This blog is 4 years old. It’s time to reflect on some of the main ideas, which I’ve come up with over the years.
I like neologisms and inventing new words because they are stripped from any previous meanings and history, and so are valuable due to their conceptual purity. That’s why I abandoned the terms like Russian stereotypes or Russophobia. Everybody seems to employ them loosely, so any particular meaning becomes vague like an image on a old coin. Terms over time and excessive usage tend to turn almost into a parody of their former self.
When I started analyzing Western perceptions of Russia, I coined the term klyukvification – a process of adding klyukva (i.e. Russia’s stereotypical depictions) to Russia narratives and the result of such processes being a peculiar stereotypical – klyukvified – image. I defined several klyukva types: Russophile klyukva (idealization), Russophobe (demonization), Russian Imperial, Soviet (communist), contemporary, Tsar(ist), Putin(ist), etc. Nevertheless, ‘klyukva’ didn’t cover more academic-friendly approaches to Russia, which also could be klyukvified to a degree, although calling them outright klyukva woudl be an apparent stretch.
Studying popular political and historical narratives of Russia, I noticed that they are filled with Russian literature-centrism. There’s a trope of Russia-as-the-most-reading-nation. so that writers play an important role in Russian society and public dialogue. I would agree with the second part of the statement, but the idea that one can open Russia’s cultural safe with outdated Imperial Russian (or Soviet for that matter) codes, is ridiculous:
Classical Russian novels are definitely worth reading but their impact can be adverse if one actually plans to study Russia through these books. When reading Russian literature there is a temptation to perceive it first and foremost as a reading on Russia. The trick
or treatis that Russian classical literature is super realistic, so the generalized image of Russia that forms in a Reader’s mind seems absolutely real. The mistake starts when a Reader tries to make far-reaching conclusions about Russia based on what s/he read or – God forbid – to make an anatomical model of the ‘mysterious Russian soul‘.
Among the various ‘Russian myths’ the literature-centric essentialism is one of my favourite. Simply put, the ‘literature-centric essentialism’ is the idea that the way Russia is presented in Russian literature reveals the ‘essence of Russia’. In other words, it is a notion that the ‘mystery‘ of Russia is unveiled in Russian literature.
Alongside with literature-centrism, I encountered another form of essentialism common to Russia narratives. I dubbed it the eternal sameness, according to which the names of the Russian government change, but the essense stays the same. This concept was much closer to what I aimed at, however, it was too specific.
I came up with Russialism – a combination of realist and essentialist approaches to Russia, and still there was another aspect, which was important to designate.
Finally, esoteric Russialism was born, an umbrella term, based on three pillars:
- essentialism and
- esotericism (and/or mysticism).
The esoteric mosaic can be comprised of various components: mysterious Russian soul* (and Russian mystery/Orientalization trend in general), (neo)Eurasianism (or anti-(neo)Eurasianism)**, literature-centrism (including Russian philosophy), klyukvification, Russia-related conspiracy theories, etc.
In the marketplace of Russia-discourse esoteric Russialism occupies its place as a brand with intellectual appeal. Facts are speacially selected to reinforce the essentialist picture. Essentialism serves as a theory-of-all-things-Russian with a handful of esotericism/mysticism added to spice it up [Essentialism and esotericism often blend together, so it can be hard to tell one from another]. Some of the ingredients can be added, some omitted, so it’s an open source thing.
P.S. Russia is an empty form for Western dreams. Russia itself is an ideal meme, morphing visible form, suitable for
mummification memefication. The Russia meme contains tales of 1001 Russias: Christian Orthodox Russia, communist Russia, backward Russia, advanced Russia… These Russias (can) coexist in time and space. The problem of Russia’s characterization is how to include all these different bits in a wholesome, non-contradictory narrative. The eternal sameness helps to fix the desired opus sectile. Another solution is to focus on certain aspects, dismissing others as irrelevant. The resulting simplistic image will have no volume, yet it’ll be crude enough for many to grasp.
* The quest for mysterious Russian soul can be seen as a separate case of essentialist approach towards Russia and literature-centrism at the same time.
** Esoteric Russialism can be pro-Russian or anti-Russian. When (neo-)Eurasianism is viewed as the main Russian ideology, the logic is simple: Russia considers the West as the primordial antagonist, so the West should treat Russia accordingly.