Author Topic: The Russian Soul  (Read 80101 times)

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Offline Silja

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #45 on: August 24, 2006, 03:20:31 AM »

The search for the Russian soul now by (western) scholars is more a search for the differeces with the west, to explain to themselves why things happened and why in Russia during the past 100 years. What makes "Russia" different from "us".

But at the end of the day it is only natural they're doing this. Russian culture/history of ideas DOES differ from Western culture in many ways. To explain current and earlier developments it is rather essential to analyse the differences between the two cultures. And these go back not only a hundred years but about a thousand.

The Slavophile writers/philosophers of the 19th century, Dostoyevsky being one of them, also argued that the Russian mentality was distinctively different from that of the West, so they, too, already perceived their culture in contrast to another culture. It wasn't only a philosophical search within but one which also had political implications. Or rather, you cannot separate the one from the other.

Offline gugussey

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #46 on: August 25, 2006, 07:57:15 PM »
Since souls are immortal and transcend all time, I suggest a look at "Arrested Voices" by Shentalinsky, 1996.  If there is a Russian soul, Shentalinsky tells us how it survives as told through the lives of 20th century writes including Babel, Bulgakov, Florensky and Demidov.  No happy Tolstoy peasants or torturned drawing room countesses here.  Just raw stuff.

Offline Lyss

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #47 on: August 27, 2006, 06:42:46 AM »
The Slavophile writers/philosophers of the 19th century, Dostoyevsky being one of them, also argued that the Russian mentality was distinctively different from that of the West, so they, too, already perceived their culture in contrast to another culture. It wasn't only a philosophical search within but one which also had political implications. Or rather, you cannot separate the one from the other.
That they saw that their culture was different from the western, that's true. But they weren't looking for the differences, but what it meant to be Russian. People like Volkonski and Poeshkin went looking for the true Russian soul: in the Russian peasant. They weren'tr trying to explain their culture in contract to the western culture or the Asian or even to explain their governments decisions. The were trying to find their roots, explain their traditions. It was one of many nationalist searches in the 19th century. Russia wasn't the only country struggeling with an identity crisis. Hell, a couple of years ago Dutch and Flemish researches found out after a long study that the only thing in common they have is the language, their cultures are totally different.
But you're right, every nationalist movement has political implications. Actually, a lot of things have political implications that we don't know about.
Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by ignorance or stupidity.

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #48 on: August 27, 2006, 02:02:28 PM »
The Slavophile writers/philosophers of the 19th century, Dostoyevsky being one of them, also argued that the Russian mentality was distinctively different from that of the West, so they, too, already perceived their culture in contrast to another culture. It wasn't only a philosophical search within but one which also had political implications. Or rather, you cannot separate the one from the other.
That they saw that their culture was different from the western, that's true. But they weren't looking for the differences, but what it meant to be Russian. People like Volkonski and Poeshkin went looking for the true Russian soul: in the Russian peasant. They weren'tr trying to explain their culture in contract to the western culture or the Asian or even to explain their governments decisions. The were trying to find their roots, explain their traditions. It was one of many nationalist searches in the 19th century.

Lyss, Silja has made some excellent points. I think your own argument is highly misleading. In fact, beginning with Petr Chaadaev (1794-1856), Russian philosophers constantly compared and contrasted their culture with that of western Europe. Chaadaev's famous Philosophical Letters (1836) are a case in point: an extended meditation on Russia's place and role in the world, especially vis a vis the West. His view of Russian culture was extremely bleak: "isolated in the world, we have given nothing to the world; we have added not a single idea to the human mass of ideas; we have contributed nothing to the progress of the human spirit. And we have disfigured everything we touched of that progress... we have something in our blood which drives off all true progress. In a word, we have lived and we live to be a great lesson to such distant posterity as will be capable of it; today, whatever anyone says, we mark a void in the intellectual sphere." Etc., etc.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Chaadaev's Philosophical Letters were so shocking at the time that they can be credited with acting as a catalyst for the two major philosophical currents in Russia in the nineteenth century, the so-called Westernizer and Slavophile movements. Essentially the Westernizers agreed with Chaadaev's proposition, that Russia, having been cut off from Europe during the Renaissance and Reformation, remained lamentably backward and primitive; they argued that their country needed to rejoin Europe by becoming as Westernized as possible as soon as possible (thus fulfilling the legacy of Peter the Great). The Slavophiles on the other hand for the most part reacted strongly against Chaadaev's main points and posited that Russia had its own unique and important role in world history; that, in short, the "lesson" Chaadaev spoke of, which he said Russia would teach the world, would be a positive one. (Of course, given the constraints of time and space, I am simplifying the Westernizer and Slavophile philosophical stances, which were in reality quite nuanced.)

My point is, of course, that both Westernizers and Slavophiles were indeed searching for their own identity as Russians; but this search for a national identity necessarily played out against the backdrop of Russia's larger role as a European or (depending on one's philosophical approach) semi-European country.

And by the way, I only just discovered that the term "Russian Soul" was actually first used by Dostoevsky's French translator, De Vogüé (I think I spelled that right). So as a matter of fact the "Russian Soul" is a term of Western coinage, albeit arguably inspired by Russian ideas!
« Last Edit: August 27, 2006, 02:07:54 PM by Elisabeth »
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David_Pritchard

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #49 on: August 27, 2006, 03:06:26 PM »
Since souls are immortal and transcend all time, I suggest a look at "Arrested Voices" by Shentalinsky, 1996.  If there is a Russian soul, Shentalinsky tells us how it survives as told through the lives of 20th century writes including Babel, Bulgakov, Florensky and Demidov.  No happy Tolstoy peasants or torturned drawing room countesses here.  Just raw stuff.


Very good book! I am glad to see that someone else on this forum bought this excellent book.

David

Offline Lyss

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #50 on: August 27, 2006, 03:14:13 PM »
You're totaly right Elisabeth. I was so consumed by one branch that I forgot the whole picture. I read about Chaadaev, it think it's time to read some more or start to reread a couple of my books :)
By the way, I didn't know that 'Russian soul' originaly came from Dostojevski's French translator

And thanx foor the book-info, I'll put Shentalinsky on my must-read-list (am now reading Dostojevski's Devils).
Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by ignorance or stupidity.

Offline imperial angel

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #51 on: October 03, 2006, 01:07:21 PM »
I agree with the third line/paragraph of Elisabeth's post of August 27. She was right to state that both the Slavophiles and the Westernizers were searching for their identity as Russians.I think that so often, people see the Westernizers and the Slavophiles as being in contrast to one another, in their ideas for the ways Russia should develop. But you pointed out that they both were searching for the same, really, although they were doing that in different ways. The Slavophiles wanted Russia to turn more to its past in Muscovy, and its traditions before Peter the Great, although some survived later. The Westernizers wanted to let the influence of the west come in, in culture, as well as more practical ways, and not to seek the past, but to seek the future they could have by embracing things western. This whole debate goes back to Peter the Great, and his westernizing Russia in largely practical ways, but in many ways culterally as well. It largely raged in the 19th century, I believe as a debate.

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #52 on: December 09, 2006, 04:38:44 PM »
I just read a very interesting article about the so-called Russian soul, which suggests that this “soul” is transmitted not genetically or environmentally but by discourse and socialization. You can understand the main gist of this article from its very title: “The Power of Negative Thinking: Russian Talk and the Reproduction of Mindset, Worldview, and Society.” It’s by the anthropologist Nancy Ries and was published in The Anthropology of East Europe Review for Autumn 1991. Personally I am rather astonished that Ries found so much “negative thinking” in the Soviet Union of the late 1980s and early 1990s. I  myself was there in 1991 and thought that most people, at least in the intelligentsia, seemed very upbeat about the future, although there were constant dire warnings and rumors about an upcoming coup (which turned out to be correct).

At any rate, Ries’s article is extremely interesting for the light it sheds on typical Russian discourse. She identified 12 different types of semi-ritualized expression, which she calls “litanies,” that Russians of her acquaintance were fond of venting as the occasion arose: absurdism, apocalypse, blame, danger, dead end, difficulty, hopelessness, horror, loss, ruined Russian people/and/or the deprecation of Russianness, sacrifice, and suffering. Of these twelve the “litany” of suffering was by far the most common. Russians of her acquaintance were fond of relating stories of horrific trials and tribulations (i.e., suffering) that might not necessarily have happened to themselves, but had befallen those they knew, either firsthand or secondhand.

Ries compares this Russian discourse of negativity with the American discourse that denies suffering and insists on cheerfulness. “In America, the dominant cultural mainstream has little patience for litanies of suffering which don’t challenge the causes of suffering, and one who merely litanizes may be admonished to ‘practice a positive mental attitude’ – ‘look on the bright side of things’ –  ‘pull yourself together.’ Even in conditions of admissible suffering (such as terminal illness) what the dominant culture in the US valorizes is the maintenance of a brave and cheerful demeanor. Further, Americans define themselves by their cheerful exuberance” (Ries, p. 45). Whereas Russians seem to valorize suffering, or at least, they did so in 1991 (and I myself would add, perhaps they did so as well in 1891, 1791, 1691, and so on...)

Ries is not making value judgments, since she clearly recognizes that Russians have far more to complain (and suffer) about than Americans, but she wonders if the introduction of Western corporate ideals and a market economy will make any difference to the Russian psyche. I myself am wondering the same thing. It’s now 2006, what has changed since 1991?
« Last Edit: December 09, 2006, 04:40:56 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline lexi4

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #53 on: December 09, 2006, 05:59:59 PM »
Hi everyone,
Very interesting discussion has gone on here while I've been away. I just got back from a week vacation in Maui. Elisabeth, you asked or mentioned earlier that some might be hesitant to discuss the Russian soul. I know I am. That is because I can only view it from the western perspecctive. I am not Russian and only know what I have read and studied so there is much about the Russian soul that I do know understand. The two cultures are so different. I would love to have those kinds of 4 a.m. discussions you mentioned as I am sure I would learn a lot. One thing that is difficult for me to grasp, is that there doesn't seem to be much importance (for lack of a better word) attached to individual freedoms such as the ones we have in the United States. I've always been curious about that. Because I do believe that should the Russian people ever unite to make changes in the government, they have the soul and the strength to accomplish such a task. What it seems they lack, is motivation. I do know know if my thinking on this is accurate. But if it is a lack of motivation, it seems that could either come from generations of oppression or a spiritual understanding of a greater freedom that the West seems to lack.
Lexi
« Last Edit: December 09, 2006, 06:18:47 PM by lexi4 »
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Offline Tania+

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #54 on: December 09, 2006, 06:13:35 PM »
Hi Lexi  :D, Welcome back from Maui !
I also have been reading Elizabeth's latest posting, and it made me really think about it. In some ways I have to agree that Americans always seem to have the optimistic face on most things. But as Elizabeth has already stated, when comparing it with the historical events of Russia, Russians certainly do have more to address, long term. Now, I have heard both Americans, as well as Russians say to not put too much thought to issues that might be overwhelming, move on, don't dwell. I also have heard Russians more times when asked about how difficult things were for them on issues that would have been overwhelming for most in the west, to minimize, and say lesser of what they had faced. This was with both men and women. Teens however seemed to be more open, and easier to draw conversation from on these issues.

I don't think that Russians have lack of motivation necessarily. When it comes to certain things, they have excelled and rebuilt their energies, and in some light the very soul of Russia. But, again in reading what you have shared Lexi, I think it may well come from generations of oppression, but never lack of spiritual understanding, for in that and during WWII, the Russian people flocked to their churches, and was reason for the backbone of Russians fighting to the bitter end. Just my small kopeck  :)

Tatian
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Offline lexi4

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #55 on: December 09, 2006, 06:22:41 PM »
Hi Tania! Good to see you.
For me, it is difficult to understand the soul of Russia without understanding the spirituality of the Russian people. I may be wrong about this, but it seems the Russian people are more in touch with their spirituality than many in the West. It also seems the Russian people are not as materailistic, which is probably because of the spirituality of the Russian people. For those focused on spititualism, sometimes the trappings of daily life have very little meaning. But hey, what to do I know?
And Maui was wonderul.

Lexi
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely, in a pretty and well preserved body; but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, "Wow ---- What a ride!!!"

Offline Tania+

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #56 on: December 09, 2006, 06:32:28 PM »
Thanks Lexi !
The soul of Russia is vast. Their spirituality is awesome. I think that indeed their spirituality is very strong. As i said earlier, even under the worst of oppression, the people had very little, but for them, their religion was everything, and still remains that today.
And for what you know, you know much :) ! I've never been to Maui, but from what I have heard, it is grand. Glad you had a great time, and no earth tremors greeted you  ;)

Elizabeth, I wish I were reading the book you have been reading of late. Sounds great. Thanks for sharing with us, its always lovely to share such insight.

Tatiana+
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Offline Helen_Azar

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #57 on: December 09, 2006, 06:55:23 PM »
Russian people are more in touch with their spirituality than many in the West. It also seems the Russian people are not as materailistic, which is probably because of the spirituality of the Russian people.

Russian people may be more in touch with their spirituality (whatever that means), but they are definitely at least as materialistic - if not more - than the westerners (at least this is the impression you get when you are in Russia). I don't know how to explain it without being misunderstood, maybe someone else can take a stab at it, but "materialistic" is one of the first things that comes to mind when you are visiting Russia, at least the big cities like Moscow or St Pete...


Offline lexi4

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #58 on: December 09, 2006, 07:10:24 PM »
Spirituality: of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things (Webster)
Thank you Helen, I appreciate your perspective.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely, in a pretty and well preserved body; but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, "Wow ---- What a ride!!!"

Offline gugussey

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #59 on: December 10, 2006, 10:16:16 PM »
Recommend "Moscow 1941" by Braitwaite.  A relatively new book and a realistic view into the "Russian soul".