealizing the Western experience of publicness and civility. They simply take a ready-made (e.g. Habermas’ (1989)) model of the public sphere and civil society, apply it to the Soviet case and then conclude whether there is a “match.” In principle, this can be a useful heuristic device, if not followed by the ontological statements on whether there is a (or, there is no) public sphere—in Habermas’ sense—under socialism. Used heuristically, Habermas’ definition of the public sphere can be useful for positioning the “parallel” forms of life under socialism in a comparative and historical context. Indeed, parallel science can be seen as an academic public sphere as much as they are both social and discursive domains where private individuals get together to deliberate issues of mutual concern and they both constitute regulatory institutions independent or contrary to the authority of the state (1989, 27). Like Britain’s coffee-houses, France’s salons and Germany’s Tischgesellschaften, Soviet home seminars and kitchen salons “organized discussion among people that tended to be ongoing; hence they had a number of institutional criteria in common” (1989, 36). Yet, under socialism, this domain neither presumed property ownership and market exchange nor underlined democratic governance. On the contrary, as the example of parallel science testifies, the public domain under socialism presumed—in the sense of “relying on,” “taking for granted” and, of course, “evading” and even “rejecting”—the framework of official Soviet institutions and discourses. These official and parallel frameworks existed in the symbiotic relationship and died together. Yet, this interconnectedness does not contradict to the idea that parallel science was a really existing and working public sphere, which was comparable but by no means identical to the “bourgeois public sphere,” as analyzed by Habermas. The conclusion is that we should probably speak about different historical types of the public sphere, which can be fruitfully compared to its Western models but which should not be judged according to their norms and standards. The same logic can be extended to the concept of “civil society,” although I have no space for discussing this here. Of course, this perspective can be criticized: why do we need to use Western terms to describe Russian or socialist social phenomena. Indeed, we do not have to and the concept of “parallel science,” like Yurchak’s “deterritorialized milieus,” is an attempt to break some of the intellectual routines in thinking about Soviet science and society. Yet, by refusing to use whatever problematic but well-developed concepts, we put ourselves in danger of inventing the wheel and failing to explore the similarities across national borders and historical epochs. For instance, Habermas’ concept of the “public sphere” allows us to pin down a number of specificities of parallel science and other parallel forms of sociality under socialism. For instance, this concept allows us to avoid confusing parallel science as a public sphere with the private and particularistic relations based on kinship ties, ethnic identities, network contacts, blat exchanges and mafia-type clicks. Of course, as I have shown in the case of the Tartu School, these kinds of ties and identities played significant role in shaping the (self)image of the School. Yet, these particularistic identities and distinctions did not by themselves determine the shape which the School and its intellectual paradigm took. They played their role in the “package” with other factors: the politicized rituals of purity, or “hygiene,” the moral discourses of personal virtue (poriadochnost’), and the general, as well as disciplinary, criteria of scientific rationality. Thus, the identity of the Tartu School was shaped by a variety of material and symbolic practices: exclusive and inclusive ones, as well as particularistic and general/universalistic. The dimension of “generality” and


“intersubjectivity” of the terms and issues, discussed by the School, and of the criteria of worth, adopted by its members, is what is captured by the concept of the public sphere. This concept also helps to differentiae the participation in parallel science from participating the work of Soviet formal academic institutions. Although these institutions were, of course, the seats of professional intellectual activity, they were also jobs, offices and civil posts at the service of the state, that is the realms of what Kant called “private use of reason” (Habermas 1989, 85). In contrast, in parallel science, which arguably had “the public presentation of truth as its sole function,” Soviet intellectuals could come closest to the Kantian ideal of the “public use of reasons” (1989, 85). Here, they could realistically imagine themselves as not merely “Soviet scientists,” with all the baggage of intellectual constraint and conformism that this term indicates, but as scholars before other scholars, the scholarly public per se. In the next chapters, I want to focus on these public, general, universalistic and intersubjective aspects of the Tartu legacy. Thus, while continuing to explore the interrelations between the School’s intellectual paradigm and the social contexts and practices in which it was embedded, I plan to show in more detail how this intellectual paradigm can be incorporated in the contemporary global discussions on culture, its history and nature.


Chapter Four TOWARD A GLOBAL HISTORY OF STRUCTURALISM: Roman Jakobson in the Center

If the concept of “school” has served us to introduce some of the key social, institutional, cultural and personal aspects of the predicament of the Tartu School, the terms “structuralism” and “semiotics” offer us a glimpse at its theoretical and research background. Indeed, if we analyze who Tartu people cited most, we find the names of Russian formalists and Western structuralists and semioticians at the top of the list. Furthermore, without some familiarity with the problematic and the jargon of various scientific trends associated with these labels, it is very risky to try to grapple with the major works of the representatives of the School, let alone to form a coherent perspective on its contributions. Before proceeding, however, I reflect on two methodological issues. One is inspired by Anthony Giddens’ (1987, 195) almost two decade old announcement that “structuralism, and post-structuralism also, are dead traditions of thought.” If this is true and the theories of Tartu School are somehow structuralist, then why bother? Without going into the philosophical intricacies of what it means for traditions to be “dead,” I argue that Giddens’ proclamation does not seem to be particularly consequential. First, because it is hardly possible to deny the extent to which (post) structuralist ideas and idioms have shaped the humanities and even social sciences (and natural sciences, one might argue). Most of them have become our “soil” to such extent that we no longer recognize them as sources of our ideas. Second, as Yuri Lotman said in his last interview, “if serious ideas are at stake, then it is very difficult to tell whether they have been exhausted or not” (see Torop 2000b, 15). Ideas come and go but they also recur under different guises and configurations to the extent that only strong psychological and institutional pressures to “forget” can grant us a gratifying illusion of discovering something entirely “new.” My other stipulation is that the consideration of the Tartu School against the background of international structuralism and semiotics does not automatically imply that it should be judged according to the known achievements or failures of these movements in the West. In the literature on Soviet Semiotics, there is a strong tendency to simply transpose ready made precepts from one experience onto another one based only on following the “magic of nomination” (e.g., to some extent, Jameson 1988; Hymes 1978). A gamut of conceptual stereotypes – from “privileging the signified” to anti-historicism – may or may not be applicable to the Tartu School. The usual narratives about structuralism’s and semiotics’ evolution – “from Prague to Paris,” from structuralism to poststructuralism, from Saussure to Pierce – are both inapplicable to Soviet structuralism and semiotics and leave the Tartu School out of the picture altogether (cf. Culler 1975; Hawkes 1977; Merquior 1986). Therefore, in what follows, I am doing more than just introducing major names, ideas, themes and terms of the international structural linguistics and structuralism-inspired semiotics. I am outlining the blueprint according to which the histories of these movements can be rewritten to accommodate the multiplicity of “roots” and “branches,” from Geneva, 84

Moscow, Petrograd and Prague schools to French structuralism and poststructuralism to British cultural studies and Tartu cultural semiotics. As a critical aspect of this effort, I propose to recenter the history of global structuralism away from traditional linear and cumulative narratives and towards a spatial network model of this history, with the figure of Roman Jakobson as a crucial node. Instead of seeing him as a “predecessor” of (French) structuralism, I rely on the tradition of seeing him as a key mediator who, literally and physically, stitched together multiple academic and national traditions in the course of the series of his forced emigrations and voluntary travels (Bradford 1995; Holenstein 1976). Jakobson is a unique example of a historical actor whose chief, albeit not exclusive, significance consists in being a universal translator in the primordial sense of the word, i.e. the one who shuttles between various lineages and modifies them by establishing new links between them (see Latour 1999, 179). Jakobson was not just an influential link to Russian Formalism; he was a person who played a unique coalescing role within the fractured and multivocal space of international “structuralism” and “semiotics.” He seems to represent one of the very few nodes that almost none of the varied trajectories were able to miss. He was indeed what Michel Callon (1986) called the “the obligatory passage point.” Roman Jakobson is also one of the most central figures who can give us clues on how to understand Tartu semiotics and the nature of its reception in the West. Structuralism and Semiotics in the West: Guidelines and Frontlines Since the labels of “structuralism” and “semiotics” were often used interchangeably in Soviet academic debates, I have so far presumed their close affinity. Yet, for further progress, we should get a better idea of the historically malleable borders of these intellectual movements as well as frontlines within each of them. The assumption on which I proceed is that, despite considerable divergence among scholars traditionally associated with these movements, they share a relatively robust network of cross-references, a number of theoretical ideas and research topics and, finally, various aspects of language, including specific academic jargon and categorical distinctions. I also point to a few academic debates significant for understanding Tartu scholarship. According to a classical definition, semiotics is either a science or a perspective concerned with “everything that, on the grounds of a previously established social convention, can be taken as something standing for something else” (Eco 1979, 16). A “science” fits better the project originated with the ideas of Charles S. Peirce. This American philosopher and logician advocated the establishment of the metadiscipline, or the science of sciences, which would deal with the universal “process of inquiry”, basically understood as the logic of mind (Kevelson 1986, 525). Charles Morris (1938) later developed this project of “semiotic(s)” into what he optimistically called “the Unified Science.” In the meantime, the idea of the “science of signs,” or “semiology,” was also proposed by Ferdinand de Saussure. He saw semiology as an extension of his structuralist linguistics beyond the realm of language. Later, the relationship between the linguistic and the semiotic underwent multiple transformations. For instance, considering cultural systems like myth, narrative or journalism as “secondary languages” superimposed on human, or “natural,” language, Benveniste (1969) and, especially, Barthes (1973, 11) turned semiology into “a part of [structural] linguistics.” Alternatively, in effort to propose a descriptive rather than programmatic definition of structuralism and semiotics, Terry Eagleton (1996, 87) differentiated them as a linguistic, but potentially domain-general, method and a field resultant form this method’s extension beyond language proper.


Hence, historical meanings and interconnections between “structuralism” and “semiotics” as well as related categories of “formalism” and “post-structuralism” are diverse and resistant to efforts to pin them down. One of the key bones of contention is the role of natural language with respect to understanding the broader mechanism of signification. Yet, despite these differences, one can still talk about a number of assumptions essential for being both structuralists and semioticians (Culler 1975, 198; Hawkes 1977; Jameson 1972). In the core of these assumptions, there is an idea of relational, or “functional,” structure, which, according to Jean Piaget, can be characterized by the “wholeness” (its elements are defined through their relations to the other and to the whole), “transformation” (new clusters are results of the rule-governed transformations of existing clusters) and “self-regulation” (its operations do not require the validation from outside of structure, i.e. “reality”) (Hawkes 1977, 16). This turn from substances to relations, from the “presence” of “things” to the “absence” of deep structural relations is characteristic of not only linguistics but rather much of the mid-twentieth century science as such. Thus, along with, for instance, the physicist Eddington, the philosopher Cassirer and the psychologist Piaget, one may speak about structuralism as a general scientific principle which treats phenomena “not as mechanical agglomeration but as a structural whole,” as Jakobson (1966) put it in 1929. In adherence to this principle, there is no significant difference between Saussurean and Piercean semiotics (Kevelson 1986). Sign and Meaning in Structuralist Semiotics According to an authoritative summary, the following features are characteristic for Saussure’s structuralism (and poststructuralism) and semiotics (or semiology): the thesis that linguistics… is of key importance to philosophy and social theory as a whole; … the thesis of the arbitrary character of the sign, together with a stress upon the primacy of signifiers over what is signified; the decentering of the subject; a peculiar concern with the nature of writing, and therefore with textual materials, and an interest in the character of temporality as somehow constitutively involved with the nature of objects and events” (Giddens 1987, 196). As is well known, the key categorical pair introduced by de Saussure is the one of “languagesystem” (langue) vs. speech (parole). Modeled on such rule-bound games as chess, the “system” can be interpreted either as an abstract network of relations or an empirical entity, such as a social institution (Saussure, Hjelmslev), a communicative medium (Jakobson) or a “sequence of regularized sounds” (Bloomfield, cf. Giddens 1987, 197). These diverse formulations have in common the conviction that the relations between the items of language are not defined by the material identity and evolutionary origins of these items. In Saussure’s influential formulations, the system “value” of these items proceeds from their mutual differences. “(I)n language, there are only differences” (Saussure, quoted in Jameson 1972, 15). “Language is a system of interdependent terms in which the value of each term results solely from the simultaneous presence of the others” (Saussure, quoted in Hawkes 1977, 26). While this idea refers to human language as such, Roman Jakobson differentiates specific languages by what contrasts are “functional” in them.1


For instance, in Russian, where stress is free, it is “functional” in differentiating the meanings of words; this is not the case in Polish or Czech. Or, the phonic distinction between l and r is nonfunctional in Japanese, while combination zri- does not make sense in English.


The fundamental insight of structuralist semiotics is that “there is no meaning which is not designated” (Barthes 1973, 10). This idea implies a shift from relations between “words” and “things” to the ones between “sound image” and “concept,” or the signifier and the signified. Both constitute the “planes” of the linguistic system, the planes of expression and content, to use Hjelmslev’s terms. One of Saussure’s most influential ideas is that the relationship between these planes is arbitrary and conventional. The relations between the signifier and the signified are arbitrary because they are not defined by the nature of the units related. Instead, these relations are based on social conventions which can be learned. Roman Jakobson argues that the meaning of the sign is defined not by pointing to the object in the world but by its systematic relationship to other signs within a particular code. Borrowed from information theory, the concept of “code” serves as a fundamental analogy that constitutes the field of (structuralist) semiotics. Code pertains not only to linguistic system but also to any “system of signification, insofar as it couples present entities with absent units” (Eco 1979, 8). In this way, the function of “standing for” is introduced and thus mere signals get transformed into symbolically encoded messages, the objects of interpretative decoding. Although Roman Jakobson subscribes to Saussure’s emphasis on the conventionality of the sign, he also adopts Charles Pierce’s classification of signs into icons, indexes and symbols. In Jakobson’s (1971a) adaptation, icons and indexes differ from symbols as results of the presence or absence of the factual connection between the signifier and the signified. The latter is purely conventional while the former is “motivated” by the physical either similarity or continuity between two “sides” of the sign. For instance, an “icon,” as a portrait or an imitative gesture, conveys messages by emphasizing the material resemblance between content and the means of its expression. The introduction of icons and indexes might seem to be an infringement on the arbitrary nature of signification. However, Jakobson emphasizes that the distinctions within his typology are not absolute. All signs, as signs, are conventional to various degrees: even physical–not to mention nonsensuous–resemblance does not acquire a signifying function automatically but only within a set of relations, conceptual or social. Furthermore, the motivation itself is, to a large extent, a matter of social and historical construction. Thus motivation and arbitrariness may be considered as two poles of one continuum. The implication is that, in addition to artificially created codes, one can speak about codes as sets of examples the application of which is regulated not only by rules but also by habits, customs and simply experience (see Eco 1979). Hence, in contrast to strict Saussurean structuralism, Jakobson’s logic implies that one can speak about “closed” and “open” codes as well as digital (discrete, conventional) and analogical (continuous, iconic) signs (see Chandler 2002, 46). Phonology and Binary Oppositions The structuralist perspective on language and signification is further complicated by the idea of the hierarchy. Languages and codes are rarely homogeneous networks of relations; they are organized as a hierarchy of multiple codes superimposed one upon another. Each subcode, or level, is irreducible to the other; each one is governed by its singular patterns of constraints. By superimposing patterns of one order on the patterns of another one, one lays constraints on the latter’s application. For instance, the earliest version of Chomsky’s universal grammar, being an equivalent of the Turing machine, was able to generate grammatically correct strings of words but it did not have a mechanism which differentiated between meaningful and meaningless sentences. Other, semantic mechanisms did the work of limiting the scope of generated linguistic strings. 87

It has been Roman Jakobson’s and many other structuralists’ hope to find langueparole-type differentiation on each level of the hierarchy of language. This hope has been based on the postulate of homology (or structural analogy) of different levels. The main implication of this concept is that one can extend the success of phonology, as the most “exact,” or formalized and predictive branch of linguistics, to other levels and beyond language itself. Due to the works of Baudouin de Courtenay, Nikolai Trubetskoi and Roman Jakobson, it turned out to be possible to complement the traditional analysis of speech-sounds (phonetics) with the analysis of the “deep structure” of oppositions behind them (phonology, phonemics). In contrast to material sounds, phonemes are unperceivable contrastive units that, not unlike genes, account for the variation in sounds, or the “phenotype” of language. According to Jakobson, Fant and Halle ([1957] 1988), phonemes are composed of “bundles,” or combinations, of “distinctive features” which can be properly represented as pairs of binary oppositions: nasal/oral, voiced/voiceless, etc. For instance, phoneme b is alike d in that it is voiced in contrast to voiceless p and t, and it is alike p in that it is occlusive in contrast to fricative v and f (Jakobson and Pomorska 1983, 25). In effect, Jakobson and his colleagues constructed the Mendeleev’s Periodic Tablelike schema that purported not only to explain the existing variety of sound combinations but also to predict possible combinations not described yet. They also called for the typology of languages based on what oppositions are “functional,” or significant, i.e. able to discriminate meanings. For instance, the opposition of t/d is a meaning-differentiating opposition in English words code and coat but it does not play this role in the case of Russian words kot (cat) and kod (code): both are pronounced as [kot]. These ideas initiated a wave of extensions to other “levels” of the semiotic hierarchy: “phonemes” gave birth to various “morphemes,” “semes” and “mythemes.” Roman Jakobson can rightfully claim the fatherhood in respect to the multitude of structuralist studies in not only linguistics but also ethnology, sociology and history of culture. In short, this research is based on identifying binary oppositions in various domains of human life (e.g. Levi-Strauss 1962). Despite the variety of specific subject matters, these studies can be reduced to the manipulations with the basic semiotic relationship of “markedness” (Jakobson and Pomorska 1983, 95). The opposition between marked and unmarked terms might well be viewed as the key to structuralist methodology. Based on the “law of the excluded third,” it is “an opposition in which the signifier of a term is characterized by the presence of a significant element, a mark, which is missing in the signifier of the other” (Barthes 1973, 76). For instance, a compact phoneme is always marked in respect to a diffuse one if both are consonants. Similarly, female is marked in respect to male. However, despite its apparent simplicity, this distinction bears a burden of the large amount of conceptual work and inspires considerable controversy (Barthes 1973; Derrida 1976). The critics of the idea of markedness see social and value hierarchies implicit in it. However, Jakobson is more concerned with its heuristic value: the possibility of identifying the distinction between the marked and the unmarked on various levels of language and human culture serves him both to point to the “deep” similarity of the empirically distant and to the difference of the empirically similar. As he noted already in 1921, “the natural, unmarked nakedness of the cave dweller and the disrobing of the European of the Victorian era” are fundamentally different cultural phenomena (Jakobson and Pomorska 1983, 94). Here, disrobing presumes the presence or the memory of a robe; it is a significant absence, or a zero sign (Barthes 1973, 77). Thus, on the model of phonology, structuralism reduces various linguistic (and nonlinguistic) systems “into a hierarchical ensemble of pairs of marked and unmarked components in opposition to each other” (Jakobson and Pomorska 1983, 96). These oppositions are results of the structuralist methodological quest for defining the basic (i.e. not 88

decomposable further) elements on each level. Yet, the relation of markedness indicates only one “axis” of this quest, the “paradigmatic” as opposed to “syntagmatic.” The “paradigm” in structural linguistics indicates a class of units that can be potentially substituted for one another in a given language (for example, s but not l can be substituted for r in ‘reason’). It is a vertical (that is, in memory) association of phonemes (or other linguistic units), of which one is selected in actual speech. The “syntagm” refers to a string of adjacent linguistic units that can meaningfully be coupled together (or combined). To use Saussure’s analogy between linguistic unit and a column in an ancient building, a paradigm would be a set of different architectural orders (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian) while syntagm would be a “relation of contiguity with other parts of the building” (Barthes 1973, 59). Yet, in contrast to Saussure and his followers, Jakobson refuses to identify paradigmatic with langue and syntagmatic with parole. He argues that both axes are systemic and rulegoverned. Moreover, as he argues in his paper on “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances” (Jakobson 1956), the distinction has a deep neurophysiologic basis revealed by two types of mental aphasia: the impairment of the ability of language acquisition leads to the declining ability to discriminate sounds and words (that is, selection disorder) while the impairment of the ability of language emission (production) leads to the “telegraphic speech” composed of unimpaired communicative gestures, words, and even whole idiomatic expressions (combination disorder). Reassured by such striking analogies, Roman Jakobson came up with a whole program of conceptualizing human nature and culture on the model of the distinction between paradigmatic and syntagmatic. He found that the variety of classical rhetoric tropes could be reduced to the substitution between normally unrelated domains (metaphor) and combination of adjacent, contiguous domains (metonymy and synecdoche). This distinction further produced a series of typologies of literary genres (lyric and epic), styles (Romanticism and symbolism vs. realism) and art forms (poetry vs. prose, iconography vs. film). In summary, metaphoric art tends to distance from context and produce shocking performances while metonymic art is about verisimilitude and reference (Jakobson 1956; cf. Barthes 1973, 60). The universalization of the paradigmatic/syntagmatic distinction has been criticized for objectifying analytical categories (metalanguage) and reducing complexity to neat binary oppositions (e.g. Barthes 1973, 82). Critics undoubtedly have a point here: the far-fetched analogies between literary genres and brain zones are indeed suspicious. As cognitive scientists argue, the distinctions in the mind do not have to correspond to the segmentation in the brain (Fodor and Katz 1964). On the other hand, one might argue that Jakobson does not do much more then reproduces the classical distinction between “myth” and “reason.” However, before dismissing Jakobson’s categories – and much of Tartu semiotics based on them – I would like to warn against a number of frequent misunderstandings of Jakobson’s position. First, the classification of something along the lines of marked/unmarked does not entail the specific value hierarchy at work: what should indicate disadvantage, the marked (as deviant) or the unmarked (as lacking) term? Furthermore, the same term may be marked or unmarked depending on context: for instance, in Soviet schools, the male teacher was a marked term. Second, the relation of markedness is not identical with the dualism of paradigmatic/syntagmatic. This relation structures only the paradigmatic axis; the syntagmatic one is structured by the succession of units. Furthermore, only the dichotomy of marked/unmarked is exclusive: the unmarked, or “normal,” state is when one is either male or female. The third attribute – being both/neither male and/nor female – “neutralizes” the opposition, i.e. makes it irrelevant or, at least, problematic. On the contrary, mutual penetration of such terms of dualistic oppositions as metaphor and metonymy or literature and myth does not neutralize them (Barthes 1973, 83). What constitutes a certain phrase or 89

text as “metaphorical,” or “mythological,” is the relative “dominance” of the corresponding principle of organization. For instance, a poetic text is fundamentally constituted by the set (Einstellung), or dominanta, on the axis of selection, the set inscribed in the very composition of the text.2 While keeping this in mind, let me move to Jakobson’s structural poetics as a basis of not only his theory of art but also communication and culture as such. Poetics and Communication In Roman Jakobson’s words, “in Russia, verse had been an object of study for a long time, and it is in fact verse that served as a point of departure for the questions and debates on the nature of the linguistic material itself” (Jakobson and Pomorska 1983, 19). Thus, if, in the West, structuralism in literary studies, or “structural poetics,” was only one of the extensions of structural linguistics outside of language per se, Russian Formalism and Czech structuralism grew primarily out of the problematic of verbal arts. Russian formalists made their name by their concept of “literariness,” or “that which makes of a given work a work of literature” (Jakobson, quoted in Erlich 1981, 172). Viktor Shklovsky and Roman Jakobson defined literariness as a result of the peculiar, “poetic” way of using language. The poetic attitude consists in “making strange,” or defamiliarizing, the habitual way of speaking and perceiving the world. Usually, in the routine of everyday life, “we scarcely hear the words which we utter:” for ordinary speakers and listeners, language is an all-too-familiar vehicle for communication and a transparent tool for designation, or reference (Shklovsky, quoted in Erlich 1981, 176). By imposing “deliberately impeded form” like rhythm and other artistic devices on the everyday speech or ideological discourse, the poetic attitude engenders the “semantic shift” from oblique taken-for-granted certainty to sharp density of perception and rich ambiguity of imagery. In a poem, the emphasis shifts from message to the medium itself and thus “the word is perceived as a word and not merely a proxy for the denoted object or an outburst of emotion” (Jakobson, quoted in Erlich1981, 183). In poetry, language reaches selfawareness by making us focus on its own “palpability,” materiality, construction and function in a larger cultural context. Therefore, although its ability to communicate in a practical mode might suffer, the poetic text is the primordial source of knowledge about language itself. By engendering the deviations from grammatical and other norms, poetic speech elucidates the core of the corresponding language, “what it must convey” as opposed to “what it may convey” (Jakobson 1989, 149), i.e. the “mythology” implicit in grammar and other “formal” aspects of linguistic expression.3 Simultaneously, it is precisely the poetic foregrounding of the relationship between sound and meaning as well as generally form and content that makes poems so difficult to translate. This thinking contains two moves which often diverged, but just as often got entangled, in the history of formalism and structuralism. Both lines of reasoning are rooted in the ambiguity of traditional Aristotelian poetics with its desire to inquire into the specificity of the art of poetry and its interest in the poetic activity as “the model case of production (poesis),” or human creativity as such (Dolezel 1990, 7). Russian formalists, who 2

Or, in Jakobson’s jargon, “The poetic function projects the principle of equivalence from the axes of selection to the axes of combination” (Jakobson 1960, 358). Thus, in poetry, “any metonymy is slightly metaphorical and any metaphor has a metonymical tint” (Jakobson and Halle 1956, 79). Here, the binary opposition between metaphor and metonymy is not problematized; it serves as a condition of the possibility of the poetic effect. 3 For instance, in one of his presentations, Jakobson noted that “the so called ‘free’ word order in Slavic language is actually a vast scale of stylistic deviations from the basic , unmarked design” (JC, box 5, folder 5). Here, “actually” refers to the results of the poetic analysis.


preferred to call themselves “specifiers,” largely focused on the specific features, or devices, of literary discourse as opposed to “externalist” explanations of art works on the basis of biographic and sociological facts. The most coherent, often at the verge of reduction ad absurdum, version of such internalist analysis of literature was undertaken by French structuralists in the 1960s: they approached literature, specific genres and even single texts as totally coherent, synchronic, homogeneous and self-referential systems (Barthes 1973, 9598). However, some Russian formalists underlined that “the boundary between literature and life is fluid” (Tynianov 1929, 9). Roman Jakobson (1960) argued that the poetic is one of the functions of any linguistic communication, verbal arts included. The difference of verbal arts is in the supremacy of the defamiliarizing “set,” or “orientation,” toward the message, or rather text as such, regardless of destination, sender, context, reference or other aspects of regular communication. Although communicative, referential and other functions of speech are not obliterated, they play a subsidiary role while the poetic function dominates. Thus, when Terry Eagleton mocks Formalists for their search for literariness in the text itself, he misses most of their points. For instance, he argues that the statement “Dogs must be carried on the escalator” seen in London underground can easily be perceived as “strange,” that is ambiguous, depending on the perceiver’s standpoint and the context. This may be an argument against extreme “specifiers” but not against Jakobson’s idea of the poetic function. According to Jakobson, the “deformation” of the written instruction above is a natural possibility implicit in any communication due to the fact that the poetic is one of its functions. Moreover, in principle, any graphic image can be reframed in such a way that it becomes an artistic performance.4 To a large extent, Eagleton is breaking through the open door here. The idea of the poetic as a universal function is hard to understand without the reference to Jakobson’s highly influential and controversial communication model based on the hybridization of older functional models in linguistics (Karl Bühler’s, for example) and Claude Shannon’s information transmission model (Jakobson 1960). By translating the terms of linguistics in the language of information theory and cybernetics, Roman Jakobson forged a field in which verbal messages would be considered in the same framework as visual and auditory messages (the field of semiotics) and non-messages like commodities and mating partners (the field of communication sciences) (Jakobson 1971a). This framework is based on the unified communication model reproduced below. CONTEXT, or referent (referential, or cognitive, or denotative) MESSAGE (poetic) ADDRESSER______________________________________ADDRESSEE (emotive, or expressive) (conative, or imperative) CONTACT, or channel (phatic) CODE (metalinguistic)

Jakobson’s model of communication. Source: Jakobson (1960)


When Eagleton asks ironically “Are you likely to be banned from the escalator unless you can find some stray mongrel to clutch in your arms on the way up?” (1996, 6), he is in fact not criticizing scholars like Jakobson but, on the contrary, proposing an idea on how to make a piece of art according to Jakobson’s recipe.


As one can see, Roman Jakobson draws a correspondence between “constituent factors” of any act of communication and specific functions of language ( see in the brackets). Each of these functions is “set” toward a particular factor: for instance, the phatic function serves “to establish, to prolong, or to discontinue communication, to check whether the channel works,” while metalinguistic function is used to check whether both communicants use the same code. In this context, the poetic is implicit in any communicative act while the specifically poetic text is also an act of communication (Jakobson 1960). Although Jakobson’s distinction between poetry and universal poetic function proved to be popular among his colleagues in the West and in the East, his communication model and the very act of enlisting linguistics and semiotics under the “theory of communication” provoked controversy among structuralists. Some doubted the analogy between natural language and human-made codes, others criticized the assumption of the linearity of transmitting a ready-made and uniformly-encoded “message” from addresser to addressee though the “noises” produced by context and channel (e.g. Barthes 1973, 18; Scholes 1982). A strong criticism came from the proponents of Noam Chomsky’s linguistics: as is known, Chomsky portrayed language as a cognitive module independent of any communication. For the proponents of this view, it was common to differentiate communication and signification, or the product and the process of articulating meaning (e.g. Eco 1979). In this context, communication theory was portrayed as based on “the possibility of thinking a concept signified in and of itself, a concept simply present for thought, independent of a relationship to language” (Derrida 1981, 19). In this framework, the poetic was once more opposed to communication and reference. Yet, this time, this opposition was no longer the one of peculiarly aesthetic and mundane attitudes to reality. It was an opposition between faithful Jakobsonians and upcoming deconstructionist. Among different dimensions of this opposition, I highlight only two. One of them is a contradiction between different interpretations of the poetic function, or literariness. In Barthes’ interpretation, the poetic function liberates the signifier from any master-codes and invites us into the world of floating signifiers where “the signified” is perpetually deferred. In contrast, in Jakobson’s own version, “The supremacy of the poetic function over the referential function does not obliterate the reference but makes it ambiguous” (see Scholes 1982, 87). As Robert Scholes develops this idea, “we sense literariness in an utterance when any one of the six features of communication loses its simplicity and becomes multiple and duplicitous” (1982, 21). From the point of view of Jakobson and his supporters, deconstruction and poststructuralism “enthrones language as the only legitimate frame of reference – let alone the ultimately reality – to contrive a ritual dance of ‘signifiers’ in a vacuum” (Erlich 1981, 14). These debates find a continuation and clarification in the actual clash between readerand writer-oriented literary scholarship. In the reader’s motto, “there is no Racine en Soi… Racine exists in the reading of Racine and apart from reading there is no Racine” (Serge Doubrovsky, in Hawkes 1977, 157). Based on this frame of mind, Jonathan Culler (1975) calls for the shift from the Jakobsonian analysis of the formal patterns within texts to the study of their actual reception (“effects”). In his angry reply, Roman Jakobson scolded Culler as a lackadaisical student for his mistakes point by point: It is really not difficult to see which grammatical categories contribute through their distribution to the artistic individualization of the parts, as well as to the integration of the whole poem, and which categories, on the contrary, remain passive. It is easy to verify statistically the likelihood and the precision of the choices one has made… The idea that it is possible to discover as many symmetrical categories as one wants is firmly contradicted by the concrete experience of analysis… it would be a serious 92

error to begin the analysis with the determination of the effects of the poem, for making such a determination without knowing the means in question can only lead to naively impressionistic observations (Jakobson and Pomorska 1983, 117-119). Thus, instead of identifying a critic with a reader and treating readers as “co-writers” of a text, Jakobson stays faithful to the classical philological and, simultaneously, positivistic reliance on the “fully objective procedure” of discovering and describing the structure of the text. The example to be added: the “internalist” analysis of Baudelaire’s Les Chats by Jakobson and Levi-Strauss. Western and Eastern European Structuralism on Evolution and History One of the key charges to structuralism has always been its “rejection of history” (for example, Jameson 1972; Eagleton 1996). This charge originates with Saussure’s famous distinction between the synchronic and diachronic study of language. This opposition was introduced to oppose the historicism of the nineteenth century linguistics with its attempts to explain observable differences and similarities between linguistic units and whole languages by the reference to the past, that is to historical evolution understood as a continuous divergent ancestor-descendant branching of the universal family tree of languages. Although strongly supported by the Darwinian evolutionary perspective, traditional historicism shared some of the shortcomings of both Romantic and positivistic reasoning: the aversion to hybridity and the teleology of progress. Despite its sophistication and ability to process rapidly growing linguistic data, Indo-European historical linguistics often served to justify contemporary nationalistic and racial divisions by identifying spatial distinctions with temporal sequences of “developmental stages” (Fabian 1983).5 Simultaneously, the effects of non-hereditary affinities between languages, the evidence for “saltationary” evolution, as well as the very mechanism of heredity6 was left to competing theories based on polygenist and preformist assumptions. Although Saussure did not object to evolutionary theory in principle, his concept of langue implied shifting the whole debate from specific languages to language as such and from drawing the lines of descent to the “functional” study of the linguistic system. Since structure was understood as “a network of reciprocal oppositions in which every entity acquires its value on account of the presence or absence of another entity” (Eco 1975, 13), the value of a unit in the system appeared to have nothing to do with either natural world (the case of onomatopoeia) or with past history (e.g. etymology).7 As a result, language acquired certain durability and resistance to changes; it appeared to be “a great conservative force in human apprehension of the world” (Hawkes 1977, 26). Unsurprisingly, structuralist studies eventually developed an alliance with phonology, a kind of “linguistic genetics.” Consequently, or so it seems, the purpose of the structuralist is to analyze the elementary and


Traditional historicist explanations involved circular reasoning: phenotypical similarities indicated kinship but only kinship, rooted in common ancestry, could serve as a basis for a significant, nonaccidental, similarity (see Stocking 1994). 6 In the absence of genetic theory, Darwin had to accept Lamarckian “law of exercise” as the mechanism of heredity. Since evolutionary theory, by itself, could not explain the source of hereditary variation upon which natural selection operated, it accepted Lamarck’s idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics (Stocking 1994). 7 Although etymologically unrelated, rage and outrage are “functionally” related and meaningfully linked due to their sound coincidence in modern English.


unchanged, or a-temporal, equipment of human language and, by extension, human communication and culture. However, in fact, the relationship between structuralism, on the one hand, and evolution, history and temporality, on the other, has never been a simple one. It is true that the anti-historicist perspective has been one of the most popular interpretations of Saussure’s program. This interpretation was developed in detail by French structuralists in the 1960s. No surprise that this anti-historicism even made it into textbooks and critique (Barthes 1973; Culler 1975; Eagleton 1996; Hawkes 1977; Jameson 1972). However, considered in a broader theoretical and historical perspective, this was an aspect of only one variety in a wider movement, of what Thomas Pavel (1989) called “speculative structuralism” with its exaggeration of the “scientific,” formalistic and logocentric aspects of Saussure’s heritage. As the debates on Saussure’s scandalously “nonstructuralist” preoccupation with anagrams indicate, anti-historicism was not the only option. Furthermore, the acquaintance with Eastern European “formalisms” and “structuralisms” sheds light on the connections between structuralist research and the debates on biological evolution and cultural history. To understand the peculiarity of the Tartu perspectives on “semiotic evolution,” it is mandatory to overview the range of possibilities provided by the intellectual history of the international structuralist movement. The classical anti-historical stance consists in collapsing major oppositions – langue and parole, paradigmatic and syntagmatic, and synchronic and diachronic – into one opposition between the synchronic system (langue) based on vertical hierarchical associations among linguistic items and the diachronic speech chain (parole) embedded in lateral propositional sequences. This perspective implies that speech process and the history of language are either utterly irrelevant to, or outside of, the structuralist paradigm. Here, the “irreducible contingency” of the history of events is simply “unthinkable” (Levi-Strauss 1962). Considering that its practitioners often identify “structuralism” with “science”, this is indeed a strong and consequential stance. When extended to texts and other cultural artifacts under the umbrella of “semiotics” (or “semiology”), this perspective implies either the limitation of the scope of structural analysis to code-like situations and systems (from traffic signs to folklore and myth with an emphasized exception of modern literature) or the reduction of multiply-coded literary and other texts to their presumed invariants homogeneous “in substance” and “in time” (Barthes 1973, 97-98). Early Formalist enumeration and recombination of distinctive “devices” in a literary work was a significant predecessor of the formal narrative syntax worked out in the early studies by Barthes (1963), Genette (1980), Greimas and others. The expulsion of history and time practiced by some structuralists does not imply that they are not interested in it. On the contrary, in some cases, this expulsion promotes the problematization of history as a taken for granted environment we live in. Already Boris Eikhenbaum (1924) differentiated between actual passage of physical time and the continuous and causal “history” which he considered “a fiction” and “a convention.” Claude Levi-Strauss (1962) developed similar ideas by arguing that history is a product of specific operations of thought rather than its basis. That is, in contrast to traditional etymological and genealogical assumptions, history is not a source of the “authentic meanings” of words. 8 In fact, Levi-Strauss argues, there is no single, homogeneous and teleological History, which 8

As Levi-Strauss put it in response to Roman Jakobson’s private critique of his chapter on Sartre’s theory of historical praxis, “L’object véritable du chapitre est de montrer que la connaissance historique n’est pas au dessus, et en dehors, de la pensée sauvage: une sorte de privilége de l’homme blanc et civilisé; mais qu’elle en fait, bien au contraire, partie” (Levi-Strauss to Jakobson, July 5, 1962; JC, box 43, folder 33).


leads to the contemporary state of affairs and justifies it. There are only partial, incomplete, biased “histories-for”, that is historical narratives with their narrators and audiences (1962, 257). Levi-Strauss opposes the historical method of “cataloguing the elements of any structure” to the reversible time of myth and “cold” cultures (1962, 262). To simplify the issue a bit, the objective of ahistorical structuralism is to study synchronic systems of language and culture in abstraction from any historical account of their origin or change. This does not mean that linguistic and cultural change is inaccessible to structuralist methodology. Petr Bogatyrev (1971), Jakobson’s coauthor and an active participant of the Tartu summer schools, provided an exemplary extension of Saussure’s approach to folklore. He argued that not every improvisation within certain plot or folkloric work can be accepted as its systemic element worthy of further transmission. To become a “folkloric fact,” it has to be approved by the “collective censorship” of the group. This approach implies the key Formalist distinction between psychological and social “genesis” and structural “evolution” of an artistic device, work or genre. As Tynianov summarized this idea in 1924, “the psychological genesis of a phenomenon does not correspond to its evolutionary significance” (1977, 267). Furthermore, “the history of the system is a system itself” (Jakobson and Tynianov [1928], see Tynianov 1977, 282). This idea of the systemic nature of linguistic and cultural evolution implies Roman Jakobson’s open revolt against the popular way of collapsing major structuralist oppositions. He was at pain demonstrating that synchronic vs. diachronic opposition is not identical to the opposition between static vs. dynamic and systemic vs. systemless (Jakobson and Pomorska 1983, 57). In fact, any semiotic system is dynamic; it can be studied both synchronically and diachronically. Moreover, according to Russian Formalists, diachronic analysis is superior because the contemporary state of linguistic and, especially, literary system cannot be isolated from its past. These ideas by no means imply return to the nineteenth century historicism. Formalists consistently opposed “genetic” explanations of linguistic, folkloric or literary phenomena by reference to individual creativity or social circumstances. With respect to literature, they were particularly disdainful toward the genre of “the history of literary generals” so popular in Russia: the quasi-Biblical story of one classic anointing, or “giving birth,” to another without much reference to the larger context of literary production and reception (Tynianov 1977, 270). To these stories, Formalists opposed the idea of the structural history of literature as a “dynamic speech construction” (1977, 261). However, the closer look at various versions of this history reveals substantial variation in approach among Russian Formalists. Since, I believe, this variation is paradigmatic for the history of Tartu structuralism, let me provide a few details of what I see as a debate, whatever implicit, between Tynianov and Jakobson. Roman Jakobson’s focus on phonology and poetry made him alert to topics marginal to classical Saussurean structuralism, for instance anagram, etymology, and prosody. All these topics indicate the relevance of the past for the present: it is as if the voices of the past haunt us and upset the ideal of the “synchronic system.” In fact, Jakobson argues, any system is heterogeneous, it is a “system of systems” organized into a hierarchy. Yet, a text is, in synchrony, a hierarchy of subsystems, in diachrony, it is a “juxtaposition of different stages of a language over an extended period of time” (Jakobson and Pomorska 1983, 57). Thus, today’s state of language or literary work is a spatial and layered imprint of the history of its constitution since the times of hypothetical proto-languages and Ur-Texts. In this framework, Jakobson conceptualized literary evolution as the shift in the hierarchy of preexisting artistic norms and devices (such as rhythm, syllabic scheme and intentional unity in poetry). Whichever norms and devices crown this hierarchy at the moment, they become “dominants,” that is they “rule, determine, and transform the 95

remaining components” as well as “guarantee the integrity of the structure” of the artwork (Jakobson 1981, 751). Although the precise direction in which evolution goes at any particular juncture is indeterminate, the repertoire of possibilities is available in advance. Thus the reconstruction of the “rational evolution” of, let’s say, Russian literary history aims at showing to what extent Russian literature through centuries is “rich” and, simultaneously, “monolithic” (1981, 754). In the 1920s and 1930s, Jakobson and Trubetskoi openly opposed Darwinian evolution as divergent, hereditary, piecemeal, contingent process driven by adaptive natural selection of the fittest (Sériot 1999). Instead, they adopted the idea of convergent, nonhereditary, non-linear, non-causal, ruptured (“saltationary”), purposeful and “rational” evolution of various non-Darwinian biological theories of the day, the theories broadly reminiscent of Goethe’s “morphology.” This was to address the concern of explaining nonkinship-based “affinities” among languages and mythical plots, analogous to the affinities between fishes and sea mammals. Jakobson and Trubetskoi explained these affinities by the convergence of the representatives of different families in common environments along some predisposed “affordances” in their structure. These affordances, or typological commonalities, in their turn, were referred to some proto-forms, like proto-Slavic or protoIndo-European language and myth. Ultimately, these proto-forms were conceived as cases of the “original coexistence of various stages of development” (Jakobson and Pomorska 1983, 60). This thoroughly teleological and spatial image of history was closely tied to Jakobson’s involvement with the Eurasian movement between the world wars (Sériot 1999; Avtonomova and Gasparov 1997). He attempted to extend Trubetskoi’s idea of Balkan “language union” (Sprachbund) on the Eurasian region and thus justify the “unity of fate” of the people of the former Russian empire. Although, after the World War II, he dropped his anti-Darwinism and turned to a less politically precarious topic of the Slavic linguistic unity, his image of evolution retained its distinctive features, as his interviews with Kristina Pomorska indicate (1983). Yuri Tynianov, Jakobson’s coauthor and friend, was also apparently concerned with systematic and internalist account of the change in literature. Yet, his perspective is strikingly different from Jakobson’s one. Much less elaborated, this approach is basically contained in two seminal papers, undeservedly unknown outside of literary studies, Literary Fact (1924) and On Literary Evolution (1927), as well as in a number of empirical studies (Tynianov 1929). In his works, Tynianov presents literary evolution as an open-ended process full of systemic displacements, semantic shifts (slomy) and temporal ruptures. “Not planned evolution but saltation, not development but displacement” (1977, 256). Neither literature, nor genre or artwork is bounded entities defined in advance of the process in which they are produced. As Eikhenbaum put a similar idea, “the work of art is always a result of complex struggle among various form-creating elements; it is always a kind of compromise” (quoted in Steiner 1984, 105). In particular, it is a compromise between the tendencies of automatization and deautomatization. As Tynianov demonstrates in his case study of the decline of the classicist ode in the eighteenth century Russian literature, dominant artistic forms may stop performing their estranging role with respect to ordinary speech. They become habitual and thus create the background for what used to be just “mistakes” to be perceived as parodies. Tynianov traces the process in which the old “constructive principle” (or dominanta) of the rhetoric speech delivered before large audiences looses its power to mold everyday material and to produce evocative texts. The odic clichés and poses infiltrate “inappropriate” zones of everyday life (e.g. private life, or “low” bodily functions) and become objects of ridicule. In this situation, any other aspect of everyday life can suddenly acquire the function of estrangement, or 96

become a “literary fact.” Thus, facts of literature are not absolute essences but relational, or “functional,” constructions produced in the course of the interactions between the dominant and everyday life. In Tynianov’s case, private letter replaced the ode. The epistolary genre moved into the realm of literature and private letters expressing personal sentiments became major devices of the new sentimentalist style. Yuri Tynianov summarizes the logic of literary evolution as follows: “(1) the contrastive principle of construction dialectically rises in respect to the automatized principle of construction; (2) it is applied – the constructive principle seeks the easiest application; (3) it spreads over the maximal number of phenomena; (4) it is automatized and gives rise to a contrastive principle of construction” (in Steiner 1984, 121). Tynianov opposes this dialectical image of evolution to the traditional linearly portrayal of “tradition.” In his account, the “fictive totality” of tradition is based on streamlining formally similar phenomena without any regard for their functional roles as “elements” within specific corpuses of artworks and styles. An example of such a fictive totality would be the tradition of the perennial realism from Satiricon to Zola and Hemingway. To sum up, Tynianov’s literary evolution is not an abstract ancestral lineage of distinctively “literary” phenomena but rather a succession of situated leaps forward into the unpredictable. The new principle may involve the renewed, or refreshed, use of old motifs and devices or a return to even older forms, which seemed to be forgotten (see Shklovsky’s “the knight’s move” (1928)). It may “canonize the junior branch,” i.e. raise the status of a “low genre,” or make an utterly “non-artistic” practice, like reportage or letter writing, a “literary fact.” New principles can alternatively foreground either complexity or simplicity, either esoteric or public, either pompous or modest. The borders of literature can be radically redrawn. What remains constant is the very logic of the process and the very distinction between “art” and “life” maintained and reproduced through defamiliarizations of the habitual and the ordinary. Such understanding of the literary evolution leads Tynianov and some of his colleagues beyond the immanence of the literary “series,” into the social world of the institutions of art, networks of influence and political ideologies. The speed and the specific direction of the process cannot be explained without correlating “literary and other historical series” (see Tynianov 1977). This is not social determinism but an account of the convergence: “among the pretenders to dominance in the literary system, the one that converges with the developmental tendencies of the overall cultural system becomes the victor” (Steiner 1984, 112). Yet, the strongest “influence” from the non-literary may leave no imprint on literature if no corresponding literary conditions are at place (Tynianov 1977, 280). Overall, although Tynianov and Jakobson attack the same shortcomings of the nineteenth century literary scholarship and come up with similar remedies like convergent and ruptured evolution, they follow two different paths, the one of perennial teleology and the one of emergent open-endedness. It is hard to fail to notice to what extent Tynianov’s ideas resemble almost contemporary ideas of Ludwik Fleck. Considering that Fleck was working in Poland, it would be interesting to inquire into the possible links between early science studies and Russian-Czech Literary Formalism. Yet, at the moment, it suffices to mention that the divergence between Tynianov and Jakobson’s paths is essential for understanding the divergence within Tartu culturological studies. In these sections, I have demonstrated the coherence and heterogeneity of the international structuralist movement. Its coherence is based on strong thematic and terminological overlaps, citation networks and personal “translations” by people like Roman Jakobson. Simultaneously, the movement encompasses varied and even opposite theoretical trends and research strategies. For every stereotype we have about structuralism (or 97

semiotics, formalism and poststructuralism), we can find the evidence for the presence of the opposite stances in structuralist works. To give an example, the “overabundance of the signifier” (in Levi-Strauss’s words) in some studies is often compensated by the emphasis on communication and reference in others, the stress on difference coexists with the search for invariance and identity, diachrony balances out synchrony, icon – arbitrariness of a sign, “readerism”–“internalism,” and so on. In cases of some key figures, the terms of these oppositions coexist in uneasy but productive ways (see Jakobson’s far-reaching conceptual opposition between the paradigmatic and the syntagmatic). In other cases, certain terms get privileged and ally together to form the frameworks of specific schools and intellectual movements. For instance, despite their differences, French structuralism and poststructuralism share a set of choices within the pool of possibilities available within the broader structuralist movement: e.g. the primacy of linguistics, difference, arbitrary signification and the signifier over the signified (see Giddens 1987). In this context, the Tartu semiotics can be viewed as a set of particular choices within the broader field outlined in this chapter. Methodologically, this implies that one way to define the framework of the School is to position its ideas with respect to other intellectual stances and strategies variedly marked as “formalism,” “structuralism” and “semiotics.” Such mapping of the Tartu stances is an objective of the next chapter. Yet, before launching into the thick of Tartu ideas, let me dwell for a while on the history of the School’s reception in Western academia. A Short History of the Reception of the Tartu School in the West Just as the conceptual framework of the Tartu School can be understood by its comparative juxtapositions with preceding and contemporary trends in formalism, structuralism and semiotics, its history is most intelligible if we go beyond Soviet borders and trace some of the contacts between Tartu scholars and their Western colleagues. As I have already mentioned, “the West” had a prominent presence in the discursive environment surrounding Soviet structuralism and in the everyday lives of the Tartu scholars. It is sufficient to recall the pervasive atmosphere of summer schools as the existence on the border, whether discursive, political or geographical. Although the School’s apparent cosmopolitism and Westernism provoked quite a few critical remarks, the actual ties and relative recognition in the West were among legitimizing and stabilizing factors that help to account for the relative continuity of the Tartu project during almost three decades. Indeed, it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the Tartu School was one of the very few best-connected academic groups in Soviet academia, definitely in human sciences.9 Most others who made their name known outside of the Iron Curtain were usually brilliant individuals like Mikhail Bakhtin. Alternatively, from the very beginning, the Tartu group advertised itself as such, as a group or a school. This is partially due to the fact that its leaders consciously capitalized on the traditions of sound “schools” in linguistics and literary studies like “the Geneva School,” “Moscow Linguistic Circle,” “the Prague School,” and many more. The collective “Theses on the Study of Cultures” (Theses-1973) were first published in Warsaw and then by Mouton in The Hague; they were not even designed for domestic publication. Before elaborating on the dimensions and scope of the “connectedness” of the School in the West, I would like to emphasize that the matter should not be reduced to the history of the attempts of some local group of scholars trapped behind the Iron Curtain to get to the 9

The only worthy competitor would be Vygotskian psychologists clustered around Alexander Luriia (see Luriia 1976). This school even has dedicated followers in the United States (see Wertsch 1984).


larger world of international scholarship. In fact, we should speak about the exchange of mutual support and recognition between Tartu scholars and their colleagues in the West, at least until mid-1970s. It is not only that Soviet scholars sought publicity in the West and were ultimately recognized by some as worthy relatives “from the East.” The reverse was also true: in the 1960s, the Tartu scholars, perceived as representatives of the Russian Formalist tradition and close associates of Roman Jakobson, were often taken as vivid reminders of the Western backwardness. Described by Thomas Pavel (1989) with respect to French structuralists of the 1960s, this “complex of Occidental backwardness” 10 was one of the engines of introducing the work of Soviet semioticians into the Western conversations.11 Be this as it may, the early establishment of the connections with Roman Jakobson paved the path for Soviet structuralists’ entry into the several domains of the Western humanities. The Tartu School’s success within the field of the Slavic Studies has been particularly impressive. Due to the leading position of Roman Jakobson, Viktor Erlich and other “formalists” in the Western studies on Russian and Eastern European culture, Moscow and later Tartu structuralists effectively monopolized the Soviet input into Western Slavic Studies: such international editions as Poetics/Poetyka/Poetika and Sign-Language-Culture were hosting often very young Soviet scholars of Viacheslav Ivanov’s circle, and only this circle, along with the masters of Western linguistics and literary analysis like Barthes, Greimas, Jakobson and Levi-Strauss. Furthermore, Tartu scholars played a prominent role in the institutionalization of the international semiotic movement. Lotman and Ivanov were among official founding fathers, and vice-presidents until 1985, of the International Semiotic Association, established in 1968 and, at different times, headed by such figures as Umberto Eco. In the 1960s, Tartu and Kääriku were places of the pilgrimage for some of the key semioticians: Jakobson visited Kääriku in 1966, Julia Kristeva in 1969, and Tomas Sebeok in 1970. Throughout 1960s to 1980s, there were a number of waves of interest in Tartu. In the 1960s, French journals Tel Quel and Change were among the first to publish single short pieces by Lotman and his colleagues, as well as the reviews of the Tartu School’s works by Julia Kristeva (e.g. 1968). As I have mentioned, this was a part of the general intellectual fad on Russian Formalism and Bakhtin. By the early 1970s, the first signs of the emergence of the “Tartu industry” emerged in Italy, Germany and the USA. Karl Aimermacher of Ruhr University at Bohum, who published the first bibliography of what he called “the MoscowTartu School of Semiotics,” became the first “specialist” on Tartu (Aimermacher 1971). In Italy, the School was first marketed by Leftist intellectuals clustered around Einaudi publishing house and interested in propagating “nonorthodox” Soviet ideas. Soon, the reception was picked up by wider circles of semioticians and cultural historians of the Middle Ages, like Umberto Eco, Carlo Ginzburg and Maria Corti (e.g. Corti and Meddemen 1979; Eco 1979; 1990). In the US, the major centers of reception were Brown University, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Yale University and Indiana University at Bloomington. This is not an accidental bunch: these places were major centers of the Slavic 10

This complex still persists in some circles of Western intelligentsia. For instance, this is what Vern McGee, the translator of Bakhtin (1986), writes about the obscurity of Potebnia, Russia’s major nineteenth century anthropologist, in the West: “The obscurity of Potebnya and his followers in the West is simply one more example of our provincialism” (see 1986, xxii). 11 In their earlier works, Julia Kristeva and Tzvetan Todorov, Bulgarian émigrés on the way to the heights of French academic esteem and media prominence, were frequently alluding to Tartu works as supports of their ideas. I am talking not only about a number of reviews Kristeva wrote about Tartu summer schools but also about her first book entitled Sémeiotiké (1969). The Tartu scholars immediately noticed the connection with the title of the Works on Sign Systems and referred to it, privately and semi-jokingly, as a case of intellectual plagiarism (see Lotman 1997).


Studies and semiotics and thus the major attractions for Roman Jakobson’s students, as well as for the specialists in poetics and culture who preferred structuralism in its Russian and Czech brands to Paris structuralism, poststructuralism and the Piercean renaissance in semiotics. The series of publications of Tartu works and on Tartu around 1978 ended the reception of the School qua School in the West, at least in the USA. Although the name of the School still persists in several enclaves of the Western academic discourse, the Western attention is focused on specific figures and projects, such as Lotman and Uspenskii’s works on the semiotics of Russian culture (1984) or Lotman’s studies on culture (see 1990, with Umberto Eco’s preface). Lately, we are on the crest of another wave of interest in Tartu (e.g. Andrews 2003; Alexandrov 2000). Yet, so far, it has not left its traditional boundaries: Russian cultural and literary history as well as the semiotics of cognition and communication. Indeed, the Tartu School is a phenomenon which is simultaneously known and unknown, that is its reception may be strong in some areas but it remains very limited in expanse and depth. It is strong enough to constitute the very “soil,” a handful of absolutely mandatory readings on Russian cultural history in major universities of America and Europe (e.g. Wortman 1995). It is strong enough to single out potential applicants for graduate schools and jobs in best American universities for Tartu-related emigrants and, in the 1990s, for Tartu students. According to my private communication with both Tartu scholars and American commenters, Tartu Schooling and the very fact of belonging to the Tartu-centered network matters in such issues. However, generally, the relationships between Tartu and Western scholarship may be characterized as a series of misunderstandings and mismatches piling up one upon another. Already early on, during the short “honeymoon” with Tel Quel, one could notice that the French were interested in anti-structuralist tendencies of Tartu publications, the tendencies which Tartu scholars were not inclined to underline at that time (Kristeva 1968; 1994). These theoretical tensions were emphasized by the political misunderstandings between the French leftist intelligentsia of 1968 and Soviet semi-dissident academics. As Kagarlitsky summarized this mismatch, “the Western intellectuals rebelled against ‘repressive tolerance,’ whereas the Russians suffered from much more repressive intolerance” (1988, 208). Since the Tartu scholars did not wish to participate in the Soviet genre of the “critique of bourgeois philosophy,” they did not leave any systematic critique of early French poststructuralism, except for the occasional remarks on “non-scientific essayism” and the “frivolity of thought” scattered in the correspondence and conveyed to me during the interviews.12 In effect, the sources convey not much more than the grudging displeasure with one another: all the rest is subject to reconstruction. Yet, one thing can be mentioned here: the Tartu scholars were dissatisfied not only with, as they believed, irresponsible “play with fire” of Communism and Maoism but also with the very understanding of semiotics as the “counter-cultural” critique of Western (equated with “bourgeois”) cultural tradition, including its key signifiers like Subjectivity, Personhood, Classics and University. As Dmitry Segal summarized the crux of the disagreement, the Tartu School exercises “a basically protective attitude towards traditional semiotic systems which are endowed … with cultural value …The latter position is in sharp 12

For instance, “I fully agree with you that Tel Quel irritates (‘the pastime of adult naughty boys’ but, unfortunately, in quite serious circumstances). Maybe, we should give them a flick on the nose (poshelkat’) in the fifth volume [of Sémeiotiké]? To be honest, I do not feel much pathos, it is too alien and unnecessary” (Lotman to Ivanov, 1970; see Lotman 1997, 658)). Important observations can be found in my interviews with Toporov. In Toporov’s words, “”I do not see any necessary scholars for me in the French School. They often commit a sin of frivolity. It is a pleasure to read, though” (Toporov, interview).


contrast to some of the tenets of the Western philosophical structuralism which sees itself as an instrument of dislocation, disruption, and sometimes even destruction of existing semiotic systems” (1974, 133). This mismatch is worthy to be kept in mind to understand further divergences between Tartu and Western structuralism and poststructuralism on a more subtle level. In the USA, the reception of the Tartu School was complicated by both political and academic circumstances. It was the Cold War and there was a strong resistance to the communication with Soviet academics. In the 1950s, Roman Jakobson and his colleagues had to wage a campaign for “keeping the channels open” by appealing to the State Department and arguing that such contacts might “bolster the non-conformists from within” the Soviet block.13 More importantly, however, the influence of Roman Jakobson was declining in the 1970s, the period of the most intensive reception of the Soviet humanities. As early as in the 1950s, Roman Jakobson’s ideas of fusing poetics, linguistics and semiotics in the powerful analysis of communication based on the methodology of Eastern European structuralism seemed to attract the attention of the scientific communities and funding organizations.14 The 1958 Indiana University Symposium on Style seemed to be the beginning of a larger movement (Sebeok 1960). Yet, as Richard Bradford shows in his book on Jakobson, it was rather a “curtain call.” Over next 10 years, The energies and motivating forces of critical writing shifted from a centripetal forces that put such emphasis upon the constitution of the literary text to the centrifugal forces that sweep such artifacts into the diffuse and untidy world of deconstruction, gender studies, psychoanalysis and historicism (1995, 76). The reception of Tartu was managed not by those who were riding these “centrifugal forces.” Some more subtle theoretical and social reasons for this mismatch are to be discussed in the next chapters. Here, I would like to highlight the most obvious circumstances of the Tartu School’s reception. One is language. Obviously, Russian literature has less chances to catch up with American sentiments than French one. Yet, there are exceptions like Bakhtin and even Vygotsky. Therefore, more important factor is the style and thematic of the Tartu works. Although the language of French poststructuralists was not less esoteric than the one of the Tartu series, it was an esoterism of philosophical speculation rather then dry nineteenth century “German” positivism of some Tartu publications. The Tartu School’s strategies of survival, which included the emphasis on professionalism and specialized non-linear exposition, proved to be hindrances for understanding.15 Henryk Baran cites one of his American colleagues, who pointed out that, when reading the Tartu studies on mythology, “We turn into Dr. Watsons who listen to the conclusions of Sherlock Holmes. We can only admire but if we have doubts, we cannot express them” (1998, 261). This might have been partially related to the choice of research topics by Tartu scholars. Ancient European and 13

Erlich to Jakobson, 1957 (JC, box 4, folder 69). Jakobson to Erlich, 1952 (JC, box 41, folder 18). 15 In Viktor Zhivov’s summary, “Moscow semiotic publications were characterized not only by specific conceptual apparatus but also by certain mode of enunciation/exposition when most of important observations were located in multiple footnotes which made impossible the linear perception of the text. Perhaps, this elimination of the natural (linear) process of reading aimed at opposing the new semiotic science to the style of Soviet humanitarian works where words were hooked up with words to create the continuous narrative which produced the visibility of meaning” (2002, 292-293) 14


Indian texts, or even Russian classical and modernist literature tended to gather increasingly modest audiences by the 1980s, when classical philology found itself under attack and the decline of Russian state socialism became apparent. The winds of academic attention were blowing elsewhere. The so called “theory” as well as cultural and postcolonial studies seem to be some of the attractors of these winds, at least, until recently. A result of academic appropriation of French poststructuralism, “theory” is an “anti-disciplinary” movement which is based on “discovering an essential ‘literariness’ in non-literary phenomena” (Culler 1987, 88). Although this trope fits well to the Tartu School’s idea of culture as text, “theory” does not seem to be very interested in “elaborate mediating systems” but rather aims at generating interpretations, i.e. in reading rather than reconstructing (1987, 94). The success of the latter and the failure of the former is partially due to the structural shifts in American university toward commodification and “customer-satisfaction,” or “the shaping of the university by the demands of its student population” (Coser1970, 285). Similarly, cultural studies moved from traditional foci of cultural analysis, artistic artifacts of the past, to such heterogeneous phenomena of present-day popular culture as television, advertisement, tourism, design and more (G.Turner 1992). The inclusion of Althusser, Gramsci, Foucault and other theorists initiates the interest in the politics of culture which is inconceivable within Tartu framework: within this framework, one can study the culture of politics but not the other way around. Despite obvious limitations on the scope of reception, the works of the Tartu School are read and cited. As I mentioned in the introduction, Lotman’s citation index is only slightly below the one of Mikhail Bakhtin. The specialists in the history, anthropology and sociology of culture increasingly find his ideas, especially found in his historical studies and grounded theories, relevant to their studies (e.g. Burke 1991; Greenblatt 1989). As this often happens in the history of ideas and science, limited networks may suddenly start to grow exponentially. Today, when the language of such recently triumphant trends as French and Anglo-American poststructuralism and cultural studies seem to grow “automatized,”16 the exposure to less fortunate traditions, like Tartu semiotics, may prove to be refreshing and intellectually stimulating. Whether these suppositions are grounded or futile, we can decide only by taking a closer look at the work of the representatives of the Tartu School.


See so called Sokal’s hoax, or the provocative publication of mock “constructionist” article in Social Text in 1996 (see Hacking 1999, 3).


Chapter Five FROM RULES TO TEXTS: The Idioms of Soviet Structuralism

In the early 1970s, Yuri Lotman (1971) proposed a typology of two possible attitudes to preserving and transmitting cultural tradition, or two attitudes to “culture learning” (obuchenie kul’ture). In short, the idea was that one can “communicate culture” across time and between generations either as a system of rules and norms, or as a repertoire of texts, either as a Handbook, or as a Book. This distinction was not only a central analytical tool deployed by Lotman in his “cultural semiotics”; it was also a product of his reflection on the transformation of the Soviet semiotic project over time since the late 1950s. In this chapter, I take this hint and consider the intellectual history of the Tartu School as an evolution between two major idioms, from what I call the Rule (or System, or Handbook) Idiom to the Text (or Book) Idiom. I propose this framework not as a description of the actual “progressive” process but rather as a heuristic “myth” useful for ordering the immense amount of data at my disposal. That is, by tracing the evolution “from rules to texts,” I keep in mind the ambiguity and malleability of the terminology involved. I am also aware of the coexistence and interpenetration between various conceptual frameworks in which these ideal-typical “idioms” are embodied. Yet, these reservations notwithstanding, the trend “from rules to texts” indeed gives a sense of the logic of the intellectual history of Soviet semiotics. Most early semiotic propositions were motivated by the prospects of standardizing human language and artistic discourse by means of the newest formal and “cybernetic” models. By considering language and art on the model of structured games like chess, structural linguistics and semiotics were hoping to provide the means for optimal economic accumulation and the most efficient transmission of culturally valuable information (for instance, the project of Machine Translation). The core of this Handbook Idiom in Soviet structuralism and semiotics was a hope that precise rule following would provide the conditions for no-nonsense social and academic communication. The emergence of the alternative Book Idiom was facilitated by the lack of machine realization for the results of earlier projects and a general disenchantment with formal modeling. By the early 1970s, a number of Tartu scholars focused on the actual cultural processes of cultural production and reproduction. The literary text, as a real-existing “thinking machine” for accumulating, transmitting and generating cultural information, became not only the central category but also the key idiom of a variety of Tartu writings. “The text” became the brand name and the catchword that differentiated Tartu discourse to almost the same extent as “dialogue” distinguished Bakhtin’s work and “habitus” Bourdieu’s. In what follows, I consider different guises under which the Text, or Book, Idiom was embodied in Tartu research and theorizing. The question I address in this chapter is why “the text” came to play the idiomatic role and what implications this status has had for interpreting and evaluating the Tartu studies on myth, art and culture.


I end this chapter by contrasting the Tartu theory of the text with historically and conceptually related theories, which were developed by French structuralists and poststructuralists. In particular, I compare what might be called the “democratic-republican” model of textuality—or the “empire of signs”—with its “aristocratic” model, as developed by correspondingly Roland Barthes and Yuri Lotman. By reactivating the implicit—in Lotman but not in Barthes—political metaphors behind the thinking of these two theorists, this chapter puts the history of ideas in touch with intellectual and social history, as discussed in first chapters of this book. The Applied Semiotics of Modeling Systems There was an old lady of Cloves, Who wore boots instead of gloves, When they asked for a hand, she could not understand, That quadrupedous lady of Cloves - Segal and Tsivian (1965, 326) This limerick was written by Dmitry Segal and Tatiana Tsivian to illustrate the algorithm of text generation they proposed for Edward Lear’s limericks. Nonsense poetry attracted their attention as a prototype of the situation when, devoid of any content, the sign refers to itself and thus reveals the structure of language itself. This interest demonstrates the widespread preoccupation with the internal organization of the sign in pre-Tartu and early Tartu periods of the history of Soviet semiotics. One of the main enthusiasts of the “scientific” linguistics of the 1960s, Isaak Revzin has later developed a sophisticated critique of early Moscow structuralism (Revzin 1977). He described his own evolution as the one from the late 1950s decision that structuralism “is the only way to go” to the early 1970s “conclusion that there are many truths and only pluralism of approaches will provide an opportunity to understand language” (Revzin 1997, 794, 833). What exactly was he departing from? The answer to this question will constitute the core of the summary of early Tartu semiotics, or “formalistic structuralism.” Based on this introduction, I concentrate on a number of specific projects either typical of this stage or interesting beyond its assumptions. The constitutive trait of the close network of projects known as “structural linguistics” and “structural poetics” was the focus on the signifier in abstraction from its relations to the signified and context. In Revzin’s (1977) terms, this was a focus on “periphrastic meaning” rather than “categorical meaning.” Periphrastic meaning is “an invariant of synonymous propositions.” Here, the logical, linguistic or simply material form of these propositions is irrelevant to the invariant meaning they convey. Therefore, one can speak about “formalistic structuralism.” Its assumptions correspond to what Levi-Strauss criticized as “formalism,” in which “form is defined by opposing it to a content which is external to it” (Levi-Strauss 1960, 122).1 In contrast, categorical meaning–the concept developed in the tradition stretching from Wilhelm von Humboldt to Lev Vygotsky–is the result of the interaction between thought and language, between the signified and the peculiar organization of the signifier


Notice that here the predicate “formalistic” is more indebted to the critics of Russian Formalism then to actual ideas and self-understanding of the members of the Moscow Linguistic Circle and the Opoyaz (cf. Erlich 1981; Steiner 1984).


(Revzin 1977, 245). This concept of the categorical meaning, or simply “the Word,” is essential for later versions of Tartu semiotics. The privileging of periphrastic meaning implies that, in contrast to Saussure’s emphasis on difference, Russian structural linguists followed Roman Jakobson in stressing the invariance, equivalence or isomorphism (homology) between the elements in different words, propositions or languages. They were interested in what constitutes certain language, text or genre as a coherent and robust whole and how this whole shapes the meaning. To achieve this goal, structuralists employed formal modeling and frequency analysis, or the statistical analysis of the frequency with which various units occurred in a corpus under study. Machine Translation The ideal type of formalistic structuralism outlined above works best in the field of Machine, or Automatic, Translation (MT) popular in Soviet academia in the late 1950s-early 1960s. Fascinated by the prospects offered by Shannon and Weaver’s information theory as interpreted by academician Kolmogorov and Roman Jakobson, Russian linguists and programmers formed a large network of “labs” around the Soviet Union working on the issues of encoding and decoding messages in natural and artificial languages. “Any code is a language and any coding is nothing but translation from one language into another,” wrote Viacheslav Ivanov and Sebastian Shaumian in 1961. In this perspective, the purposes of structural linguistics and semiotics–as its extension to non-linguistic sign systems of culture– were either the formalization of existing languages, including “languages” of myth and literature, or the construction of some sort of “Interlingua,” or Universal Grammar (for example, Revzin 1962). The first project aimed at reducing existing languages to the finite list of rules and basic semantic units, e.g. basic grammar and vocabulary in the project of creating “basic Russian” (see Gerovitch 2002) or modeling “simple semiotic systems” like road signs or chess (Revzin 1970; Zalizniak, et al. 1962). The second one splits into further subbranches such as the projects of discovering linguistic universals through either typological schematization or generative models like the Chomskian Universal Syntax. In all cases, the attempt was to enhance translatability by presenting languages in some uniform way. In the United States, the classical MT was abandoned by the mid-1960s, especially after the famous ALPAC2 report in 1966, primarily because of the existing models tended to ignore the ambiguity of natural languages and the difficulties in establishing the “equivalence” between these languages (Haugeland 1985, 174-176). As one of the key participants of the project reflected, “a translation machine should not only be supplied with a dictionary but also with a universal encyclopedia [which is] surely utterly chimerical” (BarHillel 1960, 160). Yet, this was precisely the direction taken by some Soviet linguists. As Ivanov declared in one of the early manifestos, “The establishment of the one-to-one correspondences between languages may be regarded as a preliminary step towards setting up a universal inventory of linguistic meanings” (Ivanov 1959, 55). This was a beginning of the prolific stream of work aimed at singling out the synonym-less semantic atoms (sememes) which constitute the language’s “naïve world image” (see Apresian 1995).3 One the most daring attempts to incorporate semantics into MT research was Zholkovsky and Melchuk’s so called “MeaningText Model.” In their own summary, The American Language Processing Advisory Committee of the National Academy of Science. This work resonated with some of the Western studies in semantics (e.g. Wierzbicka 1967 and Lakoff 1968) as well as the work in Artificial Intelligence (e.g. Fodor and Katz 1962). 2 3


It seems natural to consider the central task of linguistics to be the creation of a working model of language–a logical device which, operating on purely automatic basis, would be capable of imitating human speech activity. This device should be thought of as a system of data and rules, which comprise, so to speak, the grammar of the ‘handbook’ of language, its ‘working’ description, which in principle can be implemented in a computer program… The speaker has a certain meaning in mind and constructs a corresponding text, while the listener receives a certain text and extracts meaning from it. Language here functions as a mechanism in the full meaning of the word, namely, as a device for the transformation, ‘meaning-textmeaning’ (Zholkovsky and Melchuk 1970, 159). The common assumption of these, syntactic or semantic, projects is an independence of meaning from its linguistic “form”: the change in the form does not affect its content. Since there is a complete freedom of paraphrasing, or recoding, language appears to be an unmarked, or neutral, vehicle for transmitting ready-made messages. Another important fact about the projects of formalistic structuralism, MT research in particular, is that they were not concerned with context, usage, production and consumption of communications. At best, there was some interest in how the intended impact on other minds is programmed in the structure of, for example, ritual chants or modern poems (see Zholkovsky and Shcheglov 1967). Yet, the variety or failure of actual impact was in the realm of “unthinkable,” or noise. The focus was on how knowledge is imputed rather than on how it is acquired and on how it is “generated” rather then produced. Therefore, considering the interest of Soviet structuralists in the issues of information transmission not only between automata but also between “natural languages,” there was surprisingly small amount of applied work on education (exceptions include Kull 1965, Ogibenin 1965). There seems to be nothing special to say about education if its pragmatic aspect is out of the picture. Despite these problems and failures, the leaders of the MT movement are largely unrepentant at present. For instance, Igor Melchuk currently argues that Soviet MT distinguished itself from its American counterpart by higher sophistication of its models: Soviet algorithms were truly “cybernetic”, that is they were able to expand, or “learn,” in the course of their successive employments (Melchuk 1998). Be this as it may, MT’s terminology and some of its tropes indeed left a significant imprint on the work of the Tartu School and on Tartu culturology, despite being subjects of first camouflaged and later explicit criticisms (Lotman 1970b; Revzin 1977; Torop 1982). As we will see, the semantic trend in MT studies is crucial for understanding the Tartu-Moscow studies on folklore and myth. The image of language implicit in MT research continued to form a largely taken-forgranted background of clearly non-MT studies on poetry, art and culture. When Lotman (1963) was contrasting linguistic and literary structures, he only sought to limit the validity of the MT models to non-artistic communication. Even in the mode of negation, the lingo of MT has served as sound background for Lotman’s central ideas on text and culture. Structural Poetics Moscow and Tartu studies in structural linguistics received their major inspiration from three major sources: the works of Roman Jakobson, statistical probability analysis of texts by academician Kolmogorov’s group, and Noam Chomsky’s generative syntax. Despite Jakobson’s pervasive influence and authority, the most original achievements have been made in the field of so-called “generative poetics.” In Revzin’s (1966, 121) programmatic summary of this trend, “the endeavors of structural poetics, just as in structural linguistics, 106

aim to discover an experimental approach to artistic works where a certain hypothesis is formed as to the generative structure of the given text and then a corresponding generative mechanism is constructed, and if this mechanism renders results which are similar to the analyzed text, then one may consider that the researcher’s hypothesis is close to the truth” (translated in Seyffert 1983). The aim was to construct computer program-like “algorithms of derivation” of the whole genres of texts such as a “typical fairy-tale” or a “good detective story” (see the above limerick as another example). This selection of genres is not accidental: the generativists often cite Viktor Shklovsky’s (1965) and Propp’s (1958) analyses of the invariant plot structures of these genres. Like Lear’s limericks, both fairy-tales and detective stories are highly clichéd and predictable types of “popular” literature and thus most affordable to structural analysis. In Revzin’s (1966, 121) words, “works of highly gifted artists who [constantly] alternate existing generative mechanisms,” or “codes,” are beyond formalization. In contrast to this widely shared frame of mind, the most significant Soviet generativists, Alexander Zholkovsky and Yuri Shcheglov, did not only add satire and humor but also “great poetry” (Boris Pasternak, Osip Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova) to the list of “generatable“ kinds of texts. This was partially because their interests were not so much definitional (what is genre X?) as utilitarian: How to optimize the ability of certain texts to produce a desired effect on readers (listeners, consumers) (Zholkovsky and Shcheglov 1967)? Classical texts, as the most “effective” pieces of art, were considered objects par excellance for the study motivated by such a research question. To be sure, this overt utilitarianism was, to a large extent, polemical and even provocative. In contrast to the appeals of some structuralists to the needs of the militaryindustrial complex, Zholkovsky and Shcheglov’s emphasized the persuasive power of the “great poetry” marginal in, or often excluded from, the pantheon of the Soviet classics. At the same time, they tried to demonstrate that the “greatness” and “compelling power” of this art could not be accounted by the reference to either “social conditions” or “inspiration.” This last emphasis was directed against the “humanist” critique of structuralism as a “drainer of the soul of art” (see Seyffert 1983, 174). To this critique, Zholkovsky and Shcheglov opposed what seemed to be the most “modern” and “cybernetic” image of verbal art. They conceptualized the artwork as a specialpurpose machine directed at instilling (vnushenie) the authors’ attitude toward facts narrated to the minds of the readers. In their words, Any artistic text is a kind of machine, which acts upon the reader’s mind as a transformer, or something which at the first glance can be called a machine in the figurative sense but in reality can be called such also in the serious, cybernetic sense (Zholkovsky and Shcheglov 1967). Thus, the artistic text is a kind of artificial intelligence based on a series of algorithms of transformation, or “if…then” rules. Thus the objective of generative poetics is to construct a model of the transformation of a certain “theme” into a text by means of the successive application of different “expressive devices” (like emphasis, approximation, contrast, etc.). The result is not the model of the actual process of writing and the outcome is not the same text, as in the case of Borges’ Pierre Menard, but a completely different but still synonymous text. As one American professor explained to me, the result cannot be one of the existing Bach’s fugues but something that resembles Bach “on a bad day.”4 This resemblance is a


Robert Belknap, private communication.


criterion of capturing the “semantic invariant of the work of the poet,” or his “poetic world” (Zholkovsky 1975). Despite the fact that Zholkovsky and Shcheglov produced a number of interesting analyses and their brand of generative poetics still has its enthusiasts, it can be considered the most obvious example of the “magnificent failure” (Levin 1987, 10). Indeed, generative poetics proved to be unmanageable: highly technical analytical descriptions were many times larger than texts analyzed. Most importantly, Zholkovsky never clarified where the “theme” was supposed to come from. At first, he identified it with the author’s project or idea. Later, he saw it as an invariant idea running through the artist’s work. Yet, how interesting is it to try to derive the richness of Pasternak’s poetry from the banal “theme” of “the unity and beauty of the world” (Zholkovsky and Shcheglov 1980, 205)? After immigrating to the US, Zholkovsky realized that his highly technical version of structural poetics would not earn him many allies among American academics. As a result of this “cultural shock,”5 the theoretical framework of his more recent writings, even his writing style itself, changed radically already by the mid-1980s. Although his subject matter did not change too much—he always focused on the early 20th-century Russian modernism (although he is currently more into contemporary literature), —his perspective now combines not only elements of less technical structuralism but also poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, reception theory and what have you. Zholkovsky even invented a name for this “gentleman’s set” of methodologies at the disposal of any contemporary Western literary historian, “enlightened eclecticism” (1992, 6). Yet, at home, in Russia, the failure of “generative poetics” played a more positive role. Zholkovsky’s and similar projects served as an important point of departure for more process- and feedback-oriented approaches to text-generation, for instance Lotman’s analysis of the temporal structure of the process of writing (Lotman 1990, 74-78; cf. Waldstein 2007, 236-239). The idea of the artistic text as a kind of intelligence also survived and, in fact, became one of the pillars of Lotman’s poetics and cultural theory. The notion of intelligence, however, evolved considerably since the epoch of structuralist Sturm and Drang (see the section of Lotman’s theory of the text in this chapter). Elementary Semiotic Systems The study of the so called “elementary semiotic systems” such as traffic signals, folk dress, divination, etiquette, thieves’ cant and so on was one of the most distinctive preoccupations of the participants of the 1962 Symposium and the first summer schools in Kääriku. The basic idea was to extend the descriptive procedures of linguistics to other, “extralinguistic,” forms of behavior and discourse. This extension would have a twofold significance of presenting these forms as (potential) objects of axiomatic description and as a way to “work out methods which would later be applicable to more complex systems” (Ivanov 1962, 8). “Elementary systems” served as bricks for the bottom-up construction of the science of signification, that is as exemplars of formalization to be extended on more complex cultural “languages” and as the actual elements of their “syntax” and “grammar.” Although this branch of research was consciously derived from ethnographic descriptions of folklore and “material culture” (e.g. Bogatyrev 1971), it had a distinctive flavor of amateurish “thought experimentation” and even reckless intellectual game around it. 5

About his encounter with Terry Eagleton in 1980, Zholkovsky writes: “instead of a formal talk, he proposed to sing his own ballad on literary theory, which he did. Imagine how shocked I was [by this sacrilege; I was fresh from Russia and I] still believed in the coming triumph of Science and in the sacredness of Poetry” (1998, 190).


Most of the specific objects were chosen not so much because they fall into the domain of professional competence of the researchers but because of, precisely, these objects’ exclusion from academic and public discourse. It is not an accident that such topics as cartomancy and thieves’ cant became targets of indignant remarks of the party boss Leonid Ilichev immediately after the 1962 Symposium (see V. Uspensky 1997). What appalled Party ideologists was nonetheless appreciated by the public. The atmosphere of excitement, reported by many participants of the semiotic conferences in 1962 and in mid-1960s, is particularly due to the very choice of topics with their “tongue in cheek” references to Stalin’s camps, “bourgeois “ etiquette, market economy and other “politically incorrect” topics of that time (see Lesskis 1994; Levin 1994; Toporov 1994; Tsivian 1994). Although the 1962 presentation of Petr Bogatyrev on “the street cries of peddlers and itinerant tradesmen as advertisement signals” was framed in the same mood, it was a study by a professional cultural anthropologist–or “ethnographer,” in Russian terminology–describing the economic practices and folklore genres about to die out. Most of other studies were amateurish in a sense that the researchers did not reveal any long-term commitment to the objects studied. The very idea that semiotics can be built bottom-up, from uniform bricks of “elementary systems” no matter what their specific nature was, reflected on the style of these writings with their not quite assuring promises of future formalization and pervasive ambiguity about specific objectives of study. In addition, to substitute for actual formalization, these studies were highly schematic. This is by no means characteristic of only Russian elementary systems studies: Culler (1975, 32-40) made similar observations about Barthes’ description of fashion. Thus, we should not be surprised that much of the findings became soon outdated and lost attraction to even their authors (e.g. Levin 1987). Still, some of the pages of this branch of research are definitely worth remembering. Margarita Lekomtseva and Boris Uspensky’s semiotics of cartomancy, or fortune telling by means of playing cards, is a classic of the genre (1962; 1965). It is a good example because it represents simultaneously two different trends in elementary systems studies. On the one hand, Lekomtseva and Uspensky purport to extend the analysis of synchronic linguistic structure to the practice of divination. They also treat the exchange between the fortune-teller and the customer as a case of communication framed in terms of Jakobson’s diagram. Yet, on the other hand, they manage to capture the temporal aspect of the practice and thus go beyond the paradigm of the elementary systems studies and the limits of the Game/Handbook idiom. In the effort of synchronic structuralist analysis, Lekomtseva and Uspensky compare cartomancy with natural language and determine that the former has a small vocabulary (list of cards with their distinct meanings), a “finite-state grammar” (rules of cards’ combination) and very simple syntax (the order of the relative values of different cards) (1962, 85-86). The “system” behind cartomancy is analogous to the artificial linguistic system, such as chess game or logical calculus, and thus can be–in the near future–presented by the generative model similar to Chomsky’s “generative syntax” schemes. However, the authors’ primary concern lies elsewhere. They are more interested in the actual process of sentence production (“synthesis”) and the “pragmatics” of the interactions between the fortune-teller and the divinated person. Ultimately, they are interested in the hermeneutic and social exchange in which a fortune-teller (A) tries to “predict”–or, in semiotic terms, “program”–a person’s (B) future, that is to produce the effect of the “natural” connection between A’s cards layout (signifier) and B’s personal experiences (signified). Lekomtseva and Uspensky see the situation as follows: A and B share common knowledge on the level of the signifier (the plane


of expression), i.e. they know, more or less, the langue of cards as described above6; yet, they differ on the level of the signified (the plane of contents): since A knows nothing about B, only the latter can provide “referents” for A’s variables. The interaction between these actors is like participating in turn-taking games (playing!), in which A’s moves are controlled by B’s reactions on them. A starts by interpreting the layout in some very obscure but culturally defined way in which such phrases as “favorable brunette” or “long road” serve as variables to be filled by B’s referents. Judging upon B’s reaction, A makes changes to the layout and advances her interpretation. A’s purpose is to gain trust by convincing B that the cards tell A something about B’s past and present. If this does not work, A usually refuses to continue by inventing some reasonable way-out. Thus, in Lekomtseva and Uspensky’s portrayal, cartomancy is an open-ended and feedback-based process (or “self-generating system” (1962, 85)), the closure of which is not determined by the underlying “sign system.” The system defines that the successful closure of divination would be a prediction of B’s future recognized by B as such. Yet, it determines neither the content of the closure nor the very fact that it would be achieved. This is precisely the point which was contested by the alternative account of cartomancy by Egorov (1965). In his view, Lekomtseva and Uspensky leave the realm of “system” and enter the world of pragmatics and play too quickly. They do not make full use of the semiotic promise of formalization. Alternatively, Egorov proposes to see cartomancy as a rudimentary plot similar to the ones in fairy tales, detective stories and Edward Lear’s limericks, as analyzed by Propp (1958), Revzin (1964) and Segal and Tsivian (1965). He attempts to reconstruct an invariant succession of steps, or regular permutations of a limited number of signs (cards). As a result, instead of an open-ended process, the reading of cards (by A or B) appears to be governed by the fixed narrative structure. Models and Modeling Egorov’s objections are rather typical for the earlier idiom of Soviet semiotics, the idiom of the chess-like game bound by exact rules. However, the object of Lekomtseva and Uspensky’s studies forced them to search for ways of accounting for “playing” which involves not only following codes and rules but also switching them, performing and extending exemplars at one’s risk. This tension between constructing formal models and tracing the modeling processes within cultural practices themselves is crucial for understanding the history of the Tartu studies. Following largely Jakobson, Tartu and Moscow semioticians conceived of linguistic and other signs as representations, or models, of reality. They did not imply that signs somehow reflect reality but that they refer to it and carry information about it. Of course, signs do this only within certain sign systems, or modeling systems, or “languages” of all sorts.7 Here, modeling is “a process by which information is actively reworked and ordered internally through the system of linguistic categories” (Revzin 1964, cited in Shukman 1977, 6

Lekomtseva and Uspensky consciously lay aside the situations when B does not know the rules or even when B’s participation is emphatically unserious. In these cases, there is just no situation of cartomancy, whatever else may take place instead. For cartomancy to take place, both agents should not so much necessarily believe in the possibility of fortune telling as be aware of the situation they are involved in and be willing to follow along, at least for the moment. One can easily imagine a modern rationalistic person who, with a smile of superiority, agrees to be divinated, and then, contrary to all his beliefs, takes predictions seriously. The effect of “following along for a moment” is similar to bracketing once everyday life in the film (see Lotman and Tsivian 1994; cf. Schutz 1945). 7 Here, “language” is used metaphorically to designate any communication system which can be articulated in the meta-language of structuralism.


203). Within these categories, sign and object enter the relationship of equivalence, or analogy. That is, despite its inextricable arbitrariness, every sign may be an icon, or an iconic representation, in the sense of Peirce and Jakobson (1971a, b). For instance, an arbitrary juxtaposition of “children” and “flowers,” once established, can represent and communicate a rich ideological complex of the whole countercultural milieu. Furthermore, signs are not only models of but also models for (cf. Geertz 1973). At the earlier stages of Tartu semiotics, this “modeling for” was still understood on the model of playing chess: world-models were defined as an “automated formal programs imposed on all members of a group” (Zalizniak, et. al. 1962). Yet, already at this stage, the distinction was made between “limited” (vyrozhdennyi) and “unlimited” models. Artificial languages are most limited, or closed, and most detached from reality; they have the least modeling power. In contrast, such modeling systems as myth and religion are least detached and most powerful. They model not specific aspects of the world but the whole world, its structure and its history (“world-models,” modeli mira). This globality, however, comes at the cost of polysemy, loss of precision and openness to multiple interpretative and practical extensions. Their relation to behavior is not the one of rules to operations but exemplars to performances. It is these “unlimited” modeling systems, from myths and fairy-tales to artistic texts and Russian nobility’s strategies of self-fashioning, that occupy the bulk of Tartu studies by the early 1970s. Although unified by the idioms of playing and text-orientation (the Book Idiom), these studies reveal a number of further divergences I am about to explore. Mythology and Folklore: A Mythopoetic Paradigm It would not be an exaggeration to say that the largest volume of the work of the Moscow “branch” of the Tartu (-Moscow) School was conducted in the linguistic anthropology of myth and folklore. This is understandable considering the formulaic and repetitive nature of myths and fairy-tales: it is as if they ask to be put into some kind of robust taxonomy or even computer program (cf. Turner 1994). Mythical and “folkloric objects are clearly highly transparent for structural methods:” among “unlimited” modeling systems, myths are most closed, stable, visible and semiotic “through and through “ systems (Meletinsky 1998, 42). Yet the feasibility and the implications of the successful and comprehensive structural description of myth proved to be far from being self-evident. Thus, the differences among Tartu and Moscow scholars as well as between them and their Russian predecessors and Western contemporaries with respect to mythological and folkloric studies are particularly suggestive of the nature of Tartu(-Moscow) discourse and its evolution. Myth and folklore is particularly central in the context of the narrative “from rules to texts” and “from game to play(ing)” adopted in this chapter. Perhaps, myth may be seen as a considerably robust and self-sufficient but it does not seem to be regulated by the same, or even the same kind of, rules that the logical mind adopts. The impression of the contrast has been in the basis of frequent accounts of a- or prelogical thought and its relegation to the childhood of the humanity. As Lotman (1973b) argued, myth is not about communicating a new message but code itself; it is about preserving and passing along the very structure of the “global world image” of the human condition. Thus, descriptive models based on chessanalogy may have not much to capture in myth as a distinctive modeling system and a text. The very synchronic nature of such modeling may be a hindrance because it is unable to clarify such issues as the relationship between “myth today” and archaic mythology as well as between mythos, logos and poesis as major aspects of the conditio humana. In sum, Tartu mythological studies should be particularly revealing of the particularity of the School’s agenda and methodology.


There are two basic trends in the structuralist semiotics of myth and folklore, the narratological and the linguistic one. Following Roman Jakobson, Claude Levi-Strauss stressed language analogy and binary patterning; he and his French colleagues like Bremond, Greimas and others searched for the grammar of the mythological mind or the universal narrative grammar from which one could deduce specific kinds of texts. The Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp, on the contrary, did not presume any a priori linguistic models. He was more conserved about inductive and empirical search for the invariant sequence of acts which can define a particular narrative genre. As we will see, Tartu and Moscow studies on myth and folklore combined both trends.8 One of the key faultlines between these two trends is the attitude to structure and history. Propp separated the invariant structural (“morphological”) skeleton of all tales of a particular genre (“magic tales” which proceed in consecutive stages from loss to its liquidation) and “historical origins” of specific plots “in the usages and the life of the people and in the forms of thought that emerge from them in the first stages of the development of human society” (Propp 1976, 282). Against Propp’s “historicism,” Levi-Strauss argued that “it is not the past he [Propp] lacks, it is the context” (Levi-Strauss 1960, 137). The context Levi-Strauss implied was the one of the “untamed mind” with its operations of bricolage and analogical thought. In their turn, Moscow mythologists and folklorists do not see much difference between Propp’s “past” and Levi-Strauss’s “context.” Following Jakobson, they argue that the archaic past of the mythological archetypes is the decisive context for understanding persistent folkloric and even literary stereotypes. As Sergei Nekliudov summarized this “mythopoetic” perspective, To explain things means to explain their origins. This idea is in the basis of mythopoetic approach. … Synchrony does not exist, it is a fiction. It exists only as a multiplicity of actualized details of previous layers. The existence of a text can be adequately described only in diachrony. The diachronic investigation allows to establish the place of elements in the whole, their meaning.9 As one can see, Moscow semioticians are reluctant to adhere to the severe demands of Levi-Straussian anti-historicism. They emphasize their ascendancy to classical IndoEuropean linguistic and mythological paradigms with their search for “origins” and “prototypes” (see Eliade 1959; Dumézil 1952; Jung 1959). Yet, they also underline the truly “scientific,” i.e. structuralist nature of their enterprise. They argue that structuralism, with its emphasis on systemic and relational definition of (language or mythology) units, is able to evaluate the significance of resemblances: not all familial resemblances are of structural significance, i.e. relevant to meaning. In contrast to Saussure and Levi-Strauss, Moscow semioticians further argue that the system in question is not a synchronic langue of a language speaker or taleteller but rather “a whole thick mass (tolshcha)” of texts and contexts in which the unit in question has operated throughout the history of human culture (Lotman [1985] 1992b, 201). According to the Tartu School, pure synchrony is insufficient as a framework because, if we look at the current state of a myth or a fairy-tale, it looks like a heterogeneous 8

In the structuralist jargon, they can also be distinguished as the syntagmatic and paradigmatic trends. As we will see, Propp was concerned about the linear, sequential unfolding of the narrative while Jakobson and Levi-Strauss about its paradigmatic patterning, i.e. parallelisms, repetitions and “vertical” associations. 9 Nekliudov, interview.


combination of both highly, emotionally and semantically, charged segments and utterly automatized, even meaningless clichés which serve as either anomalies or formal elements of discourse. However, Moscow semioticians proceed, this is only the surface structure. In the diachrony, all aspects of the text are significant and interconnected. However, these interconnections cannot be seen from “here and now” of a contemporary person (“perceived past”). They can only be seen in the perspective of the “noumenal past,” that is the paradigm of possible transformations of some primordial, or archetypical, proto-forms of thought and action (cf. Goethe’s Ur-Pflantze) (Ivanov and Toporov 1976). In this past, clichéd and anomalous elements of contemporary discourses are meaningful fragments of older and fuller “texts” in which these elements used to have had meaning. Here, Moscow semioticians bring together Jakobson’s ideas and the ideas of the Marrist School in Soviet linguistics and anthropology. In Lotman’s restatement of the key concerns of Olga Freidenberg’s “paleontological analysis,” it proceeds from ready made phenomenon and uncovers, stage by stage, the multistadiality of the development of this phenomenon. [She was] interested in relics, fragments of previous textual formations, meaningless in their new environment, intelligible for neither [modern] authors nor audiences and acquiring meaning only upon their transposition into authentic or hypothetic contexts of deep antiquity (Lotman 1973c, 483-484). Based on these “archaist” concepts, Tartu-associated Moscow linguists and anthropologists followed two major directions in their studies on myth and folklore. One was the reconstruction of archaic and archetypical forms of myth and the other consisted in tracing the role they played in shaping literature and culture of more “historical” epochs (so called “historical poetics”). The first direction was pursued in the voluminous studies, often coauthored by Viacheslav Ivanov and Vladimir Toporov, on Indo-European and Slavic mythology (e.g. Ivanov and Toporov 1974; 1984). The Travel to the Roots of the Human Mind The purpose of their studies is not just the reconstruction of archetypical stories like “the creation of the world” but the reconstitution of the whole “mythopoetic,” or myth generating, universe of the ancient proto-Indo-Europeans and proto-Slavs in its major structural coordinates. Their ultimate purpose is the universal human “world-image,” even though, in contrast to much of Western anthropology, they claim to proceed inductively, from “worldimages” to specific cultures and civilizations. The result, according to Toporov’s Western admirer, is “a theoretical foundation for the study of Indo-European poetics” (Watkins 1995, 26). What has been the source of the urgency of such an enormous task, the reconstruction of the archaic world image? Beyond narrow tasks of the Indo-European philology, Tartu scholars consider such reconstruction a necessary precondition for understanding the evolution of human culture. The point is that the most archaic is also the most universal and thus informative of the human condition per se. The objective of Moscow mythologists is to provide a universal grid of primordial differences and resemblances that constitute the invariant paradigm of subsequent transformations. For instance, on the basis of enormously rich linguistic (including etymological), ritual, archeological and even later literary evidence, Vladimir Toporov reconstructs the figure of the World Tree (Arbor Mundi, drevo mira) as a key archetype of Indo-European and, arguably, human mind. This is not just a psychological


image, as in Jungian psychoanalysis (Jung 1959), but a grid of structural oppositions and their permutations. The intersection of the vertical opposition of top vs. bottom with the horizontal right vs. left one produces the tripartite scheme of “heaven,” “earth” and “the subterranean.” As a commenter points out, this is “a model [which] encodes rules of social behavior, in particular marriage and kinship system. It provides a universal scheme of basic semantic oppositions” (Rudy 1986, 571). Indeed, Toporov argues, such distinctions as life vs. death, light vs. dark, male vs. female as well as such symbols as cross, mountain, and the first human being can be understood by mapping them onto the model of Arbor Mundi. The same is true about the universal cycle of birth, development and death (Toporov 1973a). Unlike postmodern critics of Eurocentric rationalism, Toporov does not target his analysis at critiquing the World Tree mentality. The logic of his reconstruction does not allow for any alternatives to this mentality, such as the decentered network, or rhizome (see Deleuze and Guattari 1987). Like Kantian “necessary illusions” (the Ideas of Pure Reason), the Tree is a necessary and natural construct based on human anatomy, biological processes and human position in the world.10 Due to the presumed correspondence between nature and culture, such models as Arbor Mundi are not only the most persistent figures of human thought and imagination but also the most efficient means of preserving and passing along the most essential non-genetic information necessary for human survival (Toporov 1973a). To question the naturality of these models is either to propose one more transform of the archetype (e.g. the rhizome as a contrastive variant of the World Tree mythology) or to pose a threat to the survival of the human species. The ideology of mythopoetic studies can be further clarified by analyzing Ivanov and Toporov’s justifications for their focus on the reconstruction of the proto-Slavic mental universe. Their point of departure is dissatisfaction with the state of the studies on “Slavic antiquities” in comparison to the classical-philological studies on Hellenic, Indian and Germanic mythology. The traditional view is that Slavic mythology is either an underdeveloped, a derivative or a degenerate form of the common Indo-European mythological system, as reconstructed by such authors as August Schleicher and Georges Dumezil. Slavic mythology does not seem to have a clear pantheon of divinities and correspondent social and conceptual hierarchies. This argumentation has been at one point incorporated into Nazi racist justification of Slavic inferiority (see Rudy 1986). Most significant Russian students of myth, from Alexander Potebnia to Nikolai Trubetskoi and Roman Jakobson, saw their mission in “rehabilitating” ancient Slavic mythology. Following this tradition, Ivanov and Toporov (1984) conducted the most comprehensive reconstruction of the proto-Slavic pantheon and cosmology to date. Yet, they went even further than their predecessors. When reflecting on the methodology of such reconstruction, they argued that Slavic mythology was not a degenerate but a particularly revealing form of the Indo-European model of the world. They argued that the paucity of written records about Slavic mythology may be a sign of its higher authenticity, its closeness to the original Indo-European culture and society. Slavic tradition is distinguished by the vividness of its not-yet-institutionalized forms and relative closeness to the primordial dialect system… In the developed traditions, such as a Celtic one, the primordial system is, first, institutionalized, i.e. taken out of the natural evolution, and second, open for the inclusions of multiple late elements (1984, 88). 10

Ivanov (1978) hypothesizes the correspondence between genes and semes, the elementary units of meaning.


In short, Slavic mythology, reconstructed on the material of Slavic peasants’ folklore, their social organization and subsequent literary production provides more adequate insights into the ancient Indo-European, and ultimately human, mentality and social organization than established European traditions. Myth and History We should not forget that, from the standpoint of Moscow semioticians, “mythological mentality” is not only the cultural idiom of one specific type of society, “cold” society, but also “a universal stage in the development of human consciousness, a typological layer which may always be activated again” (Segal 1974, 151). Ivanov and Toporov interpret this statement in such a way that the multiplicity of more contemporary cultural forms is a set of algorithmic “transformations” of certain “initial” forms. According to their definition, transformation is “an operation leading to the distortion of the [initial] text while retaining the invariant scheme” (Ivanov and Toporov 1976, 268). This is essentially the formula of cultural evolution which is also defined as “resulting from the superimposition of noise during the transmission of a text” (1976, 266). The “noise” is the changes in social and natural environment in time. Thus, the whole human history is simultaneously a distortion and retention of the initial proto-myth, or the “proto-text.” This archaic text is so robust that its distortions are also its transforms, or its variants. By analyzing a wide range of phenomena, from literature and science to folklore and even graffiti in Leningrad public restrooms, Vladimir Toporov shows how contemporary notions of causality, modern polyphonic novel and obscene riddles are not much more than repercussions and splinters of archetypical oppositions and resemblances (Toporov 1971; 1973a; 1992). In a word, the whole complexity of human culture can be reduced to the archetypes like the World Tree as variants to their invariant. Toporov (1973a, 167) further argues that the operations of the “historical” mind are variations of the major cosmological schemas in the situation when the temperature of society gets higher (see on “hot” an “cold” societies in Levi-Strauss 1962 and Ivanov 1986). By postulating the continuity of human history, Tartu scholars enter the realm of spatial analogies, like the ones borrowed from topological analysis. Topology deals with such properties of objects which are preserved through deformations, twistings and stretchings. Topology does not deal with tearing and other ruptures of continuity. It is a space in which one can demonstrate the equivalence of various objects as long as one can “transform” one into another (i.e. circle into ellipse), in a finite and traceable sequence of steps (Lotman 1969; Toporov [1983] 1998). From topological perspective, the relationship between a contemporary text and its invariant (archetype) is like the relationship between one possible position of an hour hand of a clock and a circle. Thus the mythological model of the world can be presented as a synchronic space of all possible texts (or positions of the hour hand) of a given type. In contrast to Newtonian space, this primordial space is not neutral to objects in it. It is unevenly structured around basic binary oppositions like center vs. periphery or us vs. them; it is gradated with respect to value and sacredness (Toporov 1988). This space is not just a static container of things; it is realized through various paths, or ways of “neutralizing oppositions of ‘this’ and ‘that,’ internal and external, …home and forest, cultural and natural,” and more (Toporov [1983] 1998, 489). These paths constitute a matrix of possible transformations, or specific texts, in respect to which mythological space serves as a “proto-text” (455). In other words, mythological space conditions and constrains its own possible extensions in time.


This is, Toporov claims, the secret of the survival of oral plots lacking written inscription (as in Slavic tradition). Thus, history is not much else then a set of possible spatial paths realized in real time. In this spatialized time, much can be forgotten but nothing is totally lost: even the most formal rules of mathematics and law can be shown to have archetypical origin in myth (or in paths in mythical space) (Ivanov 1976). Still, contemporary cultural artifacts and practices differ in the way they preserve their perennial heritage. Some lose their original iconicity and ambiguity and become purely conventional sings or utilitarian things, e.g. etiquette or design. Yet, other contemporary situations and persons are particularly receptive to their archetypical background. This is dream, literature, revolution or affective states of all sorts. According to Toporov, the works of such writers as Dostoevsky and Gogol are particularly revealing of the mythopoetic dimension. For example, the persistence of the word “suddenly” in Dostoevsky’s novels leads back to the archetypical pattern of crisis when “the organized, predictable cosmic principle is threatened by a return to destructive, unpredictable state of chaos” (Toporov 1973b). The key to this and many other “mythopoetic” analyses of modern literature is the idea that defamiliarizing and codebreaking effect of literary devices is an effect of the reactivation of the dormant resemblances and interconnections in the archaic mythological topology. By displacing our attention from the message to the linguistic code, art, in Walter Benjamin’s words, “flits past,” or reveals “the earlier powers of mimetic production and comprehension” hidden in our language, “the most complete archive of nonsensuous similarity” we still possess (Benjamin 1978, 335-336). Myth, Technology and Modernism Here, we approach what I consider the most interesting aspect of the mythopoetic studies. As Russian Formalists argued, the aesthetic effect of art, especially some forms of poetry and film, is based on the foregrounding the “technology” of their production: formal devices become bearers of meaning. The film-maker Sergei Eisenstein, along with many other avantgarde artists, founded his artistic practice on this intuition. However, he went further and proclaimed that “art is nothing but an artificial retrogression in the field of psychology toward the forms of earlier thought-processes, that is a phenomenon identical with any given form of drug, alcohol, shamanism, [and] religion” (see Moore 2002, 35). In a series of papers, Viacheslav Ivanov interpreted this idea in the framework of mythopoetic analysis: ambiguous and polyvalent artistic associations are nothing but the traces of archetypical invariants, or vestiges of mythological thinking revealed behind the crust of modern culture of conventionality and forgetfulness (Ivanov 1976; 1999). In particular, art reveals that, “in the basis of word’s meanings (even those of most abstract words), there are signs of simple bodily movements” (Ivanov 1976, 29). In Eisenstein’s words, “thought is a spatial act,” i.e. a material gesture or a manipulation of the environment in time and space (Ivanov 1978, 62). Proceeding from these ideas, Ivanov went on to demonstrate how, in his films, Eisenstein tried to recapture the immediate, iconic and mimetic, relationship between the signifier and the signified, how his films retraced this link forgotten behind our habit to treat this relationship as arbitrary (Ivanov 1976).11


For example, consider the way Eisenstein refreshes long automatized metaphors. In one of his films, “a metaphor bursts into the action, ‘fountains of milk,’ echoing the folklore images of ‘rivers of milk’ and ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’–symbols of material well-being” (Moore 2002, 47). A suggestive example of the “close reading” of Eisenstein’s semiotics of gesture can be found in Yuri Tsivian’s (2002) analysis of the film Ivan the Terrible.


Most important is the treatment of technology in this context. Of course, it may participate in “forgetting the Being,” as Heidegger (1977) argued. For example, Fordist discipline can be viewed as dehumanization through training. However, Eisenstein and Ivanov demonstrate that the use of Fordist biotechnology in avant-garde theater can also be a way of recapturing the primary meanings. Montage in film can participate in dislodging contemporary static and conventional meanings of signs and in revealing the intricate mimetic identity between gesture and word (cf. Benjamin 1968; Moore 2002; Taussig 1993). In addition, these conclusions overlap with Lev Vygotsky and Alexander Luria’s theory of “concrete thought” (see Luria 1976). Developed on the material of the child’s development, it has also been applied to ethnographic data and to the reconstruction of “cold” societies. Concrete thought has also been shown to underlie some of the “adult” functions like skill acquisition and language learning (e.g. Tulviste 1977, 95). Viacheslav Ivanov argues for the basic identity of “concrete” and mythopoetic thought as described by Moscow semioticians: both categories refer to the phenomenon immediately embedded in the practical and ritualized interaction with the world (Ivanov 1976). One implication of this link between myth and technology is that the most radical and pathbreaking innovations in human history are “archaizing innovations,” or innovations which recapture the most archaic layers and models of human thought and behavior (Toporov 1979). For instance, radical futurists are usually better “archaists” than any of their “conservative” opponents: in order to challenge the whole culture of the past, artistic radicals should be aware of it in a much fuller sense than its traditional adherents usually are (Ivanov 1986). In sum, something is “new” to the extent that it recaptures the noumenal past, i.e. recognizes itself as perennial. As Osip Mandelstam put it, creativity is accompanied by “the profound joy of recurrence” (1979, 114). Science and Myth: The Importance of Gnosis Although Ivanov and Toporov cite mostly writers and artists, e.g. Dostoyevsky and Gogol or Eisenstein and Mandelstam, as exemplars of such recapitulation of mythopoetic thought, they make clear that this option is open to scholars and scientists too. In his interview, Vladimir Toporov shared with me his ideas on the importance of having a “vision,” or gnosis, before approaching culture in its totality. For instance, he claims, “Mircea Eliade was a mythological man, he knew beforehand [what was to be discovered] and only then turned to sources and interpreted them in detail. Usually, his results were close to what he knew before he started to work on the problem.”12 This might sound like criticism but it is the highest praise. Toporov says that, unlike many other modern scholars who look at myth “from the outside,” Eliade was so deeply tuned to the “mythological” in his culture that he was open to the mythological roots of any culture. In more general terms, the “scientific” interpretation of a fact does not contradict to its “mythology;” both are essentially attempts at patterning and classification (Tsivian 1990, 23). The implication is that to criticize the search for roots and origins as “mythological” is besides the point: “This might seem to be a mythological figure [of thought] but it is also natural, necessary for self-identification…”13 Thus, together with the Italian historian of culture Carlo Ginzburg, Tartu students of myth could summarize their credo as follows: “I try to show that … most of the so-called human sciences draw their inspiration from an epistemology of divination” (see P. Anderson 1992, 216).

12 13

Toporov, interview. Nekliudov, interview


A Critique of Mythopoetic Analysis In sum, Tartu-Moscow mythopoetic analysis developed some of the intuitions of Russian and Western anthropology and philosophy of myth, especially the ideas of Jakobson, Trubetskoi, Propp, Levi-Strauss, Victor Turner and Mircea Eliade. In contrast to early Tartu structural linguists and most Western structuralists, Tartu students of myth and folklore turn to “the structure in diachrony.” Their perspective, however, makes them spatialize time and reduce the variety of cultural phenomena to their supposed “archetypes” in the primordial mythopoetic thought of early humankind. The most persistent figure of their thought is the “reconstruction of origins.” Such origin story seems to them a necessary prerequisite for understanding the deep-structure “function” of a cultural unit. Moscow semioticians recognize that contemporary language lacks cohesion and homogeneity. They believe that, ultimately, every fragment of culture is significant and related to all other fragments in a traceable way, through their origin in the proto-forms of thought and action. It is not surprising that this idiom evoked multiple criticisms in the West and the Soviet Union. Dell Hymes (1978, 403) was appalled by the “sense of sweeping, simple periodization of human cultures [, the sense characteristic for Tartu studies but apparently] lost in American anthropology.” Philosophers Mamardashvili14 and Piatigorsky developed the full-fledged phenomenological critique of archetypical analysis on the basis of understanding that “every attempt to reconstruct the initial conditions already contains these conditions in itself implicitly” (1982, 29). Similar to Derrida’s criticism of the transcendental signifier, these critics pointed to the dubious teleology inherent within mythopoetic analysis. Ivanov and Toporov do not try to protect themselves against these accusations. On the contrary, Toporov talks about research as a form of “remembering” your own mythological roots. Ivanov openly proclaims that “the observer can perceive only those possible worlds which made possible this observer’s existence by their development from the moment of their original emergence” (Ivanov 1995, 3: 179). Ivanov and Toporov privilege everything that reveals identity of things, not their difference. They are not concerned about the possibility that there might be other observers who privilege completely different lineages and objects. In effect, they reify their own epistemological status to the level of the transcendental observer overseeing the transhistorical space, or topology, of cultural history from the standpoint of some supreme knowledge, which curiously combines academic erudition and esoteric gnosis. In the sight of such an observer, everything indeed has its “authentic” meaning and everything can be transformed into everything else by a set of “intermediate links.”15 The pivotal danger of this perspective is high arbitrariness of interpretations. Vadim Rudnev (1998) is not alone in accusing Toporov and Ivanov of “creating ancient Russian mythology practically out of thin air.” This may be an overstatement but Moscow mythologists indeed seem to be so single-minded in their quest for “invariance” and “hidden truth” that they make their conclusions notoriously contestable.16 Furthermore, high reliance on personal erudition opens a way for direct influxes of social ideologies and concerns. Here, it suffices to mention the very “Slavism” underlying 14

Merab K. Mamardashvili (1930-90) was one of the most important non-Marxist philosophers in the Soviet Union. In the 1950s, together with Boris Grushin, Alexander Piatigorsky, Georgy Shchedrovitsky, Alexander Zinoviev, and other philosophers and social scientists, he was a participant of the Moscow Logical Circle, a hugely influential “academic salon” (see chapter 2 and 3; see also Piatigorsky’s (1996, 308-335) memoirs). 15 Cf. Perry Anderson’s critique of Carlo Ginzburg’s methodological credo (1992, 212). 16 On Orientalism and Russian (self-)Orientalism see, for example, Brower and Lazzerini (1997), Said (1978) and Waldstein (2002).


semiotic and supposedly universalistic interpretations. Inherited from Jakobson and Trubetskoi, and reinforced by the self-Orientalizing inferiority/superiority complex of the Soviet intelligentsia with respect to the West, this Slavism makes Ivanov and Toporov trapped in the nationalistic search for prestigious genealogy for the Slavic people, denied for them by Western Eurocentric and racist scholarship. Instead of problematizing both Western and Russian cultural stereotypes, they involve themselves in the game of “who has privilege over whom?” (see Ivanov and Toporov 1984). To be sure, this philosophy was by no means unquestionably accepted even within the ranks of Tartu scholars. Although the rules of collegiality in Soviet academia did not allow for much open criticism of one’s closest colleagues, the dissatisfaction with mythopoetic methodology can be found through the “close reading” of certain published texts and private correspondences. For instance, Lotman criticized some of his students for overindulging in Toporov-type reconstructions (private communication). In his review of a book by a Polish colleague, he criticized him for confusing ideological and artistic “neomythologism” of Marina Tsvetaeva’s poetry with the unwilling reproduction of mythological patterns, as reconstructed by mythopoetic analysis. Furthermore, he argued that “the interpretation of [Marina] Tsvetaeva’s texts with the help of only archaic mythological code gives a holistic and consistent decipherment but removes semantic tension, inconsistency, and ambiguity in her texts.”17 Similarly, Mikhail Gasparov criticized both the teleological nature of mythopoetic research and its resistance to any outside verification (as in case of deciphering anagrams): I have an impression that mythologism is not in the object but in the subject of study, in method and approach, and, if wished, it can be read into any text… Alliteration can be made explicit by simple counting of sounds used above average; as for anagram, it can be found only if you know the searched word in advance (my italics–M.W.) 18 These criticisms indicate the existence of different trends in the Tartu and Moscow studies of myth and folklore. The alternatives are primarily associated with the works of Piatigorsky (1965; 1971), Lotman and Uspensky (1973) and Lennart Mäll (1965). For instance, Alexander Piatigorsky and his Estonian colleague Lennart Mäll departed from mythopoetic orthodoxy quite significantly. In particular, on the basis of their studies of Buddhist philosophy and mythology, they developed the original criticism of the binary oppositions as a just one possible frame of thought, by no means universal or necessary. In contrast to the binary framework propagated by Jakobson and Ivanov, Piatigorsky and Mäll worked out the idea of the “zero way” and “tetralemma” as fundamentally non-binary “structures.”19 Mäll (1965) came to the conclusion that signifying systems were not the only means of framing the world. “Otherwise we would find ourselves in the utterly untenable position on small islands of separate signifying systems in the ocean of being” (Mäll 1965, 189). Other means of framing are what Buddhists call “the middle, or zero, way.” If the ordinary sign presumes the opposition between the signifier and the signified and the signified can only take the form of A or not A, the Buddhist dharma is best represented by tetralemma, or the conjunction of four statements of the following type:


See Lotman’s review of Jerzy Faryno’s dissertation on Marina Tsvetaeva (LC, F136, s.47, p.32). Mikhail Gasparov to Zara Mints, 1978 (LC, F135, s.312). 19 “System” and “structure” are inappropriate terms here. Alexander Piatigorsky (1970) comes up with an alternative category, “symbolic apparatus.” 18


The Buddha’s teaching is as follows: Everything is truth (A); Everything is not truth (not A); Everything is truth and not truth (A and not A); Everything is neither truth nor not truth (not (A and not A)). (Nãgãrjuna, in Mäll 1965, 189) In short, the zero-way is represented by the conflictual conjunction of A and not A (or, rather, the conjunction which can be approximately rendered by Indo-European languages as “but” and “although” which implies linking A and not A without any Hegelian synthesis). What does this esoteric logical discourse imply? At least, one thing is obvious: binary oppositions are not universal or necessary human cognitive attire. Unsurprisingly, among many papers collected in Sémeiotiké, French structuralists paid disproportionate attention to extremely short–well, this could have been one of the reasons! –pieces by Mäll (Kristeva 1968; Barthes 1973). Roland Barthes’s (1973, 80-82) arguments against the “naturality” of binary oppositions echoed Mäll’s short pieces. Mäll’s interpretation of “tetralemma” visibly influenced Julia Kristeva’s (1969, 40) appropriation of Bakhtin’s concept of the dialogue and her critique of the sign as Eurocentric and metaphysical concept. All these examples demonstrate the heterogeneity of the Tartu framework of the studies of myth. We encounter the same complexity in their approaches to the category of the artistic and cultural text but the balance of forces is different in this field: what used to be the minority tendencies in myth studies turns into the most representative Tartu conception, Lotman’s theory of the artistic text. Text, Art, Human Nature: The Dialectics of Emergence All words can be found in the dictionary; and yet the [new] books published every minute are not just repetitions of the dictionary. - Alexander Pushkin “The text” is central to both Tartu discourse and the criticism of the School. Leading representatives of the Tartu School announced “text semiotics” (semiotika teksta) the distinctive contribution of the School to contemporary human sciences (Ivanov 1976; B.Uspensky 1994b). Simultaneously, their critics appealed to late Bakhtin’s opposition between text vs. dialogue and code vs. context to accuse Tartu scholars of “enclosure in a text” (Bakhtin 1986, 169). They even exploited the contrastive potential of these oppositions to mobilize around the annual publication called Kontekst, a highly eclectic edition publishing everything, from Russian hermeneutics and Bakhtin to standard Soviet literary scholarship, as long as it was somewhat anti-structuralist. Be that as it may, the Tartu School was the key Soviet analogue to the object of the Western critique of the “fallacy of textualism.” In what follows, I consider how, if at all, this charge is applicable to the Tartu School and how its conception of the text positions the school with respect to Western poststructuralist semiology. According to Richard Rorty (1982, 139), textualists are those “who write as if there was nothing but texts.” For the critics, the exemplar of the textualist is Jacques Derrida who privileges “writing” over oral speech and declares that “There is nothing outside of text” (Derrida 1976, 158). In a wider sense, the main charge against textualism is the implausibility of imagining that “we are [dealing with] a text that is writing itself, a discourse that is speaking all by itself, a play of signifiers without signified” (Latour 1993, 64). However, the 120

main problem with these criticisms is that they presume a basic agreement between the critics and the criticized on what “text” is. In fact, however, there is no more obscure concept than the concept of “the text.” Yet, it is obscure not just due to the imprecision of language or its use but due to the attractiveness of “the text” to varied agendas. In what follows, I concentrate on the concept of the text, the artistic text in particular, with the focus on the continuities and ruptures between Tartu semiotics, French (post)structuralism and Mikhail Bakhtin’s philosophy of dialogue. To start with, “the text” is supposed to be of no interest to structuralists at all. This seems to follow from the idea that structuralism is not about “explain(ing) individual works” but about “making explicit the system of figures and conventions that enable works to have the form and meaning they do” (Genette 1988, 8). Indeed, this is one way of treating individual texts and works: they pertain to the realm of chaotic parole and “performance,” they are beyond the reach of the structural method and science as such (see Culler 1975). This perspective is usually associated with restrictive semiotics that refuses to deal with parole, connotation, diachrony as well as the objects less clichéd and schematic than myth or fairy tale (see Chandler 2002; Revzin 1977; Shukman 1977). However, from American New Critics and Russian Formalisms to the masters of French (post)structuralism, individual artworks continue to be in the center of attention of such different scholars as Shklovsky, Eikhenbaum, Jakobson, Levi-Strauss, Barthes and Foucault. The common point of departure for these studies is the view of the text as a system of its own, superimposed over the langue and susceptible to “close reading.” One way of pursuing this agenda is to oppose “the work” as a historical monument, the object of classical philology, to “the text” as just a string of “words on the page,” words which yield themselves to “close reading.” This kind of reading presumes that everything exterior to “words on the page”–biographical, social, psychological or historical circumstances–is irrelevant to the account of “the presentation and sophisticated organization of a set of complex experiences in a verbal form” (Hawkes 1977, 152). Similarly, Viktor Shklovsky urged his colleagues to focus on the devices of verbal orchestration like “articulation, mimicry and sound genitures” regardless of any “extraneous” factors (see Erlich 1981, 75). The starting point for the Tartu semiotics of the text is this explosive combination of anti-textual restrictive semiotics and the rigorist conception of the text as system of its own. This combination is characteristic for Lotman’s early magnum opus, Lectures on Structural Poetics (1964; Koshelev 1994), and, to some extent, his more mature books, The Structure of the Artistic Text ([1970] 1998) and The Analysis of the Poetic Text (1972). The history of the Tartu semiotics of the text can be understood as a series of attempts to either bridge these perspectives or overcome them altogether. These attempts were tied to a number of problem domains, the particularity of artistic communication being the central one. Here, Tartu studies proceeded explicitly from the Formalist concept of estrangement and Jakobson’s “poetic function.” However, their specific solutions carried an imprint of the particular historical juncture of the 1960s and 1970s. Complexity, Information and Artistic Play As I argued earlier, one dimension of the historical conjuncture at which Soviet structuralist poetics and semiotics emerged was the cybernetic revolution aimed at expanding “scientific methods” to human sciences. Roman Jakobson was the key bridge-builder between cybernetics, information theory and structural linguistics. His hybrid model of communication left deep imprint on Soviet semioticians. Not less influential were academician Kolmogorov’s efforts to measure artistic information as well as various attempts to provide generative algorithms for various kinds of texts. These and other concerns 121

converged under the roof of the growing interest in both technical and theoretical aspects of preserving and transmitting cultural tradition. Early formalistic structuralism sought to resolve this issue by reducing the scope of the “meaningful information” to the one which can be formalized and reliably transmitted through highly codified channels. According to these models, information is encoded in texts and then decoded by receivers. Here, “the text” is just an intermediary in the communication exchange or a realization of the ready-made linguistic system. The idea that texts (or discourses) are essentially long linguistic sentences constructed according to the rules of the langue is in the focus of “text linguistics” and “discourse analysis,” as developed in Moscow and in the West (see Nikolaeva1997; cf. Levinson 1983). From early on, Yuri Lotman took a different road. In his first semiotic paper, he argued for the significant difference between linguistic and literary structure (Lotman 1963; cf. Kristeva 1968). Literary text, according to Lotman, is irreducible to linguistic rules (or the langue); it exists on the level of interrelations between different languages, or codes. This specificity makes literary (and artistic, by extension) texts particularly “complex” and allows them to be particularly efficient carriers and producers (!) of valuable cultural information. In contrast to non-artistic media, artistic texts are able to transmit much more information per unit of their structure. This immense compactness and informativeness is, in fact, Lotman’s definition of art. “Beauty is information,” his dictum states (Lotman 1964; Koshelev 1994, 85). Obviously, this brief summary needs some elaboration. Lotman consistently conflates “textuality” and “artisticity” (khudozhestvennost’, cf. “literariness” of Russian Formalists) as well as “textual complexity” and “artistic value” (Lotman 1964; [1970] 1998; cf. Cherednichenko 2001). To illustrate this link, let me employ Lotman’s favorite example repeated during introductory lectures at Tartu University: a chair may become an artwork if you increase its “complexity” by putting it into the frame, that is encode from more than one perspective, as not only a practical object but also an object of contemplation and value.20 This example indicates that Lotman used “complexity” in an uncommon way. Here, the immediate reference is to Kolmogorov’s complexity, the concept worked out to determine the quantity of information in individual objects. In addition to Shannon’s information theory which mainly concerned itself with the average information of a random source, Kolmogorov’s statistical information theory determines the informativeness of an object with respect to its frequency in the pool from which it is selected. For instance, according to Kolmogorov’s tongue in cheek calculations, lead articles in Soviet newspapers usually contain low informative load because its word selection and style can be predicted out of the pool of similar articles with high probability. In Kolmogorov’s terms, these articles have low complexity, i.e. can be compressed without loss of significant information. In Kolmogorov’s words, “the length of the shortest program [or Markov chain] of producing [such an article] is not high” (see Uspensky 1997, 195). In contrast, he argues, the ideal machine for generating Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin would have to contain “the whole experience of the humanity” in its memory (1997, 245). 21 The flip side of this argument is that the text by Pushkin is itself a machine for transmitting universal human heritage. Finally, 20

I am grateful to Liudmila Zaionts, Moscow University professor and Lotman’s student, for mentioning this example to me. 21 Another exercise in information measurement was cited by Tartu scholars even more frequently (see Lotman 1964; [1970] 1998; 1972): on the basis of analyzing a corpus of newspaper articles and a number of poems, a Hungarian scholar Fonagy demonstrated in 1961 that the knowledge of only 35% of words in articles allows to predict the rest 65%. The interpretation is this 65% of the verbal material in newspaper articles is redundant, or “meaningless.” For poetry, the ratio is 60% to 40% (Koshelev 1994, 86; Lotman [1970] 1998, 81).


it is important to mention that these examples are not just hobby-like applications of serious mathematical ideas: unfortunately, it is not widely known that both Markov and Kolmogorov came up with their ideas of the “chain” and “complexity” while trying to come up with a program for generating an approximation to a literary text, Eugene Onegin in particular. Hence, Kolmogorov connects complexity, informativeness and literariness. Lotman picks up this idea and argues that “it is experimentally proven that the informative capacity of the poetic speech is not lower but higher than that of the ordinary speech” (Lotman 1964; Koshelev 1994, 86). That is, although Lotman does not abandon the Formalist idea that “deautomatization” as the defining quality of literariness, he prefers to define artisticity through complexity. The artistic text is the one which, despite the redundancy of its structural elements, preserves and even increases its own informativeness through multiple contexts and usages. In short, the closer we get to the end of the newspaper article, the less we expect to be surprised; true literature should be able to surprise us all the way through and even upon repeated reading. More specifically, Lotman argues that the literary text and the ordinary linguistic message differ in the manner in which information is encoded in them, i.e. in their organization (1964; 1972). “The ordinary linguistic text allows for various expressions for the same content. It is translatable and, in principle, indifferent to specific forms of inscription [e.g. sounds, letters and telegraphic signs]” (Lotman 1964, 156). Here, language (code) is too familiar to be worthy of notice. Since information transmission is pragmatic and automatized, language seems to be “innocent,” that is free of semantic and ideological load. The choice of specific linguistic medium is largely irrelevant to the information transmitted. Yet, once a new code, i.e. rhythm or frame, is superimposed on the grammar of such natural language as English or Russian, this language loses its transparency and automaticity. Not only what but also how of the communication gets into the picture. The medium is also the message. Content and form are no longer easy to distinguish. Just like life is a function of the whole working system of the organism, the idea [of the artistic text] is not contained in particular citations; [rather,] it is expressed in the whole of the artistic structure… The ideological content of the work is structure. The idea in art is always a model, it reproduces the image of the world. Outside of structure, there is no idea (Lotman 1972, 37-38) Furthermore, in contrast to non-text, The text of the literary piece is individual [and unique]… The link between content and expression is so strong that the translation into another system of inscription is not indifferent for the content… The system of enunciation in the artistic text is closer to the one in music. Text should be first translated into sounds and then perceived (Lotman 1964, 157). That is, if you wish to inscribe a poetic text differently–in English rather then in Russian or as a film rather then as a novel–you are going to get a significantly different text. This is because the meaning is “’washed-over’ the n-dimensional semantic space of the given text” in such a way that “any element, including misprints…, may turn out to be significant” (1990, 48). Lotman demonstrates that such “formal” mechanism as phonemes and meter participate in the generation of the meaning in a poem. For instance, by highlighting the parallelism between otherwise unrelated words and sentences, the rhythm of the poem brings out new equivalences and oppositions, irreducible to the ones contained in dictionaries,


grammar books and even everyday talk.22 This is a feature of poetic language which Tynianov called “the density of the poetic line” while Jakobson enshrined it in the famous formula: “the poetic function projects the principle of equivalence from axes of selection [the paradigmatic] to the axes of combination [the syntagmatic]” (Jakobson 1960, 358). Yet, “never [before Lotman], the essence of poetry have been related to parallelism so powerfully (even though it is hard to find another phenomenon within the poetic text which enunciates the structure of poetic communication more clearly” (Cherednichenko 2001, 155). In Yuri Lotman’s summary, “poetry is a structure all elements of which are, on different levels, parallel to another and thus bear distinctive semantic load” (Lotman 1972, 74). In contrast to a phrase in the ordinary speech or even an object in our everyday experience, the literary text is a “complexly constructed meaning” in which neither element is purely redundant or random (1972, 38). It is not random because, as Anton Chekhov liked to say, if there is a rifle hanging on the wall in the first act of the play, it has to shoot in the third. This is a rule of the genre. The point, however, is that the literary text is always an interaction and a conflict between at least two genres, styles, as well as graphic, phonological and lexical “systems.” If ordinary or mythical text is a realization of a certain system, or code, the literary text is a “dialogue” of the multiplicity of them (1990). The reality of the text is constructed by the system of relations [between, for example, meter and lexeme and, ultimately, the whole of the text and its specific subsystems]… The relationship between text and system in the artistic text is not an automatic realization of abstract structure in concrete material but always a tension, a struggle and a conflict (1972, 12; 124). This tension, and even struggle, is a precondition of the aesthetic perception. One code sets up an expectation while another one violates it: for example, the rhyme may violate the grammar. These inter-code relations throw the rules of each code into vivid relief, demonstrate their conventionality and thus introduce the tension between rule abiding and rule breaching into every code involved (1972, 43). Therefore, Chekhov’s remark may refer to abstract genre but not to the whole of the text: “whether the rifle shoots or not, whether the shot is going to be deadly or just imitated by some bottle [is unpredictable, and] this unpredictability provides this moment [when the rifle shoots] with the significance of plot event” (1992, 28). Lotman argues that the combination of the density of patterning and the interplay of codes constitutes the distinctive complexity and informativeness of artistic texts. Taken in isolation, the density is also characteristic for mythical, religious and simply rhetorical compositions. Sacred texts, as interpreted by medieval scholastics, are like matreshka dolls: one level of interpretation is enveloped by another and so on. In contrast, the ”consciousnessexpanding” effect of the text of modern literature is achieved not by the static hierarchical coexistence of different meanings but by their dynamic pulsation, or “flickering” (mertsanie) (Lotman [1970] 1998; 1990). That is, in the course of reading, we do not attend to different meanings of the same structural elements one after another, in the manner of removing veils or restoring the “original” of the palimpsest-like painting. We grasp different connotations compressed in the sign simultaneously. The way that Lotman describes this process is quite similar to the way that the brain physiologist and cybernetician Grey Walter described the effect of visual flicker on the brain: “At certain frequencies the rhythmic series of flashes 22

See, for example, how Shakespeare’s King Lear connects historically unrelated words into a “false (or poetic) etymology:” “Why brand they us/With base? With baseness? bastardies?” (Attridge 1987, 194).


appeared to be breaking down some of the psychological barriers between different regions of the brain” (1953, 91). Another metaphor that Yuri Lotman employs to characterize the dynamic “working” of the text is “play.” As I have argued, structural linguistics is based on the chess analogy (see Revzin 1970). Here, linguistic messages and, by extension, mythical texts are analogous to the moves in the game or to the whole game sessions, like chess games and football matches. In contrast, artistic texts, as portrayed by Lotman, are more like sites in which “rules are established in the course of playing” (Lotman 1964, 174). Lotman’s “play” is based on previously established meanings but not bound by them. In his definition, play is “an acute awareness of the possibility of other meanings” (Lotman [1970] 1998, 77). Thus understood, play is conditio sine qua non of the kind of “informativeness” that is unaccompanied by the rising entropy: in textual “play,” simple ambiguity becomes semantic “richness.” The ability of playing to accumulate “flickering” meanings makes it the key for understanding the relationship between art and life. No play is simply a fancy or just a pragmatic act. Look at a playing kid or a reader of the novel, urges Lotman. They laugh and cry about something supposedly “non-real.”23 Whatever fanciful, all kinds of playing ultimately produce very real consequences like acquired skill or matured mind. Yet, their reality does not imply that the film spectator runs out of the theater at the sight of the approaching train on the screen. In sum, “art requires the two-fold experience of simultaneously forgetting that you are confronted by an imaginary event and not forgetting it [this fact]” (Lotman [1973] 1998, 17). This is the effect of the inherent playfulness of art. Lotman goes on to point out that the more general term for this effect is “translation.” Here, translation is not a recoding of ready-made information from one code to another, as MT enthusiasts believed. Lotman is much closer to Bruno Latour’s recent definition of translation than one might expect. In Latour’s words, “I used translation to mean displacement, drift, invention, mediation, the creation of a link that did not exist before and that to some degree modifies the original two” (1999, 179). Similarly, Lotman talks about the “impossible” translation in the core of human productivity. The playful translation–from “life” to “text,” from written text to the screen–is “impossible” because there is no one-to-one equivalence between the translated. Yet, this impossibility is not an obstacle: the “search for the strange,” not similar, is the basic motivation for interpersonal and intercultural contact. It is precisely this “impossibility” that makes “efforts to translate… most determined and the results most valuable” (Lotman 1990, 37). Such translations provoke unexpected associations, new semantic connections and, ultimately, give rise to new texts. In sum, Lotman defines the artistic text as a site of freedom and agency. Language may be a rule-bound “prison-house” but text is not: “into the world of linguistic automatism, the world of structural regularities which do not have alternatives, poetry introduces freedom” (Lotman 1972, 131).24 Reality cannot realize all the potentialities of human nature; art provides an opportunity for experimenting with them (Lotman 1970b; 1992). In this sense, the text is not only a capacious medium for transmitting human culture but also an exercise in agency and a space for it. It is a complex and dense assemblage of practices like writing, reading, commenting, reconstructing, canonizing and challenging which cannot be reduced to some “deep structural level” at which it can be predictable and algorithmically generatable.


Lotman’s favorite quote ever is Pushkin’s line, “I shed tears over an imaginary event” (Nad vymyslom slezami obol’ius’…) (e.g. Lotman 1972, 38). He repeats it in almost every book. 24 Here, Lotman explicitly refers to the definition of information as “a measure of one’s freedom of choice when one selects a message” (Shannon and Weaver 1949, 8).


Text and Art: Contra Formalism. According to Lotman, it is particular structural organization that distinguishes a lyric poem or a conceptualist installation from the multiplicity of other messages circulating in society. To many critics, this sounds like an essentially Formalist stance: while Lotman is talking about complexity and playfulness, Russian Formalists insisted on the presence of specific estranging devices for something to qualify as an artwork (see Seyffert 1983). Highly conscious of the possibility of being accused of “formalism,” Lotman rejects his positions’ affinity to the “theory of devices” already in his early structuralist Lectures of 1964: The main handicap of the so called “formal method” consists in that it often led researchers to the idea that literature is a sum total of devices, their mechanical conglomerate. The real study of an artwork is only made possible by approaching it as a unified, multi-plane functional structure... (see Koshelev 1994, 26). Lotman’s goal is to “replace the metaphysical concept of ‘device’ as the basis of art with the dialectical concept of artistic function” (Lotman 1974, 15). With reference to Roman Jakobson’s idea of markedness, he argues that devices do not preexist texts; as such, devices are defined through their “function” in texts: “The untied tie at the ball party implies higher degree of nakedness than the absence of clothes in the bathroom. The statue to Apollo in the museum does not look naked but if you try to put a necktie on its neck, it [the statue] will shock you by its indecency” (Lotman 1972, 24). Similarly, the reduction of the color palette of the film to clack and white may or may not be a “device.” The role of color depends on its place within the functional whole of a film, as well as genre conventions at hand. Some Tartu literary structuralists extend this logic to the idea of measuring the information, and thus the “beauty,” of the artwork. For instance, Yuri Levin (1966) proposes to define and measure the literariness of a text and even the quality of an artwork by the ratio of “whole” syntagms (that is clichés, including terms, idioms and tautologies) to “free,” or semantically ill-structured, syntagms. He even determines that the pieces of “high literature” are composed of 60 to 90 % of free syntagms. These findings supposedly account for the low redundancy of artistic texts and differentiate them from “mass literature” and scientific texts. In contrast, Lotman first postpones and then abandons the idea of measuring literariness (see 1964; 1972). While his one reason is technical infeasibility–see Kolmogorov’s skepticism about the possibility of “generating” Pushkin’s poems,– the other one is even more theoretically consequential. Developing Roman Jakobson’s idea of the universality of the poetic function in human communication, Yuri Lotman proclaims that art is itself a functional category. The text is only one of the elements of the account. The real flesh of the literary work consists of a text (a system of intratextual relations) in its relationship to extratextual reality: life, literary norms, tradition, and ideas. It is impossible to conceive of the text thoroughly extracted from this network (Lotman, quoted in Champagne 1978, 206) That is, the same string of words or pictorial images may be perceived as art in one context and ritual object in another. Moreover, it may not be perceived as text at all, i.e. the potential of textual complexity may be spent in vain if the reader or viewer is not able to appreciate various interplays between backgrounds and figure as well as norms and their breakings. The textual organization and the function of being a text may not coincide as it happens within official Soviet culture where multiple artworks were not recognized as such for reasons of “political incorrectness” (see hints at this in Lotman and Piatigorsky [1968] 1992). To be 126

sure, Lotman stipulates, not every verbal string can claim “textuality” and “literariness” with the same prospects of success. Yet, “the change in the function of the text provides it with new semantics and syntax” (Lotman 1970b, 443). Furthermore, as Mikhail Gasparov explains in his commentary to Lotman’s works, each word in the poem is perceived not only against the background of other words of the poem but against the background of all other poetic and not poetic uses of this word kept in the memory of the reader (1994b, 12). To continue my film example, the meaning of the black and white shot depends not only on its role within the whole of “the text” of the film but also on the habits and expectations of the audience. In some cases, the absence of the expected may itself become a meaningful sign, so called zero-sign. For instance, Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose is based on pointing the reader towards the markers of a typical detective story and, simultaneously, upsetting these expectations by excluding such elements of the detective plot as the allknowing detective and the catharsis of “catching the thief” (see Lotman 1998). Thus, what Lotman and his colleagues portrayed as the multiplicity of interacting codes can also be seen as the multiplicity of varied “standpoints” and “voices” (Uspensky 1970). These can be voices of the characters, of the implied narrator and reader, as well as of the ones of an actual author and actual readers. These voices may proceed from various spatial-temporal, perceptual, stylistic and ideological (here, value-laden) perspectives both within, and outside of, the marked space of the text. In this framework, the history of the readings of the literary work is by no means irrelevant to this work’s textual meaning. As Lotman puts in his 1964 Lectures, “Hamlet contains more information for us than in Shakespeare’s time [because] it correlates with all the subsequent experience of the humanity” (Koshelev 1994, 242). In the language of contemporary literary theory, “the memory of the text” is “intertextual” (Kristeva 1980, 36). Open, relational and playful nature of “texts” in Lotman’s semiotics of literature puts it into the diverse company of the dialogical ideas of Mikhail Bakhtin and his Circle, on the one hand, and the deconstructionist contributions by French “new philosophers” and semioticians, on the other. For various historical reasons, mentioned in chapter four, these groups did not enter direct debate. By reconstructing the commonalities and contrasts between them (with the emphasis on Tartu and French scholars), I aim to achieve a clearer perspective on the implications of Lotman’s ideas and the nature of his “textocentrism.” Lotman and French (Post)Structuralism: Negotiating the Text The overlap with Barthes, Derrida and Foucault’s concepts of text, or writing (ecriture), is quite instructive. Based on the analysis of European avant-garde, Roland Barthes’s category of “Text” is opposes to “work” modeled on classical literature of the epoch of “realism.” The problem with “work,” according to Barthes, is that, by claiming to represent reality, it exercises and hides the repressive power implicit in its language. It is the power to allocate and determine, to put in sequence and impose the closure. The unproblematic unity of the work is guaranteed by the father figure of the author as the source of signification. By realizing that “the author does not precede the work, [that] he is a certain functional principle by which, in our culture, one limits, excludes and chooses,” the reader acquires an ability to problematize the innocence of the “work” by realizing its radically symbolic, constructed, decentered, plural nature (Foucault 1979, 159). Out of a passive consumer, she turns into a co-writer, an active collaborator in the infinite process of writing. The Text is this process, “always paradoxical,” “structured but decentered,” plural and playful (see Barthes 1979). The 127

Text is both an exposure of the repressive power in language and a prospect of liberation. In Barthes’s summary, the Text is indeed the permanent revolution in language: “The Text is that social space that leaves no language safe or untouched, that allows no denunciative subject to hold the position of judge, teacher, analyst, confessor, or Decoder” (1979, 81). Devoid of any closure, Barthes’ Text is not a ready-made inscription to be read; it is to be co-written by whoever attends to it. In the words of Barthes’ colleague, “there is no Racine en soi… Racine exists in the reading of Racine and apart from the readings there is no Racine” (see Hawkes 1977, 157). This is a radically anti-canonical position: any “canonical” work or reading is an exercise of repressive power. Radical (post)structuralists condemn classical cultural canon as a “single score of the Ideology of the ruling class” (Althusser 1971, 154): the more “free” and self-motivated the subjects of ideology are, the more efficient is the reproduction of social domination. On the contrary, the creation of “writable” texts is an exercise in subversion and liberation. The core of this emancipatory function is the very exposure of the “politics” and “ideology” behind the humanistic claims of classical literature and its “priests,” critics and philologists. I do not insist that Barthes’ ideas on the Text are fully representative for the trend I have been targeting. Yet, as far as they are, Lotman may be said to be in opposition to the main tenets of French (post)structuralism. For one thing, both French semiologists and Lotman proceed from Jakobson’s idea of “the poetic function.” However, like early Formalists, French structuralists emphasize the suspension, if not the abolition, of communication and reference of the signifier under the poetic focus on words in and for themselves. In Barthes’s lapidary summary of this perspective, “the Text… practices the infinite deferral of the signified” (Barthes 1979, 76). Undoubtedly, Lotman would agree that the text does not just transmit ready-made messages and “reflects” outside world. However, he argues that the poetic estrangement of the routine usage only increases the ability of the text to communicate and represent the world in all of its complexity. “The goal of poetry is …. understanding the world and communication between people, self-knowledge, self-construction of the human personality in the course of cognition and social interactions. In the final account, the purpose of poetry overlaps with the purpose of culture” (1972, 131). Among other cultural means of cognition and communication, literature is distinguished by being “the body of utterances that is least reductive of [world’s] variety” (Holquist 1990, 28). Hence, Lotman’s poetic and literary “text” is a complex, subversive and playful model of and for social reality (cf. Geertz 1973). As a model of the world, or “world-model,” it is informative about the immediate environment of its production and a wider human condition. In his numerous studies of Russian classical literature, Lotman paid particular attention to the reconstruction of the readers’ “expectation backgrounds.” Pushkin and other Russian writers were writing for specific readers, their contemporaries of particular class and culture, and thus, “to understand Eugene Onegin without understanding the life around Pushkin, from deep ideological movements to ‘the trifle of everyday life,’ is impossible” (Lotman 1980, 8). It is precisely because the literary text defies the expectations of the readers and plays with them that “the work” and “the epoch” are revealing in respect to one another. Furthermore, the “texture” of the text, from themes and plots to the technology of literary inscription and social attitudes, is not limited to the short lifespan of a writer. This texture bears an imprint of its previous history. Hence, the literary text may be seen as a compressed history–a kind of model–of humankind refracted through the particularity of time, place and authorship. Texts are also models for the world: they operate as “machines” which transform and create subjectivities and objects. Lotman, however, did not suspect this productivity of being 128

an exercise of power, at least of the monological power of a specific ideology or institution. According to Lotman, texts are multi-vocal sites for interacting ideologies. This is what Mikhail Bakhtin (1984) called “polyphony.” To be true, more often than not, the author takes ideological sides within the body of his or her piece. Yet, Lotman insists, this fact by itself does not make a literary text a piece of propaganda. It is propaganda, though, if it is easy to disentangle the author’s stance from the “formal composition” of his or her work. The text is an example of “bad art” if it is just a conveyer of the writer’s ideology. The “true” artwork reveals itself in the ruptures of emergence and unpredictability between the author’s intention, the meaning dispersed in the whole structure of the text and, ultimately, possible and actual readings. The artistic value is associated not with propagandistic capabilities of the text but with its ability to provoke readers, to push them into risky but individualizing and thus gratifying adventures of self- and world-discovery (Lotman [1970] 1998; 1972; 1990). If one of the outcomes of such reading is the acceptance of the author’s ideology, this is not by itself evidence of the text’s intrinsic repressive power. As one of Lotman’s students pointed out to me, to accuse “dead, white Western classics” of Western colonialism is to “blame the train for Anna Karenina’s death.”25 That is the best artworks can convince but they have to be able to transform the reader’s identity, usually in a way utterly unexpected by the author. To be sure, Lotman was not completely unsympathetic to the problematic of the deconstructive critique of a hegemonic politics of culture. As a Soviet scholar, he was aware of the deadening power of the monopolistic reading of literature through the lenses of Marxism-Leninism and socialist realism. He was also skeptical of the “artistic value” of the literary production based on the socialist-realist canon. However, he provided these effects with distinctive interpretation. As I have mentioned, Barthes and Foucault aimed at liberating the text from the figure of the author and “subject” in general. Thus they hoped to unleash the “writerly” capabilities of the reader. The idea was that the philological ideology of the “work” resulted in the correlation between such subject positions as “creative author” vs. “passive reader.” Yet, for Lotman, this arguments is an evidence of complete misunderstanding of the particularity of author’s and reader’s positioning with respect to a text. From the point of view of a writer a text is never finalized, a writer is always prone to reworking or reshaping it… Anything could have changed. For the reader the text is a cast-iron structure, where everything is in the only possible place, where everything bears a meaning and nothing can be changed (1990, 79). Lotman’s point is that the reader’s position at the receptive side of the communication chain determines her propensity to ossify the text, not the other way around. Her “passivity” is active: she tries to reduce the text to her level. In contrast, the writer attempts to challenge this tendency. In effect, the text appears to be an arena of the struggle between the author and the audience. The more unexpected is the world created by the author, the harder it is for him26 to win over the audience, the further she is from recognition. Yet, the more useful it is for the audience to be defeated in this tournament with the text and its author. The author is, one might say, “retightens” the viewer on his position, gives him [the reader] his own eyes (Lotman and Tsivian 1994, 104).

25 26

Elena Grigor’eva, interview. Here, as in Lotman’s Russian original, masculine pronouns are used as gender-neutral.


In sum, French semiologists empower the reader, or consumer, of art to construct his or her own collage out of the floating signifiers and traces of the past.27 For Lotman and his colleagues, this is a “a rebellion of a self-establishing reader against the imposed cultural authorities” (M.Gasparov 1979, 112). They believe that this rebellion can either lead to a legitimate form of artistic creativity, but not genuine scholarship, or to the monopoly of mass consumer taste, no matter how it is institutionalized, as market economy or state-run distribution. Lotman’s own position is that literary and artistic culture is an essentially liberating and individualizing enterprise. However, for him, this is not liberation from meaning by turning the text into the empty shell for whatever game the art consumer chooses to play with it. In contrast, art liberates from naturalized conventions by simultaneously deviating from them and recalling them, keeping them alive in the reader’s mind. Without preceding prohibitions, a succeeding permission cannot be a structurally significant factor and will be indistinguishable from the absence of organization; it will not be able to serve as the means of transmitting information. The implication is that the ‘abolition of prohibitions’ in the structure of the text is not their eradication. The system of permissions is significant only against the background of prohibitions and presupposes the memory about them (1972, 55). This perspective presumes distinctive attitude to the nature of tradition, innovation and power struggle. To say “the new word,” to produce an innovative text unpredictable from the vantage point of the past, is not to commit the act of fratricide in respect to the authorities and the canonic texts of the tradition. Quite on the contrary, it is to give them new life, to liberate them from the layers of slavish imitations and ritualized representations. It is such a “play” with what Bakhtin called “alien words” which restores these words’ inherent ambiguity, their ability to resonate with multiple cultural situations. The actual murder of artistic tradition, i.e. its forgetting, is suicidal for innovative movements themselves because “outside of [traditional] norms, [their] innovations lose meaning” (Lotman 1972, 56). The success of these movements is premised on the preservation of what they are rebelling against. In Jakobson’s (1981, 756) words, “simultaneous preservation of tradition and breaking away from tradition form the essence of every new work of art.” Lotman is quite explicit that one of his intentions is to oppose “struggle” in art and culture and “struggle” in society and politics (Lotman 1972, 56). The latter aims at the elimination of the enemy, be it another class or repressive regime, or at its selective absorption on the terms of the winner. Not so in literature. Its own tradition is its bread and its meaning. According to Viacheslav Ivanov (1986), the most radical avant-garde was more traditional and “academic” than “the academic school” in art.28 This is because culture is based on the assumption that “nothing is ever ‘better,’ no progress can be made” (Mandelstam 1979, 119). A necessary element of the literary pleasure is “the joy of recurrence,” the sense that “all this already was” and yet “not a single poet has yet appeared” and “yesterday has not yet been born” (1979, 113-114). That is, according to Lotman, the 27

Indeed, Barthes’ writer-reader is not interested in something like “Japan”; Japan is a mere pretense for the exercise of his writing and a means of achieving “pleasure of the text.” In Barthes’s words, “Japan has afforded him a situation for writing. This situation is the very one in which a certain disturbance of the person occurs, a subversion of earlier readings, a shock of meaning lacerated…” (Barthes 1982, 4) 28 As Benedikt Livshits described the paradox of Russian avant-gardists, they wanted “to through Pushkin overboard” and “slept with Pushkin under the pillow” (see Bowlt and Matich 1996, 6).


“struggle” in literary evolution is not about abolishing Virgil and Pushkin but about reading them anew, on top of multiple previous readings. These remarks point to the distinction between (post)structuralist and Tartu attitude to intertextuality. Developing Bakhtin’s concept of “alien words” (1986, 106,162), Julia Kristeva defines text as “a permutation of texts…; in the space of a given text, several utterances, taken from other texts, intersect and neutralize one another”(1980, 36). For Kristeva and Barthes, intertextuality is the means of opening up “work” into “writing,” or ecriture. The key point here is that “the intertexts …should not be confused with “origins” and “influences” (Barthes 1979, 77). The threads of which the text is composed are anonymous and irrecoverable (!); they do not serve to connect the text to any “literary tradition” but rather certify the openness, plurality and network-like nature of the text. In sum, in intertexts, the text negates its own identity. Lotman and his colleagues use similar but different term, “subtext.” Introduced into Slavic poetics by Kiril Taranovsky, this concept was used to reconstruct the sources of specific, often implicit, quotations, allusions, references, and so on. Boris Gasparov (1996b) has summarized these approaches succinctly, The subtext performs the integrative function within the text in which it has been incorporated; the presence of subtexts allows us to see presumed semantic motifs which explain the link between various elements of the text which used to seem accidentally juxtaposed; in the end, the text appears to be more coherent and meaningful after recognizing subtexts present in it. In contrast, the concept of ‘intertexts’ is, from the outset, directed at the destruction of the ‘myth’ of the unity and wholeness of the text; the intertext dissolves the boundaries of the text, makes its composition (faktura) penetrable, its semantic contour indefinite and changeable… The text is lost in the continuity of intertextual superimpositions. Thus, building on the traditions of classical philology, as well as Saussure and Jakobson, French semiologists and Soviet semioticians come to almost symmetrically opposite views on art and its power, on tradition and its subversion. The matter here is not only in the attitudes to art but in the very attitude toward “the European tradition” (or “the Western canon”) and its categories of individuality and culture. The deconstruction of the Western “signifiers” of ego, soul, tradition, gender and God are among the targets of the French and their American followers. They aim at unmasking these categories by revealing the operations of what Bourdieu calls “symbolic violence” within these categories. That is, the deconstructionists try to break through “the prison-house of language” in which power works through concealing its own operations (see Bourdieu 1977; Jameson 1972). For Lotman, this rebellious anti-classicism is caused by the confusion between cultural “struggle” and social struggle. For instance, it is a confusion of the actual transgression of gender borderlines with such transgression as an aesthetic play (Lotman 1992, 173). In his last book, he discusses multiple cases of gender reversals in Russian literature and history. Yet his conclusions are different from the ones contemporary feminists draw from similar cases. Lotman could have agreed with Judith Butler that drag dramatizes the signifying gestures through which gender is established (Butler 1999, xxviii). He could also agree that such “gender performance” problematizes the “natural” distribution of attributes between genders: active vs. passive, rational vs. emotional, and so on. Yet, to be more than just odd, to be culturally consequential, this performance should be able to “recall” the difference it subverts. In Lotman’s words, the meaning of cross-dressing is “to introduce the variability into the structure which lacks it by nature” (1992, 136). That is, according to Lotman and his colleagues (e.g. Tsivian 1990), while the difference between sexes is a 131

cultural universal, the substance of this difference is a cultural construct that can be undone. Yet, if the attempt to undo it leads to the forgetting of the very difference, the consequences may be catastrophic. For instance, In Russia, the idea of the equality of man and woman turned into the form of the exploitation of a woman, because the natural difference was sacrificed to the unrealized utopia which in practice turned into exploitation (1992, 173). Furthermore, from Lotman’s position, the counter-cultural rebellion seems the more pointless the more flexibility he suspects inherent in existing cultural codes, from gender distinctions to canonic artistic conventions. This idea of “open codes” runs counter to the intuition that codes are just inflexible rule-abiding systemic objects which can only be imposed on the agents from the outside. Even Mikhail Bakhtin, who otherwise appreciated Lotman’s research, criticized Tartu people for preferring static codes to live contexts and fixed text to multi-vocal dialogue. He argued that, in structuralism, “…all relations are logical… But I hear voices in everything.” He also warned “against enclosure in a text” (Bakhtin 1986, 169). Semiotics deals primarily with the transmissions of ready-made communication using a ready-made code. But in live speech, strictly speaking communication is first created in the process of transmission, and there is , in essence, no code… The context is potentially unfinalized; a code must be finalized. A code is only a technical means of transmitting information; it does not have cognitive, creative significance. A code is a deliberately established, killed context (1986, 147). In the light of Lotman’s conception of art, these criticisms sound like an exaggeration. They are, at best, applicable only to Soviet structuralism of the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, developed fully in the 1970s and 1980s, Lotman’s concept of the artistic text implies that coded nature of cultural action is compatible with its heterogeneity, polysemy and playfulness. Yet, it is precisely the relative predictability of the “coded” modes of behavior that allows for interesting metaphors, juxtapositions and contrasts produced through the juxtaposition of codes. In this respect, Lotman’s ideas are in continuity with more strictly rule-oriented poetic theories (e.g. Revzin 1971). Bakhtin says that the code is finalized and ready-made but, according to Lotman, it may happen only in the narrow synchronic perspective. Historically conceived, every code is a product of previous making in time and space. Furthermore, the interaction between codes is open-ended. In this respect, the product of such interactions, the text, is similar to human actors. Just like texts, actors are intersections of different codes. Yet they are not reducible to these codes. Lotman makes the analogy between texts and human actors explicit by saying that “the structural parallelism of the semiotic characteristics of texts and persons allows us to define the text of any level as a semiotic individuality and the individuality on any sociocultural level as a text” ([1983] 1992, 116). Thus an individual personality, a literary work and the whole culture can be considered as “texts” of various levels. By drawing these analogies, Lotman provides his solutions to a number of problems that social sciences and the humanities share. First, the multivocal, “playful” and, simultaneously, robust text provides an original nondeterministic model for the personal identity. This is a model of a performer, or a “player” with various social and cultural codes, the model which finds its best realization in Lotman’s grounded theory of theatricality (see chapter 7). Simultaneously, by extending the attributes of human actors onto literary texts and other sites of cultural production, Lotman puts forward the idea of the independent agency of texts, which is informed by, but irreducible to, the social context, popular reception, and 132

power relations. These are the core moves within Lotman’s theory and history of culture (see next chapter). Textocentrism as Cultural Politics This chapter has so far presented an outline of the evolution of Soviet structuralism and semiotics “from Rules to Texts.” At one level, this evolution is analogous to the evolution of Western structuralism. Soon after the structuralist movement seemed to have triumphed in many minds and university departments around the world, it found itself under powerful attack from both outside and even inside. This critique gave birth to Derrida’s deconstruction, on the one hand, and the rediscovery of Mikhail Bakhtin, on the other. Yet, the analogy between Soviet and Western developments cannot overshadow the differences between two trajectories. Despite the vast variety of actual ways of interpreting “the text” within the Tartu School–as the juxtaposition of the “mythopoetic” analyses and Lotman’s textual semiotics demonstrates, –they share the common attitude which may be defined as “textocentrism,” as opposed to the “textualism” of Western (post) structuralists. The difference is significant, as I have tried to show in the last section. If French authors aimed at decentering “canonical” cultural authorities, e.g. “Western Canon” and classical philology, Tartu scholars desired to reestablish them after what they saw as the ideological “destruction” of the classical culture in the course of the attempts to appropriate it for the purposes of producing the docile Soviet subject. The objective of Soviet intellectuals was to show how the robust structure of the classical texts makes them perfect media of preserving and promoting the spirit of creative ambiguity and artistic freedom. Lotman summarized his credo best in one of his last interviews: Everybody understands traffic rules to the same extent, except for those who do not know them… However, do people understand Pushkin in the same way? No, in different ways. And do not tell me that some people understand him correctly and others incorrectly. Pushkin appears to each person as if he were writing personally for him [this person] (see Koshelev 1994. 460). To understand the full social and epistemological significance of this contrast, let me briefly turn to some of the social practices and attitudes that accompanied the contrastive positions of French and Soviet theorists towards the text. It has been argued that (post)structuralist cultural criticism is related to the peculiar pattern of “discretionary intellectual behavior” caused by “excessive wealth” in the 1960s (Pavel 1989, 141). Indeed, it was students with good prospects of employment in middle class jobs who took up structuralism, among other fads of the time, as a tool of critiquing the basic institutions of Western civilization, the University and the School above all. Intellectuals, especially French structuralists and poststructuralists, have done a great deal to provide this counter-cultural movement with its language and symbolism. Most famously, Louis Althusser (1971) proclaimed the school a dominant “ideological state apparatus.” According to Althusser, the school is essential for reproducing the class power of the bourgeoisie precisely because it is able to hide its engaged and class-based nature under the mask of positivistic objectivity, universalistic humanism and academic purity. Radical structuralists also condemned the classical cultural “canon” as a “single score of the Ideology of the ruling class” (1971, 154): the more “free” and self-motivated the subjects of ideology are, the more efficient is the reproduction of social domination (cf. Bourdieu 1984). Nothing can be further from the thinking of Soviet intellectuals in the same period. To be sure, average Soviet secondary and college-level education was increasingly an object of 133

sarcastic remarks and dismissive comments. Moreover, since around 1968, it was no longer appropriate to defend dissertations among certain semi-dissident intellectuals (see Zholkovsky 1998; 2000). Yet, this scorn was directed mostly at the “Sovietness” and the increasingly mass character of the higher education, which was blamed for the falling standards and the overproduction of career-, rather then vocation-, driven professionals. For instance, in the 1960s, a number of high-profile publications criticized official policies that allegedly led to the inflation of educational credentials and the accessibility of jobs that used to be the property of the upper middle class (intelligentskie dolzhnosti) (e.g. Kantorovich 1967). Hence, existing institutions of education were criticized not for reproducing class inequalities but for the erosion of the social distinctiveness and privilege that the elite intelligentsia previously enjoyed. Despite these criticisms, the University and the Academy were still considered by intellectuals as major seats of their authority and influence. Although one could not exactly teach what one wished, one could, for example, use the “allowed” texts of classical literature as vehicles of cultural and often political subversion. This subversion could consist in “opening-up” the text, making it ambiguous and thus potentially subversive and enriching. For educators like Lotman, the point was not to overthrow the classical canon but to “purify” it from Soviet “pseudo-literature” and “ideological readings.” In fact, Lotman’s department was quite a unique place in Soviet humanistic academia: it effectively stopped teaching Soviet “socialist realist” literature and Soviet literary theory already in the 1960s.29 The syllabus of the courses on the theory of literature for 1974-75 looks much more like contemporary Columbia and Stanford courses on Russian literary theory than any similar courses in Soviet universities.30 Thus, the alternative to “ideology” was the “scientific” methodology of Tartu Semiotics. At first, as I have demonstrated, the alternative consisted in opposing formal generative grammars of poetry and genre literature to the ambiguity of the Soviet ideological “blah-blah” (boltovnia). Yet, it soon became apparent that this ideology of “exactness” could be appropriated by the ideological and disciplinary establishments. Lotman and his colleagues also found themselves disenchanted with their own early technocratic optimism: Lotman (1990) later argued that Tartu semiotics firmly established that “machines do not write poetry.” In effect, Tartu-Moscow semiotics, especially its Lotman’s version, departed substantially from early formalistic structuralism. It turned into what the philosopher Leonid Stolovich calls “structuralism with a human face” (1998). Hence, to Soviet ideological reading and technocratic optimism, Tartu scholars opposed their methodology of recovering multiple historically evolved layers of the text’s meaning. The purpose was not to come up with the final interpretation of the text but to produce the most competent readers possible. That is, Lotman’s struggle against the official version of the canon was directed not so much against specific ideas as against existing alienation of the academic intellectual from control over the whole enterprise of educating students and producing knowledge. His struggle was for the redistribution of power in Soviet academia in favor of intellectuals themselves. It was a struggle for the reappropriation of the means and the sites of intellectual production by knowledge-producers and educators. Overall, far from “disestablishing the school” or “deschooling of society,” as Ivan Illich (1972) put it, the common sentiment among Tartu intellectuals was evolving toward something precisely opposite, the depolitization of education and the reinforcement of academic autonomy. If the target of radical Western intellectuals of the 1960s and later decades was existing class, gender and race privilege, embodied in educational institutions, 29 30

See Waldstein (2007, 587) for more details. EA, F311, N70, s.76.


Soviet intellectuals were more concerned about preserving their privilege as knowledge- and (cultural) tradition-producers and transmitters. Confronted not by raving student crowds (of the 1968 protesters) but by Soviet officials and technocrats, Soviet academics were trying to establish their academic workplaces as strongholds for preserving their personal and group integrity and as springboards for making interventions into the public domain. This struggle for control over production, legitimation, and transmission of knowledge is in the core of what I have called “soviet academic wars.” Thus, it appears that the social context of Lotman’s institutional politics of cultural education and academic freedom is highly relevant for understanding the kinds of choices he tended to make in theory and research. Going back to the theoretical point made in chapter 1, we can talk about the structural analogy between the intellectual strategy of “textocentrism” and Tartu scholars’ (especially Lotman’s) social strategies of reestablishing and defending their authority over their professional preoccupations under the conditions of Soviet academia. As for the difference between Tartu and French structuralisms, I have tried to demonstrate that the difference between their underlying paradigms can be, to a significant extent, explained by the difference in the social conditions, in which these paradigms developed, and the strategies of dealing with these conditions, which were chosen by corresponding groups of intellectuals. I would like to conclude this chapter by bringing together what was said so by means of an ideal-typical opposition between two understandings of “the empire of signs.” In his important essay entitled “Saussure, the Sign, Democracy,” Roland Barthes (1988, 151-157) proclaims the empire of sign—the realm of texts and discourses—a democratic republic. He argues, in essence, that the Saussurean relational model of langue— where the correspondence between the signifier and the signified, the “value” in language, is not guaranteed by any universal standards like God, Origins or Reality—is ultimately a product of democratic and market-oriented society. Like individuals in bourgeois society, signs are divided, isolated and closed-off; their ancestry does not define their fortunes. In Barthes’ metaphorical language, Saussure’s signs are not somebody’s sons but autonomous citizens and, as such, they are themselves the only sources of Truth and Meaning (152). Shared by Barthes, this model is inherently opposed to any ”lordship” and “Gaullism,” including the primacy of the writer over the reader or the priority of the classic text over the consumer preferences of the mass public. In effect, Barthes appears as both an analyst and an advocate of democratic consumer culture. Lotman and his colleagues effectively rejected this democratic image of the empire of signs. They feel that, in this “empire,” surfaces without depth are celebrated and “culture” is treated as a kind of game, which consists in endlessly juggling with and manipulating essentially “empty” signifiers. According to Tartu cultural theories, signs do refer to themselves—as French theorists argue—but they also communicate something meaningful about the world and the communicator. Narratives do indeed shape and reshape our individual and collective identities but they also represent real things for us. In contrast to French theories, the historical origins do matter and Tartu scholars are busy reconstructing them: behind seemingly arbitrary, meaningless and even “dead” cultural symbols of today, Tartu semioticians uncover the worlds of mythological and classical references and resonances, which constitute the “whole thick mass” (tolshcha) of the national and universal cultural memory (e.g. Lotman [1985] 1992b, 201). Due to this historical depth, Lotman’s empire of signs, or the Text, exhibits incredible resilience in the face of the attempts by the (con)temporary social forces—from Communism to nationalism and consumerism—to appropriate its powers for the purposes of legitimating and motivating desired social behavior. Although Tartu scholars differ in their interpretation of the specific mechanisms by 135

which texts endure in time, they agree on the exceptional role of the cultural minority of the “people of the word.” The main job of these intellectuals and literati is to remember and to pass on cultural tradition and thus, according to Tartu scholars, to reproduce the conditions for artistic and intellectual creativity. In a word, Tartu scholars see not “democracy” but “aristocracy”—cultural and intellectual aristocracy, of course—as the political regime in charge of the “empire” of texts. As such, they position themselves as opponents to the forces of “cultural forgetting.” These forces include Soviet modernity, of course, but also, to some extent, the Enlightenment project, with its anti-traditionalism, and Western “society of the spectacle,” with its “mental consumerism,” its celebration of surfaces, and its hunger for diversion and stimulation (Lotman 1990, 35; cf. Ivanov 1973a; Debord 1994). Thus, the difference between French and Tartu structuralism and semiotics can be represented as the difference between the republican-democratic and the aristocratic idioms in conceptualizing textuality, or the empire of signs. By considering Tartu theories of culture, I am planning to provide this conclusion with more depth and to develop it in a number of interesting directions.


Chapter Six THINKING CULTUROLOGICALLY: Tartu Perspectives on Culture

A semiotic theory and history of culture is the most distinctive contribution of the Tartu School. This is a message that leading Tartu scholars tried to convey starting with Lotman’s (1970a; 1973d) Essays on the Typology of Culture and five-author Theses on the Semiotic Study of Cultures (Ivanov et al. 1973) and ending with Lotman’s latest books to be published during his lifetime: The Universe of Mind (1990) and Culture and Explosion (1992). This is a consistent opinion held by most of my interviewees, Tartu scholars and students of different generations. This is what attracted to the School most of its admirers in the past and it is how the work of Lotman and his associates appears to their contemporary readers (Alexandrov 2000; Andrews 2003; Mandelker 1994; Schönle 2006; Zorin 1998a). The major idea of this chapter is that Tartu “culturology” is one of the most persistent, if not always coherent, attempts to justify the autonomy of culture and its emancipatory role. Here, “culture” should be understood as not only a subject of study but also as an environment of social action and a framework of everyday attitudes of the Tartu-related intellectuals. For these scholars, their “scientific” semiotics and their “naïve,” or daily, philosophy of culture were closely entangled to constitute a continuum in which each domain seemed to justify and clarify the other. In what follows, I consider Tartu culturology in the context of the studies of culture within and beyond Russia. By positioning cultural semiotics with respect to the major trends in Western cultural history and the 1970s “cultural turn” in social sciences, as well as to Soviet and Russian “culturology,” this chapter illuminates the nature of the School’s categorical apparatus, thematic priorities and research strategies. In contrast to most existing accounts of the Tartu School, I concentrate, in this and next chapters, on the dynamic interplay between the School’s theoretical ideas, empirical/historical studies and attempts at self-reflection and self-fashioning in its peculiar social environment. I conclude this chapter by proposing an additional generalization about the Tartu perspective on the nature of “the empire of signs.” I demonstrate that, in addition to being “aristocratic,” Tartu theories of textuality and culture are also “imperial.” This conclusion brings to the fore the social and political stances of the members of the School. By presenting themselves as heirs to the cosmopolitan cultural traditions, embedded in such imperial historical formations as “the West” and “the Russian Empire,” Tartu intellectuals differentiated themselves from the legacies of both political-bureaucratic empires, like the Soviet Union, and nationalistic movements. In particular, even though Lotman was empathic to the Estonians’ resistance to totalitarian rule, he did not accept the Estonian nationalist project of destroying the multi-ethnic cultural space, which, as Lotman and his colleagues believed, existed on the territory of the Soviet Union despite the heavy-handedness of the Soviet rulers.


The “Cultural Turn” and Russian Culturology There is no way out of the game of culture. - Pierre Bourdieu (1984) Let us stop protecting culture. Let us just try not to impede its work - Leonid Batkin (1979) In his recent survey of the “cultural turn” in American social and human sciences, William Sewell (1999) dates it quite precisely, the year of 1973. This was the year when such pathbreaking studies as Clifford Geertz’s (1973) Interpretation of Cultures and Hayden White’s Metahistory appeared in print. A number of other seminal works like Foucault’s The Archeology of Knowledge (1972) and The Order of Things (1971) were published in English around the same time. Since 1973 was also the year when leading Tartu scholars came up with their collective manifesto (Ivanov et al. 1973), it would be highly suggestive to recapitulate some of the key tenets of this “turn” and thus provide the global and national background for the subsequent presentation of the “culturological” ideas of Lotman and his associates. As the very phrase suggests, the cultural turn was an attempt to configure the fields of the humanities and social sciences around the concept of culture. This does not mean that culture was not an object of human sciences and philosophy before 1973. In fact, as classical and recent overviews of the large amount of both still inspiring and already outdated literature on culture demonstrate, “culture” as a noun entered academic usage around the second half of the eighteenth century first in Germany and then in France and Britain (Kroeber and Kluckhohn 1952; Williams 1983; Hartman 1997). Developed from the hybridization of agricultural (cultivating as “the tending of natural growth”) and religious (cult as honor and worship) meanings, culture was employed by often opposing social and intellectual parties to address quite contradictory concerns which arose in the course of the establishment of modernity associated with capitalism, nationalism, colonialism, bourgeois subjectivity and universal education (Williams 1983). As Norbert Elias (1996) argues, the German Kulturgeschichte as the history of morals and arts emerged in opposition to aristocratic political history of kings and wars in the situation when economically powerful bourgeoisie was still alienated from political power. At the same time, in the atmosphere of the Romantic reaction against the Enlightenment, culture acquired a meaning of “a site of the search for the lost unity,” the unity of the premodern organic community. The evolution from Kant’s to Spengler’s ways of opposing culture and civilization, i.e. from universalism to cultural relativism, is symptomatic of this transformation not only in Germany.1 Culture has always been one of the most ambivalent concepts. Raymond Williams (1983, 90) summarized English usage of culture in three major categories: “a general process of intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic development,” “a particular way of life, whether of a people, a period, a group, or humanity in general” and “the works and practices of intellectual and especially artistic activity.” Thus, one can speak about “culture” and “cultures.” “Culture” in singular may refer to specifically human “software” (cf. Nederveen Pieterse 1

According to Kant, “The ideal of [universal] morality belongs to culture; its use for some simulacrum of morality in the love of honor and outward decorum constitutes mere civilization” (see Hartman 1997, 218). Oswald Spengler also used the opposition between the deep (culture) vs. the superficial (civilization) but identified “civilization” with the declining slope in the development of monad-like cultures (e.g. Hellenism and contemporary technological civilization).


1995), to “the best which has been thought and said in the world” (Mathew Arnold, quoted in Kroeber and Kluckhohn 1952, 55) or to human development from savagery to civilization as well as personal development from childhood to adulthood (see Kant’s famous analogy between modernity and adulthood). On the contrary, “a culture” as employed by cultural anthropologists often designates an entire way of life of local people, or “folk,” including their rituals, beliefs and material production. Here, the emphasis is on reproduction of the same patterns of behavior and thought (Kroeber 1952), on social continuity and “heredity”2 as well as on isolation and homogeneity. “Cultures” in plural also imply some form of cultural relativism; the simultaneous coexistence of separate cultural units in “empty, homogeneous time” (Benjamin 1968; Anderson 1991, 187). The third category of Williams’ summary introduces a few more conceptual oppositions: between culture as just a specialized type of action and objects or as a particular social function and culture as coextensive with total personal or collective identity. If understood in the first way, culture is brought into the sphere of social control and administration by such institutions as liberal colleges or the Ministry of Culture. Otherwise, in Parsonian functionalism, it serves as one of the few functions of social action. Here, the action is considered in the light of norms and values, as opposed to material interests (see Swidler 1986). Hence, culture is only an aspect of the human condition. Thus, “culture” may have very different connotations and serve to very different causes. It acquires distinctive meaning only within specific local contexts of oppositions. Similarly, the “cultural turn” in social sciences followed a number of important displacements within different fields of human studies. The models of local cultures appeared to be relevant to modern societies; the reading of literary texts appeared to be a relevant model for “reading cultures;” the history of elites gave way to the history of longue durée popular cultures. Simultaneously, the history of large social and economic trends produced, as a reaction, a wave of interest in the situated constructions of reality (Burke 1991; Sewell 1999). The shift of interest to the “history from below,” from “native point of view” along with the availability of semiotic, structuralist and other methods of “reading” opened the way for the cultural turn. In contrast to more traditional culturalist ideologies and research practices, the cultural turn was trying to avoid the conflation of the Matthew Arnold’s “the best,” i.e. dominant cultural representations, with “the cultural” per se. In effort to marshal a new, ethnographic and interpretative, understating, Clifford Geertz defined culture as a “webs of significance that [human being] himself has spun” (1973, 5). Guided by the works of Geertz, Goffman, Bourdieu and others, social scientists turned from objectified social facts to practical knowledge, from social structures to human agency and from causal or functional explanations to the unwinding the webs of meaning. The structuralist studies of culture gave way to the interest in practice and performance where actors are active interpreters and users of the “tool-kit” of resources provided by cultures (see Swidler 1986). The culturalist and structuralist image of a consensual, shared, bounded and static culture turned into recognition of heterogeneity, hybridity and only “thin” coherence of cultural processes (Sewell 1999). However, the cultural critique of naturalized “structures” and “facts” did not stop at proclaiming that everything is culturally constructed. Culture itself, as some sort of ontological foundation of human practices, became an object of criticism through its contextualization within the relations of power (Bourdieu 1984; Foucault 1980). Despite significant gains, this move led to the reduction of symbolic resources to the status of “a plastic medium which politically powerful social elites may rework and remold at will” 2

As for instance, in Edward Sapir’s 1921 definition of culture as “the socially inherited assemblage of practices and beliefs that determines the texture of our lives” (Kroeber and Kluckhohn 1952, 214).


(Hartman 1997, 31). For instance, deep cultural traditions turned into “invented traditions.” Cultural canon appeared to be a manifestation of the monopoly on symbolic violence exercised by the ruling class through the institutions of education (e.g. Bourdieu and Passeron 1977). Thus, by overstretching itself to the whole way of being, “culture” suddenly loses its specificity and falls for adjacent categories like “power.” In actual research practice, this shift often implies that we learn how human actors employ the material and symbolic toolkit at hand but not what difference it makes whether they use this or other toolkit. That is, we do not learn specifically cultural mechanisms. In contrast, this is the explicit concern of the Soviet and Russian field of culturology developed in the Soviet Union in the 1960s-1970s. It would certainly be a mistake if we limit ourselves to opposing the Western cultural turn directly to the Tartu School. In fact, this would lead to omitting a large and burgeoning movement in the Soviet academic and intellectual circles, which acquired the name of “culturology” since its inception in the 1960s-70s. The Tartu School was only an important participant in this movement. Culturology, or kul’turologiia, is a very recent phenomenon approximately simultaneous with the cultural turn in the West. The origins of the term in Russian academic vocabulary are murky–some refer to the early twentieth century infrequent German Kulturologie while others to Lesley White’s project of “culturology”–but, in any case, the word is based on an obvious pattern of word formation: culturology is a “science of culture” (Asoian and Malafeev 2000).3 In contrast to a multitude of subdisciplinary and interdisciplinary fields produced by the cultural turn in the West, Russian culturology has been institutionalized as a separate discipline after the fall of Communism. However, this does not mean that it is much more theoretically and methodologically coherent than American or European studies of culture. On the contrary, as one of the speakers for contemporary Russian culturology pointed out, it is an eclectic construction out of the elements of Western social and cultural anthropology, Weberian and Sorokinian sociology of culture, local pre-Revolutionary cultural-historical typology and the ideas of Eurasianism, Spengler-Toynbee civilization theories, Gumilev’s bioethnic conception, the Silver Age philosophies of the “Russian idea,” modern Soviet creativity- and activity-oriented philosophy of culture, the perspectives on culture offered by the classics of Russian literature, mythological and semiotic schools of local philology, semantic-hermeneutic studies in art history, etc. (Flier 1997, 247).4 3

A poet, writer and philosopher Andrei Bely used this term already in the 1900s as a derogatory nickname for Hermann Cohen’s philosophy of culture (see Asoian and Malafeev 2000, 119) 4 Although I will still discuss some of the elements of this “mix,” let me briefly remind about the meaning of the least known of them. Eurasianism, the conservative emigrant intellectual movement of which linguists Trubetskoi and Jakobson were a part, professed radical cultural relativism and pictured Russia as a multi-ethnic “Eurasian” civilization based not so much on national or racial “roots” as on the convergence of different historical paths in the “unity of fate.” The influential Soviet Eurasianist Lev Gumilev (1912-1992) argued in his theory of ethnogenesis that ethnic groups become conquerors and full-fledged nations when, as a result of biological mutations, a large portion of their members abolish their natural instinct of self-preservation for the sake of some utopian vision. The Silver Age is the early twentieth century period of the flourishing of Russian artistic modernism: the artists of these period are famous for their intensive reflexivity over their work and other metaphysical matters, including the nature of Russia. Vygotsky’s activity theory had implications for not only Soviet psychology but also culturology. Finally, the hermeneutic history of art usually includes Pavel Florensky’s conception of “reverse perspective” and Gustav Shpet’s phenomenology of art.


What unifies these often incommensurable trends is that they are usually out of place in traditional disciplines like history, psychology or sociology, as they developed in Russia. Another unifying factor is the official role of culturology in the university curriculum: since 1992, it serves – although not without serious contestation – as a new replacement for Marxist philosophy, as a major general education discipline available and, in some places, required for students of all disciplines. Thus culturology, despite its heterogeneity, is presently a contender for becoming the backbone of the national civic education in the postSoviet Russia. The fact that culturology claims the status of Marxist philosophy within the Russian university curriculum is not entirely unexpected from a historical perspective (see Asoian and Malafeev 2000; Kelly and Shepherd 1998; Meyer 1952). In wide use since the rise of the non-aristocratic intelligentsia in the 1860s, the term “culture” and “culturedness” (kul’turnost’) quickly subsumed such older terms as “enlightenment,” “education” and “spirituality” (dukhovnost’). Liberally used by both the intelligentsia and the Soviet regime, these categories have at least three main semantic connotations: (1) artistic and intellectual pursuits and objects; (2) “historical level of development of society and human beings expressed in the types and forms of the organization of human life and activity, as well as in material and spiritual values” (BSE, 13: 594); and (3) both the distinctive property of the intelligentsia and the universal heritage which the intelligentsia is called upon to transmit to backward masses.5 Although there is nothing specifically Russian about this distribution of meanings, it is worth noting that the Russian discourse of culture is often focused specifically on the issues of Russian identity with respect to the processes of “modernization” and “Westernization.” In Meyer’s words, “the ‘problem of Russian history’… was one of the central themes with which all social thought, from Chaadaev to Stalin and Berdiaev, had to deal” (1952, 407). This fact explains the centrality of the so called “historiosophy” to Russian popular and often academic thought. In one of the current definitions, “Russian historiosophy aimed at the internally coherent description of the system of thought and behavior that is called ‘Russian idea,’ ‘Russian soul,’ or ‘Russian character:’ to provide the list of absolute ideas, the fundamental substantive elements of Russian life, seen from the point of view of God” (Zaretsky and Peskov 1998, 386). Any historiosophy, whether “Westernizer” or “Slavophile,” is based on the assumption, often reified as a universal constant, of the opposition between Russia and the West. Here, “culture” usually refers to the positively valued side of the opposition: “world/Western culture” of the Westernizers and “authentic Russian culture” of the Slavophiles. Although the works of Russia’s major historiosophers– Petr Chaadaev, Vladimir Soloviov, Nikolai Berdiaev, and others–were either tabooed or simply out of print in the Soviet period, the major tropes of their thought persisted even in the most established Soviet scholarship. Composed of the semantic layers outlined above, “culture” was one of the key components in the discourse of both the intelligentsia and Soviet authorities. Kul’tura gradually came to constitute one of the central spiritual values of Soviet civilization. From this fact, Kelly and Shepherd (1998) derive the nature of Soviet culturology as officially promoted but essentially non-Marxist account of “the smooth process of cultural inheritance” unimpeded by reinterpretation and conflict. However, although it is true that continuity is the key trope of Russian culturology, this interpretation is based on the unwarranted identification of the “culturological movement” and the vast literature glorifying “the Soviet 5

According to one Soviet encyclopedia of the 1930s, “socialism – to use the words of Lenin – begins where culture spreads among the millions” (see Meyer 1952, 417).


way of life.” If this were true, the Soviets would easily institutionalize culturology around the early 1970s, when the bulk of major classical “culturological” work appeared. In fact, however, the centrality of the discourse of culture in official and unofficial discourses was not accompanied by any systematic reflection over its presuppositions and terms and thus any need for the study of culture. The “expulsion” of culture to the peripheral realm of “superstructure” and ideology, that is its treatment as a reflection of the class struggle, was an indicator of culture’s low theoretical status. Culture was a matter of propaganda and administration, or cultural politics. The ideological foundations of such politics were simply borrowed from predecessors–as well as constantly reinterpreted within the Party’s objectives of the moment–and enshrined in the syllabi of school and university courses on Russian and Soviet literature. Although intellectuals might have contested specific interpretations and appropriations of the classical cultural tradition, they rarely expressed doubt about the normative nature of this tradition for “staying human” in Soviet society. Overall, regardless of specific usage by various groups in Soviet society, culture had an obvious aura of certainty and even necessity about it. The culturological movement appeared as an alternative to this certainty and, in the language of Formalists, “automaticity” with which the discourse of culture was reproduced. This is hardly surprising considering that some culturologists initially went through the late 1950s and early 1960s debates on method. These were discussions among philosophers and other academics on the procedures by means of which scientific and other knowledge is produced (see Piatigorsky 1996; Frumkina 2002). Inspired by the cybernetic revolution, critical Marxists and structural linguists, in occasional cooperation, turned the attention of Soviet academics to the fact that “representations,” or “world-images,” are not just “reflections” of reality but rather products of various mechanisms of coding, modeling, and ordering, the mechanisms which deserve specific and systemic attention (see Zinoviev and Revzin 1960). Later, Tartu culturologists abandoned the idea of the domain-general method– whether Marxist or cybernetic. Still, the debates on method played the paramount role in carving out the space for the problematic of culturology. Another point of departure for Soviet culturology was theoretical marginality of human ideas and social action–so called “human factor” in contrast to “objective laws”– within Soviet Marxist theory. Often approached and definitely studied as a kind of “embellishment” over economic basis and the politics of class struggle, the “human factor” attracted the attention of disgruntled philosophers and other scholars who searched for new perspectives. For instance, a Mediaeval historian Aron Gurevich discovered for himself that traditional Marxist account of feudal property relations and non-economic exploitation was severely handicapped by omitting such “insignificant” occurrences as gift exchanges and banquets (piry) (Gurevich 1985). In effect, he developed a structural cultural history of Western Middle Ages based on the idea that economic and political relations are not coordinated as cause and effect but as different manifestations of the “world-image of the medieval person,” that is specific models of time and space, right and wrong, wealth and poverty.” Although Gurevich was for many years teaching outside of Moscow and had poor access to contemporary Western literature, he eventually became one of the key representatives of the nouevelle histoire movement in the Soviet Union. The idea of noncausal affinity between different aspects of culture was proceeding from such different directions as Marxist appropriations of Talcott Parsons’ functionalism and Russian interpretations of Oswald Spengler’s cultural relativism (Markarian 1969; Averintsev 1977). These holistic perspectives were often associated with the implicit criticism of “Hegelian” (in fact, Soviet Marxist) implied presentism of the teleological and Eurocentric narrative in which preceding states were studied for the premonitions and “roots” of the succeeding ones. The interest of culturologists shifted toward the identification and the 142

interpretation of specific agendas of particular cultures (rather than “stages of development”). In effect, it turned out that what used to be opposed as “progressive” and “reactionary” trends and ideologies can be seen as variations within the same cultural pattern.6 The shift from the teleology of progress to relatively stable cultural structures, or mentalities, allowed culturologists to introduce what supposedly materialistic Marxist theory largely neglected: everyday life, material culture, non-canonic and popular beliefs. Culturology expanded the scope of narrow ethnographic and folkloric studies to “civilized” societies. Soviet Marxist and quasi-Marxist historiography emphasized the continuous and necessary progress from one mode of production to another. Simultaneously, it stressed the irreducible novelty of new modes as the results of the “leap” (skachok) from one “quantity” to another. This “dialectics” left its definite imprint on the differentiation within culturology. If some culturologists treated culture as a source of discontinuity and rupture against the background of continuous social progress, others emphasized the cultural mechanism of recurrence and non-biological inheritance of the archaic and primordial forms against the background of temporary and passing modes of production. Although these perspectives often co-existed in practice, they still constituted the major tension within Soviet accounts of tradition and memory. The proponents of cultural continuity, often nationalistic intellectuals, tended to perceive social processes in terms of their opposition and even threat to culture (e.g. Kozhinov 1970). They called for the protection of “ready and finished” culture in which they sought to find, in the words of a critic, “the means of harmonizing the soul-splitting extremities of untidy nature and [contemporary] unenlightened sociality” (Batkin 1979, 591). In protesting against socialist modernity and Western influences, these intellectuals sought to save “culture” from oblivion, popularization and commodification. This ideology was further supported by the forced or freely chosen focus of Soviet culturological studies on topics “far away in time and space” (Kagarlitsky 1988, 107), from the Middle Ages to the classical age of Russian literature. To this traditionalism and elitism, Leonid Batkin opposed what he presented as a “Bakhtinian” perspective on culture as “a creative ability for thought experiments, … for seeing a material for change in the actually existing [state of affairs, in order] to become the true historical subject” (1979, 592). In contrast to ready-made “cultural heritage,” he advocated the decentered view of culture as something that “exists on the borders,” in the dialogue, contestation, even partial forgetting. Batkin also argued that rigid faithfulness to the past might lead to its “betrayal” while its creative transformation is precisely in the “spirit of culture.” He echoed Ernest Renan by saying “We remember what we forget” (Batkin 1979, 593; cf. Anderson 1991, 200). Despite these conflicting sensibilities, Soviet culturologists shared the presumptions of the humanistic culturalist discourse which tends to conflate the understanding of culture as a “way of life” and as the reservoir of the most valuable human achievements. Therefore, until the 1990s, there was no serious interest in the links between power and the established canon of high culture. In the manner of the eighteenth century German “cultural history,” culturology was defined primarily in opposition to dominant and politicized Marxist philosophy and sociology. In this context, any analysis of “struggle” smacked of the official version of “class analysis.” Tartu and especially Lotman’s studies on culture share most of the characteristics and concerns of Soviet culturology. Yet, by refracting these concerns through his conception of the artistic text, Lotman came up with a number of original ideas and interesting results that 6

See Averintsev (1977) on the continuities between the cultural attitudes of the Christians and the Pagans in the 4th-5th centuries.


may still acquire a new life in the context of their juxtaposition to the related trends in the West. Of Culturology: A History of Theory Culture did not establish itself as a focus of Tartu research preoccupations until the early 1970s. Before, Tartu publications focused on “secondary modeling systems” like myth, religion and literature. Superimposed on natural language, they were described as grandiose modeling and communicative devices based on the resources of language but irreducible to it in their functioning (Zalizniak et al. 1962; Ivanov 1962). It has been recently argued that the jargon of “secondary systems” was an Aesopian invention to justify the studies of culture not guided explicitly by the assumptions of historical materialism (V.Uspensky 1994). Hence, the idea of “secondary systems” may be a product, intentional or not, of the substitution of the Marxist “superstructural” status of symbolic processes by another superstructure, no longer over economic base but over natural language. However, this account misses the obvious discontinuity between early Tartu structuralism and self-conscious culturology. The first aimed at constructing the uniform semiotic method from bottom up, on the basis of exhaustively formalized descriptions and classifications of specific media with respect to their syntactic and semantic properties. The dispassionate observer, the semiotician, was expected to come up, in some non-distant future, with a complete repertoire of rules for generating all kinds of meaningful messages. By contrast, Tartu culturology was based on realizing the semiotic observer’s embeddedness in their object. It occurred to Tartu scholars that, by singling out specific systems, they decontextualize their own and their subjects’ modeling activity from the space of symbolic action that precedes and animates these systems. Eventually, they concluded that “culture is not the sum of separate languages, rather separate languages can be isolated from culture through the operation of analysis” (Lotman and Uspenskij 1984, xi). Ultimately, the Tartu School shifted its attention from abstract sign systems to the real time and space pragmatics of “functional correlations” between these systems (Ivanov et al. 1973, 1). In this way, the School opened the doors to the historical studies for cultural production and reproduction. As a heading for a large subset of presentations, the concept of the “semiotics of culture” emerged at the 1970 summer school in Kääriku. This was an attempt to institutionalize the developments of the later 1960s, primarily indebted to the cooperation between Yuri Lotman, Boris Uspensky and Alexander Piatigorsky (Lotman and Piatigorsky [1968] 1992; Lotman 1970; 1973d; Lotman and Uspensky 1971). The major product of this cooperation was the establishment of the analogy between the structure and the operation of the artistic text and culture. In the words of a Lotman student, “art as a component of culture may be viewed in many respects as the model for the whole culture, since in it all the fundamental features of the functioning of the mechanism of culture are most clearly manifested” (Chernov 1976, 136). What were these fundamental features? How did the analogy just mentioned shape the development of Tartu culturology? For one thing, by defining culture as a kind of text, or a sum total of texts, Tartu scholars opposed, usually implicitly, some of the most popular definitions of culture circulating in Soviet and Western academia.7 For instance, defined as text, culture is no


In particular, they cite Kroeber and Kluckhohn’s (1952) summary of the anthropological usages of “culture.” Since access to Western literature was limited, especially in Tartu, the significance of such summarizing texts was particularly high. The only other important texts on culture included Ruth


longer identified with either superstructure, or ideology, or reflection of reality. It is also neither collective nor private mental representations. All of these concepts presume the rigid divisions between form and content as well as reality and representation while Lotman’s definition of “the text” relativizes them. As we have already seen, the effect of the “artistic text” is based on the interplay, of “flickering,” between the representation and the represented. Similarly, according to Lotman, culture is based on the doubling (razdvoenie) between signs and things, and the interplay between them, on a larger scale. As such, Lotman’s “culture” is similar to Weber’s and Geertz’s “web of significations” spun by human actors (Geertz 1973, 5). In Tartu culturology, the analogy between culture and text does not imply the analogy between culture and language, as in Levi-Strauss’s works, or their co-extensiveness, as in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (see Hawkes 1977, 31). Culture is not a kind of language because it is not a system à la Saussure’s langue. As we have seen, multiple “languages,” or codes of different nature, structure texts. Hence, culture is where we have interplay between perspectives, voices, and agencies. In Lotman’s interpretation, culture starts where linguistic system ends and when languages start to translate into one another. Culture as a sum total of texts is also different from directly observable behavioral patterns (Kroeber 1952). This interpretation was popular in behaviorism-dominated American social sciences in the 1950s. It aimed at the objective description of human behavioral responses to environmental stimuli, regardless of meaning attached to these stimuli by actors. In effect, as Tartu scholars argue in a piece of rare explicit criticism, behaviorists either fail to differentiate significant and irrelevant patterns or impose their own cultural definition on their subjects. To avoid this danger, Tartu semiotics introduces the category of symbolic (or “semiotic”) activity (semioticheskaya deiatel’nost’) that unfolds in the space between stimulus and reaction (see Lotman and Uspensky 1971). Notice that Lotman and his colleagues are talking about “culture” without trying to specify whether they are talking about “human culture,” as opposed to nature, or about “a culture,” as opposed to another culture. This is a possibility offered by Russian language. The structuralist idea of the homology between different levels of structuration supports this habit, too: “culture” recapitulates its basic characteristics on the levels of humankind, society, group and an individual. In fact, Lotman’s kul’tura can best be translated as “the cultural” to avoid any essentialist assumptions he self-consciously tried to avoid. According to Lotman’s portrayal of culture’s “beginnings,” it enters the scene when the satisfaction of a desire or a need is delayed to a later moment (Lotman 1970; 1976a, 214).8 One cannot delay hunger and sleep for too long. Yet one can delay the consumption of certain products (e.g. meat) or submit your sleeping habits to a discipline. Not all needs are gratified by immediate satisfaction; some are staggered and thus accumulated. What can be accumulated is not only food for the next feast but also knowledge about how and why fasting should be practiced. According to Lotman and his colleagues, where the delay of gratification and the accumulation of information take place, we have culture. As much as human agency is not just a response to external stimuli or the threat to individual and collective survival, this is cultural agency. Yet, Lotman warns us against treating “the cultural” as something secondary, for instance as a superstructure over the economic basis. In his words, “for any collective, culture is not merely an optional addition to the minimum

Benedict’s Patterns of Culture, Marcel Mauss’s Sociologie et anthropologie and Levi-Strauss’s Anthropologie structurale (see Lotman and Uspensky 1971). 8 Lotman is not talking about temporal origins; “beginnings” have a sense of the logical and theoretical “origin myth,” as in Rousseau and Freud.


requirements for life but a necessary condition for the collective’s very existence” (1976a, 214). The secret of this “necessity of culture” is in the kind of work it does. This work consists “in the structural organization of the surrounding world” (Lotman and Uspensky 1971, 328). Cultural texts order the world around us and make it meaningful and reasonably predictable. Furthermore, “culture is a generator of structuredness and thus it creates around the human being the social sphere which, like biosphere, makes life–social, not biological– possible” (1971, 328). Later, in the 1980s, Lotman called this sphere the semiosphere. 9 He theorized this sphere as not just a result of the structuring semiotic activity but as a condition of the possibility of this activity. The semiosphere is the semiotic ecology of human existence, the symbolic space in which languages and media interact (see Lotman 1990, 123130). In another book, he characterized this space as “the whole resonant space” of human significations “which crosses the boundaries of historical epochs, national cultures and absorbs us into one culture, the culture of humankind” (Lotman 1994a, 8). To say that human activity is enveloped by the semiosphere is to imply that humans act not just on the basis of biological impulses and even immediately available cultural significations but based on “the whole thick mass (tolshcha)” of previous texts of culture, which constitute the semiosphere ([1985] 1992, 201). This last idea goes back to Lotman’s earlier classical definition of culture as “collective non-hereditary information accumulated, preserved and handed on by various groups of human society” (Lotman 1973a, 1213). From the point of view of culture as collective memory, the past is never absolutely passé ([1985] 1992, 201). A text or meaning can be forgotten or suppressed within a particular epoch or society but, as long as its traces are preserved somewhere within the giant “storehouse” of culture, it can be reactivated, or remembered. Yet, reactivation is also transformation and creation. Culture is not just a storehouse; through the mechanisms of forgetting and remembering, it generates new texts not only in the present but also the past.10 “In the memory of culture, meanings are not just stored; they also grow” ([1985] 1992, 202). In this respect, culture as memory is less like the library or the memory software of the computer and more like a great piece of art, a novel or a film.11 This is obviously Tartu Archaism as interpreted by Lotman: the “better” the text, or the more it is semantically complex and unpredictable, the more it “remembers,” or resonates with a variety of other cultural texts, which are preserved in the collective memory of human culture. In a sense, the more the text is innovative, the more it is old and even ancient. If an “innovation” gets routinized too soon, it was not a genuine innovation: its ability to surprise or shock has been based on upsetting the most superficial levels of our experience, such as our political concerns of the moment or our sexual repressions. Yet, if the object or text can be “read” many times as if the first time, it is “culture” per se. To sum up: when natural and social stimuli become detached from their immediate practical and embodied contexts, they become signs and texts and thus aspects of the gigantic 9

This crucial Lotman’s concept first appeared in his 1984 paper “On semiosphere,” which was published in the 17th volume of the TZS. This concept was explicitly modeled on Vladimir I. Vernadsky’s (1863-1945) concept of “the biosphere” (Vernadsky 1998). According to Vernadsky, like stratosphere or lithosphere, the biosphere constitutes a kind of “membrane” over the planet surface; it is an aggregate of all living matter and it functions as a unified whole. Vernadsky’s theories have made considerable impact on contemporary ecology. 10 See the phenomenon of “rediscovery” of forgotten texts or their “reconstruction” out of the remaining fragments 11 Here, Lotman explicitly cites Andrei Tarkovsky’s treatment of memory in his film The Mirror (1975) ([1985] 1992, 201).


memory base of the universal culture, or the semiosphere. As such, culture is an “independent structure able to accumulate and generate information” (Lotman 1992, 220). Based on culture’s historical and semantic depth, this independence is what makes any culture irreducible to any today’s power interests and commercial needs. Independence means perenniality and continuity: in Lotman’s (1998) symptomatic comment on Umberto Eco’s famous novel, “the rose withers but the word ‘rose’ persists” in multiple inscriptions and readings. This is the perenniality not of a particular interpretation of a text or a symbol but of the text itself, with all its ambiguity and heterogeneity. In short, according to Lotman (although he was not a religious person), theologies come and go but the Book stays. This concept of culture’s autonomy does not imply static juxtaposition with the biological and physical structure. Culture is “a structure which is inserted into the outside world, which [the structure] draws it in itself and throws it out in a changed form, organized according to this structure” (1992, 207). Similarly, the independence of culture does not imply the substantive distinction between symbolic behavior and other types of social action. Lotman explicitly opposes this distinction inherent in Soviet cultural politics aimed at administering and propagating “specifically cultural” activities like art. In his treatment, culture is a dimension of any human action. Whatever any action does, it involves processing, organizing, preserving and generating information. Even the most natural function of survival and reproduction is mediated through cultural mechanisms of classification and textualization. This position diverges significantly from early Moscow and Tartu structuralism. In earlier perspectives, culture was not only modeled on natural language but also deemed to be a kind of superstructure reliant on linguistic resources and circumscribed by language. Language was seen as essentially pre-cultural and non-ideological. In contrast, the idea of the semiosphere and the independence of culture implies that “the semiotic sphere [is] necessary for the existence and functioning of language,… [it] has a prior existence and is in constant interaction with languages… Outside the semiosphere there can be neither communication, nor language” (1990, 123-124). In a sense, semiotic space precedes “system” and text precedes language. Hence, culture as the semiosphere of human existence is an ontological, but not biological, foundation of specifically human action, language and thought. One implication has been formulated by Dmitry Segal (1974, 96): what was traditionally regarded as purely economic and political activity was, in fact, a complex system of purely semiotic behavior in which material transactions were only the outer expression of symbolic content. ‘Honor’, ‘glory’, ‘duty’ , and other notions of feudal ethos organized the exchange of ‘gifts’ and ‘services.’ Another implication is that the very nature of cultural symbols makes them resistant to political appropriations. Culture is, by its very nature, an inexhaustible reservoir of the means for any form of emancipation (cf. Schönle 2006). Such is the core of Lotman’s theory of culture. Under this broad heading, a number of smaller empirical and conceptual projects thrived. Some of them tend to rely more heavily on the structuralist and classical philological heritage of the School. Others are tacitly or overtly engaged with such trends as the “New History” and anti-teleological historicism (neohistoricism) similar to the one of French “new philosophers” of the 1960s-70s. In what follows, I will introduce two major directions of Tartu research, cultural typology and cultural dynamics.


The Project of the Universal Typology Cultural typology is a way to detect order and find one’s way in the immense space of the semiosphere by illuminating partial analogies between various loci in the continuum of human history. The work of typology is to organize difference, to express it in a uniform way. The introduction of the (phon)emic analysis into linguistics by Jakobson’s structuralism gave rise to the hopes of founding the comparative study of cultures on the firm “scientific” basis of structural typology. In response to this call, Claude Levi-Strauss postulated the taxonomic (“tabular”) space as a logical grid for plotting cultural isolates. Similarly, in his 1968 letter to Roman Jakobson, Viacheslav Ivanov expressed his solidarity with the plans “to construct something like the general system of distinctive features for various types” of culture. 12 In effect, he hoped to get a kind of “Periodic System,” or a set universal binary oppositions alike the system outlined by Jakobson for phonology. Moreover, Ivanov hoped to predict possible and unknown permutations of these oppositions and thus “possible cultures.” The aim of this “theory of potential culture” (as opposed to “actual” one) was to differentiate between deep homologies and superficial analogies among cultures and thus establish the fixed logical carcass for human history (see Chernov 1976; Ivanov 1986). The words of Osip Mandelstam (1979, 117) summarize this project well, even though they explicitly refer to Henri Bergson’s philosophy: Bergson does not consider phenomena according to the way they submit to the law of temporal succession, but rather according to their spatial extension. He is interested exclusively in the internal connection among phenomena. He liberates this connection from time and considers it independently. Phenomena thus connected to one another form, as it were, a kind of fan whose folds can be opened up in time; however, this fan may also be closed up in a way intelligible to the human mind. In his influential Essays on the Typology of Culture, Yuri Lotman (1970; 1973d) goes even further: as Dmitry Segal (1974, 86) summarized his project, “one speaks of typology of cultures in the Western tradition vs. typology of culture as adopted in the Soviet school.” Indeed, Lotman (1973d) targeted his project of cultural typology at nothing less than “the logical-deductive definition of the essence of the phenomenon of culture as a constant structure without which the existence of the humanity is impossible.” In effect, he came up with “the most self-conscious and ambitious program for cultural classification that we yet have,” according to Frederick Jameson’s (1988, 166) evaluation. In particular, Lotman proposed a number of distinctive features based on the major conceptual oppositions of the structuralist framework like metaphor vs. metonymy, syntactic vs. semantic, paradigm vs. syntagm, and rhetoric vs. stylistic. He anticipated that the resultant grid will allow one to plot different “native theories” (self-descriptions) and even sophisticated theories of culture and history without necessarily following either of them. Typology was a means of establishing distance between the researcher, her ideological background and the object of her interest. Indeed, Lotman and his colleagues seemed to have achieved some success in this direction. Their multiple typological distinctions often went beyond simple variations within the traditional teleological narrative of tradition vs. modernity or myth vs. reason. For instance, Lotman adopted William Frazer’s famous distinction between magic and religion precisely because it was hard to plot it on the temporal axes: according to Frazer, the magic is both primordial and modern, since science is magic reincarnate (Lotman 1990, 254-268).


Ivanov to Jakobson, February 1, 1968 (JC, box 42, folder 30).


In effect, Tartu typologies aim at a kind of encyclopedia of different, often overlapping and intersecting, tropes of Western and Russian anthropology and cultural history, without privileging any of them.13 In different papers, Tartu semioticians introduce such analytical oppositions as metaphorical vs. metonymic, paradigmatic (hierarchical) vs. syntagmatic, closed (past-, or origin-oriented) vs. open (future-, or redemption-oriented), cosmological vs. historical, central and peripheral, as well as classicist and romantic cultures (e.g. Lotman 1970; 1973d; 1990). It is mandatory to mention that, at least in Lotman’s (1970) usage, these oppositions should not be interpreted as substantive, or ontological, distinctions between well-bounded entities. Rather, Lotman treats these distinctions as relational and nested. For instance, depending on what Russian culture is compared to, to English or Indian culture, for example, it can be seen as “cosmological” and “closed” or “historical” and “open.” Also, a poet is a Romantic not as such, according to her “essence,” but with respect to the horizon of significances against which we consider her. Furthermore, Lotman’s typological distinctions are comparable to what Andrew Abbott calls “fractal distinctions,” that is the distinctions that repeat their oppositional patterns within each of the terms of the opposition (2001, 9). For instance, despite the difference between sexes, the opposition between “male” and “female” gender roles is reproduced within each sex. According to Lotman, this kind of fractal doubling is the nature of any text and any human individual. Each individual constitutes a border case and an interplay between different gender identities (see Lotman 1992, 255-256). Thus Lotman’s typologies potentially provide a considerably flexible repertoire of categories for describing and comparing different cultures. Yet, this project encountered a few serious difficulties early on. This framework’s greatest problem is its inability to provide a clue to how and why a culture is as it is. Of course, one can relegate the account of cultural production to the next, “historical” and empirical stage of research. Yet, this is easier to say than do. In fact, typologies are already imbued with historical narratives they purport to plot and formalize in an “objective” manner. These narratives resist being presented as just logical oppositions of distinctive features. Despite all attempts to “bracket off” their implicit ontological and historical connotations, (topo)logical oppositions persistently lead culturologists back to the basic master-narratives of the modern mind. For instance, in the works of Vladimir Toporov (1973a), the typological distinction between “cosmological” and “historical” texts brought him back to the historical distinction between pre- and postAxenzeit humanity.14 Similarly, Lotman transforms the typological distinctions between metaphorical and metonymic cultures into the temporal succession between medieval and Enlightenment cultures (Lotman 1973a). Another problem, which Tartu scholars encountered in the course of constructing the universal cultural typology, was irreducible inexactness of terminology. If linguists have hard time establishing the finite number of universal distinctive features beyond phonology, this is immensely more complicated for culture. Consequently, the prospect of the deductive theory of culture appeared to be even more distant than Tartu scholars were prepared to expect. Yet, there is no evidence that they came to the conclusion that their typological project “is not only an inelegant solution, but probably hopeless” (Sahlins 1985, xvi). Instead, they just downsized their conceptual work to the level of their immediate expertise. In 13

A number of Tartu-related scholars, especially Eliazar Meletinsky and Vladimir Toporov, played crucial role in creating a blockbuster of the Soviet “black market,” the two-volume Mify narodov mira (The myths of the peoples of the world), which was published in 1980. 14 See Karl Jaspers’ (1969) idea that human civilization, as we know it, has been greatly shaped by a series of cultural innovations like Buddhism and Greek philosophy which emerged in a number of isolated civilizations at approximately the same time, between the 6th century BC and the 2nd century AB.


particular, Ivanov and Toporov concentrated on the underlying archetypical and invariant aspects of the “world-pictures” of Indo-European and Slavic cultural domains (Ivanov and Toporov 1969; Ivanov 1984). Similarly, Lotman and Uspensky focused on the medieval and early modern history of Russian culture and thus produced some of the most influential recent studies on these subjects. In what follows, I demonstrate that, although Tartu scholars never abandoned the idea of universal typology, they effectively settled with a number of disjoined and often ad hoc categorical oppositions, presumably arising from empirical data itself but often strikingly reminiscent of the classical oppositions of tradition vs. modernity, myth vs. reason, and Russia vs. West.15 The Tartu works on the “semiotics of Russian culture” are relatively wellknown and substantively rich examples of this settlement in practice. Russian Culture and the Idea of Perennial Dualism The decade between 1975 and 1985 may be called the Decade of the Semiotics of Russian Culture in the history of the Tartu School. In this period, a series of large articles, often cosigned by Lotman and Uspensky, appeared in the Tartu Works on Slavic and Russian Philology (TRSF) and other publications dedicated to various aspects of medieval and early modern Russian history. The “semiotic” nature of these studies implied the shift in historical research from the “commonplaces” of Soviet historiography (that is the assumptions of social progress, class struggle, Russian backwardness and the quest for causal explanation). Although Tartu scholars rarely confronted the supposedly Marxist framework of mainstream Soviet scholarship, they tended to ignore or downplay Soviet works on relevant historical periods. The majority of citations were coming from the originals or historical studies from the eighteenth century to the 1920s (see Lotman and Uspensky [1977]1984).16 Just like the whole Tartu project, even more strikingly, the studies on Russian culture exemplified the pose of originating the “leap forward through deliberate posture of backwardness.”17 Instead of considering cultural processes as “reflections” or “ideologies” above and in addition to the “infrastructural” processes of social development, Lotman and Uspensky announced most important historical shifts and conflicts properly semiotic and even philological in nature (see B. Uspensky [1986] 1994). According to Tartu semioticians, historical ruptures like the “Schism” (raskol) in the Russian Orthodox Church in the seventeenth century or the Westernizing reforms of Peter the Great were essentially the results of the misunderstandings in the course of transmitting messages between social groups, nations and even epochs (B.Uspensky 1976). They were effects of the clash between languages and attitudes to signification. For instance, the damaging raskol between the supporters of the new rites and the stringent adherents of the old ones (the Old Believers) was, according to Boris Uspensky (1992), more than just a preparation for the opening up of Russia to the West or a sign of resistance to the consolidation of the absolutist monarchy. 15

The sign of this transition is that, while most of the works of typology were published in Sémeiotiké, the Tartu classical works on culture were publishes in specifically philological journals and collections (e.g. TRSF). 16 One of the most frequent exceptions was Dmitry Likhachev, the key Russian medieval historian of the late twentieth century. As an academician and a high official in the academic Institute of Russian Literature in Leningrad, Likhachev was one of Lotman’s most rewarding allies in the matters of publishing and procuring research agendas. An aristocrat and a former prisoner of the gulag, Likhachev—in his own words—“had pleasure” in assisting people he considered “true” members of the intelligentsia. As he wrote in his 1958 letter to Lotman, “I love to be of use to any good person” (LC, F135, s.801). 17 Boris Gasparov, lecture.


According to Uspensky, these explanations do not account for the unique significance of the issue of “correct sign” in this conflict. The Old Believers and the reformers differed in their attitude to Orthodox ritual and Slavonic orthography. The former professed “sacramental materialism” and thus believed that any change in the outward symbols of faith leads to the change of faith and thus betrayal of the Orthodoxy. The latter adopted a Baroque idea of the detachability between the sign and its meaning. That is, Boris Uspensky approached this conflict as the one about the concepts of (Orthodox and Russian) “tradition” between the adherents of non-conventional and conventional attitudes to signification. Thus, behind conflicts of classes, political groups and religions, Tartu semioticians discover basic typological oppositions of cultural attitudes. This is the key methodological stance that guides Lotman and Uspensky’s important studies on the politics of the Schism and Tsar Peter’s modernization. Another related stance is the critique of the theories of progress and modernization, the theories that treat these crucial events of Russian history as cases of the struggle between modernity and tradition, or “new” and “old.” In a series of papers, Lotman and Uspensky demonstrate that the very distinction between “old” and “new” is not a historical fact but a mythological trope arbitrarily related to specific historical events and circumstances. It particular, they draw our attention to the fact that, after the “baptism” of Russia in the tenth century, Christianity was associated with the “new ways” while paganism was considered “old.” Yet, after the fifteenth century, this distinction was reversed: most written sources indicate the identification of “the new ways” with both paganism and Western Christianity. Tsar Peter preserved this interpretation but reversed valuations from plus to minus and vice versa: “’to remember ‘ meant to be an ignoramus, ‘to forget’–to be enlightened” (Lotman and Uspensky [1977] 1984, 16). Furthermore, Tartu semioticians argue that the “old ways” traditionalisms were culturally more radical than the “new ways” modernisms that were “paradoxically combined with the activation of extremely archaic cultural models” ([1977] 1984, 7). At the same time, the stringent guardians of tradition, the Old Believers, “rejected the whole social order in the name of the natural one [and thus came up with] the most profound negation anticipating Rousseau’s and [Leo] Tolstoj’s ideas.” Their image of the old ways “aimed at breaking with actual historical tradition” ([1977] 1984, 15). Similarly, according to Lotman and Uspensky, Tsar Peter did not simply introduce new, i.e. Western, customs to Russian society. His specific choice of symbolic gestures, like transferring the capital to the borderland, giving it a “German” name and renaming himself an “emperor,” to mention just a few of his innovations, were more indebted to the indigenous interpretation of such acts than to some genuinely “Western” agenda. All these gestures “fitted already preexisting images” of pagan and unholy behavior, or “anti-behavior,” within Russian cultural memory (B.Uspensky 1976, 57). According to Boris Uspensky, Tsar Peter forged his image of the West and “Westernized Russia” out of the local resources of “antibehavior.” To be sure, if this was a self-conscious act on the part of Peter and his comrades, wider masses followed this pattern more automatically. As Uspensky likes to reiterate, when Peter forced his soldiers to shave their beards–a sign of Orthodoxy for most people–and wear Western costumes–associated with carnival, or “reverse” drag,–soldiers started to behave “accordingly,” i.e. rape, pillage and harass their own compatriots (see Lotman and Uspenskij 1984). In other words, both traditionalists and reformers invented their cherished and despised traditions, “Western” and “Russian,” “pagan” and “Christian.” So far so good. We have an account of invented traditions, selective memory and discursive hegemony. The “new” appears to be made out of existing symbolic resources and in view of existing horizons of expectations. The “old” turns to us with its freshly polished surface of made-up “antiquity.” This “tradition” makes sense only within specific social and symbolic oppositions – between Westernized elites and “indigenous” people, between state 151

and intelligentsia – which were not envisioned in the past to which this tradition is supposed to refer. Simultaneously, while the Westernized elites seem to be successful in implementing some of their agenda, the effects of their polices are identical to neither their original intentions nor Western sources of their inspiration. “Europeanization” was not only imposed from above but also generated, resisted and invented “from below.” As Lotman and Uspensky formulated these ideas, The subjective “Europeanization” of life had nothing in common with any real convergence with Western life-style, and at the same time definitely influenced the setting up of anti-Christian forms such as had certainly never been possible in the life of the Christian West. This can be seen in the case, for example, of serf harems, an institution that was quite impossible (in a completely open and public form) in prePetrine life, but which became quite normal in the eighteenth century. Serf harems were not a survival from older times… ([1977] 1984, 21-22). If we temporarily bracket Lotman and Uspensky’s tendency to essentialize the “Christian West” and focus on the texts produced by the educated clergy and nobility, it seems that we witness a genuine alternative to both modernization theories and binary typologies. This perspective does not seem to require any holistic characterizations of Russian culture as such. On the contrary, it seems to invite interesting comparisons with contemporary and analogical processes of “Westernization,” from Germany to India. Simultaneously, Lotman and Uspensky’s studies clearly imply attention to what Sahlins (1985) called a historical “structure of the conjuncture,” or “the practical realization of the cultural categories in a special historical context, as expressed in the interested action of the historical agents, including the microsociology of their interaction” (Sahlins 1985, xiv). Yet, these motives are often outbalanced in Lotman and Uspensky’s cultural semiotics by a peculiar form of cultural essentialism. In opposition to the mainstream insistence on the deep rupture between tradition and modernity, as well as pre- and postPetrine Russia, the Tartu scholarship tends to underline structural continuities. By itself, this emphasis is not problematic; it resembles Fernand Braudel’s “long sixteenth century” or, more closely, Nancy Kollmann’s suggestions about the “long early modern period” in Russian history from 1600 to 1800.18 Similarly, Lotman uses the idea of uneven development to point to the different speeds with which different social spheres and institutions change. However, this thinking is not what distinguishes Lotman and Uspensky’s works on Russian culture. These works are more famous, or notorious, for the attempt to reduce the whole Russian national history to a number of perennial “models,” or developmental patterns, supposedly characteristic for Russian culture. Most famously, Lotman and Uspenskij (1984) truncate the emergent and hybrid cultural forms described above to the level of a simple pattern they call “binary (or dual) models.” The idea that “dual models in the dynamics of culture” are essential for understanding Russian history has been first formulated in Lotman and Uspensky ([1977] 1984) and refined to the full-fledged opposition between West and Russia in Lotman’s last book (1992). It is based on a particular interpretation of the semiotic studies of Russian culture. As we have seen, Lotman and Uspensky convincingly demonstrated the relational, not substantive, nature of the oppositions between “new” and “old,” “modern” and “traditional,” “Western” and “Russian,” as well as “elite” and “popular.” With respect to Tsar Peter’s epoch, Tartu culturologists argued that 18

“Beneath the obvious and dramatic changes in political ideology, institutions, and high culture, much about Muscovy changed slowly, if at all” (Kollmann 1999, 251).


the intense rapidity of the Petrine transformations, the very idea of speed and urgency which gripped the minds of Peter’s Europeanized comrades in arms was in complementary correlation with the Old Believer consciousness which was extratemporal and in principle anti-historical. The one was impossible without the other (Lotman and Uspenskij 1984, xiii). Yet the next immediate step in the discourse of Tartu culturologists was to proclaim this “correlation,” especially its binary character, a specific and perennial feature of Russian cultural history. By inserting this correlation into the series of “extremely similar events” throughout the history of Russia, the authors come up with the following opposition: The basic cultural values in the system of medieval Russia are arranged in a bipolar value field divided by a sharp line and without any neutral axiological zone… [On the contrary,] in …medieval West we find a wide band of neutral behavior and there are neutral social institutions which are neither ‘holy’ nor ‘sinful,’ neither ‘state organized’ nor ‘anti-state,’ they are neither good nor bad. This neutral space becomes a structural reserve from which tomorrow’s system develops. Since continuity is obvious here there is no need either to emphasize it structurally or establish it consciously and artificially. [In contrast,] the Russian medieval system was constructed on a marked dualism… Dualism and the absence of a neutral axiological zone led to the new being regarded not as a continuation but as an eschatological replacement of everything… change takes place as a radical rejection of the preceding stage. The natural result of this was that the new emerged not from the structurally ‘unexplored’ reserve, but as a result of the transformation of the old, as it were, of its being turned inside out. In this way repeated changes could in fact lead to the regeneration of archaic forms… It is this deep developmental structures which enable us to speak of the unity of Russian culture at the various stages of its history. It is in change that the unchanging is revealed (Lotman and Uspensky [1977]1984, 4-5). To sum up by means of using Lotman and Uspensky’s example, Western Catholic culture is tri-partite, it allows for purgatory between hell and heaven, while Russian Orthodox culture is binary, it does not allow for purgatory. While the “ternary system attempts to adapt the idea to reality,” “the binary one [attempts] to fulfill the unrealizable in practice” (Lotman 1992, 258). Thus, if the former allows for development, continuity and learning, the latter provides only for inside-out reversals between ready-made oppositions of practices and symbols. Yet, it is precisely the ruptured character of Russian history that produces its continuous perennial pattern. Boris Gasparov (1996b) succinctly summarized these and other binary cultural oppositions as oppositions between “Roman imperial and Catholic traditions with their cult of laws and institutions” and Russian Orthodox tradition of unconditional trust, moral absolutism and mythogenic logocentrism.19 Although it is hard to agree with Gasparov that Lotman’s value preferences are unambiguously on the “Russian” side, he rightly points to 19

Lotman, to my knowledge, never employed this concept of Derrida. Yet, it has been recently often used in respect to both Russian culture and Tartu semiotics. For instance, Mikhail Lotman noted in his interview to me (Tartu, November 2001): “while Russian culture is explicitly logocentric and phonocentric, Tartu semiotics is [a form] of its self-consciousness”. This statement has a particular relevance to what Lotman and Uspensky ([1975] 1994) describe as the “Russian attitude to the word”: the Word as an inherently authoritative utterance (cf. Bakhtin’s (1990) philosophy of the word as a morally and existentially “responsible act”).


Lotman and Uspensky’s tendency to collapse various oppositions around preconceived dilemmas. Importantly, this way of collapsing is unacceptable from the point of view of the initial models of “periodic system” and distinctive features. In these models, the oppositions were meant to be relational rather than substantial. However, by superimposing a multitude of ad hoc oppositions along the Russia-West imaginary borderline, Tartu semioticians create an impression, and fall prey to this impression themselves, that they describe two nonrelational substances with fixed attributes. In effect, they produce an image of the perennial Russian “cultural language” 20 and Russian history as a series of variations within constraints imposed by the basic “models” implicit in this language. Consequently, Soviet semioticians reintroduce the concepts of ancestry and origin, expunged by structuralism. As a temporal series of substantially varied but structurally identical epochs, Russian history appears to form a perfect hereditary lineage. In this lineage, new generations have no other choice but to assign new contents to the same “genetically” predisposed set of formal functions. Be this as it may, we have seen how a rather unrealistic project of universal typology evolved into a number of versions of cultural relativism. Opposed to the Soviet Marxist and Eurocentric notion of social progress, this conception rejected, at least theoretically, the concepts of “developmental stage,” “backwardness” or “modernization.” In effort to understand the patterns of the Petrine Westernization, Lotman and Uspensky pointed to the diachronic analogies with the Byzantine Christianization of Russia in 988 rather than to any simultaneous processes in Europe or in Asia (Lotman [1989] 1992a). In Lotman’s words, “the [Petrine] secularization of culture did not affect the deep structural foundations of the national model developed during preceding centuries. The set of functions was preserved, although their material substrates changed” (Lotman 1994d, 367). Instead of “cultural influence,” Lotman and Uspensky were concerned about decontextualization, reframing, and ultimately cultural production, rather than re-production of the Western exemplars within local models. Thus, they approached the issues of local agency but interpreted it in terms of the holistic agency of Russian culture as such. In sum, the Tartu semiotics of Russian culture allowed its authors to solve a number of intellectual problems. It equipped them with relativistic critique of traditional theories of modernization and progress. It allowed them to escape from the dead-end of the ambitious but unrealistic project of universal typology. However, perennialist cultural semiotics as an intellectual strategy contained a serious flaw, the tendency to “ontologize” culture (Piatigorsky 1994, 326). That is, structuralist categories and oppositions, instead of being treated as research tools, turned into the laws of the nature. In effect, Tartu culturologists made themselves very vulnerable to accusations of simply reiterating the traditional selfOrientalizing Russian historiosophy (Amelin and Pil’shchikov 1998; Zaretsky and Peskov 1998).21 Furthermore, as deeply convinced empiricists in their attitude to theory-building, the Tartu scholars, especially Lotman, must have been aware of the weak explanatory power of their schemas. One obvious problem with the School’s reliance on persistent “cultural models” for explaining specific historical phenomena is that they do not explain why this and not other object or practice (for example, national literature, duel or salon) perform a 20

“The language of culture” is not just a metaphor but also an indication of the parallelism between language and culture. For instance, in the manner of linguistic relativism, Boris Uspensky (1994a) argues for the parallelism between cultural “binary models” and linguistic “diglossia” in medieval Russia. 21 This term is frequently used by critics. Indeed, Lotman and Uspenskii’s “models” often reproduce Nikolai Berdiaev’s ideas on Russian essential dualism, maximalism, tendency for self-surrender and so on (see Zaretsky and Peskov 1998).


presumably perennial function in the studied period. Another problem has been recently pointed out by Viktor Zhivov (Zhivov 2002). He demonstrated that many Tartu generalizations about Russian culture were simply extrapolations from the ideologies implicit in selected official or elite sources. Finally, Tartu perennialism does not imply any way of tackling with modernity and individuality, the topics of utmost importance for Lotman. It seems plausible to suppose that, at least, Lotman was aware of these problems. This might be one reason why his actual research practice was never just a realization of a single theory. In fact, there were always more than one theoretical perspective and research framework present in his work. The logic of taxonomic structuralism and relativistic culturalism coexisted with Marxist and other assumptions.22 For Lotman’s sensitivity to contradictions and his interest in art’s social production, Mikhail Gasparov (1996c) even called him a Marxist, not in his “system” (theory and ideology) but in his “dialectical method.” This sensitivity found its most adequate realization in Lotman’s other brainchild, his project of cultural dynamics also developed in the 1970s. Lotman’s Theory of Cultural Dynamics and Neo-Historicism The point of departure for Lotman’s theory of cultural dynamics is an overtly simple idea that, to experience something as culture, it should be opposed to something that is deemed non-culture (Lotman and Uspensky 1971). This is a high abstraction from such “cultural universals” as the oppositions between cosmos and chaos, life and death, man and female, us and them. However, in contrast to Levi-Strauss’s culture vs. nature distinction, Lotman’s opposition does not have substantive connotations. As already mentioned, it is purely relational and can be filled with any substance. For instance, sexuality, femininity or the Orient is by no means necessarily assigned to the right term of the opposition: one can easily imagine cultural idioms in which femininity and the Orient are forces of the self rather than the Other (cf. Butler 1999, 48). In any case, Tartu scholars seem to be conscious of the possible accusations of Eurocentrism and sexism. They wish to make sure that their intentions are well-understood: they only want to say that “each culture will need such an opposition [in which] only ‘culture’ will serve as a marked member” (Lotman and Uspensky 1971). What specific things and acts are classified on the left side of the opposition is a matter of specific cultural types and historical contingencies. Furthermore, whereas “the native” defines her culture in opposition to non-culture, this opposition itself is a ”cultural phenomenon” for the semiotic observer (Ivanov et al. 1973, 4). In contrast to what might be called a “natural attitude” of the culture’s insiders, the semiotic framework is able to envision that the inter-cultural images of “our” culture and “their” non-culture are constituted in the course of repeated “mutual breaches of the cultural sphere into chaos and of chaos into the cultural sphere” (1973, 5). That is, both are cultural constructions; both are the distinctions made within the same semiotic ecology, or the semiosphere (see Lotman 1990). For instance, the distinction between worthy and unworthy to remember presumes the memory of the both. This is in the basis of Renan’s paradox, as described by Benedict Anderson: “Renan’s readers were being told to ‘have already forgotten’ what Renan’s own words assumed that they naturally remembered!” (Anderson 1991, 200).


For instance, Lotman frequently operated with Jakob Burckhardt-type portrayal of cultural evolution as a wave-like change of cultural types like Renaissance and Baroque (see Chernov 1976). Simultaneously, when he talked about “progressive” (peredovye) and “retrograde” actors, he revealed his liberal progressist common sense.


In the context of this shift from the natural to semiotic attitude, the Tartu idea of culture as text acquires new meaning. To conceptualize culture as the text is to view it as a dynamic space in various codes, voices and standpoints are exchanged, transformed and generated. According to Lotman, culture is not a unified and homogeneous sign system, as Soviet or Western structuralists tended to picture it. It is not a well-bounded unit as perceived by cultural relativists. Rather, the “culture of a group is a sum total of languages and… each member [of such group] is a ‘polyglot’ of sorts” (1970, 7). In another piece, Lotman defines culture as a collective, “superindividual intelligence” able to process culturally relevant information in the form of “culture texts” (1978b, 16). Defined this way, culture as text and intelligence cannot be singular. For it to exist, there should be at least two cultures (Lotman 1990). “The development of culture, as any act of creative mind, is an act of exchange and thus constantly presupposes the other, the partner in this act” ([1983] 1992, 117).23 Culture exists in constant transgression and establishment of inner and outer borders. To rephrase Lotman’s dictum slightly, from the point of view of mechanism, there is no difference between the interaction of different texts within one culture [originally, “national literature”] and texts of different cultures… We can only speculatively (umozritel’no) divide the interaction and immanent development of … cultures ([1983] 1992, 111). Culture’s frontline outposts are established through negotiations of internal divisions and the other way around. An implication is that no culture has a monopoly on its products, from texts to human agents (which Lotman considers a kind of texts). Due to their intertextuality, any cultural object can simultaneously be projected on multiple cultural contexts. Similarly, human agents are entangled in multiple cultural narratives: for instance, Lotman himself can be perceived against such backgrounds as European civilization, Russian culture, culture of Leningrad intelligentsia, Russian academic ethos, secularized Jewishness, Russian subculture in Estonia, and Tartu vaim (the “Tartu Spirit”). As Mikhail Gasparov likes to say, the personality (lichnost’) is “a node in the intersection of social relations” (2000b, 86). Overall, like Mikhail Bakhtin (1986, 170), Lotman might have stated that culture exists on the borders of different cultures. A homogeneous and single-voiced culture is a contradiction in terms for him. However, in comparison to the father of dialogism, as well as Western proponents of hybridity and fluidity of boundaries, Lotman is also interested in how cultures satisfy another property of texts, to be robust and distinct from the environment. Indeed, how do cultures manage to avoid falling into complete disarray, or unchecked increase in entropy? How is a relative continuity of different readings of culture texts is preserved? How do people manage to find common languages under the conditions of essential “impossibility” of translation (see Lotman 1990)? Ultimately, how do cultures perform their structuring role despite their essential polyglottism? Lotman’s answer is as follows: by means of undertaking periodic acts of homogenization, primarily through “self-descriptions.” Self-description, or “metamechanism,” is an attempt to reduce complexity and unpredictability of any specific cultural field by increasing the tightness and predictability of links between its various sites. Self23

This paper is one of the main references in this section. Entitled “Toward the construction of the theory of the interactions between cultures: A semiotic aspect,” this paper was originally published in one of the Tartu University Acta volumes, which was not edited by Lotman himself. This may be one of the reasons why this important paper is les widely cited then his papers published in Sémeiotiké and TRSF.


description is an attempt to increase culture’s organization. This is achieved by privileging one of particular culture’s “languages,” or codes, out of their multiplicity and, by means of this language, formulating culture’s ideal self-portrait (Lotman 1978b, 17). In effect, some of [culture’s] aspects are proclaimed non-structural, that is nonexistent. ‘Incorrect texts’ are massively excluded from cultural memory. Other texts are canonized and put into a rigid hierarchical structure… The metamechanism creates not only a particular canon of the synchronic state of culture but also a version of the diachronic process. It actively selects texts not only from the present but also from preceding states of culture and institutes its own, simplified, model of the historical movement of culture as normative (Lotman 1977, 143). The need for such master-narratives emerges, according to Lotman, in the times of sudden social explosions or external interferences. At these points, complexity and unpredictability of a cultural space threatens to cross the threshold beyond which any sense of continuity and oneness loses meaning. At these moments, cultural elites produce unifying symbols, origin myths and nationalistic ideologies which serve as maps of the disintegrating landscape (1992, 35). In effect, the cultural space becomes divided internally into culture and non-culture, included and excluded, true and existent vs. false and nonexistent. Thus, where culture’s insiders and cultural essentialists tend to see the opposition between “culture” and “non-culture” (i.e. “nature” or simply “nothing important”), Lotman sees the intracultural opposition between center and periphery, the dominant world-image and the excluded, or subaltern, perspective. 24 In effect, he significantly enlarges the field of analysis: what seemed to be disorderly and irrational from the point of view of the dominant actors appears to have its own rationality to be reconstructed by semioticians and historians. In Lotman’s words, The meta-description of culture is not its skeleton but one of its structural poles; for researchers, it is not a ready solution but a material for study, one of the mechanisms of culture in constant struggle with other mechanisms ([1983]1992, 120). Here, Lotman hits the core point of Tartu culturology. Culture is not a system of rules, however complex and hierarchical, as Jakobson and Levi-Strauss seemed to argue. Culture (and cultures) is a repertoire of texts, polyglot, multiply coded and characterized by high degree of indeterminacy of the ways in which they can be extended in social action. The image of “the system of rules” is itself a product of privileging particular texts and presenting their master reading as canonic. Yet, the excluded cultural objects and practices do not disappear, they accumulate at the periphery of the official memory as a vast “archive of anomalies” (1992, 162). Without this archive, culture would not have resources for selfrenewal and the adaptation to the changing social environment. The periphery is not only an archive of abandoned paths and voices; it is also a reservoir of future possibilities and resources. The relational nature of culture vs. non-culture opposition implies that central and peripheral loci, actors and texts do not simply coexist statically but interact. Dominant ideologies invade peripheral communities by sending soldiers and priests along the roads built around the capital. This is an example of what Lotman calls the homogenizing “aggression of [hegemonic] nomination” of the center to the periphery (Lotman 1992, 26). 24

Neither Lotman nor his colleagues cite Maurice Halbwachs’ (1992) and Edward Shils’ (1975) seminal statements on center and periphery. It seems that this categories were “in the air.”


Simultaneously, peripheries send their children to work and study to the capitals and thus, at least, increase internal diversity of the central loci and provide resources for challenging hegemonic discourses. Furthermore, the interaction between central and peripheral loci can reach a point when they switch places: for example, Peter the Great moved his capital to the Western borderland of the empire and the workers moved into prestigious downtown neighborhoods of Russian cities after 1917 (Lotman 1990, 143-150). Furthermore, Lotman does not treat the opposition between center and periphery as an exclusively ideological opposition. The spatial connotations in his works are by no means just metaphors; they point to the differentiation of actual material sites. The altar is the center of the church space but church is the center of the village whereas the capital is the center of the country. The whole cultural space can be pictured as a hierarchy of such distinctions superimposed upon one another to produce a complex, polyglot and non-binary landscape of materially inscribed semiotic interactions. This materialistic and dialectical conception of center and periphery leads Lotman to conclude that what seems to be an effort to reduce complexity and unpredictability in fact increases these qualities. Meta-narratives and hegemonic sites may order some relations but they also produce unexpected consequences which increase the general entropy of culture. Every new step in cultural development increases, not exhausts, the informational value of culture and thus it increases, not diminishes, culture’s internal indeterminacy, its set of possibilities which are left unrealized ([1983]1992, 119). For instance, “the development of science and technology [in the fifteenth-seventeenth centuries] did not diminish but increased the irrational unpredictability of life” (1988a, 103). Lotman further argues that the stress produced by the speeding up of the historical time led to the mass hysteria of witch-hunts and inquisition, the things virtually unknown during high Middle Ages (see also Gurevich 1985 and Ginzburg 1980). These kinds of observations lead Tartu scholars to oppose the nineteenth century image of history as progress toward more rational, orderly and presumably free existence. They repeatedly criticize what they call “Hegelian [and Marxist] historicism” for teleology, reduction of eventful contingency, multiple possibilities and evolutionary detours (Lotman 1969; 1990; Toporov 1973a). According to Lotman, this teleological vision of history conceived [of it] as directed toward specific targets known to the researcher. The very supposition that it could have contained in itself essentially different possibilities has not been permitted. From this point of view, it was believed that Russian literature, from its inception, had the only possibility, to reach Tolstoy and Dostoevsky by the nineteenth century… The researcher considers what has actually happened as the only possible… the impact of the researcher’s metalanguage on the material is perceived as uncovering the immanent orderliness of the cultural process ([1983]1992, 118-119). If the Hegelian historiosophy was true, it would mean that the redundancy and predictability in history is imminently rising. This would be particularly true for those who “lag behind” along the highway of progress. Yet, Lotman claims, the opposite is the case: the products of westernization and modernization are by no means predictable imitations of ready-made Western models (Lotman [1986] 1993). In interpreting these observations, Lotman returns to the idea of cultural heterogeneity but clarifies it with the idea of cultural unevenness. He argues that each culture “is a complex whole composed of layers of different speed so that its synchronic [current] slice reveals coexistence of different stages” (1992, 25). Here, Marx meets Jakobson: both interpreted, from 158

their different vantage points, the today’s structural complexity of society (culture, language) as a result of the superimposition of different historical epochs. Yet, if Marx still hoped that previous stages would subsequently die out, Russian Formalists and semioticians insisted, together with Osip Mandelstam, on the fundamental nature of the simultaneous coexistence of layers: today’s culture is such only as long as “all epochs coexist” in it (see Levin et al. 1974, 89). Tartu semioticians never got tired of repeating that “nothing in culture is superfluous” and “every meaning will have its homecoming festival” (see Torop 2000b; Bakhtin 1986, 170). This understanding of culture as memory and memory as an archive of previous history was shared by most Tartu scholars as a specification of the larger “archaist discourse” overviewed in chapter three. They all shared a sense that remembering is a paramount cultural mechanism and a moral imperative. However, the theory of artistic text and culture developed by Lotman leads him along the path significantly different from the one taken by his colleagues, especially Ivanov and Toporov, the leaders of the Moscow mythopoetic studies. As I demonstrated in chapter five, Ivanov and Toporov developed a comprehensive theory of transformational evolution in which they argued that the whole heterogeneous and uneven landscape of contemporary culture can be reduced to whatever long chains of transformations heading back to hypothetical mythical archetypes. Their basic agenda was to provide an empirically sound proof that any cultural form, whatever redundant or meaningless it seems to us, has a function if considered in the perennial and diachronic perspective. In contrast to this highly teleological vision, Lotman’s theory of culture implies a decidedly neo-historicist picture of cultural history more akin to Tynianov’s idea of “literary evolution” than to Jakobson’s “system in diachrony.”25 In this picture, evolutionary strata are not superimposed statically as in fossil bones. They are constantly in feedback relationship. Not only “lower,” or more “ancient,” strata constrain “higher” and “younger” ones but also the other way around. The history of culture is a series of “flashbacks” which not only illuminate the past but also create new texts both in the present and in the past. Therefore, according to Lotman, culture as collective memory is not just a storehouse of the past but also a generator of meanings. “Meanings are not kept but they grow in the memory of culture” ([1985]1992, 202). Therefore, the interest of the culturologist is not limited to the reduction of the heterogeneous to unitary and invariant. He is also concerned about what could have been but have never been, i.e. unrealized possibilities and unwalked paths. These essentially neo-historicist stances within Lotman’s fundamentally archaist discourse saturate in his last books (1990; 1992). Inspired by Ilya Prigogine’s synergetics, Lotman openly faces concepts of chance, unpredictability, discontinuity and open-endedness as no longer “unthinkable” but “scientific facts” (see Lotman’s interview in Torop (2000)). Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers’ (1984) “synergetic” perspective on the far from equilibrium physical systems and their nonlinear dynamics provides him with “scientific” language for addressing cultural unpredictability. In effect, he proposes a model of cultural evolution in which cultures move through the cycles of relatively predictable development 25

Although there are clear resemblances between Lotman’s later conception and Foucault’s “archeology” and “genealogy,” it is unlikely that the latter influenced Lotman. Foucault had a misfortune, in Lotman’s eyes, of being a philosopher, a non-scientist, a non-Slavist and a Leftist intellectual to merit much of Lotman’s attention. To be true, unlike other French theorists, Foucault did not irritate him (Lotman, Mikhail. Interview). This may be because Lotman did not read Foucault’s later works. In any case, Lotman genuinely admired Foucault’s analysis of Velasquez’s Las Meninas in The Order of Things. It is not an accident that this painting appears on the cover of the English edition of Lotman’s Universe of the Mind (1990).


and moments of serendipity, when preceding states of the system do not determine the outcomes. These moments lead to “explosions” (vzryvy) and the establishment of new “paths” out of the continuum of virtually “equiprobable” outcomes. In these situations, history reveals itself as “an irreversible (unbalanced) process …with chance serving as the starter mechanism” (Lotman 1990, 230, 232). Lotman (1990, 233) further specifies Prigogine’s paradigm by claiming that, in human culture, chance often turns into choice made by historical agents: The choice which will be realized depends on a complex of chance circumstances, but even more on the self-awareness of the people involved. This is why at such times speech, discourse, propaganda has especially great historical significance. The introduction of chance, choice and agency into the very heart of theorizing on cultural evolution seems to be a radical departure from both projects of universal typology and perennial “cultural models.” Lotman did not explicitly abandon the dream of the universal typology of culture but he admitted, in Lotman (1992), that the same types of cultures may proceed along very different paths depending on the contingencies of specific “explosions.” To summarize the character of Lotman’s mature culturological idiom, let me present an extended quote in which he portrays the city as a cultural phenomenon and a metaphor of culture per se. Indeed, the city encompasses all the major features of culture according to Lotman: its identifiable unity and heterogeneity, its orderliness and discontinuity, the inseparability of its symbolic and material dimensions, its ability to withstand time and its indeterminacy and openness: The city is a complex semiotic mechanism, a culture-generator, but it carries out this function only because it is a melting-pot of texts and codes, belonging to all kinds of languages and levels. The essential semiotic polyglottism of every city is what makes it so productive of semiotic encounters. The city, being the place where different national, social and stylistic codes and texts confront each other, is the place of hybridization, recodings, semiotic translations, all of which makes it into a powerful generator of new information. These confrontations work diachronically as well as synchronically: architectural ensembles, city rituals and ceremonies, the very plan of the city, the street names and thousands of other left-over from past ages act as code programmers constantly renewing the texts of the past. The city is a mechanism, forever recreating its past, which then can be synchronically juxtaposed with the present. In this sense the city, like culture, is a mechanism which withstands time (Lotman 1990, 194-195). In conclusion, let me summarize what I consider the major tension within Lotman’s culturological framework and the overarching “archaist” discourse of the Tartu School. This main tension is between at least two major idioms: broadly structuralist and neo-historicist, or “genealogical” (due to its affinity with Foucault’s “genealogy”). Both idioms are in agreement about the irreducible independence and historical depth of the cultural space (the semiosphere). They agree that, at any moment of its existence, the cultural whole is an uneven and unstable assemblage of the traces of the previous development. It is a contingent outcome of the superimposition of these past layers and their coexistence as if in the same space. In both cases, despite overt disavowal of any interest in the present, the past serves primarily as a medium privileged for accessing the present. Yet, as structuralists of sorts, Ivanov and Toporov as well as Lotman and Uspensky, in their “semiotics of Russian culture,” are primarily interested in uncovering deep coherence 160

and continuity under the polyglot cultural surface. They are concerned about “making sense” of all the odd juxtapositions and hybrids within their own culture, intellectual and national, by establishing systemic parallelisms and invariants in the “large time” of the noumenal past. Yet, for Lotman of the 1980s and 1990s, the classical structuralist perspective does not seem to be sufficient for understanding culture in time, both macro-time of large historical shifts and micro-time of everyday existence (byt). The focus on mythical archetypes, typological oppositions and perennial models falls short of culture-in-action which requires a distinctive, “neo-historicist,” perspective. As its practitioner (see his theory of cultural dynamics), Lotman is interested in unpredictability, difference and ruptures between different layers of meaning, in their mismatches and conflicts. This is a deeply antiteleological idiom. In Lotman’s own words, history is a “strange film because if we play it backwards we will not get back to the first shot.” Predetermination and continuity (even just structural one) is a result of the backward gaze: “The choice which was open to chance before seems predetermined afterwards” (Lotman 1990, 230, 233). Hence, far from being a monolithic and clearly thought through, the framework of Tartu culturology was a heterogeneous assemblage of different ideological, theoretical and methodological stances, of which “structuralism” and “neo-historicism” constituted the most interesting pair. The obvious question that arises is how these different stances and agendas coexisted in the work of the same School and often the same authors. Were the differences between idioms just omitted or left unnoticed? Or, perhaps, they complimented one another in some ways, did they not? In fact, both guesses may be true. At times, different theoretical and methodological perspectives simply coexisted within Tartu studies without being objects of any serious reflection. In other cases, however, Lotman and his colleagues proclaimed their “complementarity” as the basis for their peaceful coexistence. Borrowed from Niels Bohr, the concept of complementarity was a popular way – among Soviet scholars and Tartu semioticians, in particular – to justify the refusal to take an extreme stance. Lotman (1983; 1990) and Ivanov (1978) even treated this “methodological indecisiveness” as a case of some universal law, in one line with such phenomena as the complementarity of two asymmetrical hemispheres in human brain, two modes of signification (conventional and iconic) and two poles within the semiotic space (center and periphery). In effect, by professing the doctrine of complementarity, Lotman managed to avoid the extremes of contemporary cultural studies with their tendency to overemphasize the plasticity and manipulability of cultural forms. Simultaneously, as I will demonstrate shortly, he could go beyond the presuppositions behind typological structuralism, cultural relativism and Russian nationalistic historiography. Yet, complementarity in practice could also lead to methodological eclecticism, as well as juggling with different interpretations without much attempt to clarify their actual relations with one another. In the next chapter, we see how these different possibilities played out within the body of one of the School’s most interesting achievements, Lotman’s grounded theory and cultural history of theatricality in early modern Russia. Tartu Culturology and “Imperial” Semiotics In conclusion, I would like to propose one more generalization about the Tartu model of textuality and culture. In the previous chapter, I contrasted two models of “the empire of signs,” the democratic-republican and the aristocratic models. Now, after discussing Lotman’s theories of culture, it is clear that our understanding of his model of the empire of signs can be enriched by the following statement: Lotman’s empire of signs is, well, “empire.” This apparent tautology can be interpreted in two ways. 161

First, like many other semiotic theories, Tartu semiotics is often accused of “semiotic imperialism” (see Chandler 2002; Kevelson 1986). This is, basically, the desire by semioticians to claim expertise over almost any field of knowledge on the basis of the assumption that semiotic mechanisms take place everywhere, from animal communication to social institutions and personal interactions. In its stronger version, semiotic imperialism means that all fields of scientific knowledge are the provinces of the empire of signs. In its more moderate—and more tenable—version, it means that this empire has its provinces (or colonies, or at least protectorates) in all disciplines, for instance the semiotics of primate communication in zoology or the semiotics of fashion, commercials and advertisements in cultural sociology and cultural studies. As I have tried to show, Soviet and specifically Tartu semiotics provides examples of both strong and moderate perspectives and, in these respects, does not differ from most other semiotic and cultural studies paradigms. Second interpretation of the “imperialness” of the empire of signs is more specific to the Tartu School. As portrayed by Tartu scholars, human culture cannot be modeled on the ethnically based and linguistically homogeneous nation-state or on ethnicity-blind “republic.” Rather, the Tartu Empire of Signs is a multinational and multi-lingual realm. This is not “empire” as domination of one nation-state over others. This is, emphatically, not cultural superiority of one culture over another. In the Lotman’s conceptual imagery, this “empire” is a syncretic and polyglot space where multiple incommensurable discourses enter into a dialogue with one another in effort of build bridges across the multitude of symbolic and material borders that constitute the semiosphere. This “imperial” imagery is implicit in many Tartu writings but it is practically nowhere explicitly stated. The closest Tartu scholars come to formulating it is in their published memoirs and in the interviews that I have collected. For instance, Viacheslav Ivanov clearly states that such, whatever imperfect, empires as the Holy Roman Empire, Austro-Hungary, the British Empire, contemporary India and, of course, the Russian empire/the Soviet Union are not only predecessors of his preferred form of government—the world government—but also the prototypes for his concept of culture.26 Not so much in his academic works as in his 1980s public statements on political and pedagogical issues, Yuri Lotman makes clear the connection between his “imperial” experience as a professor of Russian literature in Soviet-occupied Estonia and his theories of the fundamental “bilingualism” of human culture. Of course, when Lotman argues that the presence and interaction of at least two semiotic systems, or languages, is a minimal precondition of any specifically cultural practice or interaction (1978b; 1983; 1990; 1992), he means not only national languages but also various narrative genres and speech registers, discourses and ideologies, as well as media and inscription styles. For Lotman, the interplay, or “flickering,” between, for example, romantic and realistic conventions, history and fiction, vernacular and poetic speech, visual arts and cinema is the fundamental mechanism of the construction of not only sophisticated literary texts but also broadly understood “cultural texts.” Yet, the term “bilingualism” is not an accident. Among other things, it definitely refers to his professional and political engagements in the controversies about teaching Russian language and literature in Soviet Estonia (see Waldstein 2007, 583). In contemporary Estonia, Yuri Lotman is often hailed as a national icon and, sometimes, even appropriated by the Estonian cultural and political establishment as “the Estonian semiotician Juri Lotman” (e.g. Danesi 2000, 99). It is true that he was always very respectful of the local culture and language. Moreover, he identified himself with Estonia and Estonians in their tacit and later open opposition to the Soviet rule and Soviet ideology. 26

Ivanov, interview.


In the late 1980s, Lotman actively supported Estonia’s right on self-determination. Yet, his vision of both Estonian society and Russian culture differed significantly from their nationalistic visions on both sides of the barricades. In one of his public pronouncements, Lotman (1988, 107) stated, “culture is not able to develop in narrow ethnic boundaries.” Here, the bridge between his intellectual and political strategies is apparent. Culture, according to Lotman’s theory, is not language, or system, but a dialogue between many languages. In accordance with this theory, Estonia he envisioned was not an ethnically-defined and monolinguistic nation-state but a territorial community of Estonian citizens who represent different national cultures, Estonian and Russian in particular, but share a common liberal civic identity. That is, Lotman considered Estonia a multicultural realm and thus a kind of mini-empire. At the same time, Lotman considered abnormal and unjust the “lop-sided” bilingualism which was instituted in Estonia by Soviet rulers: Estonians were effectively, although not legally, forced to learn Russian while local Russians were not put in a position to have to learn Estonian. Yet, as his archive certifies, Lotman equally disagreed with the effective exclusion of most Russian speakers from the independent Estonian society after 1990. Although he himself was spared of being treated as a “migrant” and reduced to the status of a “non-citizen,” he saw the establishment of the ethnolinguistic Estonia as a major assault to the polyglot nature of any cultural organism that aspires to be vibrant, dynamic and creative. Moreover, he considered the very fact of establishing new national borders within the post-Soviet space as a major tragedy (Waldstein 2007, 594). This last concern points to a related social and intellectual stance that underlines Lotman’s cultural theories. It is the idea that, as a multinational empire, the Russian empire—in its pre-Soviet and Soviet incarnations—is an approximation to the kind of supernational, or cosmopolitan, cultural realm which Lotman, Ivanov and many of their colleagues among Russian and Western intellectuals consider their true home. Another version of the same attitude would be the identification with “Europe” or “western civilization,” which is also characteristic of Tartu intellectuals. This Western reader of this book should be quite familiar with this universalistic attitude.27 It is an essential part of the classical ethos of scientists and literati, who often advocated their right on autonomy and authority by being “citizens of the world” and bearers of the universal high culture. Yet, historically, this ethos has often been associated with the assumptions of the European and imperial supremacy over “Orientals” or “small nations” (see Loomba 1998). Yuri Lotman was quite aware of the possibility of this kind of slippage and much of his academic and social preoccupations had to do with preventing this slippage to occur. A professor of Russian culture in Soviet-occupied Estonia, Lotman for 40 years tried to dispel any possible suspicion of being an imperialist and a “Russifier” of Estonia by persistently distancing between “Soviet” ideology/policies and “Russian” culture in his pedagogical practice, academic research and personal performance (see Waldstein 2007). His image of Russian culture, build around the classical texts and the texts excluded from the Soviet canon, was the one of catholic and inclusive culture. In his portrayal, this is the culture, the best achievements of which are praised for their ability not to epitomize but to transcend the borders of one ethnic group. This is a culture-translator, culture-mediator between other cultures, and, as such, a prototype of Lotman’s theoretical concept of culture. The distinction 27

I realize, though, that the association of this universalistic ethos with the Russian empire is somewhat unusual for the Western reader. Yet, this is not a strange move within the Russian context. I suggest to think about the historical precedents when the process of “civilizing” the peasants or the “savages” was conducted through their incorporation into (or exclusion from) some well-developed and politically strong national culture (German, French, or Russian).


between the Soviet political empire and the humanistic realm, the empire of culture, it covered can also be seen as a social paradigm for the Tartu emphatic distinction between power and culture. Here, Lotman appears as not only a cosmopolitan intellectual but also as an heir to the tradition, which has been particularly popular with the Russian, and Russian-Jewish, intelligentsia of last two centuries. This tradition is epitomized by Dostoevsky’s idea of “universal responsiveness”: Russian culture is a superior mechanism of universal translation and summing up of the best of the world’s diverse spiritual heritage (Wachtel 1999, 59). Andrew Wachtel has provided a concise summary of the logic behind this Russian imperial “project of translation of world culture into and through Russia”: [A]s opposed to the elites of other imperializing nations, whose explicit or implicit assumption of cultural superiority caused them to view their own values as universal and as something to be imposed on others, members of the Russian cultural elite proposed a model that emphasized their nation’s peculiar sponge-like ability to absorb the best that other peoples had to offer as the basis for a universal, inclusive national culture.” (52) Overall, although the Tartu paradigm can be summarized by such concepts as the discourse of archaism, the aristocratic idiom and the imperial idiom, each and all of these formulas represent a heterogeneous complex of attitudes to the human condition, contemporary social life and the role of intellectuals in society. This complex comprises rationalistic universalism, even cosmopolitism, and the passionate embrace of the national cultural canon; the spirit of enlightenment and cultural elitism; non-conformist individualism and full of trepidation attitude towards cultural memory; the idea of ethno-cultural equality and strong disapproval of “narrow” ethnic allegiances. Some of this heterogeneity may have to do with certain sketchiness of the Tartu paradigm. Indeed, its authors have nowhere summarized it as a coherent doctrine. Yet, much of this particular complex of attitudes can be simply attributed to the broader European humanistic tradition. It is this tradition that is torn between rationalistic universalism and cultural relativism, or between the idea of “spreading” the light of reason and keeping it alive as far as possible from vulgar “bourgeoisie,” “plebeians,” and “consumers.” In this respect, Lotman is a classical humanist, with a good balance of all the elements of the classical mix. His major colleagues—Ivanov, Toporov, Piatigorsky, Zholkovsky, to name just a few—exemplify different aspects of the humanist type with various emphases and combinations: some are more conservative, others are more liberal, still others are more avant-gardeish; some are more worldly and even cynical, while others are spiritual or principled. The combinations and emphases may vary but, as a whole, the Tartu paradigm is an outgrowth of the familiar and respectable intellectual tradition of modern humanism. Considering the squall of critique the modern humanist tradition has been under in Western humanities and social sciences over last 30-40 years, my genealogy of the Tartu paradigm may seem to be a poor advertisement for it in the eyes of many Western colleagues. Yet, if their critique is reducible to the idea that Tartu or any humanism is anachronistic and out of sink with time, then this argument cannot be accepted. It is erroneous and selfdefeating. What used to be outdated can, in the words of Bakhtin and Lotman, have its hour of revival. What used to be trendy appears to be passé, as is the case with postmodernism and some of its intellectual heirs in the eyes of many academics of the 2000s. In contrast, the


Tartu emphasis on the autonomy of cultural mechanisms with respect to their political use or mass consumption, as well as their implicit critique of nationalism, may become once more in demand.


Chapter Seven PLAYFUL SELF-FASHIONING: A Neo-Historicist Theory of (Russian) Modernity

As one may conclude from the previous chapter, Tartu culturology is, like Lotman’s “culture,” “full of the splinters of different structures in free motion” (Lotman 1992, 177). It is constituted not by some monolithic structuralist methodology but by the uneasy coexistence of different conceptual frameworks and research perspectives, of which Ivanov and Toporov’s “evolutionary structuralism,” Lotman and Uspensky’s “typological structuralism,” and Lotman’s mature “neo-historicism” are the most developed. So far, we have seen Lotman’s neo-historicist perspective on culture mostly in his theoretical proclamations, not in his historical research. In this, Lotman’s neo-historicist works differ from Lotman and Uspensky’s (1984, 3-70) coauthored papers, in which they made their name by emphasizing the continuity of Russian history and introducing the structural basis for such continuity, the so called “binary models in the dynamics of culture.” In their works, Lotman and Uspensky explicitly connect theory and history, and this explicitness adds to the visibility of their statements. Unfortunately, in Lotman’s other historical studies, the connection between his neo-historicist ideas and his historical research is subject to reconstruction.1 In what follows, I attempt this reconstruction and thus reclaim an alternative, and so far underestimated, Tartu paradigm of historical research to the contemporary scholarly use. In particular, I contend that Lotman’s historical research on early Russian modernity and on what he calls the “theatricality” of the Russian nobility’s everyday life is strongly motivated by the neo-historicist idiom, as developed by Lotman in the 1980s and 1990s. 2 I further demonstrate that Lotman’s historical studies implicitly contain a grounded theory of the emergence of modern personhood and associated institutions in the non-Western world. I try to demonstrate that this conception is intriguing enough to earn Lotman a place in the Western scholarly imagination along with Jürgen Habermas, Norbert Elias, Michel Foucault and other prominent theorists and historians of modernity. Life into Theater: A History of Modern Personhood Despite relatively local and mixed reception of Tartu cultural semiotics in the West, the categories of “theatricality” and “the poetics of everyday life” (poetika byta) were received favorably by both Russian historians (e.g. Roosevelt 1991; Wortman 1995) and other cultural 1

Most of these articles have been translated in Lotman’s section of Lotman and Uspenskij (1984, 71256). 2 Although the focus of this chapter is the works of Lotman, I occasionally refer to other Tartu and post-Tartu works that I consider significantly “neo-historicist” in their approach. While some of these authors clearly differentiate themselves from the structuralist aspects of the Tartu tradition (e.g. B.Gasparov 1996a; Zhivov 1996; 2002), others are more hesitant to raise their choices of research framework to the level of abstract conceptual debates (e.g. Leibov 1996; Pogosjan 2001).


historians (Burke 1991; Greenblatt 1989). This is not an accident. Unlike many other Tartu conceptual contributions, the direction indicated by these two categories has been well within the current trends in Western studies of culture. The microhistorical analysis of human agency and everyday routines, the emphasis on subjectivity and personal self-fashioning and on the local genealogies of modern institutions is only a short list of the concerns that Lotman seems to share with his Western colleagues. In what follows, I will try to demonstrate how, by means of the categories of “theatricality” and the poetics of everyday life (poetika byta), Lotman managed to introduce these, in my terminology, neo-historicist concerns into the very core of his research. This exposition will lay the foundation for assessing the achievements and limitations of Lotman’s, to a large extent, neo-historicist conception of early Russian modernity. Let me start with Lotman’s understanding of theatricality. This concept first appeared in Lotman’s writings in the mid 1970s, in a series of articles dedicated to theater and theatricality in the everyday life of the Russian gentry in the 18th-early 19th century (Lotman [1973] 1984; [1975] 1984a; [1975] 1984b; [1977] 1984).3 A fruit of Lotman-led seminar on everyday life held in Tartu University in 1972-74, these papers deal with the phenomenon of more or less explicit modeling of political and everyday behavior by the Russian and sometimes European elites on the artistic presentations of reality and history. Lotman argues that the epochs of Romanticism and Neoclassicism, in their own different ways, brought together, closer then ever before, the worlds of theatrical performance and fashion, on the one hand, and the worlds of political ritual and everyday life, on the other. In short, theater entered life. Theatrical norms invaded everyday behavior: friendship, love, “communing with nature” and even solitary existence. Large segments of everyday life 4 —eating, conversing, flirting, etc.—lost their spontaneity but also their relative “uneventfulness,” their automatic and routine character. Instead, the gentleman of the 18th and especially early 19th century was no longer a passive participant in the impersonally flowing course of time, for, liberated from everyday life , he existed as a historical person, himself choosing his type of behavior, making an active impact on the world around him, and either going under or winning through. Viewing real life as a performance not only offered a person the possibility of choosing his type [amplua5] of individual behavior, but also filled it with the expectation that things were going to happen. Eventfulness [(suzhetnost’)], that is, the possibility that unexpected phenomena and turns of events would happen, became the norm…. It was precisely the model of theatrical behavior that, by turning a person into a character in a play [(or, actor, acting agent, deistvuiushchee litso)] (underlined in the original–M.W)], liberated him from the automatic sway of group behavior and of custom (Lotman [1973] 1984, 160). Described as such, theatricality of everyday life should not be confused with the medieval “theater state” with its graded hierarchy of prestige and sanctity from highly ritualized, or “scenic,” life of the court to the practically norm-free social nonbeing of lower class’s daily existence (Geertz 1968, 37-38). The particularity of the historical moment, as described by Lotman, was in the fact that, for example, the Russian imperial court in the 18th century 3

The titles of these articles are as follows: The Theater and Theatricality as Components of Early Nineteenth-Century Culture, The Decembrist in Everyday Life, Gogol’s Chlestakov: The Pragmatics of a Literary Character, The Poetics of Everyday Life in Russian Eighteenth-Century Culture (see translations in Lotman and Uspenskij 1984). 4 Bytovaia zhizn’, or simply byt, from the verb “to be” (byt’). 5 From French emploi. Amplua means adopted role, or style of behavior, in contrast to ascribed role.


became just one of several horizontally juxtaposed life-scenes of the nobleman’s life, along with the civil or military service and the ball, the barracks and the estate, the capital(s) and the province, the company of ladies and that of men (Lotman [1973] 1984, 152). The Russian gentleman of the time became an actor in a number of “plays.” He behaved differently in these plays, according to their distinctive, and often incompatible, plots, genres, front- and backstage, audiences and criteria of outstanding performance (Lotman [1977] 1984, 236-237). In contrast to the “theater state,” which symbolized the social hierarchy, the invasion of theater into life led to the lowering of the hierarchical barriers among, at least, elite actors. Lotman writes that Napoleon was just a person of his time when he modeled his imperial court on “the norms established in eighteenth-century French theater for representing the courts of the Roman emperors” (1990, 60). Furthermore, Lotman de facto differentiates two types of theatricality, a more historically specific phenomenon and a more universal phenomenon, which recurs in history from time to time. The latter type of theatricality, of simply “performativity,” can be defined as a phenomenon of turning unmarked and unremarkable background of what we tend to consider as notable events into a set of significant events in their own right. These kind of “poetization” and “mythologization” of certain segments of everyday life, for instance rural life or food, is in the core of some cultural styles like Baroque or Romanticism, as opposed to Classicism and Realism ([1973] 1984, 159). In contrast, the former type of theatricality is more historically specific. As the long passage above suggests, it has to do with modernity and the character and history of modern subjectivity (cf. Elias 1978; Foucault 1977). Indeed, for Lotman and his colleagues, theater is both a metaphor for, and an important practice of, the establishment of the conditions for the peculiarly modern, or “mature,” in Kant’s words, sense of personhood. As Maria Pliukhanova, the Tartu University medieval historian, pointed out, “The ability to temporarily take someone’s role and name and not lose one’s individuality is the basis of the art of acting, as well as a trait of a self-determining individuality, a result of the ability to see oneself from the outside” (Pliukhanova 1982, 88). For Lotman, subjectivity (or “personality,” “personhood,” lichnost’, individual’nost’), is not a ready-made substance with fixed attributes. “The actual notion of ‘individuality’ is not primary or self-evident. It depends on the means of encoding” (Lotman 1990, 234). This statement implies the multiplicity of culturally defined types of personhood. For instance, the medieval Muscovite concept of personhood was defined by the degree of “honor,” or the “place on a social ladder and his or her proximity to the tsar” (Reyfman 1999, 35; cf. Kollman 1999; Lotman 1967c). The individual’s agency depended on his or her awareness of her place within the hierarchy of social ranks. Hence, Lotman allows for multiple historical types of individual agency. Yet, what sets apart his notion of the “modern Russian personhood” is its consistently “theatrical” relation with oneself, or attitude to one’s own body, behavior, emotions and thoughts. It is not an accident that, like Baudelaire and Foucault (1978), Lotman singles out the “dandy” as a exemplar of such a theatrical actor.6 What distinguishes dandyism from other forms of agency is the very fact of adopting a certain attitude in respect to oneself and the world. Instead of just accepting one’s social definition, the dandy detaches his self and the roles he plays and thus transforms these roles into amplua’s, i.e. objects of awareness, elaboration and manipulation. 6

Notably, even the wordings of Foucault’s and Lotman’s accounts are similar. If Foucault (1978) focuses on “the asceticism of the dandy who makes of his body, his behavior, his feelings and passions, his very existence, a work of art,” Lotman defines theatrical life as a life “raised to the level of high art” (1987, 26).


Theatricality, in Lotman’s definition, is “a change in the degree of conventionality in behavior” (Lotman [1973] 1984, 150). It is precisely in this change, or rather constant alternation (smena), or “reincarnation” (perevoploshchenie), that the individuality and uniqueness of the self comes to the fore and establishes itself. One of Lotman’s primary examples of such self-invention is Nicholas Karamzin’s narrative persona in his 1790s travelogue on his trip around Europe. In this novel, Karamzin portrays an image of a young Russian nobleman who, while encountering various people, milieus and circumstances, tries on various available masks, like “a sentimental young man,” “a fop” (shchegol’) or “a pedant.” According to Lotman’s interpretation, Karamzin’s main literary achievement is the naturalness with which his hero manipulates these often incompatible masks. In effect, the reader gets a clear sense that all these roles and masks “are combined in one and the same personality” (Lotman 1987, 24). By this very act of combining and alternating, the personality of the main hero/author establishes it as its own invention, as a realization of the Enlightenment project in its Kantian sense. Lotman argues that this success made Karamzin’s travelogue not only one of the first widely-read Russian novels but also a pattern for individual self- fashioning for the upcoming generations of Russian writers and readers. It played a crucial role in the formation of the modern reading public, an ethos of a modern writer and, ultimately, in producing “the new Russian cultural (or ‘cultured,’ kul’turnaia) personality” (Lotman 1987, 29). The dandy was not just a product of an aestheticizing reaction to modernity characterized by the growing speed and superficiality. Lotman describes the dandyish attitude as a particular case of the larger transformation of the everyday life into the analogue of art. To be modern was to ”establish the variety of behaviors and their alternation as a norm” of a distinctive theatricalized lifestyle in which life is a realization of specific poetics, the poetics of everyday life (poetika byta) (Lotman [1975] 1984a, 80). To speak of the poetics of everyday behavior amounts to claiming … that certain forms of ordinary daily activity were consciously oriented towards the laws and norms of literary texts and were lived through as direct aesthetic experiences (Lotman [1977] 1984, 231). Poetika byta refers to cases when historical actors deliberately turn their everyday life into “a text arranged according to the laws of specific plots” and thus made their lives’ codes “crackable” by means of reconstructing these plots. Yet, this textualization of life also implies its authoring and deautomatization. We can say that life evolves from the myth to the novel. Indeed, by putting forward, or foregrounding, the composition of one’s life-text, a historical actor transforms her life from uneventful everyman’s sequence into an exciting narrative open to different closures both by readers and the author himself. In this sense, poetika byta is opposite to the “prose” of daily life into which “a man is frozen … like Dante’s sinner into the ice of Caina” (Lotman [1973] 1984, 159). Guided by such “poetic” attitude, human behavior becomes self-consciously ironic play with codes, conventions, stereotypes and various cultural references. In short, poetika byta is a kind of play placed in the center of everyday life. As we know from previous chapters, play(ing), not a chess-like game, is one of the basic idioms of Lotman’s semiotics and his theory of the text, in particular. Lotman’s “play” “consists in the fact that different meanings of the same (textual) element not just coexist statically but ‘flicker’” (Lotman [1970] 1998). To play is to be simultaneously within and outside of the situation. To play is to translate, i.e. to engage in what Lotman has called the “impossible translation” between different codes, texts, cultures, life domains and human persons.


Although Lotman works out his conception of play mostly on the material of art (paintings, film, literature), poetika byta proves to be a vehicle of extending Lotman’s ideas on play toward larger and, presumably, less creative domains of daily life. In effect, it turns out that the mundane existence is not devoid of unpredictability and openendedness, agency and choice, individuality and improvisation. “An acute awareness of the possibility of other meanings,” the key feature of artistic play, can also be found in daily life (Lotman [1970] 1998). These insights animate Lotman’s and his colleagues’ multiple analyses of selfpresentations and life-constructions of iconic cultural and political figures (Pushkin, Karamzin, Radishchev, Chaadaev, Alexander I), literary heroes (Khlestakov from Gogol’s Inspector General) and “mass” members of the gentry’s salons and revolutionary societies (including some distinguished women). Furthermore, in his TV lectures delivered in 1986-89, Lotman provided examples of the “poetic” analyses of the “theatrical” aspects of a large variety of everyday practices and objects, starting with civil service and family life rituals to parades, fashions, duels, architectural designs and card games (Lotman 1994a; 2003). Excited about the cases of crossing the boundaries between art and life, Lotman, however, emphasizes the difference between theatricality and carnival. According to Mikhail Bakhtin, carnival is accompanied by the reversal of all hierarchies and the dissolution of social roles and distinctions (Bakhtin 1984). In implicit opposition to contemporary “countercultural” interpretations of Bakhtin (Kristeva 1969), Lotman argues against collapsing together life and art, as well as playful (poetic, theatrical) and “serious” attitude to the world. His point is that this very opposition “gives meaning and semiotic value to the mutual displacement” of these categories (Lotman 1992, 75). “It is precisely because the life of theater differs from everyday existence that the view of life as spectacle gave a man new possibilities for behavior” (Lotman [1973] 1984, 160). That is, the point of any play, artistic or daily, is not only the transgression of various borders and norms but also, through this transgression, their actualization as no longer taken-for-granted but conscious norms of “my” behavior. In Lotman’s view, once the norm loses its power altogether, play withers and the new norm, often more oppressive than its predecessor, reigns supreme. Lotman seems to be particularly irritated by his French and Anglo-American colleague’s fascination with Rabelaisian carnivalesque “body in the act of becoming” (Bakhtin 1984, 17). He protests against what he considers “counter-cultural” dissolution of the modern subjectivity into an empty signifier behind the “intertextuality” of the traces of the other. The “theatrical” behavior of such, in Lotman’s view, quintessentially modern actors as Pushkin or Karamzin is not a sign of them being split or multiple personalities. The aesthetic, game-playing essence of this kind of behavior lies in the fact that when he became a Cato, a Brutus, a Pozarskij, a Demon or a Melmoth, and started behaving in accordance with the part has assumed, the Russian nobleman never stopped being simultaneously a Russian nobleman of his time, no more and no less (Lotman [1973] 1984, 150) Without preserving both identity and distinction between the Self and its multiple roles, the play loses its intrigue and unpredictability, and thus stops being “theater”. Theatricality, in Lotman’s picture, may be a way of problematizing certain roles precisely by showing them as just roles. Yet, by foregrounding the “production” of the self, the theatrical subject did not just dissolve it into the traces of the other but established itself by distancing from its roles. Hence, Lotman’s implicit debate with French (post)-structuralists and, to a certain extent, Bakhtin stretches into his conception of everyday theatricality. He is interested in theatricality as a mechanism of personality-formation, not its dissolution. His point is that theatricality provides the most revealing case of the self-making characterized by the 170

dialectics of unpredictability of the play and the structuredness of the available resources. Theatricality also provides a field in which this self-making takes place. Overall, it is a case of what Bakhtin calls the “authoring” of one’s life. Whatever significant this concept of theatricality may be by itself, I am particularly concerned about its contribution to our understanding of the inter-cultural contact, especially the one under the conditions of the “civilizing process” of modernity. However, here, Lotman sends conflicting messages. Based on the bricolage of major trends in Lotman’s theorizing, Lotman’s studies of early modern Russian culture simultaneously provide a further insight into the heterogeneity of his thinking and offer an intriguing formwork for approaching modernity and identity as non-linear, emergent and performative processes. Playing Modern is Being Modern The main ideas and findings of the perennialist semiotics of the dual models in Russian culture, as summarized in chapter six, are based on Lotman and Uspensky’s studies of the medieval, or Muscovite, period of Russian history. Yet, Lotman’s own expertise and passion lied elsewhere, in the first half of so called Petersburg period, between approximately 1700 and 1850. Commonly perceived as a start-up of intensive Westernization and modernization of Russia, this period is a profoundly contested issue in Russian historiography. The Slavophil and nationalistic interpretations of this period portray it as a radical break with the “authentic national tradition.” On the contrary, the Westernizers saw the Petrine reforms as a powerful effort to bolster modernization already on the way. Although Lotman and his colleagues often took stands in these ideological debates, they did not propose any grand alternative to these traditional explanations. Lotman’s concerns and interpretations were usually middle-range or microhistorical, operating with close reading and thick description of the sources (cf. Levi 1991). This empirical focus promoted a bricoleur approach to the perspectives and methodologies employed: whatever framework seemed to make sense of the sources was an appropriate framework. In effect, Lotman’s studies on early Russian modernity were relatively free from the dominance of the perennialist “models” and open to other interpretative strategies. No surprise that these studies were sites of multiple neo-historicist moves long before corresponding Lotman’s theoretical ideas appeared in print. Furthermore, despite his attempts to smooth over the contradictions between various frameworks employed, these contradictions are particularly acute in his studies of modernity. In what follows, I will demonstrate how the same historical data received quite different and often sharply opposite interpretations depending on the framework employed. To demonstrate this point, I focus on various historical interpretations of theatricality within Lotman’s oeuvre. The topic of a particularly pronounced role of symbolic behavior, or “ritualized play-acting,” in the life of the Russian court and nobility is not entirely Lotman’s mastermind. On the contrary, it persistently comes up in the ideological and academic debates on post-Petrine Russia. Before returning to the neo- historicist interpretation of this topic, let me first outline some of the commonly noted dimensions of this topic. The lavishness and grandeur of court entertainment, as well as a peculiar phenomenon of serf theaters in noble estates, are well known and researched manifestations of the role of display and performance in early modern Russian society (e.g. Roosevelt 1991). Yet, as Lotman concludes from his close readings of literature, memoirs, correspondence, architecture and other artifacts of the period, this performativity (marked expressivity, “theatricality”) of noble behavior was more than just an excess. It was a characteristic and even defining feature of the period. Although limited socially to the court and nobility, this performativity was pervasive with respect to both public and private lives of the historical 171

actors. As Priscilla Roosevelt pointed out with respect to the culture of Russian countryside estates, “The theatrical continuum observable on the Russian estate encompassed serf theater performances, theatrical displays connected with hospitality, theatricality in the material culture of the estate, and the theatricalization and ritualization of private life” (1991, 1). Although reminiscent of the playfulness of the French aristocratic salons, this theatricality of Russian nobility’s attitudes and behavior was a result of the peculiar social transformations initiated by Peter the Great’s reforms. In Lotman’s account, the Petrine reforms transformed what used to be a domain of “unconscious, or ‘natural’” into a matter of explicit instruction and learning” (Lotman [1977] 1984, 232). What used to “go without saying” turned into lingua incognita, a set of explicit scenarios of particular ways of speaking, behaving, and dressing. The language of everyday life lost its immediate transparency and practicality. If, in the eighteenth century France, novels were side products of the noble salon life, in Russia they acquired the role of behavioral “grammars,” or “programs” for action and communication (Lotman [1985] 1992a). In effect, not only the pragmatic function of the social action (e.g. entertainment, acquiring knowledge) but also its relation to the novelistic code as well as its perceived foreignness was crucial criteria of its appropriateness. “To conduct oneself correctly was to behave like a foreigner, that is to act in an artificial way, according to the norms of an alien life-style” ([1977] 1984, 233). No surprise that, by turning daily life into theater and Western artifacts into “sacred objects,” Russian nobility produced customs and artifacts, which appeared strange from the point of views of both Western observers and the Russian lower class folk. The phenomenon of theatricality is central to understanding these “oddities.” An effort to provide an interpretation and even explanation for this phenomenon brings Lotman to the old issues of modernization, westernization and Russia’s cultural particularity. Yet, he does not propose one coherent way of interpreting his data. Throughout his studies, he alternates between at least three interpretative strategies without making significant efforts to choose or even differentiate between them. One strategy, the most obvious one for a Soviet scholar, is a conventional Marxist social history with its inherent modernization perspective enriched by “the law of uneven and combined development.” Another is Lotman and Uspensky’s cultural semiotics outlined in chapter six. Finally, Tartu neo-historicism in the context of which the category of theatricality acquires its specific meaning, as discussed in the first section of this chapter. In what follows, I argue that first two approaches do not capture the interplay in the nature of theatricality between “real” and “fictitious,” “serious” and “playful,” “local” and “alien,” as well as “role” and “self.” As I show, they reduce theatricality to the imitation of the Western originals and consider this “imitativeness” as a sign of inability to actually be Western. On the contrary, the historicist perspective allows to account for more complex and hybrid identity of the Russian nobility and modernity at large. A Step Back: Traditional Perspectives Despite producing some explicit criticism of the dominant “sociologizing” Soviet Marxist approach to culture, Lotman usually takes popular social-historical arguments for granted and thus refers to them in a casual way. For him, it is common knowledge that Russian relative “backwardness” provided conditions for imitative and simulative nature of Russian behavior, as well as “imaginary” (mnimyi) nature of many local “Westernized” institutions like “rational” bureaucracy or “independent” civil society (Lotman [1975] 1984b; Lotman and Uspensky [1975] 1994). The fact that the only class, which could potentially play the role of the bearer of the “modern ethos,” was the nobility, the privileged land- and serf-owning class, was also an irony of underdevelopment. Lotman argues that, in public (serf theater) and 172

private (duel) displays of “Europeanness” and “nobleness,” the nobility tried to act out what it lacked in reality: respect for personal dignity and private property, the independence of “society” from the state as well as status equality (at least within the nobility).7 In this perspective, symbolic behavior was an imaginary way of catching up. This vision coexists in Lotman’s writings with another, more specifically Tartu perspective which almost invisibly shifts the stress from “lack” and “lagging behind” to “local tradition” as a mechanism of the Russian urge for performativity. In Richard Wortman’s sympathetic summary of this perspective, “Europeans acted like Europeans because they were Europeans; Russians acted out the roles of Europeans because they were not Europeans” (Wortman 2000, 826). Indeed, because they were Russians. According to some of Tartu programmatic statements, it is essentially “Russian” to play somebody else’s roles.8 Russia is a paramount “empire of signs” and Russians are–to borrow Homi Bhabha’s (Bhabha 1997) expression–paradigmatic “mimicry men,” regardless of whether they are ultra-conservative Old Believers or utopian tsars-modernizers, idealistic intellectuals or “pragmatic” technocrats. The need for this relativistic reasoning emerged in part due to Lotman’s realization of the shortcomings of the modernization perspective, its Eurocentrism in particular. Indeed, it is not clear why Russian institutions and cultural artifacts should be judged according to Western standards, even if Western institutions serve as direct models for Russian practices. Lotman’s interpretation of Russian dueling culture is a good case in point. Dueling was a clear Western import: this practice was virtually unknown in Russia before Petrine reforms and it originally got a cold reception (Kollman 1999, 237). Yet, the development of the individualized honor among the gentry gradually led to the popularity of dueling. The paradox is that, whereas it spurred considerable enthusiasm among Russians by the late eighteenth century, dueling (and honor code) was declining in Europe: it was falling under the “enlightened” criticism as a “feudal relic” and, simultaneously, losing its function of a class distinction marker. In Norbert Elias’s interpretation, dueling was increasingly in contradiction with the dominant tendencies of the “civilizing process” toward “internal pacification” and the monopolization of violence by the state (Elias 1978). So, why was the popularity of dueling growing among Russian elites? Lotman argues that this fact cannot be accounted by referring to Russia’s backwardness. Such explanation does not account for the distinctively Russian mythology and ritualism associated with dueling. He demonstrates that, in Russia, duel acquired the features of what was a culturally marked behavior in traditional pre-Petrine Russia, that is martyrdom and sainthood. Thus, from primarily an identity ritual delimiting class boundaries, duel evolved into a quasireligious “sacrifice for the sake of honor” (Lotman 1980, 102), where honor encompassed in itself everything “from valor and virtue to recognition of social eminence, respect, honesty, and, in later usage, human dignity” (Reyfman 1999b, 35). According to Lotman, Russian ”honorable behavior” and the behavior of the Old Russian saint appeared to be different reincarnations of the same persistent cultural model. No surprise that duel, with its “Russian” connotations of “truth-bearing” and resistance to authorities, was such a significant identity ritual for the writers and poets of the “golden,” or Pushkin’s, age of Russian literature. To sum up, in their semiotics of Russian culture, Lotman and Uspensky attempted to account for the emphasized performative and symbolic nature of the Russian gentry’s 7

Irina Reyfman (1999b, 11; 37) points out about dueling in Russia: “Russian duelists strove to replace the hierarchical–and therefore humiliating–violence of corporal punishment with the equalizing violence of the duel… Ultimately, honor became a powerful instrument in the service nobility’s construction of their class identity and even a weapon in their conflicts with the tsar.” 8 “Other-orientation” (orientatsiia na drugogo) is supposedly characteristic of both Slavic and Russian culture (see Ivanov et al. 1973; Lotman and Uspenskij 1984).


behavior at a certain historical period by tracing some structural, or paradigmatic, continuity throughout Russian history. This perspective allowed them to avoid looking at Russia’s early modernity as just an attempt to catch up with the West by acting out its ready-made scenarios. Now, Tartu scholars could appreciate Russian performativity as a sign of local agency rather than of submission to, and distortion of, Western models of behavior. Yet, this agency was still located not so much on the level of individuals or groups as on the level of “culture” as whole. Luckily, this is not the only alternative to modernization theory that can be found in Lotman’s studies of Russian history. A Neo-Historicist Perspective on Russian Modernity Although Lotman does not usually reflect openly on the disadvantages of the Marxist version of the modernization thesis and, especially, his own perennialist framework, it seems that at least one of their aspects makes them look problematic, or insufficient, in Lotman’s eyes: both perspectives do not account for the Russian noble person’s peculiarly theatrical attitude to reality and the self. By treating this performativity as a result of Russia’s backwardness or specificity, these perspectives reduce theatricality to attempts to imitate and simulate what Russians were not. The assumption is that the very fact of “playing Europe” is a symptom of the lack of “authenticity” and “naturality,” which are presumed to be the traits of the European originals. In this context, theatricality is a sign of the failed translation. Yet, as overviewed above, the concepts of poetika byta, theatricality and play are all about the possibility of “impossible translation” between such conceptually separated domains as “art” and “life,” as well as “Europe” and “Russia.” Hence, the Russian nobility’s theatrical attitude to life is not necessarily a result of the failure of translation between different “stages of development” or even “cultures.” It may also be understood as a reaction to, an environment for, and a product of this creative and open-ended process. Neither universal, nor Western, nor native developmental patterns are fully responsible for the outcomes; the outcomes are functions of the process itself. In the course of this process of cultural translation, the original domains like “theater” and “daily life,“ as well as “Europe” and “Russia,” were not hard-matter substances and external criteria of (in)correct play-acting. These were mobile roles within the play. They served as labels to draw boundaries between players but their actual meanings were emergent products of specific interactions. For instance, although, at one point, the odd practice of keeping serf harems might have seemed to be perfectly “European,” later it had become absolutely “Russian,” if only a matter of national shame. In effect, Lotman tends to speak about different “Russias” and “Wests” (e.g. “Russian Europe”). As we will see, it is also possible to imagine him thinking about multiple modernities, not differentiated along the axes of “original” and “imitative.” What made this process of cultural translation a specifically theatricalized performance is its asymmetrical and unequal nature. Although the danger of Western political domination was not an issue after Tsar Peter’s political successes, the cultural inequality of core vs. periphery type was obvious to most historical actors. If the European “sender” of cultural messages was, or could have been, hardly aware of the very act of sending out something, the Russian “receiver” was well too conscious of being in a student position. Hence, the impression that observers had of excessive play-acting on the part of the Russian elites. Yet, Lotman continues, this performativity was not just an imitation of the other, whether because of backwardness or cultural specificity. Of course, early modern Russian history knows enormous number of cases of the childish fascination with everything “European” to the point of abandoning “one’s own” culture. The history is also full of 174

attempts of the wholesale rejection of the West. However, what distinguishes the Tartu works on early Russian culture is the amount of attention paid to “Creole” cases, or emergent constellations of various lineages.9 For instance, Lotman traces the genealogy of Russian nationalism to the “nationalization” of imported cultural goods, their projection to the local past and thus the “reconstruction of the native tradition… polemically opposed to the ‘country of origin’ of the imported ideas” (Lotman [1986] 1993, 363). In a similar vein, Boris Gasparov argues that “Pushkin was the figure in which the act of the fusion of Russian literature (and culture as a whole) and European world was realized with the utmost fullness and might” (1992, 23). Thus, it is not surprising that Dostoyevsky and the Russian intelligentsia elevated Pushkin to the rank of Russia’s central cultural hero. Furthermore, the attempt to act European involved a good deal of selectivity. Since France and Europe at large were not homogeneous entities, they were sources of such different cultural goods as Enlightenment ideas, noble salons, court rituals, polite manners, literary genres, duel codes, administrative practices, Catholicism, fashions, revolution and Napoleon (see Lotman [1975] 1984a). Some of these cultural goods were frequently classified together and thus identified (such as the figures of a philosopher and a salon fop) while others were opposed, often across Russia vs. the West conceptual borderline (e.g. Rousseau’s “naturality” associated with “Russianness”) ([1965] 1997; 1994a). Hence, there is nothing intrinsically unauthentic and imitative about the results of such selective and productive, rather than repetitive and reproductive, translations. Just like the actor can act badly in a theater, the historical actor’s performance can give an impression of pretence, insincerity or simply failure to play the role. One of Lotman’s favorite examples of this failure is Russian Tsar Alexander I (1801-1825). “Changing his masks so as to ‘captivate’ everyone, Alexander alienated everyone. One of the most talented actors of his age, he was its least successful” (Lotman [1973] 1984, 159). From this point of view, we can reinterpret Lotman’s important idea which, at first, seems to fit his perennialist argument: [C]ontrary to the widely held view, Europeanization emphasized the non-European features of the way of life rather then eliminating them, for in order to be constantly aware of one’s behavior as foreign, it was necessary not to be a foreigner… One did not have to become a foreigner, but to behave like one. It comes as no surprise, then, that the acquisition of foreign customs, far from eliminating antagonism to foreigners, occasionally intensified it (Lotman [1977] 1984, 233). To repeat Richard Wortman’s seemingly obvious interpretation of this idea, “Russians acted out the roles of Europeans because they were not Europeans” (2000, 826). Yet, Lotman also realized that, for Russian commoners, who looked at the gentlemen’s life “from the orchestra (parter)”, the theater of the nobility’s everyday life appeared to be a foreign, often devilish or, at best, exotic masquerade (Lotman [1977] 1984, 233). The implication is that the daily life of the Russian gentry was a constant battle between these different representations often weaved together into an odd tangle. The Russian noble person was caught between “Europe” and “people,” between his Europeanness and nativeness. If he interpreted Western artifacts in “Russian” categories, he did the reverse as well.10 Whenever he tried to pinpoint his position 9

Lotman ([1986] 1993, 365) pays much attention to what he calls “internally contradictory rapprochements (sblizheniia) and odd cultural hybrids.” 10 I use “he” to be consistent with most existing translations of Lotman’s texts as well as most Lotman’s specific studies. This, however, does not mean that he ignored women. On the contrary, Lotman was one of the few Russian historians to pay specific attention to gender difference in cultural history (e.g. Lotman 1992; 1994a).


in one or another way, he slipped into its opposite. While his Europeanness could have been perceived as unauthentic, so had been his Russianness. As Dostoevsky once said, “In Europe we are Tatars but in Asia we too are Europeans” (cited in Wachtel 1999, 61). Ultimately, the theatrical attitude is a high sensitivity of historical actors to the fact of being “in between,” in the process of translation. The reduction of this situation to Russian backwardness or particularity misses the specificity of any play and theatricality in particular. In Lotman’s account, theatricality is an ability to actually be what one pretends to be and, simultaneously, have an option of exiting the enacted role. That is, not by imitating Western individualism but by “reincarnating” from role to role, the Russian gentry established his or her self as an autonomous agent typologically equivalent to the modern Western “bourgeois subject.” This equivalence does not, however, imply the identity of the historical processes that led to Western European and Russian “modern personality.” The key to the emergence of the type of the “new Russian personality,” as Lotman refers to it, is in the process of unequal intercultural translation discussed above. To be true, by itself, this process is not enough to explain the particularly modern character of the resultant personality type and institutions. So, what was a specific historical process of cultural translation that led to the formation of a distinctively modern Russian personality? In a word, what was its distinctive genealogy? Modern Practices of the Self Lotman does not offer any holistic “meta-narrative” on the nature of this process. Yet, he clearly talks about a number of theatrical “practices of the self,” or “disciplines,” to use Foucault’s language (see 1977; 1980). Indeed, this rapprochement between Foucault and Lotman’s vocabularies is relevant here. Lotman often refers to Tsar Peter’s attempts to “regularize” the domains of life removed from the realm of church and court ritual by enforcing meticulous regulations on language, dress, hygiene, manners, and courting relationships. However, what made them disciplines–that is forms of self-regulation, or domination compatible with choice–were the unexpected consequences of their application. For instance, the establishment of the new hierarchy of state service, the Table of Ranks, was intended as a counterweight to the heredity-based hierarchy among nobility. The purpose of the government was not to forge an independent personality but to circumscribe its subjects’ actions by their roles on specific “stages,” as well as define these roles and stages in the first place. Indeed, the differences between ranks were highly ritualized. For instance, Khlestakov–an accidental usurper of the status of a much-feared inspector from Gogol’s Inspector General–learns about his expected status in the eyes of mistaken local officials from the way they address him (Lotman [1975] 1984b). However, one of the unintended effects of such “regularization” was the introduction of choice into the lives of the nobility. Russian noble persons (men, in particular) found themselves surrounded by a number of actual and, even more so, potential repertoires of action, lifestyles and life-courses. The binary oppositions of ritual vs. ritual-free as well as right vs. wrong courses of behavior no longer structured their lives the way they structured the lives of their predecessors and the commoners. The binding power of expectations and conventions was not automatic but in each individual instance constituted an act of conscious choice and a free manifestation of one’s will. In each situation, the gentry could choose a specific course of behavior depending on the behavior code they found appropriate (e.g. the “codes” of a nobleman or a rank-holder, an officer or an aristocrat, a European or a Russian). They were engaged in different games depending on occasion and place (court, office, ball or estate). Moreover, as any conventional role, the social role presupposed a way of exiting it, as if during intermission. For instance, the ranked relationship in the army structurally presupposed its breaking in the equalitarian 176

atmosphere of drinking officers’ festivities (piry, zaguly) (Lotman 1994a).11 Hence, “regularizing” practices not only widened the outer riches for what the person might have been but actually introduced this “might have been” into the structure of the self.12 Furthermore, as projected by Peter the Great, these practices were supposed to produce a continuum between the nobles of different status. The Table of Ranks implied the possibility of meritocracy. Yet, Lotman notes, while the prospects for the equality of opportunities were still foggy for most actors, some sort of continuum still emerged, the theatrical continuum of the “nobility play.” Although the relationships within nobility were far from egalitarian, the nobles could at least, in contrast to the non-nobles, supplement this lack of equality with “playing noble,” that is performing their equality in honor. Lotman emphasizes that this play should by no means be dismissed as “mere play.” Dueling is an ultimate example of the practice that supports this point. An obvious Western import, dueling acquired immense cultural value in Russia by the early nineteenth century. What made dueling stand out is its ability to symbolically replace the hierarchical violence, and “the tsar’s role in distribution of honor,” by equalizing violence (Reyfman 1999b, 11; 37). By performing extreme sensitivity to the matters of honor, bretteurs—the “priests” of the dueling ritual–put forward (“foregrounded”) the genre conventions of being a nobleman in contrast to the everyday fact of social inequality among the nobles (Lotman 1980). Yet, to make sure that this performance was not taken as just a game, they had to actually risk their lives, even die but also kill. No surprise that the traditional imagery of sacrifice and martyrdom was enmeshed into the mythology of the duel. However, this was not just a replica of the traditional imagery in the Western garb. Lotman realized that the “Roman” heroic cult of self-sacrifice (in duel or suicide) for the sake of preserving honor was absolutely foreign to a medieval Russian or the duelists’ non-noble contemporary (Lotman 1994a). Thus, the resurgence of the medieval imagery was rather a reutilization and reinterpretation of traditional symbolic resources in a different context and for different purposes. To sum up, according to Lotman and his students, in the absence of significant legal or civil protection of individual rights, duelists employed the theatrical devices of code switching and foregrounding to create a supportive framework for corresponding “modern” values among members of the nobility. As a combination of staged behavior and “fateful” seriousness, dueling served to inscribe in participants’ and viewers’ souls and bodies the concepts of personal rights, inviolability of private space, and equality regardless of rank. In a word, even if limited to nobility, Russian duel was a technique of imagining and practicing the community of equal individuals (Lotman [1977]1984; 1980; 1994a). A Genealogy of Modern (Russian) National Identity Lotman considers theatricality as not only a crucible of personal identity-formation but also an environment and a mechanism for the construction of collective identities, modern nationhood in particular. In fact, it is possible to conceive of these processes as different scales at which the same process took place. In particular, Lotman shows that macro-scale theatricality presumed a particular sense of time and space compression. He shows how, in the eighteenth century, in the course of a 11

Relationships with women were another ritualized way of transgressing the system of ranks. Since there were no female ranks, all noble women deserved a gentlemanly attitude from every nobleman, including the emperor (Lotman 1994a). 12 To be sure, the language of the last sentence is that of Ian Hacking (1986) but for a good reason: Hacking’s idea that “we are not what we are but what might have been” (1986, 233) would hold true to Lotman’s analysis of modern Russian subjectivity.


few generations, the whole Western textual tradition befell on the poor minds of the Russian novices. 13 The cinematic speed with which Russia was synchronizing its “clock” with Europe led to the sense of coincidence of various spaces and times (B.Gasparov 1992; Lotman [1986] 1993). A Russian noble person suddenly became an heir to “world history.” His or her culture and everyday life appeared to be a recapitulation of the universal past. In this perspective, history became the space where “all epochs coexist” and one could move between them at one’s will (Levin et al. 1974, 49). Ultimately, in addition to the Enlightenment temporality of rationalization, with its tendency to reject and forget tradition, the Russian Europeanized elites acquired a habit of perceiving history synchronically and spatially. This spatial perception of time had two related consequences. First, it provided local actors with a repertoire of literary genres that they applied not only to writing but also to their daily behavior. For a noble person, modern noble Russia appeared to be a stage on which dramas of past ages and nations were staged and actors moved from one play to another at ease. The figure of the general (later generalissimos) Suvorov provides an illustrative case: this great military leader was successful in “mystifying” his self’s presentation to others (enemies, officers, soldiers, even his daughter) through alternating the roles of an Ancient stoic, a Russian folk hero, and a Parisian ‘master of wit’ (ostroslov) (Lotman [1977] 1984; 1994a). Although the repertoire of this nobleman was limited, his sense of “what he might have been” encompassed multiple layers of the world history. Furthermore, according to Lotman, the sense of compression contributed to a peculiar sense of national identity. Russian nobility conceived of Russia as simultaneously local and global, new (young) and old (primordial), Western and non-Western. Lotman and Uspensky ([1975]1994) demonstrate how “innovators” and “archaists,” the contending parties in the early nineteenth century debates on the nature of the national literary language, shared this sense of simultaneity and compression as a maker of identity and difference. In fact, their opposition can be summarized as the one between different alignments among abovementioned dichotomies. For instance, the “innovators” justified the inclusiveness and “universality” of Russian language by its youthfulness and thus excluded older Russian (Slavonic) literary traditions. In contrast, the “archaists” substantiated their claim on exclusiveness by appeals to primordiality and thus included(!) a large number of previous hybridizations except for most recent French influxes (Lotman and Uspensky [1975] 1994). Lotman might have concluded that both positions shared a sense of the “universal responsiveness” of Russian language and culture, to use a phrase coined by Dostoyevsky. This perspective on modern Russian national identity offers a substantive counterweight to traditional interpretations of Russian and other Eastern-European nations as cultural, ethnic, exclusive and resistant to the West in contrast to civic, territorial and inclusive Western European nations of citizens (Kohn 1967; Smith 1971). In Lotman’s portrayal, Russian identity was much more hybrid and contradictory than these perspectives allow. To be sure, Lotman’s genealogy of the Russian national identity is far from being complete: he focuses only on Russian elites and usually leaves out other national elites, other social classes and the whole dimension of the Russian empire-building. Moreover, just like many students of Russia, he may have overemphasized the particularity of Russian national identity. For one thing, the sense of time and space compression is characteristic for the modern condition as such (Harvey 1989). Moreover, the acute sense of simultaneity as well 13

There is some controversy over the reasons why, despite Russia’s Christianity and developed culture of writing, it did not inherit much of ancient texts and whole genres. Explanations include Eastern Orthodoxy, relative cultural isolation, or the nature of Church Slavonic.


as the interplay between binary categories is characteristic of many other “late-comers.” Synchronization and creolization are key characteristics of globalization (Nederveen Pieterse 1995). Thus, at one level, Lotman’s account of modern Russian national identity is a case study exemplifying a larger case. All it needs is a larger comparative perspective. Yet, beyond this limitation, Lotman’s studies on theatricality allow to go beyond modernization approaches and perennialist perspectives to the history of Russia and modernity at large. According to Lotman’s neo-historicist line of reasoning, theatricality of the nobility’s daily life was an emergent product and a specific environment for the asymmetrical “cultural dialogue” between Russia and Europe in the eighteenth–early nineteenth century. The dimensions of this dialogue included compression and spatialization of time, multiplication of everyday genres, as well as an ambiguity of the gentry’s status between “Russian” and “European” as well as “artistic” and “real.” Irreducible to some form of mimicking or reproduction of Western modern or Russian medieval practices, theatricality refers to selfconscious play with multiple historical lineages and possibilities in the peculiar atmosphere of the Russian noble estates and salons. Such theatrical practices as dueling, writing/reading, and salon gathering supported and embodied the formation of historically unique but still modern institutions of individuality, civility and nationality. To use Andrew Pickering’s metaphor, theatricality was a kind of a “mangle” of various practices and institutions at hand, a mangle that engendered their unpredictable transformations to produce a specific version of Russian modernity (Pickering 1995).14 Theatricality and Modernity: The Prospects In what follows, I analyze Lotman’s contributions to the theory of modernity by drawing more explicit comparisons with existing Western approaches. My point is that Lotman is responsible for a grounded theory of “multiple modernities” which, however, due to his Russian focus, is in need of further explication. First, let me return to the modern nature of theatricality. Above, I argued that the theatrical attitude of Russian dandies to themselves and their social world, as examined by Yuri Lotman, is structurally equivalent to Baudelaire’s modernist attitude. Now, after familiarizing ourselves with Lotman’s account of Russian modernity, we can introduce significant distinctions between various perspectives on modernity. According to Foucault (1978), Baudelaire’s modernist attitude was actually a reaction toward the break with tradition engendered by the deep institutional and cultural changes in the West over last three-four centuries. It was a reaction toward the very fact of “discontinuity of time,” to what Baudelaire called “the ephemeral, the fleeting, the contingent” aspect of modern life (Foucault 1978, 39). “Reaction,” here, does not imply rejection. Neither it is a mindless adaptation to modernity as a fact. It is rather a way of distancing oneself from the flow of things in order to accept it consciously as an imperative for self-invention (1978, 42). Similarly, the theatrical attitude of a Russian noble person was a reaction toward the perceived rupture in the local tradition. Yet, as Lotman argues, not discontinuity of time but the spatiality of time, the sense of compressed juxtaposition of different epochs, places and personages, dominated the imagination of the Russian educated gentleman. The theatrical attitude was an attempt to author the world of interstitial choices 14

The mangle metaphor is inspired by “the old-fashioned devise of the same name used to squeeze the water out of the washing” (Pickering 1995, 23). Andrew Pickering uses this metaphor to provide an image of scientific practice as the “dance of agency” and the “dialectic of resistance and accommodation” (1995, 22).


opened by the eighteenth century transformations of Russian society. In Lotman’s words, this attitude was “an appropriation and transformation” of the world (primarily Western) culture into the repertoire of one’s personal self-cultivation and self-invention not only in art but also in daily life (Lotman [1975] 1984a, 117). Thus, if Baudelaire’s modernism was a response to the fact that “everything solid melts into the air” (Marx), Russian theatricality was rather an awareness that “all epochs coexist” and the world is a stage for the individuality’s performance (see Osip Mandelstam in Levin et al., 1974). That is, a Western modernist artist actually presumed the existence of the “modern,” discontinuous with the past, institutions like market and civil society. In contrast, a Russian dandy found himself torn apart between “western” and “Russian,” “new” and “old” artifacts and customs. In this oppositions, “new” did not necessarily stand for “modern:” even Petrine “regular state” soon started to be perceived a result of the perennial national history of state-building (see Karamzin’s classical History of the Russian State). The modern– personality, nation, literature–was to be invented out of these oppositions in the course of the everyday efforts at performing and alternating various scenarios. Modernity was not presumed; in the absence of market, bourgeoisie and civil society, the theatricality of the nobility’s daily life was, at the period discussed, the only context in which a peculiar Russian modernity could emerge as a set of social representations and realities. As discussed above, dueling is one of the exemplary practices of such theatrical modernity-construction. Similarly, in Lotman’s studies, aristocratic salons as well as all-male “friendly literary circles” are primary instances of modern associations and exemplary sites of theatrical self-fashioning. What features of these salons and circles made them deserve such a characterization?15 Primarily, it was the attitude to language and self cultivated by the members of these gatherings. Playful and witty, the language of salons was based on accentuated inversions, displacements and extensions of accepted meanings as well as on constant alternations between various genres, from the “highest” to the “lowest.” By assuming new names, often borrowed from ancient mythology or history, the members of salons acquired the aura of theatrical ambiguity essential for salon communication. Yet, this was not a carnivalesque ambiguity. Bakhtin’s (1984) carnival is all-inclusive while salon is elitist: it excluded everyone who lacked social or cultural capital to participate in the hinted, elusive and allusive salon chitchat. In this respect, salons only reproduced existing social hierarchy. However, by subsuming all participants, often people of varied rank, degree of nobility (znatnost’) or age, to the same rules of the game and criteria of “taste,” salons contributed to the democratization of the cultural life (cf. Coser 1970). In Lotman’s view, salons were the forms of pure sociality, or social experimentation “labs,” in which linguistic, communicative and scientific innovations could have been tried out. They also produced a certain stability to the hectic theatricality of life by ritualizing it and establishing a linguistic tradition (Lotman [1979] 1993, 436). Ultimately, as Lotman put it in his 1982 lectures, salons were “circles of people who, while having fun, created the world of culture.” The world of distinctively modern culture, one might add. Thus, such practices as dueling and salon gathering were crucial “disciplines” of the modern self as well as major environments for modernity-construction at large. This conclusion, however, does not sit easily with most classical and contemporary theories and histories of modernity. They usually share what might be called an anti-aristocratic bias and presume that the “real” modernity is always a bourgeois modernity. In his renowned theory of the public sphere, Habermas clearly indicates that his normative concept of the space for rational and uncoerced discourse finds its most adequate realization in the eighteenth15

The following discussion is based on a number of papers (Lotman ([1975] 1984a; 1992) and Yuri Lotman’s lectures at Tartu University during 1982 Spring Term (LC, F136, s.45).


nineteenth century bourgeois civil society (Habermas 1991). Only mutually independent and legally equal propertied individuals, separated from their traditional roots and connected by the generalized market exchange, can engage in what Kant saw as a free (autonomous and self-oriented), universal, and public use of reason (Foucault 1978, 35). Similarly, Norbert Elias, in his studies of German culture, emphasizes the crucial opposition between the figures of the university-educated German Bürger and the aristocrat, the bearers of distinctive kinds of ethos (Elias 1996). Egalitarianism vs. elitism, (universalistic ) virtue vs. (class) honor, talk vs. duel (as comparable ways of resolving conflicts), negotiation vs. violence and personal self-cultivation (Bildung) vs. external embellishment are some of distinctive features of two opposite cultural types and social groups. No surprise that Elias traces the “breakdown of the standard of civilization” under Nazi regime to the adoption of the honor code and dueling rituals by the middle classes. Finally, just to finish this list of anti-aristocratic biases, Benedict Anderson establishes a direct lineage between nobility and racism by suggesting the continuity of the discourse of “pure blood” (Anderson 1991). Lotman’s portrayal of distinctively “noble” modernity implies a number of criticisms of this bias. Not unlike Nancy Fraser (1992), he challenges the singularity of the bourgeois public sphere and the educated bourgeoisie as the agent of modernity. In contrast to Habermas and Elias, he does not idealize the Russian nobility by emphasizing its universality, egalitarianism and inclusiveness. On the contrary, he shows how theatrical practices of the self encompassed these values along with the introduction of more systematic class distinctions. According to Lotman, “dueling expresses both class (soslovnaia) idea of corporate honor and all-human idea of protecting human dignity” (Lotman 1980, 95). Such a site of everyday theatricality as the salon is a great example of the co-existence and compatibility of these vectors in the same practice. Moreover, according to Lotman, the very fact that salons are by no means inclusive social forms makes them perfect laboratories for social innovation and personal self-invention. Lotman’s implicit critique of the anti-aristocratic bias characteristic for most significant perspectives on modernity points to the essential weakness of these conceptions. They often tend to presume the essential uniqueness of the Western “personality,” its bourgeois character and its replicability to other cultural and social contexts. However, Lotman’s studies on theatricality imply alternative conclusions. One conclusion is that there may be multiple sites of the “self”-generation, both across cultures and, perhaps, within single culture, as Habermas’ critics argue (see Frazer 1992). These sites are not necessarily bourgeoisie- or market-based. They may be aristocracy- and friendship-based. Bourgeois subjectivity and public sphere are not the only forms of modern subjectivity and publicity. Other forms are not necessarily results of replication of the bourgeois “prototypes” across nation-state or the world. Although typologically equivalent, these forms may be outcomes of distinctively different historical paths. For instance, if, according to most Marxist conceptions of modernity, modern subjectivity was a result of the development of capitalism and industrialism in Western Europe, in Russia, according to Lotman, it was a product of a particular process of intercultural translation. Theatricality of the nobility’s everyday life–at once a product and an environment for such translation–was the most distinctive aspect of this process. It served as a crucible for various incoming historical traditions of both native and alien origin. Its legacy should be taken into account when we try to understand the fate of “modern” institutions in the nineteenth and twentieth century Russia. To sum up, Lotman’s thinking on Russian modernity undoubtedly very uneven. It might definitely dissatisfy the one who is looking for some explicit and comprehensive metanarrative on modern Russian culture and modernity as a whole. Much of Lotman’s thinking is to be extracted from the body of his specific historical analyses. Furthermore, it is also true that Lotman’s focus on the educated gentry is to the detriment to considering other possible 181

agents of Russian modernity, including lower and middle classes as well as non-Russian nationalities. If these actors appear in the Tartu research, their presence is usually refracted through the texts created by the gentry. This “textocentrism” and “gentry-centrism,” both in theory and methodology, is both a particularity and a limitation of Lotman’s culturology. By narrowing down the scope of “modernizing publics” to the nobility, Lotman neglects the whole layers of Russian history, perhaps even other possible Russian modernities. This being said, we should not disregard the fact that Lotman laid a number of cornerstones to the foundation of the contemporary genealogy of modernity as a performative and multi-local process. Here, I intentionally use the term “genealogy” in Foucauldian sense. Like Foucault, Lotman contributed to the reorientation of historical and social research from detecting transhistorical analogies and hereditary lineages to “the confluence of encounters and chances,” to the “course of precarious and fragile history” (Foucault 1990, 37). Despite certain conceptual incoherence and empirical narrowness of Lotman’s studies on early Russian modernity, he has in fact proposed a viable alternative to his own and other existing conceptions which rely on the Eurocentric notions of “progress” and “modernization” as well as on cultural-relativistic concepts of perennial national culture. Moreover, the peculiarity of his material makes his studies relevant to the genealogies of modernity in non-Western world. It may well be that the critical reading of his concept of “theatricality” with respect to Russian and other Western and non-Western histories will still bring unanticipated fruits. Ultimately, it is not an accident that some of the most interesting recent work on Russian history is done in Russia and in the West by people somehow indebted to Lotman as well as in his favorite field of expertise (e.g. Pogosjan 2001; Wortman 1995; Zhivov 1996; 2002; Zorin 2001).



LotMAN это тоже обМАН, но МАНит1 In one of the August 2003 issues of the popular Russian tabloid, Moskovskii Komsomolets (MK), one could find a television schedule with four large advertisements of the upcoming shows. In the manner of postmodern eclecticism, four distant images are juxtaposed above one another on the same page: a portrait of Napoleon, an iconic image of Marilyn Monroe, a dull face of a former chief coach of the national soccer team and… a photo of Yuri Lotman lecturing. This odd juxtaposition brings to mind Lotman’s insistence on the fragmented and polyglot character of human culture. As “splinters” of various discourses, these images are decontextualized and malleable objects for commercial manipulation. Turned into advertisements, they are fleeting signs of diversity and choice: the next day will bring utterly different images. Here, “high” culture and history peacefully coexist with popular culture and entertainment. “Culture” with capital “C” is a commodity “brought to the masses” by the Tartu professor. His Conversations on Russian Culture lecture series (Lotman 2003) are advertised as “the minimum amount of knowledge necessary for a civilized (intelligentnyi) human being.” The most obvious lesson of these MK advertisements is that the work of the School by no means disappeared together with the disappearance of its social context. On the contrary, it expanded its network in a number of unpredictable and not always desired directions. In fact, Lotman’s lectures were recorded in 1986-89 during the perestroika when interest in national cultural history was on the rise. This program disappeared from the screen in the 1990s only to reappear after 2000 to be shown every year before the beginning of the school year. Overall, Lotman’s public appearance has definitely surpassed that of any other Russian humanist scholar and his name is one of the few names of the intellectual celebrities of the Soviet period who have increased their presence beyond the fall of Communism. I would even say that, at present, Lotman has become, however unwillingly, one of those “patron saints” of popular culture who stand for specific domains as their icons. If Einstein stands for “science,” Lotman seems to stand for “culture” in contemporary Russia.2


“Lotman is also an illusion but it draws you in.” This is the opening line of Alexander Bergelson's poetic experiment The Lotman Game. 2 Lotman’s works appear to be inexhaustible resources for commercial exploitation. One of the most famous TV commercials of the 1990s (ordered by now defunct Imperial Bank) came straight from his lectures on Russian culture. It is also known that one of the posh restaurants in Moscow, The Pushkin’s House, employed the idea of Lotman’s last project called The High Society Dinners (Lotman and Pogosjan 1996). In this project, Lotman and his assistant reconstructed one epoch in the history of early modern Russia by compiling a bricolage of old menus, newspaper excerpts and other printed matter year by year.


There is irony in this situation. As I demonstrated in previous chapters, the work of Lotman and the Tartu School has been, to a large extent, a rather academic and even esoteric enterprise motivated by what I have called the “archaist” agenda and discourse. This agenda consisted in preserving the conditions under which cultural resources would be able to reproduce themselves. It was to ascertain the autonomy of the classical culture of the past and its immunity to the attempts to appropriate it by political powers and market forces. In contrast to their Western colleagues, especially French (post-) structuralists, Lotman and his colleagues were interested not so much in uncovering the “relations of power” hidden within cultural artifacts but in unbinding their inherent creative power, “the power of the word.” In contrast to contemporary cultural studies with their overtly political desire to “give voice” to various publics (“readers,” “women,” or “subalterns”) and to debase existing cultural hegemonies, the School was concerned about protecting the autonomy and authority of the cultural elites against political elites as well as against the increasing democratization of the intellectual professions (cf. Marx-Scouras 1996, 109). It is not surprising that, within contemporary Russian academia, the names of Lotman and Tartu are often used to protect the entrenched positions of both the new and the old academic establishment against the attacks of local “postmodernists,” “neo-Marxists” and nationalists contending for the redistribution of academic power. Yet, it has been my point throughout this work that the “legacy” of the Tartu School and Lotman, in particular, is very heterogeneous and diverse. It is by no means a “system;” it is rather, in Lotman’s terms, a multivocal “text” open for multiple projections and interpretations. In particular, the culturalist emphasis on “depth” and “continuity” as well as a somewhat essentialistic usage of typological categories coexists, often peacefully, with the neo-historicist emphasis on unpredictability and emergence. Static binary typologies coexist with the dialectics of the center and periphery within polyglot cultures. The calls for “culture preservation” alternate with the emphasis on culture’s “power of spontaneous rebirth” (Lotman, quoted in Torop 2000b, 15). In effect, the output of Tartu scholarship is not susceptible to easy and allencompassing characterization and evaluation. Undoubtedly, some of the studies did not lead very far, as in case of most of the attempts to marshal the uniform and formalized typological description of culture. Other Tartu perspectives might have been heavily burdened by the assumptions of “authenticity” and “ ancestry” but produced interesting results in adjacent fields, as is the case with the “mythopoetic” studies in modern art and technology. Finally, there are a number of perspectives which deserve attentive exploration against the background of contemporary Western cultural theory. In my research, I pay particular attention to Yuri Lotman and his colleagues’ studies on the “artistic text” and culture as text and memory. Although by no means devoid of theoretical and empirical problems, these studies offered a much needed alternative to the efforts of the representatives of Anglo-American cultural studies and French poststructuralism to “dissolve” culture and identity in the power relations. Although Tartu scholars provided sophisticated theories of textual dynamism, complexity and creative ambiguity, they did not overemphasize the plasticity and/or instrumentality of texts, as many contemporary theorists do. By defining cultural processes as processes of remembering and reenacting one’s past, Tartu scholars justified the autonomy of cultural texts and their ability to actively resist any attempts to appropriate them for other (political, economic, etc.) uses. Far from advocating the ethereality and ideality of the cultural, Lotman embeds its autonomy in what might be called “multimateriality,” or ability to be projected onto multiple material media and experiential horizons. This is a source of culture’s unique power and resilience: Lotman often quoted the writer Mikhail Bulgakov’s famous phrase, “manuscripts do not burn,” and expanded on it by saying that “they [manuscripts, texts] are remarkably resistant 184

to damage. If such power was applied for demolishing a tank, it would immediate turn into sand” (see Koshelev 1994, 450). The overall ambiguity of the Tartu paradigm leads to both problematic choices and significant achievements. For instance, some of the most famous Tartu studies in the “semiotics of Russian culture” suffer from cutting short their promising critique of the Eurocentric assumptions of progress and modernization. Lotman and Uspenskij (1984) unveil the complex texture of the “semiotic wars” in late medieval Russian culture only to reduce the complexity of the transnational dialogue to sets of binary oppositions and essentialistic portrayals of continuous and bounded cultures. Simultaneously, by keeping closer to what I have called “neo-historicist” agenda, Lotman creates a powerful picture of the series of non-linear, unpredictable and socially situated cultural “translations” constitutive of Russian early modernity. His studies on the theatricality of the Russian gentry’s behavior and experience contain a grounded theory of modern personhood and a not fully explicit theory of human agency as performance. Furthermore, by analyzing the early nineteenth century aristocratic milieu, Lotman challenges the assumptions of the “bourgeois” nature of modernity and modern subjectivity. In this way, he develops a research framework which is sensitive to the multiplicity of “modernities.” While exploring and evaluating the School’s contributions to contemporary cultural analysis, I do not only introduce not very well-known ideas to the wider audience of the humanists and social scientists but also participate in a number of related conversations in the fields of history and sociology of knowledge and (Soviet) science. Specifically, in an effort to introduce the Tartu School’s language, references, preoccupations and ideas, I explore the context of the structuralist and semiotic movements in a transnational perspective. I demonstrate that, far from being just a sideway route with respect to the highway of “from structuralism to poststructuralism,” the history of the Tartu School allows us to challenge the existing master-narratives of global structuralism and cultural sciences. The study on the School’s international background is an aspect of a larger effort to provide a symmetrical account of the interactions between science and society in the history of Soviet human sciences. In this book, I have tried to demonstrate that only such a perspective allows us to avoid the arbitrary reduction of knowledge in question to its purely intellectual content, as opposed to products of social “externalities.” By considering science and society “symmetrically,” I have considered every aspect of the work of the School as simultaneously “intellectual” and “social” (cf. Bloor 1976; Bourdieu 1991; Latour 1988; 1993). By developing a symmetrical perspective on the Tartu School, this book critiques the myth that Soviet science cannot be productively subjected to such an analysis (see Graham 1998). On the contrary, I have demonstrated that Soviet science can be studied according to basically the same methodology as Western science. The difference may be the one of emphases. If Western students of science have been more concerned about problematizing the presumption of science’s autonomy, the students of Soviet science may contribute with their emphasis on understanding how scholars negotiate for higher autonomy of their endeavors under the conditions of more direct involvement of the state with practice, discourse and internal differentiation within academic fields. Since “power and knowledge directly imply each other” (Foucault 1977, 27), Soviet science is no longer an exotic case of the exceptional transparency of science to power structures; it may rather serve as a “laboratory case” where these mutual “implications” between power and knowledge are more open for detection. Thus my study provides methodological guidelines and substantive data for further comparative analyses of Russian/Soviet and Western sciences and societies.


In accordance with the methodological maxims of the symmetrical perspective, I have traced the links and “translations” between intellectual conversations and the group’s involvement in the power games in a number of overlapping academic and intellectual and even political settings within Soviet society. In some detail, I have analyzed the significance of the “discourse of archaism” as a set of both intellectual assumptions and social strategies which span the borders of academic, political and intellectual fields. Although by no means unique to the School or the late Soviet intelligentsia, the archaist emphasis on persistent “aging” of contemporary practices proved to be resonant with the School’s social position and its members’ dispositions as Soviet intellectuals and academics. I further suggest that this discourse endows the work of the School with the coherence of a distinctive “thought style” (Fleck 1979). The internal ambiguities within this style make “thinkable” what otherwise might have looked like unconnected and contradictory set of frameworks and research strategies within the oeuvre of the School. As a student of Soviet science and academia, I have encountered a number of myths that still haunt the field. One set of myths comes to us from both Soviet dissidents and Western Cold War warriors, who tend to indulge in simplistic binary mappings of socialist societies in terms of, for example, state vs. intelligentsia or ideology vs. science. The history of the Tartu School provides an opportunity for drawing a different picture. Specifically, by tracing various conflicts in Soviet academia, analyzing their stakes, resources employed and actors involved, I have shown that, although these rivalries may have been represented by actors in binary oppositions, these rivalries were by no means fully structured by these oppositions. In fact, to present your group, class or cultural identity and your distinction from non-members (“them”) in the form of the rhetorically powerful oppositions like science vs. ideology, or decency vs. selling out, was one of the most effective strategies of gaining competitive advantage in the Soviet academic wars. Overall, the picture of Soviet academia that I have drawn in this book is the one of the competition between different academic publics, the competition that was structured by multiple axes of contention, which rarely fitted together neatly. For instance, Soviet structuralists were confronted not only by some party hacks and “ideologists” but also disciplinary scholars who felt threatened in their established academic positions by the interdisciplinary expansion of structuralism and semiotics. This portrayal of Soviet academia leads me to the key substantive contributions of this book, the analysis of informal “parallel science” and its role in the struggles for academic autonomy. The main benefit of the concept of “parallel science” is that it does not presume the binary picture of the Soviet reality but allows us to analyze it. I have argued that, despite and even due to the emphatic distancing from official procedures, discourses and symbols, parallel science coexisted symbiotically with the formal institutions and official discourses. Precisely because its members and outsiders perceived parallel science to be a form of resistance to and avoidance of the “Soviet realities,” parallel science served as a particularly advantageous position within Soviet academia, a site from which Soviet academics engaged in negotiating their place in society and established their effective control over knowledge, culture and languages as valuable social resources. This conclusion develops and applies to the case in question the contemporary interpretations of the social role of the intelligentsia in Soviet society (Faraday 2000; King and Szelenyi 2004; Lovell 2000; Verdery 1991). I am talking specifically about the idea that the Soviet intellectual elite was not merely a victim of the Communist regime but also a privileged status group within Soviet society. This privilege was based on the intellectuals’ access to such social resources as culture, knowledge, education and language. Because they were valued highly by the Soviet regime, the control over these resources was a crucial concern for both intellectuals and authorities. My analysis of parallel science’s discourse of 186

anti-politics and the Tartu intellectual paradigm gives credence to Katherine Verdery’s point that, under the socialist conditions, “because cultural and knowledge claims are intellectuals’ only justification,… the currency of the competition will be a defense of culture, of ‘authentic’ values, of standards of professionalism and knowledge” (1991, 94). This observation is particularly relevant for understanding the intellectual and public stances of the Soviet intellectuals of the 1960s-70s, as opposed to the stances of their Western counterparts, the representatives of the 1968 generation. Whereas the Russians were engaged in the struggle for strengthening their privileged access to knowledge and culture, the Westerners waged a “countercultural” critique of the intellectuals’ monopolistic claims on these resources. I suggest that the distinctive character of the intellectuals’ involvement in politics and broader social life in this period in Soviet Russia and in the West is relevant for understanding some of the contrastive foci of Tartu and French (post) structuralist cultural theories. In conclusion, I want to repeat that the account of the history of Soviet structuralism and the Tartu School provided here by no means claims to be comprehensive. I have omitted many ideas and aspects of the School’s social existence which are undoubtedly worth studying. I have touched other ideas and aspects in passing. One of such topics—the Tartu School as an illuminating site for understating the politics of language and culture in Soviet Estonia, that is in the Soviet “imperial” context—I developed in one of my recent publications (Waldstein 2007). A few other topics—for instance, the relevance of Lotman’s ideas on theatricality of everyday behavior for understanding the cultures of the Soviet intelligentsia of his time, or a more detailed account of the School’s reception in the West— are still on my “to do” list. In addition to studying the social context of the School further, it is important to continue to bring the ideas of Lotman and his colleagues in dialogue with Western scholarship. Along with some other authors (e.g. Schönle 2006), I have started a series of bridge building operations in this book and in my other publication (Waldstein, forthcoming). Yet, this should only be the start of the whole genre of studies, in which I hope other scholars will participate, too. Furthermore, the research in the history and ideas of the Tartu School provides a promising vantage point for approaching the context of the post-Soviet transformation of science and academia in Russia and other Soviet republics. The Tartu School and culturology at large play a pivotal role in these processes and thus are crucial for understanding how the meanings and power hierarchies of Soviet science change and persist. As one of the fathers of culturology–the field which partially inherited the status of Marxist philosophy in Russian humanities academia, –Lotman is becoming a highly contested figure, which is appropriated by various fractions within academia and, as we have seem, even by popular culture. The negotiations over the “memory” of the School are highly suggestive if we wish to understand the current role of the educated middle classes, intellectual elites, academia and “culture” in the post-Soviet realm. Whereas Yuri Lotman seems to be in vogue in Russia at the moment, Western humanities and social sciences may soon be hard-pressed to reconsider the significance of one more “Russian.” Whatever will be the ultimate decision—although we know that it is not going to be final, —I hope this book will play its role in boosting the global intellectual dialogue across disciplinary and national borders.




Graduation date

Yuri M. LOTMAN (1922-1993)

Imprisonment, emigration

Major places of work

Fields of academic expertise

Leningrad U. (1950)

Tartu U.

Russian literature and culture

Vladimir N. TOPOROV (1928-2005)

Moscow U. (1951)


Indo-European Linguistics, Myth, Russian Literature

Boris A. USPENSKY (b. 1935)

Moscow U. (1960)

Moscow U., U. Naples (since 1992)

Russian Literature and Culture

Viacheslav V. IVANOV (b. 1929)

Moscow U. (1951)

Moscow U., ISB, UCLA

Indo-European Linguistics, Myth, Russian Literature

Dmitri M. SEGAL (b. 1938)

Moscow U. (1960)

Israel (1973)

Folklore, Myth

Alexander M. PIATIGORSKY (b.1929)

Moscow U. (1952)

Israel (1972), Great Britain (1974)

Yuri I. LEVIN (b. 1935)

Moscow U. (1958)

Isaak I. REVZIN (1923-74)

Moscow U. (ni)

Zara G. MINTS (1927-90)

Leningrad U. (1949)

Moscow U., Hebrew U. Jerusalem AN Institute of Oriental Studies, U. London Moscow Construction Institute Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages Tartu U.


Philosophy, Religion, Buddhism Mathematical Logic, Literature Linguistics

Russian Literature

This list is compiled based on the frequency of the academic contributions to Tartu semiotic publications during Kääriku summer schools (1964-1974). The formal criterion of inclusion is three or more publications in Sémeiotiké during this period (see Isakov 1991).


Tatiana V. TSIVIAN (b. 1937)

Moscow U. (1959)


Folklore, Myth

Alexander Ia. SYRKIN (ni)

Moscow U.

Israel (1970s)

AN Institute of Oriental Studies AN Institute of Oriental Studies, U. Strasbourg AN Institute of Oriental Studies

Linguistics, Myth

Boris L. OGIBENIN (ni)

Moscow U.

France (1974)

Yuri K. LEKOMTSEV (1929-84)

Moscow U. (1955)

Sergei Iu. NEKLIUDOV (b.1941)

Moscow U. (1965)

IMLI, Russian U. of the Humanities

Folklore, Myth, Mongol Studies

Lennart MÄLL (b.1938)

Tartu U. (1962)

Tartu U.

Language, Literature, Buddhism

Petr G. BOGATYREV (1893-1971)

Moscow U. (1918)

Charles U. of Prague, Moscow U.

Folklore, Theater

Boris M. GASPAROV (b. 1940) Eliazar M. MELETINSKY (1918-2005)

Rostov U. (1961)

USA (1980)

Tartu U.

Gulag (194346, 1949-54)

IMLI, Russian University of the Humanities

Folklore, Myth, Literature

Olga G. REVZINA (b. 1939)

Moscow Institute of History, Philosophy and Literature (1940) Moscow U. (1961)

Moscow U.


Jaak PÕLDMÄE (1942-79)

Tartu U. (1967)

Tartu U.


Igor A. CHERNOV (b. 1943)

Tartu U. (1966)

Tartu U.


Tatiana Ia. ELIZARENKOVA (1929-2007)

Moscow U. (1951)

Moscow U., AN Institute of Oriental Studies

Literature, Ritual, Indian culture

Margarita I. LEKOMTSEVA (b. 1935)

Moscow U. (1960)


Language, Literature, Folklore


Linguistics, Myth


Tatiana M. NIKOLAEVA (b. 1933)

Moscow U. (1956)

Lev ZHEGIN (1892-1969) Elena SEMEKA (b. 1931)

Moscow School of Fine Arts (1919) Moscow U. (1954)

Grigory A. LEVINTON (ni)

Leningrad U. (1970)

Mikhail L. GASPAROV (1935-2005)

Moscow U. (1957)

Elena V. PADUCHEVA (b. 1935)

Moscow U. (1957)

Elena S. NOVIK (ni)

Moscow U. (1965)


Language, Literature, Folklore Artist, painter, illustrator

USA (1970s)


AN Institute of Oriental Studies, MIT Leningrad U., European U.St. Petersburg IMLI, RAN Institute of Russian Language AN Institute of Scientific and Technical Information Russian U. of the Humanities

Ritual, Myth

Literature, Folklore Literature


Folklore, Ritual


Irina Avramets, Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Estonia; email communication in Russian, March 2002. Igor Chernov, Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Estonia; taped interview in Russian, October 2001. Alexander Danilevsky, Department of Russian Literature, University of Tartu; taped interview in Russian, October 2001. Boris Dubin and Lev Gudkov, VTsIOM/ Levada Center; taped interview in Russian, July 2002. Boris Gasparov, Columbia University; conversations, 2002, 2003, 2004. Mikhail Gasparov, academician (RAN); email communication in Russian, September 2002. Jelena Grigorjeva, Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu; taped interview in Russian, October 2001. Viacheslav V. Ivanov, academician (RAN), Moscow University /UCLA; taped interview in Russian, July 2002. Sergei Isakov, Department of Russian Literature, University of Tartu; taped interview in Russian, October 2001. Lyubov Kiseleva, Department of Russian Literature, University of Tartu; taped interview in Russian, October 2001. Yuri Levin, retired; taped interview in Russian, September 2001. Margarita Lekomtseva, RAN; taped interview in Russian, July 2001. Mikhail Lotman, Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu; taped interviews in Russian, October-November 2001. Sergei Nekliudov, Russian University of the Humanities; taped interviews in Russian, December 2001. Tatiana Nikolaeva, RAN; taped interview in Russian, July 2002. Alexander Ospovat, UCLA; taped interview in Russian, September 2001. Jelena Pogosjan, University of Tartu/ University of Alberta, Canada; taped interview in Russian, October 2001; conversations, Boston, December 2004. Pavel Reifman and Larisa Volpert, Department of Russian Literature, University of Tartu; taped interview in Russian, October 2001. Olga Revzina, Department of Russian Literature, Moscow University; taped interview in Russian, July 2002. Mikhail Ryklin, RAN; taped interview in Russian, July 2002. Leonid Stolovich, University of Tartu, retired; taped interviews in Russian, OctoberNovember 2001. Vladimir Toporov, academician (RAN); taped interview in Russian, July 2002. Peeter Torop, Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu; taped interviews in Russian, October-November 2001. 191

Tatiana Tsivian, RAN; taped interviews in Russian, December 2001. Viktor Zhivov, RAN/UC Berkley; taped interviews in Russian, September and December 2001. Alexander Zholkovsky, University of South California; taped interviews in Russian, July 2002. OTHER IMPORTANT INFORMANTS Albert Baiburin, European University at St Petersburg; Henryk Baran, SUNY-Albany; Robert Belknap, Columbia University; Svetlana Boym, Harvard University; Tatiana Chernigovskaya, European University at St Petersburg; Marina Grishakova, University of Tartu; Tatiana Kuzovkina, University of Tartu; Yuri Levada, VTsIOM; Andrei Nemzer, NLO; Segodnia newspaper; Valery Podoroga, RAN Institute of Philosophy; Irina Reyfman, Columbia University; Vladimir Romanov, Moscow University; Boris Uspensky, Moscow University/University of Naples, Italy; Richard Wortman, Columbia University; Liudmila Zaionts, Moscow University; Andrei Zorin, Russian University of the Humanities, Moscow/Oxford University; and many others.


Appendix C THE UNIVERSITY OF TARTU: A Historical Note

1632-1710: Academica Gustaviana Dorpatensis 1802-1893: Kaiserliche Universität zu Dorpat 1893-1918: Imperatorskii Iur'evskii Universitet (Imperial University of Iur’ev) 1919-1940: Tartu Ülikool (University of Tartu) 1942-44: Ostland-Universität in Dorpat 1940-1941, 1944-1989: Tartuskii gosudarstvennyi universitet (Tartu State University) Since 1989: Tartu Ülikool (University of Tartu) As one can see from this timeline, the history of the University of Tartu reflected the history of the small country of Estonia which served as a borderland between great powers for centuries. Founded by a Swedish king, the university changed its jurisdiction and language of instruction a number of times. Despite these perturbations, it has been an important international center of higher learning able to attract scholars like Karl Ernst von Baer, the founder of embryology, and Jan Baudouin de Courtenay, the predecessor of linguistic structuralism and phonology. Since the nineteenth century, it was also a center of Estonian national culture: the present national flag was originally a flag of the Estonian Students’ Society (Source:



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This book mentions many people and concepts. I have limited the index to concepts and people who make a substantial appearance and play central role in my discussion. Abaev, V. I., 27 Academy of Sciences, Soviet/Russian, 16, 17, 22, 23, 33-35, 40, 68, 70, 75 Adams, Mark, x, 11, 40-41 Althusser, Louis, 102, 128, 133 anti-politics, 8, 42-44, 46, 80, 186 archaism, Tartu discourse of, 7, 40, 59-64, 63n.47, 154 aristocratic idiom, 135-137, 164 Bakhtin, M. M., 4n.10, 57, 67, 70n.68; reception in the West, 98-103; and Lotman, 120, 127, 129-133, carnival and theatricality, 170, 171 Barthes, Roland, 8, 61; and structuralism, 8589, 104; and Jakobson, 91-94; and Lotman, 120, 127, 128, 135 Berg, A. I., 22, 24 blat, 11, 82, 83 Bloor, David, 5 Bogatyrev. P.G., x, 32, 47, 54, 56, 61, 95, 108, 109, 189 Bondi, A.M., 27, 28 Bourdieu, Pierre, 6, 11, 28, 50, 73, 103, 131, 138-140, 185; definition of “capital,” 11n.16; symbolic power, 28, 78 Brezhnev, L.I., 41, 44, 51n.18, 64, 74 Brodsky, Joseph, 53, 33n.38 Chernov, I. A., 32, 34, 144, 148, 189, 191 Collins, Randall, x, 6, 20, 50 communication theory, 90-93 culture, 1-3, 10; and the discourse of archaism, 59-64; cultural turn and culturology, 138-144; Lotman’s definitions of, 144-148; universal typologies of, 148-150; Russian culture and binary models, 150-155; and cultural dynamics, 155-161; and counter-culture, 100, 132, 133, 170; and modernity, 59, 166-182

cultural studies, 13, 19, 28, 57, 70, 85, 102, 161, 162, 184 cultural turn, 57, 137-140 culturology, 2, 32, 69, 140n.4, 75-79, 106, 137, 140-165. See also kul’turologiia Dubin, B. V., 72-73 Eco, Umberto, 12, 99, 100, 127, 147 Eikhenbaum, B.M., 21, 33, 50, 94-96, 121 Egorov, B. F., 5, 33 Eliade, Mircea, 117 Elias, Norbert, 138, 166, 173, 181 Eliot, T. S., 59 Elizarenkova, T. Ia., 50, 56, 189 empire of signs, 104, 135, 136, 161-165 Estonia, 1, 32-36, 64-66, 75, 137, 162-164, 193 Evolution, literary, 93-98; cultural, 111-120, 155-161, 166-182 Florensky, P.A., 57 Fomenko, A.T., 70-72 Foucault, Michel, 73, 102, 121, 127-129, 138, 160, 166, 168, 176, 180-182, 187 Freidenberg, O. M., 16, 17, 57, 68, 113 Gasparov, B. M., ix, 34, 56, 66n.55, 131, 153, 175, 191; on the Tartu School, 39 Gasparov, M. L., ix, 27, 56, 155, 156, 191; on the art of niche-making, 30; critique of mythopoetic studies, 119 Geertz, Clifford, 13, 111, 128, 138, 145 Gerovitch, Slava, 11, 18, 145 Giddens, Anthony, 84 Ginzburg, Carlo, 99, 117 Ginzburg, L. Ia., 68 Gorbachev, M. S., 74-76, 81 Graham, Loren, 9, 23, 41, 186 Grigorjeva, J., 58n.36, 191 Grishunin, A. L., 74 Gudkov, L. D., 72, 73 Gukovsky, G.A., 33, 21n.71


Gumilev, L. N., 140, 140n.4 Gurevich, A. Ia., 68, 69, 142, 158 Habermas, Jürgen, 82, 83, 166, 181 Hamburg Test, 41, 42, 47, 53, 41n.2 Harvey, David, 59 Heidegger, Martin, 117 Hesse, Hermann, 47, 48 Holquist, Michael, 128 Hymes, Dell, 5, 84, 118 Iampolski, Mikhail, 70n.67, 73, 79n.85 Illich, Ivan, 134 Ilyenkov, E. V, 9, 9n.14 imperial idiom, 7, 16, 19, 161-165, institutions, academic, 12, 22, 28, 40-46, 7783 Ivanov, V. V., 1-4, 148, 162; his life and personality, 22, 49n.14, 188; on culture and time, 61; and the structuralist movement, 17-32; and summer schools, 46-59; and mythopoetic studies 111-120; and imperial idiom, 162 Jakobson, Roman, 4, 12, 18-24, 33, 47, 56, 112, 114, 126, 148; and structuralism 8487; and phonology, 87-90; and poetics, 9093; and communication theory, 91; on literary and cultural evolution, 93-98; and Western poststructuralism, 96-98 Jameson, Fredric, 4, 84, 86, 93, 94, 131, 148 Kääriku/Tartu summer schools, 2, 13, 25, 32, 36-38, 47-52, 144 Karamzin, Nikolai, 59, 73, 74, 169, 170, 180 Khrapchenko, M. B., 27, 37, 67 Khrushchev, N. S., 19, 25, 35, 41, 51n.41 Kiseleva, Lyubov, x, 191 Klement, Fedor, 35, 65 Kojevnikov, Alexei, x, 9, 16, 20, 26, 40, 67 Kolmogorov, A. N., 9, 18-23, 29, 30, 33, 37, 105, 121-123, 126 Konrad, George, 8, 10, 42, 75 Kontekst, 67, 120 Kozhinov, V. V., 27, 67, 143 Kristeva, Julia, 4, 99, 100, 120, 122, 127, 131, 170 kul’turologiia, 32, 76, 140. See also culturology Latour, Bruno, 5, 13, 20, 85, 120, 185 Leibov, Roman, x, 191 Lekomtsev, Y. K., 50, 189 Lekomtseva, Margarita I., 50, 109-110 Lesskis, Grigory, 36, 47, 109 Levada, Y. A., 32, 72, 72n.75, 192 Levin, Y. I., 56, 126, 191 Levinton, G. A., 56, 73, 190

Levi-Strauss, Claude, 12, 56, 88, 93, 94, 98, 104, 121; and Propp, 112; and Lotman’s definition of culture, 145, 155 Likhachev, D. S., 10n.68, 75, 75n.80 Lotman, Y. M., 1-4; life and personality, 3236; and summer schools, 46-59; and Sémeiotiké, 55, 68-73; semiotic theory of the text, 120-133; and Bakhtin, 129-133; and Western (post)structuralists, 127, 128, 135; definitions of culture, 144-148; and Uspensky’s semiotics of Russian culture, 150-155; neo-historicist cultural theory, 155-161; on theatricality and Russian modernity, 161-182 Luria, A. R., 9, 117 Lysenko, T. D., 8, 9, 16, 40, 71 Machine Translation, 19, 24, 18, 103-107 Mäll, Lennart, 119, 120, 189 Mamardashvili, M.K., 118n.14 Mandelstam, Osip, 62-64, 76, 117, 130, 129, 148, 180 Markov, A. A. Jr., 23, 29 Marr, N. Ia., Marrism, 16, 17, 20, 57, 113 Marxism, 1, 17, 18, 27, 57, 159, 165, Meilakh, B. S., 29, 30 Melchuk, I. A., 31n.34, 37, 106 Meletinsky, E. M., 3, 32, 56, 69, 75, 111, 189 Mints, Z. G., 34, 50, 56, 65 Moscow-Tartu School. See Tartu-Moscow School Moscow State University, 13, 22, 23, 67, 72, 75, 76 mythopoetic studies, 111-120 Nekliudov, S. Iu.,55, 56, 75, 112, 189 Neo-historicism, Lotman’s, 155-161, 166-182 networks, 5, 40-46, 49-55, 78, 78-80, 82, 87, 97, 102 Nikolaeva, T. M., 52, 122, 190 Novik, E. S., 190 Ogibenin, B. L., 37, 66n.55, 106, 189 Opoyaz, 15n.1, 21n.10, 59n.39, 104n.1 Ospovat, Alexander, 42, 52, 70n.67, 191 Oushakine, Sergei, 42-46, 82 Paducheva, E. V., 190, 191 parallel science, 7, 31, 39-46, 77-83, 186 Pasternak, Boris, 17, 22, 23, 51, 54, 62 Peirce, Charles, 65 perestroika, 74-77 Pickering, Andrew, x, 179 Piatigorsky, A. M., 52, 63n.47, 118n.14, 119, 126, 142, 144, 154, 164, 188 Põldmäe, Jaak, 55n/33, 189 poetics, 3, 18, 21, 22, 30, 56, 90-104, 106, 108, 113, 121, 131, 167, 169 poetika byta, 4, 167-174


Pogosjan, Jelena, ix, 58n.36, 166n.2, 182, 183n.2, 191 poststructuralism, 2, 5, 7, 8, 84-86, 92, 98-102, 127-133, 184, 185 public sphere, 75-77, 186 Propp, V. Ia., 21, 28, 33, 36, 54, 56107, 110112, 118 Reyfman, Irina, 168, 173n/7, 174, 177, 192 Revzin, I. I., 18, 27, 50, 56, 104-110, 125, 132, 142, 188 Revzina, O. G., 54n.28, 189 Rule Idiom, 7, 10, 103. See also Text Idiom; Text Russian culture, semiotics of, 3, 63, 69, 79, 100, 150, 160, 174, 185 Russian Formalism, 36, 61, 62, 77, 85, 90-98, 99, 104, 121 Ryklin, M. K., 24, 191 Russian culture, 34, 45n.6, 63, 69, 79, 100, binary models of, 149-155; and imperial paradigm, 163; and the West, 171-182 salons, kitchen salons, 31, 32, 42-44, 47, 50, 82, 170; salons in Russian history, 175181 Saussure, Ferdinand de, 15, 84-89, 93-95, 105, 112, 135, 145 Shcheglov, Y., 54, 106-108 secondary modeling systems, 20, 25, 67, 144 Segal, D. M., 37, 56, 61, 63, 66n.55, 100, 104, 115, 147, 148, 188 Sémeiotiké, 3, 48, 55, 68, 76, 120 Semeka, Elena, 190 seminars, home or evening, 31, 41, 69, 82 semiosphere, 146, 146-148, 155, 160, 162 semiotics, 1-3, 85-90, 103-111, 144-165; Soviet and Western semiotic idioms, 127136 Shaumian, S. K., 18-20, 105 Shchedrovitsky, G. P., 32, 37 Shklovsky, V. B., 28, 47-49, 54, 57, 90, 97, 107, 121 Shlapentokh, Vladimir, 10, 25, 53, 64, 74 Slezkine, Yuri, x, 16, 49, 51 socialism (Soviet, state), 7-10, 14, 40, 44, 76, 81-83, 102 Solzhenitsyn, Alexander, 35, 58n.37, Soviet Union, 2, 9-13, 15, 21, 67n.59 Stalin, Joseph, 8, 9, and Marrism, 17-19; and Stalinist science, 16-17, 40-41 Stolovich, L. N., 7, 32n. 36, 134, 191 strategy, social and intellectual, 7n.13, 19, 21 structuralism, 2; Soviet structuralism, 17-32, 103-111; Western structuralism, 84-93 Strugatsky, brothers, 17, 21 symmetry, principle of, 5, 6, 8, 186, 193

Syrkin, A. Ia., 37n.49, 52n.21, 66n.55 Szelenyi, Ivan, 10, 75, 186 Tartu School of Semiotics, 2, 99; establishment of, 32-38; and summer schools, 46-59; as Lotman’s School, 6474; during the perestroika, 74-77; reception in the West, 98-102; as an institution of parallel science, 39-46, 7783; and Western (post)structuralism, 100102, 127-133 Tartu-Moscow School, 2n.2, 13, 15, 32, 36-39, 46-49, 53, 64, 65, 68, 74, 99, 106, 118, 134 Tartu State University. See Tartu, University of Tartu, University of, 3, 32-36, 39, 48-51, 55 text, semiotics of the, 10, 34, 73, 74, 90, 91, 93, 103, 120-136, 145-147, 152, 160, 170 text, structure of the. See text, semiotics of the Text Idiom, 7, 10, 103, 120-136. See also Rule Idiom textocentrism, Tartu, 133-136 theatricality, 4, 132, 167-182 Timofeev, L. I., 29 Tolstoi, N.I., 68 Tomashevsky B. V., 21, 33, 57 Toporov, V. N., ix, 3, 25, 29, 37, 63, 73, 149, 188, 191; mythopoetic studies, 111-120 Torop, Peeter, 84, 106, 159, 184, 191 totalitarianism, theory of, 9, 25, 27, 82 TRSF (The Works on Russian and Slavic Philology), 36, 55, 69, 150 Tsivian, T. V., 56, 104, 191 Tynianov, Y. N., 49, 59, 68, 93-98 TZS. See Sémeiotiké Uspensky, B. A., 1-3, 48, 56, 71, 76, 144, 188, 192; and elementary semiotic systems, 109-110; and Lotman’s semiotics of Russian culture, 150-155 Uspensky, V. A., 37, 71 Vernadsky, V. I., 146n.9 Vinogradov, V. V., 21, 27, 40 Vygotsky, L. S., 4, 18, 49, 101, 104, 117 Wortman, Richard, 100, 167, 173, 182 Yurchak, Alexei, 9, 12, 42-46, 82 Zhegin, L. F., 56, 190 Zhirmunsky, V.M., 21n.9 Zhivov, Viktor 58, 71, 155, 182, 191 Zholkovsky, Alexander, 29, 37, 42, 43, 44n.4, 49n.14, 54, 63n.47, 69; and machine translation, 105-106; and structural poetics, 106-108 Zorin, Andrei, ix, 3, 68, 70n.67, 137, 182


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