This groundbreaking work by one of the world's foremost theoreticians of Russian literature, culture, and thought gives for the first time an extensive and detailed examination of the development of Russian thought during the late Soviet period. Countering the traditional view of an intellectual wilderness under the Soviet regime, Mikhail Epstein offers a systematic account of Russian thought in the second half of the 20th century. In doing so, he provides new insights into previously ignored areas such as Russian liberalism, (...) personalism, structuralism, neo-rationalism, and culturology. Epstein shows how Russian philosophy and culture has long been trapped in an intellectual prison of its own making as it sought to create its own utopia. However, he demonstrates that it is time to reappraise Russian philosophical thought and cultural theory, now freed from the bonds of totalitarianism. We are left with not only a new and exciting interpretation of Russian thought, but also an opportunity to rethink our own intellectual heritage. (shrink)
In this guest column, Epstein offers “a new sign” that, he argues, resolves difficulties that have arisen in many theories and practices, including linguistics, semiotics, literary theory, poetics, aesthetics, ecology, ecophilology, eco-ethics, metaphysics, theology, psychology, and phenomenology. The new sign, a pair of quotation marks around a blank space, signfies the absence of any sign. Most generally, “ ” relates to the blank space that surrounds and underlies a text; by locating “ ” within the text, the margins are brought (...) inside and can become the focus of attention. Not only the margins but also the material background of a text (the page or screen) can be brought forward and focused on through the transparency of the sign “ ”, in which case “ ” becomes a sign of itself. Consubstantial with its medium, therefore, this sign is both relative and universal: “ ” is the same everywhere, on every surface, in every language, and also in the arts. Epstein analyzes works by Rauschenberg, Malevich, Ilya Kabakov, and Vasilisk Gdenov in the visual arts, as well as music by John Cage, to demonstrate the usefulness of his new sign for aesthetics and art criticism. Each discipline, he argues, has its own nonspeakable conditions and assumptions that it needs to bring inside disciplinary frontiers. At the frontier of language, “ ” is both inside and outside, and therefore can express the nonspeakable condition of speakability. In concluding, Epstein suggests that the task of the avant-garde in theory today is to develop a “negative semiotics”: a semiotics of nonsigns, modeled on negative (apophatic) theology. (shrink)
This essay's central concern is the need for a new, practical dimension in the humanities, emphasizing their constructive rather than purely scholarly aspects. An analysis is offered of various types of inventions in the fields of linguistics, philosophy, art, and literature, such as new disciplines, genres, cultural practices, and intellectual movements. An invention is not the production of a given work, however great, but rather a principle or technique that can be applied to the production of many works by others. (...) Following Francis Bacon's call for the invention of new arts and sciences, the essay outlines new disciplines: technohumanities, which would study humans as a part of the technosphere; pathohumanities, which would investigate the self-destructive mechanisms of civilization; and scriptorics, which would focus on Homo scriptor, who has survived “the death of the author.” A research and educational program, uniting major fields of the humanities, is proposed: PILLAR would be a transdisciplinary strategy complementary to STEM, integrating scholarship and inventorship. (shrink)
This essay describes some of the literary, psychological, and historical causes of Russia’s war in Ukraine (2022) based on observations of the national character found in the fiction of Aleksandr Pushkin and Fyodor Dostoevsky and in philosophical and psychological essays of Petr Chaadaev, Sergei Askol’dov, and Sigmund Freud. The political ideology that stands behind the war can be characterized as schizofascism, or schizophrenic fascism that embraces the contradiction between archaic myths, chauvinism, and xenophobia, on the one hand, and corruption and (...) cynicism, on the other. Citing the controversial results of sociological polls indicating both Russians’ aspiration for friendship with Ukraine and their support for the aggressive war, the author explores the deep ambivalence inherent in the psychology of Russians as historical successors of the Golden Horde and the Moscovite State, incorporating the legacy of nomadism, militarism, messianism, and autarky. (shrink)
This article introduces postmodernist trends in late Soviet thought through the prism of the three generations: the philosopher and writer Aleksandr Zinoviev, the poet, artist, and theorist Dmitrii Prigov, and the youngest Soviet conceptualist artistic group “The Medical Hermeneutics Inspectorate” as represented by Pavel Peppershtein, Sergei Anufriev, and Yurii Leiderman. The article shows how Conceptualism, an influential artistic and intellectual movement of the 1970s–1980–s, used the Soviet ideological system as a material for philosophical parody and pastiche, often characterized also by (...) a lyrical and nostalgic attitude. Conceptualism was not merely an artistic trend: its metaphysical significance is revealed in Aleksander Zinoviev's “satirical” treatises, in Dmitrii Prigov's “shimmering” aesthetics, and in “heremeneutic” performances of younger artists who demonstrate the emptiness of all existing canons and the canon of emptiness itself. (shrink)
The volume draws attention to the unknown and unexplored areas, trends and ways of thinking under the communist regime. It demonstrates how various bodies of knowledge were produced, disseminated and used for a wide variety of purposes: from openly justifying dominant political views to framing oppositional and non-official discourses and practices.
In this book, Mikhail Epstein offers a systematic theory of modalities and their impact on the philosophy and culture of modernity and postmodernity, focusing on the creative potentials of possibilistic thinking for the humanities.
This groundbreaking work by one of the world's foremost theoreticians of culture and scholars of Russian philosophy gives for the first time a systematic examination of the development of Russian philosophy during the late Soviet period. Countering the traditional view of an intellectual wilderness under the Soviet regime, Mikhail Epstein provides a comprehensive account of Russian thought of the second half of the 20th century that is highly sophisticated without losing clarity. It provides new insights into previously mostly ignored areas (...) such as late Soviet Russian nationalism and Eurasianism, religious thought, cosmism and esoterism, and postmodernism and conceptualism. Epstein shows how Russian philosophy has long been trapped in an intellectual prison of its own making as it sought to create its own utopia. However, he demonstrates that it is time to reappraise Russian thought, now freed from the bonds of Soviet totalitarianism and ideocracy but nevertheless dangerously engaged into new nationalist aspirations and metaphysical radicalism. We are left with not only a new and exciting interpretation of recent Russian intellectual history, but also the opportunity to rethink our philosophical heritage. (shrink)
This paper focuses on the most recent period in the development of Russian thought (1960s–1990s). Proceeding from the cyclical patterns of Russian intellectual history, I propose to name it the third philosophical awakening. I define the main tendency of this period as the struggle of thought against ideocracy. I then suggest a classification of main trends in Russian thought of this period: (1) Dialectical Materialism in its evolution from late Stalinism to neo-communist mysticism; (2) Neorationalism and Structuralism; (3) Religious Orthodox (...) Thought; (4) Synthetic and Spiritualist Teachings; (5) Personalism and Liberalism; (6) Neo-Slavophilism and the Philosophy of National Spirit; (7) Culturology, or the Philosophy of Culture; (8) Conceptualism, or the Philosophy of Postmodernity. (shrink)
The article presents Gogol as marking the end of a century-long phase of secularism in Russian culture, from Peter the Great to Pushkin, and as the first writer to represent the cultural phenomenon of the ‘New Middle Ages’ and renewed religious zeal, first described by Berdyaev; further, it highlights some commonalities between Gogol and Belinsky and takes Belinsky as a leading instance of ‘religious atheism’. The article goes on to consider Russian culture’s need for neutral ‘middle ground’ between its multiple (...) and extreme polarities and, in this context, highlights Sergej Averintsev’s plea for an orientation towards Aristotelianism. (shrink)
Aristotle stated one of the most influential postulates in the history of ethics: virtue is the middle point between two vicious extremes: "…excess and defect are characteristic of vice, and the mean of virtue. For men are good in but one way, but bad in many." The paper argues that between two vices there are two virtues that comprise two different moral perspectives as perceived by stereoethics. For example, two virtues can be found between the vices of miserliness and wastefulness: (...) generosity, which is further from miserliness, and thrift, which is further from wastefulness. Just as there are stereo music and stereo cinema, which convey the full volume of sounds and objects, there is stereo ethics, based on the duality of virtues. From the point of view of stereo ethics we can rethink the "golden rule": "Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them." At the basis of both the golden rule and, later, the Kantian categorical imperative, lies the reversibility of moral subjects: you should put yourself in somebody else's place and treat you neighbor as you wish him or her to treat you. Today, however, ithas become obvious that only the ethics of differentiation can save us from relativism, which is a negative reaction against traditional morals with their universal norms. It is precisely this irreducibility of the individual to the general that may become a source of new moral energy. Two questions form a moral criterion: Would you wish to become an object of your own actions? Could anyone but you be the subject of your actions? The best action is that which corresponds to the needs of the largest number and the capacities of the smallest number of people. Act in such a way that you yourself would like to become an object of your actions, but no one else could be their subject. It is moral to do for others that which no one else can do except myself : to be for-others, but not like-others. (shrink)
The article suggests that, contrary to widespread opinions and standard encyclopedic definitions, philosophy is a domain not only of thoughts and ideas but also of feelings. Philosophy as love for wisdom includes emotions in both of its components. Among the many various feelings that we experience, there is a discrete group that, thanks to their involvement with universals, may be regarded as philosophical. Wonder, grief, compassion, tenderness, hope, despair, and delight are philosophical if they are experienced on behalf of humankind (...) and addressed to the world as a whole. The vocation of philosophy is to expand the realm of feelings through the generalizing capacity of the reason, so that love, joy, and pain can be experienced in a noble way, on a maximally global scale, not reducible to private or practical situations. Emotions of philosophical cast affect the world more powerfully than metaphysical ideas and logical propositions. Revolutions are driven less by ideas than by philosophical wrath, exasperation with the existing order of things, and the feeling that the world is unjust. It is in this context that Epstein's essay defines the genre of lyric philosophy as a direct self-expression of the thinking subject in the process of attaining self-cognition — as represented, for instance, in the work of Augustine, Montaigne, Kierkegaard, Emerson, and Nietzsche. Philosophical subjecthood as a means of self-expression for the transcendental subject should be distinguished from the purely personal subjectivity inherent to empirical individuals, in the same way and to the same extent as philosophical feelings should be distinguished from mundane ones experienced in everyday situations. Since the subject focused on itself is essential to lyricism, we may even speak of the generic, inescapable lyricism of philosophy per se. (shrink)
This essay, coauthored by the editor and a member of the editorial board of Common Knowledge, introduces the fifth installment of the journal's symposium “Fuzzy Studies,” which is about the “consequence of blur.” Beginning with a review of Enlightenment ideas about ideas — especially Descartes's argument that a mind “unclouded and attentive” can be “wholly freed from doubt” (Rules III, 5) — this essay then turns to assess the validity of counter-Enlightenment arguments, mostly Russian but also anglophone and French, against (...) the association of clarity and certainty. A line of descent is drawn from the speaker of Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy to Dostoevsky's underground man, and the latter is shown to differ from the former mainly in that the underground man sympathizes consciously with Descartes's bête noire, the “evil deceiver” (Descartes's speaker sympathizes perhaps unconsciously). Enlightenment, in other words, is not as it appears to be, for rationalists too insist on their caprice. Hyperrationality, it is argued, can be a form of madness, a mania over clarity, distinctions, rules, principles, and unquestionable truths. Examples from Russian and anglophone literature are given of how easily the distance from idée claire to idée fixe is to traverse. The end product of un-self-doubting rationality tends to be delay or stoppage of the intellect, which this essay terms noostasis (and proposes is the opposite of ekstasis). (shrink)