The book about the motherland: analyzing discursive practices


This book is an attempt at a critical analysis of some discursive practices of Russian public language. Rodina (the Motherland) is one of Russia's ideological icons, a core element of the lexicon of Russian nationalism and of the empire. As a token of collective identity, it does not only belong to the Soviet political discourse. Its value is supported by multiple linguistic practices whose figures and symbols can be found both in public and in private discourses of Self and Other. The phraseology of Rodina permeates the Russian discourse of identification throughout its Modern history, starting with Petrine bureaucracy through various political regimes of the empire, through Stalinist society and on till today's languages of the post-communist commercialized mass media. One would be quite justified in believing Rodina to be the main word" of Russian culture, a total signifier that claims absolute supremacy over identity and dominates the discourse irrespective of those political or economic principles that underlie Russian society during its different historical periods. Being an important element in the ideological lexicon, Rodina, however, is not a mere representation of false consciousness" and cannot be dismissed as such. This figure supersedes the limits that are traditionally given to political terms in cultural critique. Being an important element of the language of power, the discourse of the Motherland also constitutes an important work of collective imagination, deeply woven into the texture of individual life styles and individual self-representations. Rodina is a number one value for the ideologue, but it is no less dear to the heart of the poet; it is equally relevant for a loyal citizen of the state as for a dissident political exile, and in the discourse of the average individual it receives as much attention as in the production of ideological propaganda that seeks to dominate the subjectivity of that very average individual. In other words, Rodina is an efficient discursive machine for the production of symbolic togetherness: it has a tremendous potential in eliminating political difference inside society producing, at the same time, a prohibitive barrier against the external Other. The community of the Motherland, organized into a symbolic whole by its own self-centered political / poetical imagination, is the one that celebrates the perpetual feast of its own cultural non-translatability". In the present research, Rodina has been analyzed in its different aspects. In Chapter 1, an attempt was made to critically reconstruct the official patriotic discourse from its phraseology (idiomatic phrases, set expressions, cliches, slogans, etc.). The corpus of phrases was arranged with a view of reconstructing

Rodina's narrative structures that were supplied with an apparatus of intertextual links and a critical commentary. In Chapter 2, the narratives thus obtained were applied to the analysis of a piece of non-professional writing; an autobiography produced by a common Soviet woman" Evgenija Grigor'evna Kiseleva (1916-1991) who was writing her manuscript during the 1970s-80s. The purpose was to illuminate the process of appropriation of the language of power by its average user. The intertexruality of the Soviet Rodina, however, has an important historical dimension. Therefore, two chapters of the book were dedicated to an archaeological research of Rodina's narratives and idiomatic language. In Chapter 3, the archaeology of patriotic language is centered on the figurę of admiral Aleksandr Semenovich Shishkov (1754-1841), a conservative statesman of the periods of Aleksandr I and Nicholas I, whose contribution to the construction of the language of official patriotism is an important aesthetic intervention in the language of power. As the author of royal decrees during the Napoleonic wars, as a minister of education and as head of political censorship in the 1820s, Shishkov considerably contributed to the institutionalization of the bureaucratic practices of the Russian ideological language. The results of his activities are quite visible in official discourses as late as the Stalin times and they can be easily discerned even m today's political propaganda. Shishkov's tremendous success in language construction can be attributed to his multi-faceted approach: apart from producing ideological writing, Shishkov was also a self-taught philologist and an amateur lexicographer. It is first and foremost through his linguistic theories (quite fantastic ones) and through a no less mythologized theory of poetics that he was elaborating his patriotic dogma. A hypothesis is suggested in this connection that a repressive ideological artifact like Rodina has a predominantly aesthetic motivation lying in the foundation of its meaning. Rather than pure political necessity, it is the ideas of poetic beauty that propel its development and appropriation. Due to its beauty", an ideological apparatus, therefore, acquires a power of fascinating and seducing, not simply repressing, its addressee. In search of this power of seduction, an attempt was made (in Chapter 4) to analyze the construction of Rodina in a broader hermeneutic context, taking into consideration the general principles of symbolic exchange and the cultural value of the word (language, Logos, Russ. slovo) resulting from these principles. Shishkov's lexicographic and philological activities are described in terms of his treatment of the inner form of the word, as part of Modernity's general project of a search for a perfect universal language, an alphabet of divine creation incorporated in the meanings of the mother tongue. The Russian Slovo/Logos as postulated by Shishkov would account for the historical, geopolitical, as well as aesthetic pretensions of repressive power. The aim of this part of the research was to establish certain hermeneutic regularities that constitute and legitimate the discourse of Rodina, with a special view to the dictionary of the Russian language and the institution of political censorship as two mutually complementing assemblages that normalize the production and exchange of meaning. Finally, in the Conclusion, describing the appropriation of the Rodina discourse by the language of Russian commercial advertisement, I am postulating a switch-over of linguistic regime from repression to seduction. Capitalism seems to be acting as an active agent of such a change, appropriating the dominating language and adapting it for its own purposes. The disruption of the Motherland's ideological discourse and its continuity in the capitalist practices of linguistic exchange, at one and the same time, - this is what makes the present-day linguistic situation in Russia so dramatically intense, whether in terms of politics or in terms of aesthetics.

* * *

This publication became possible thanks to financial support supplied by the Swedish Council for Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSFR). The book is the result of my work within the framework of Cultures in Dialogue Research Program. Cultures in Dialogue has been supported by the Swedish Foundation for the Promotion of Research in the Baltic Region and Central Europe (Östersjöstiftelse) and the University College of South Stockholm (Sodertörns Högskola). I would like to express my gratitude to Lars Kleberg, head of Cultures in Dialogue, who gave me all possible support, understanding, and sympathy during the work on this project. I hope that for him, just like for me, this book will be a token of a long friendship that started many years ago in Moscow and produced an exciting scholarly collaboration in Sweden. I would also like to thank my other colleagues in Cultures in Dialogue, Joanna Bankier, Ulla Birgegärd, Lars Erik Blomqvist, Anders Bodegärd, Zbigniev Kruscynski, Krzystof Stala, Nina Witozsek, and Sanna Witt, all of them creating a circle of inspiring encouragement, professional interest, and friendly care around me. Lars Erik shared with me some of the materials from his collection that I used in my work. The work began as a joint project with Veronica Telija (Moscow) and Jerzy Bartminski (Lublin) during a term of our fellowship at SCASSS (the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences). The challenging intellectual atmosphere as well as the generous hospitality offered by SCASSS provided an invaluable possibility for our discussions, as well as the first ever experience for me to present the theoretical work (developed during a long time in relative geographic and theoretical isolation in Moscow) to the judgment of the internationally renowned inter-disciplinary scholarship. The value of critique provided by colleagues at SCASSS can hardly be overestimated. My special thanks go to Barbro Klein, Göran Therborn, and Björn Wittrock, our kind hosts. Unfortunately, I cannot any longer say thank you to the late Bo Gustafsson, SCASSS' founder and professor emeritus, for all the attention he was giving me. I would also like to thank STINT, the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education, whose fellowship gave me a possibility of intensive reading during two terms spent at the Slavic Institute of Uppsala University. My special thanks go to Fiona Björling, Lubomir Durovic, Lars Steensland, and Barbara Tornqvist-Plewa from Lund, Kristian Gerner and Sven Gustavsson from Uppsala, Per Arne Bodin and Peter Alberg Jensen from Stockholm, as well as all of my friends and colleagues from different Slavic institutions in Sweden who shared their knowledge and expressed critical opinions in connection with this research. A great boost for this project was a study trip to Helsinki, where I was using the unique facilities of the University's Slavic Library. I would like to express my gratitude to the Library's head librarian Irina Lukka to whose superb professionalism I owe an extremely effective period of research. I also want to thank Efim Kurganov from Helsinki University who gave me most valuable advice in what concerns the historical part of my work. As any book, this one is a product of multiple co-operations. Chapter 2 was written as a result of close collaboration with the social anthropologist Natalia Kozlova (Moscow) to whom I owe an introduction to contemporary social philosophy and an eye-opening experience of theoretically confronting the practices of Soviet everyday life. The book would not be possible without the efforts of Veronika Nikolajevna Telija, my teacher and the giver of many years' wholehearted support, kind understanding, and highly valued friendship. It was due to her theoretical mother-ship" that I developed an interest in the concept of the Motherland, its language and its effects on our lives. Veronika undertook the work of reading/editing the first version of the book. Her criticism helped me understand the sophistication of the deep and dramatic conflict of the Russian memory with itself. Thanks to her help, the book lost quite a lot of its original naive straightforwardness. I would like Veronika to accept this publication as a token of love and a fruit of a most rewarding collaboration that has been going on for over 15 years. My deep gratitude and love also go to Natalia Bragina, Maria Kovshova, Elena Oparina, and Igor' Sharonov, my friends and colleagues, whose opinion has always been, for me, an indicator of precision. I would like to thank my daughters, Masha and Katya, who showed a lot of solidarity in sharing this long way with me. Besides, Masha Sandomirskaja helped me in the compilation of the bibliography. Last but not at all least, my gratitude goes to Wolfgang Weitlaner, the editor of this volume, who undertook the hard work of introducing graceful and dignified order into the chaos produced by the author's contradictory love of her Motherland. It was due to his gentle but insistent effort that this project finally acquired the reality of a book object. Moscow - Stockholm - Vienna 2000


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