¹ 4 (43) (2008)
THE SENSE OF MEMORY: PLACES AND WITNESSES
The current issue of OZ, the first of a two volume series under the title The Sense of Memory, bears the subtitle Places and Witnesses. Our contributors explore the issues of collective and individual memory. They investigate the role of memory in shaping national identity (both in Russia and worldwide), look at the way the figure of witness has been interpreted in the postwar European humanitarian thought; examine memory-related moral issues (memory and responsibility, memory and guilt); inquire into the interrelationship between memory and oblivion; and shed light on specific ways the past is being incorporated into national memory in Russian political and cultural practices.
Boris Dubin. Memory, War, and War Memory: Constructing the Past in Social Practices of Recent Decades
Based on Yuri A. Levada’s thesis about two parallel time scales (or action plans, with one determined by immediate goals, and the other by symbolic values), the author examines Russian public perceptions about World War II and reveals the mechanisms at work in creating, erasing and shaping collective memory. In the 2000s, these mechanisms are no longer used to relate post-Soviet Russia to the pre-Soviet period, as used to be the case in the 1990s, but instead to reestablish links to the Soviet era.
Sergei Zenkin. Ours, Theirs, and Nobody’s. (The Issue of Memory in Works by J.R.R. Tolkien and J.L.Borges)
The author takes as example several literary texts, notably John R. Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Ring, and Jorge L. Borges’ short story Funes, the Memorious, and identifies three distinct types of memory: trivial memory relating to everyday life, sacral memory linked to significant and ominous events of the past, and, finally, mechanical memory which impassively records facts regardless of personal experiences of a given individual or group.
Perry Anderson. La Pensee tiede. A Critical Look at French Culture.
Pierre Nora. La pens e r chauff e
The articles present two opposing approaches to French culture and French national memory. English Marxist historian Perry Anderson contrasts the glorious past, enjoyed by the French liberal sciences and literature in the period after World War II, with what he describes as its current pitiful state. The author focuses his critique on the multi-volume book Realms of Memory which, he claims, ignores sensitive points in French history (such as its colonial past). Anderson accuses the book’s editor Pierre Nora and historian Francois Furet of taking their cue from neo-liberalism when they use the fight against totalitarianism to justify social inequality and even racism. In response, Pierre Nora rejects the accusation, pointing out that the book has in fact introduced a novel approach to dealing with the subject: the focus is shifted away from objects per se towards constructing objects within time, away from history per se towards the way objects enter history.
Boris Dubin. The Philosophy of Giorgio Agamben’s Testimonial (About the Book Remnants of Auschwitz)
The Italian historian’s reflections, which Agamben himself refers to as “not a history book, but a study in ethics and testimonials”, contain one important message: Auschwitz and the Holocaust are not beyond history and language, they are not excluded from history nor do they go against the grain of history. On the contrary, Auschwitz and the Holocaust are, in a way, a consummation of the Modern era: they represent the ultimate concentration of inner intentions and conflicts intrinsic to all Modern thought and its representations in images and words, to all Modern-era percep tions about man, society, culture – about the very possibility of meaningful existence.
Elena Petrovskaya. Claude Lanzmann: Lessons of the New Archive
The article looks at the novel approach towards archives and testimonials introduced in the acclaimed documentary “Shoah” by the French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann – this not just “another documentary” about the Holocaust, not a film that fills the gaps in the knowledge of history, nor is it a film of penance. Instead, it is a documentary that demands that memory be a living transformative experience.
Georges Didi-Huberman. Images in Spite of All
Excerpts from a chapter of the book by the French art historian in which he responds to criticism of his essay about four photographs depicting the murder of people at Auschwitz. The author defends the educative value of imagination, calling it an indispensable tool that correlates, associates and reassembles disparate visual images. Without imagination, Didi-Huberman maintains, there can be neither knowledge, nor memory. He demonstrates how montage in motion pictures can become a potent tool of providing knowledge about the past and he does so by drawing on the example of various types of montage used in films by Claude Lanzmann (“Shoah”) and Jean-Luc Godard (“Histoire(s) du cinema”).
Maria Malikova. Looking at the Past: Image and Viewpoint. The works of W.G.Sebald.
The article looks at the creative world of the German author Winfried Georg (Max) Sebald (1944-2001) who was proclaimed by Western critics as the “Einstein of memory”. The main focus is on Sebald’s novel Austerlitz, a work that went beyond the aestheticised and politically correct “Holocaust industry” mainstream, yet revealed the extent to which the modern world had been defined by the shadow cast by the Shoah – a horrifying, unbearable, unimaginable disaster that needs to be approached in a completely new way. Also discussed is Sebald’s essay As Day and Night, dedicated to artist Jan Peter Tripp.
Olga Novokhatko. The Half-forgotten Moscow Palaces
17th century in Russia has been stereotyped as a dark period of ignorance overshadowed by the subsequent momentous era of Peter the Great. Such perceptions have had an adverse impact on the later day architectural development of the Moscow Kremlin. 17th century architectural landmarks in the Kremlin were mostly destroyed, while those that remained have been hidden away from visitors’ view behind later-day annexes and additions, and behind heavily guarded government buildings. Thus the last remaining historical buildings of the period – vibrant, vivid and spontaneous even in the stately palatial form – have remained largely unnoticed.
Svetlana Eremeyeva. Monumental Memory
In 19th century Russia, monuments to writers, unlike those to monarchs and generals, were erected on public initiative and at public expense, with money collected by subscription. This provided the enlightened public with the opportunity to put forward their own heroes and thereby offer their own version of history. The writer’s role was perceived as that of an enlightener and educator, a guardian of the inseparable link between nation and language. In 1880, the most appropriate figure to serve as an embodiment of national identity was poet Alexander Pushkin. Through the assimilation of cultural memory practices and the shaping of verbal myths, Pushkin became the prescribed memory locus, an element of a mandatory past, a figure designed to westernize the nation. The celebration of Pushkin-day helped create the required conditions for effectively imple menting the practice of monumental commemoration.
Boris Stepanov. Meeting the Past: Sightseeing, and Philosophy of Memory in the Works by I.M.Grevs and N.P. Antsiferov.
The article explores Russia’s early experience in trying to come to terms with the issue of the history-memory relationship. Historians of the Grevs school regarded culture, which they called “the spirit of the age”, as the primary object of study. They emphasized the principle of historical synthesis and the individualized approach as the method for implementing that synthesis, both predicated on broadening perceptions of historical reality and the search for its “deeper” “inner” strata. Sightseeing was the chosen method for discovering a city’s historical spirit. The primary object for sightseeing were not museums, but rather the city’s open air monuments, and this gave the sightseeing experience a sense of immediacy and a direct encounter with the past. In this respect, sightseeing was seen as the better option compared to “tourism”. “Tourists” who are led by “tour guides” tend to see beauty objects “divorced from everyday settings” and tend to value merely the “decorative side”. As a result, tourists are deprived of the opportunity to root themselves in the urban environment and to feel one with that environment. Grevs and Antsiferov turned to the theme of memory due to the fact that Russian society at the time experienced a painful cultural disconnect following the events of World War I and the Revolution of 1917. Wistfully noting the destruction of culture in the country, Grevs appealed for an effort to preserve history’s “intricate and fragile achievements in the face of attempts at its disastrously blind and ignorant re-evaluation”. In this context, embracing historical memory relates to the desire to preserve the past and thus retain cultural complexity.
Natalia Darsavelidze. Moscow Monuments
The article considers Russia’s contemporary historical memory policy by taking a close look at the new monuments being erected in the city of Moscow. The issues that interest the author most are which historical events and figures get chosen to feature in the newly erected Moscow monuments and what type of monuments are used to ingrain history into the collective memories of the Russian public. The article reveals that recent memorial sites have been erected in a realistic manner with little variety and have merely reproduced the established set of perceptions about the commemorated figure or event, thus solidifying a uniform, though superficial view of the nation’s past.
Marc Auge. Oblivion
The French ethnographer and writer takes the examples of everyday experience, ethnographic studies and literary fiction (works ranging from Alexander Dumas to Marcel Proust) to demonstrate that memory could not exist without oblivion. The author investigates narrative “terms” that people use to express their past, and lists the main forms that oblivion can take: “return”, “pause”, “new beginning”. Auge also comments at length on the widely used expression “duty to remember”, noting that in the case of war or disaster victims, it is the victims’ descendants that have a duty to remember, while the survivors, if they want to resume a normal life, must learn to forget.
Lutz Niethammer. What Were You Doing on 17 June 1953?
Based on the findings of a survey conducted among East Germans in 1989, the German historian looks at what the nation’s memory has retained about the events that took place on 17 June 1953 when workers rebelled against the economic policy of the state and demanded for the then government to resign. Niethammer’s conclusion: East Germans’ memories of those events have become sketchy or have completely faded
Olga Shevchenko, Oksana Sarkisova. Soviet Past in Amateur Photographs: Memory and Oblivion
The article looks at the relationship between memory and family photo archives. Having surveyed more than 50 families in various Russian towns, the authors have come to the surprising conclusion that instead of serving as memory media, family photographs often act as a peculiar tool for oblivion.
THE OZ COUNTRY
Alexander Ignatenko. Silent Allah and Talkative Men
The author, a prominent Oriental scholar, explores the issue of inner conflicts that currently exist within Islam. Apart from the Koran which all Muslims believe to be a revelation of God or the “Recitation of Allah”, there is a large body of texts authored by mortal men. The author presents his viewpoint on the textual heritage of Islam.
Anton Oleinik. Political Demography: Generation Change Within Elite, and System Stability
In meritocratic societies where generation change within the elite takes place under a set of clearly defined and universally understood principles, there is little threat of “lost generations” emerging and destabilizing the system. In such societies, elite change is a constant, rather than a discretionary process. In Russia’s case, however, the problem of ensuring that everybody “plays by the rules” has not been not resolved. So generation issues persist – not only because modernization processes have not been completed, but also due to Russia’s peculiar method of elite change whereby various groups are periodically left in a limbo.
Andrea Graziosi. The New Soviet Archival Sources: Hypotheses for a Critical Assessment
The essay puts forward a number of hypotheses concerning the value and the weaknesses of the pre-1953 Soviet archival sources. A brief review of the Moscow central archives and the documents they contain is followed by a discussion of records pertaining to the people ruling the country. After mapping the territory of the sources available, an attempt is made at evaluating the size and the relevance of the lacunae in this kind of documentation. The biases of the documents caused by ideologies, the characteristics, the interests and the cultures of the Soviet bureaucracies are then analyzed. A specialized treatment is given to economic data. A final section raises the problem of the huge lacunae in the documentation pertaining to the life and the mentalites of the Soviet people.
Maxim Khloponin, Deputy Burgomeister
A sketch featuring the life of Alexei Kepov (1900-1974), a poet and chief architect in the city of Kursk before World War II. During the German occupation, Kepov served as the city’s deputy burgomeister. After the war, he was sentenced to 13 years in Kazakhstan labor camps.
Mikhail Prishvin. From the Diary (1932)
In 1932, Prishvin pondered over the stance a writer should take vis-a-vis the Bolsheviks. While expressing indignation over the blindness and folly of those who genuinely believed that there could be a separate proletarian culture, he reserved special condemnation for those intellectuals who, despite understanding full well the disastrous nature of the new authorities’ policies, nevertheless offered to cooperate with the Bolsheviks “for a mess of porridge”.