Studies in Russian literature: self-reflection, geo-cultural variability, and the limits of vocation
Call for Papers
Sofia, Bulgaria, 21-23 May 2015
1. A scholar’s repertoire, just as a writer’s one, is circumscribed by his or her habitus: his or her unique place in a field of production, or, ideally, the individual refraction and outcome of the field’s development up to a given moment in time.
It is intuitively evident to us that a scholar’s choice of themes, writers, works and methods is geo-culturally and existentially determined as well.
Having in mind studies in Russian literature, we would like to propose for discussion the following questions: Could we speak of a correlation between a social habitus and a geographical habitation (and why not between a habitus and a “place-development” as well)? And between a habitus and a (non)adherence to the existential imperative of ‘unity of life and work’?
Lastly, how are the scope, contents and limits of literary scholarship – as produced by particular individuals occupying particular habituses – shaped by the simultaneity of geo-cultural conditionedness, existential self-consciousness and contemporary economisation of knowledge?
2. Our attention to geo-cultural conditionedness of literary scholarship is connected with our concern in scholarly self-reflection.
The simplest form of geo-cultural self-consciousness of a literary scholar is to pay attention to a local (regional, national) writer who has inhabited the scholar’s neighbourhood trying to relate him or her to a group of canonised authors; or to pay attention to local (and so on) themes and topoi/loci with authors and works that are anyway under focus/ have already been attended to. However, we would prefer to transcend these forms of geo-cultural literalism.
The efforts to understand our own stances have lead, as one provisional result among others, to evoking the notion of ‘unimportant/minor other’. Russian literature-centrism, the imperative of unity of life and work, the vocation of a literary scholar and a specialisation in Russian literature – how do they look from the standpoint of, for example, a [Russia’s] ‘unimportant other’ (semi-periphery, “near abroad”, emigration)? How are they experienced from there (here)?
One can ask whether the category of geo-cultural conditionedness is applicable to Russian studies conducted in Russia (and to studies in whatever literature that are conducted in Russia). State policy (including the practice of labour allocation (raspredelenie)) has indirectly stimulated the growth of a kind of a nomadic self-consciousness as well as made more acute self-conscience’s historical and personological aspects: the feelings of living in a certain time and of personal loyalty to a teacher who had by accident – or by “allocation” – found him- or herself at a place where he or she happened to establish a kind of continuity and even a school. However it seems to us that such kind of ‘nomadism’ and ‘nomadic’ self-consciousness could be conceptualised in geoculturological terms.
The issue of geo-cultural conditionedness of studies in Russian literature addresses, of course, the issue of multifarious conditionedness of knowledge in social sciences and humanities.
3. The simplest form of existential self-consciousness is, as it seems to us, to question oneself about the (un)conditionedness and (un)evitability of one’s own stances and ways. Such expressions as “a/the poet’s fate/road” could hardly be considered as mere formulae; moreover, they could mask a scholar’s idea or intuition of his or her own self.
The imperative of unity of life and work is an issue which could be analysed, of course, against the background (of our ideas of) modernisation. In the modern era, vocational realisation seems or is expected to release from the burden of the mentioned imperative (thus, for example, a producer of scholarship that is fairly “up-to-date” and “convertible” “in the West” can naturally act in favour of a “feudal” organisation of scholarship as an institution, at least “at home”).
The imperative of unity of live and work, or of existential integrality, can be derived from the Christian culture of personality; and, besides, it can be considered a distinctive feature of Russian literary culture of the 19th–20th centuries. But to what extent the type, or model, of personality that is socially and fictionally forged following the mentioned imperative is stable, and to what extent does it permeate literary scholarship? How does it correlate with the logic of the literary field?
Have literary scholarship in Russia and scholarship of Russian literature been infected by it?
Is that imperative discernible in the literary and intellectual cultures to which Russian literary and intellectual culture of the 19th–20th centuries has been a partner of importance?
Has the ‘media-centric redaction’ of the classical Russian culture – that is, the ongoing audio-visual re- and overproduction of classical texts and of educatedness that has nurtured and has been nurtured by them – been infected by the imperative?
Does the imperative correlate with the temporal structure of a literary field (and of the Russian literary field), and, in particular, with what can be called the ‘elasticity’ of a literary field? How long a field ‘is willing’/ is able/ is ready to postpone the moment of repaying the writer for his or her “long-term investment”? (We refer to Pierre Bourdieu’s idea of two kinds of investments performed by the actors within the cultural field: one relying on immediate profits and the other on posthumous recognition.) What is the field’s tempo of transforming the writer-martyr into a writer-martyr-and-truimpher? (We refer to Gregory Freidin’s idea that in the Russian culture of the 19th century emerged and in the 20th century flourished the cult of the poet as martyr.) Does the mentioned “elasticity” change through history? Are the two mentioned ideas combinable?
How to view the imperative of unity of life and work – as a function of a field of cultural production, as a constant value of Russian Christian culture or as an effect of a cultural sub-field hypertrophy?
4. Non- or extra-scholarly conditionedness of the scholarly choices of a literary scholar might lead to dislocating and subrogating the sense, boundaries and contents of the vocation of a literary scholar. Literary scholarship, as (the) constitutive margin of a literary field, maintains its autonomous mode of existence through counteracting the pressures of the political field, the economical field, the ‘strong neighbour’ within the cultural field, the ‘place-development’ and the imperative of existential integrality.
Who is then the scholar in Russian literature – an advisor to the/a throne? an intercultural mediator? a shopkeeper? a broker? a petty civil servant? a marginal instead of a holy fool?
The condition of an “unimportant/minor other”, or an “other of minor importance” – as is the condition of an emigrant and, moreover, one born in the “near abroad” – gives the opportunity to adopt the vocation of a mediator, sometimes besides one’s vocation in the strict sense of the word. The cases of Alfred Bem, Piotr Bicilli, Roman Jacobson, Tzvetan Todorov, Julia Kristeva, Galin Tihanov are worth exploring. While selling (or “selling”) pieces of heuristic exotics or an exotic-heuristic otherness or an otherness of importance, has the mediator the opportunity to “sell” (or sell) ‘him/herself’ (that which is his or her ‘own’)? And where the boundary lies between the stance of a mediator and the stance of someone who has accepted the “agenda” of the culture s/he studies/sells as his or her own? (The latter question applies not only to non-Russian scholars of Russian literature.)
The turn which can be provisionally designated as a ‘shift in the self-consciousness of literary scholarship under the pressure of neighbours from the field of scholarship (and, more broadly, of culture)’ is worth discussing too. Such a discussion would allow to survey: a) the range of neighbours (at least all kind of cultural studies, namely: media-, gender-, postcolonial-, confessional etc.) and the history of relations with them (e.g., re-structuring of literary studies under the pressure of broadly understood literary studies: tossing of fashionable themes and concepts, dominant tendencies within the ‘super-field’ that is common to “all” disciplines); b) institutional practices of displacement of the literary scholar and his/her resistance; c) the attitude of society to the mentioned processes and practices.
The change in the status of the philological vocation could be viewed in relation with a hypothetic process of self-adjustment. Philology subsumes to or adopts as its own the grounding intuitions, or the self-evident truths, of other vocations and “faculties” (such intuitions and truths as ‘the world is a society’ or ‘the world is a market’ and the like). We propose paying more attention not to the semantic but to the pragmatic aspects of the mentioned turn, or shift. That a literary scholar adopts concepts, ideas and methods from, say, philosophy or sociology is less worth paying attention to than that s/he agrees to be a manager, (minor) impresario or administrator in charge of his or her own self. The imposition of project-based financing and organisation of science and scholarship (through pressure both ‘from aside’, the market, and ‘from above’, the state) can be compared with the imposition of obligatory “political literacy”. The new administrative-economical ‘super-ego’ substitutes – in the professional self-conscience of the literary scholar – the previous ‘super-ego’, the bearer of “class-party awareness”. Is this a transformation or merely mimicry?
Does literary scholarship lose its position of a constitutive margin of the literary field? Does the change in the status of literary scholarship indicate that literary field (the Russian, the global?) enters a mode of autonomy which differs from the ‘classical’ one, described by Bourdieu through his analysis of the second half of the French 19th century?
5. Self-reflection is, ideally, autotherapeutic. It has, besides, an epistemological meaning: it contributes to maintaining the uneasy ambivalence of being both ‘within’ and ‘outside of’, both in deliberation and in action.
6. Which from the already ‘ready’ ‘languages’ of self-reflection is more adequate and timely to be adopted by literary scholarship? The language of reflective sociology? Of member-of-intelligentsia’s conscience? Of psychoanalysis? Of Christian confession?
7. We welcome reasoned objections to any of the propositions shared in this call. We invite scholars and historians of scholarship to discuss any aspects of the theme which we might have left unattended. Contributions to elucidate (inter)national backgrounds other than that of Russian studies and disciplinary backgrounds other than literary scholarship are also welcome.
Yordan Lyutskanov, Nina Barkovskaya, Maria Litovskaya, Alexander Medvedev
Scholarly committee: Olga Bagdasaryan (Ekaterinburg), Nina Barkovskaya (Ekaterinburg), Dagne Berżaite (Vilnius), Zahar Davydov (Toronto), Lyudmil Dimitrov (Sofia), Ornella Discacciati (Viterbo), Alexander Dmitriev (Moscow), Dmitry Dolgushin (Novosibirsk), Mark Lipovetsky (Boulder, Colorado), Maria Litovskaya (Ekaterinburg), Ludmiła Łucewicz (Warsaw), Yordan Lyutskanov (Sofia), Hristo Manolakev (Veliko Turnovo), Alexander Medvedev (Tyumen’), Nikolay Neychev (Plovdiv), Galina Petkova (Sofia), Ioanna Piotrowska (Warsaw), Marco Sabbatini (Macerata), Alexandra Smith (Edinburgh), Olga Tabachnikova (Bath), Dechka Tchavdarova (Shumen)
Organising committee: Yordan Lyutskanov (Sofia), Olga Bagdasaryan (Ekaterinburg), Galina Petkova (Sofia), Ioanna Piotrowska (Warsaw)
Submission terms and conditions:
Please send your paper proposals – in Russian (and in Russian or English – if your contribution is to elucidate (inter)national backgrounds other than that of Russian studies) language, from 150 to 300 words long, and supplemented by reference lists from three to ten references – together with contact details (names, institution, chair/ department) to firstname.lastname@example.org, with a copy to email@example.com.
Paper proposals which do not meet the formal requirements shall not be considered. Paper proposals shall be accepted only upon positive decision of the scholarly committee. All personal information shall be removed before sending the proposals for review.
The working language of the conference shall be Russian.
The regular participation fee is 80 EUR; early bird payers shall be charged 70 EUR and doctoral students – 60 EUR (upon e-mailing an attesting document). Payment shall be possible via the bank account of Institute of Literature of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and via person-to-person transfer (details shall be given later).
1. Deadline for sending paper proposals: 15 November 2014.
2. Notification of acceptance/ rejection: 15 January 2015.
3. Deadline for early bird payment: 15 February 2015.
4. Final deadline for payment of the registration fee: 1 May 2015.
This conference follows the conference “Russian literature today: the challenges/trials of messianism and mass culture” organised by Yordan Lyutskanov, Radostin Rusev and Hristo Manolakev and held in Sofia, 23-25 May 2013.
The majority of papers delivered at that conference made a thematic (the 44th) issue of the journal Toronto Slavic Quarterly, in Russian.
A revised variant of the selection, and in English, is under print with Cambridge Scholars Publishing (Newcastle, UK).