Author Topic: The Russian Soul  (Read 80054 times)

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Offline AGRBear

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #60 on: December 12, 2006, 12:25:15 PM »
Quote
  Of all things which a man has,  nex to the gods, his soul is the most divine and most truly his own. 

Plato
"What is true by lamplight is not always true by sunlight."

Joubert, Pensees, No. 152

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #61 on: December 13, 2006, 05:09:47 PM »
When talking about the "Russian soul", I find it interesting that the only other group to whom the term "soul" is commonly applied is to African-Americans.

Their "soul" music -- with its introspective, plaintive strains -- is generally accepted as having its origins in the sufferings of slavery.  Their "soul" food is a cuisine born of perpetual poverty -- vegetables boiled in fatback, cracklin' bread and chitlins improvised from the scrap cuts of animals and the cheapest of flours.

Why is it that we speak of the "national character" of nations whose people have tasted freedom and widespread prosperity and the "soul" of nations or groups that have known mostly servitude and economic hardship?

As wrong as Karl Marx was about so many things, he had a point in saying that religion is the opium of the masses.  A recent study reported that 30% of Russian drivers are frequently drunk behind the wheel, and other studies point to alcohol-related diseases as a prevalent cause of premature death.  The Russian soul apparently has quite a bit of need for opium in all its forms.

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #62 on: December 13, 2006, 07:07:01 PM »
When talking about the "Russian soul", I find it interesting that the only other group to whom the term "soul" is commonly applied is to African-Americans.

Their "soul" music -- with its introspective, plaintive strains -- is generally accepted as having its origins in the sufferings of slavery. 


You gave me your mud, and I turned it into gold.

- Charles Baudelaire, Flowers of Evil


Most wretched men
Are cradled into poetry by wrong,
They learn in suffering what they teach in song.

- P.B. Shelley, "Julian and Maddalo"


Suffering is generally recognized to be good for art, if not for too much else (except possibly deepening one's character? and one's understanding and appreciation of life? etc., etc., all dull spiritual things I know). After all, aside from priests (and nowadays, psychologists), it is artists who most concern themselves with the emotional pain and torment inherent to being alive. So I think that when people discuss the "soul" of certain cultures they are referring to a spiritual quality characteristic of that culture which is not necessarily religious or even mystical in nature but "merely" unusually sensitive and attuned to the heaven and hell contained within every human breast (to paraphrase another poet, Emily Brontë) - indeed, the same quality shared by most great artists.

P.S. Sorry for all the poetry quotations, I'm just showing off.
« Last Edit: December 13, 2006, 07:20:38 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #63 on: December 13, 2006, 08:04:22 PM »
Suffering is generally recognized to be good for art, if not for too much else (except possibly deepening one's character? and one's understanding and appreciation of life? etc., etc., all dull spiritual things I know).

I'm not so sure the crack cocaine epidemics in the ghetto, the drive-by shootings in gang-infested minority neighborhoods, the teenage birth rates among the impoverished reflect much deepening of character or appreciation of life.

I grant that suffering can spawn great art . . . when it is an artist who is suffering.  But it makes pretty much everyone else just really, really messed up.  For every Russian that turns out a well-formed verse, there seem to be vastly more who are driving drunk.

But keep showing off, Elisabeth.  Besides always enjoying your posts, I find your command of literature to be both impressive and enlightening.  And, though it is often the case, my tongue is nowhere near my cheek when I write this.

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Russian Soul
« Reply #64 on: December 14, 2006, 11:37:59 AM »
I grant that suffering can spawn great art . . . when it is an artist who is suffering.  But it makes pretty much everyone else just really, really messed up.  For every Russian that turns out a well-formed verse, there seem to be vastly more who are driving drunk.

Well, I wouldn't exactly disagree with you here. And by the way, I should have mentioned it before, it was very astute of you to draw parallels between Russian and African American culture. There are definite similarities. But perhaps that's because we are talking about cultures of extremes that are born out extreme suffering. Thus we see not only extreme degradation (terrible social conditions) but also extreme exaltation (great art). I wouldn't go so far as to say that you can't have one without the other, but I do very much admire both Russian culture and African American culture for managing to make so much gold out of so much "mud" (Baudelaire's euphemism for s**t). It's an achievement not to be sneered at, and needless to say, Western civilization would be much the poorer without the artistic contributions of both cultures. (Not that I'm accusing you of sneering - my tongue is nowhere near my cheek, I swear.)

In Russia, as far as I can see, the main problem is that the country was for so long permeated by a state ideology - whether it was Uvarov's "Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality" (i.e., Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Empire) under the tsars or Marxism-Leninism under the Bolsheviks. But now all the old ideologies have been swept away and there is no symbolic order left but that of the past - hence the current Russian nostalgia for anything in their nation's history prior to 1991. (This nostalgia seems to be shared by every class, which is significant.) And as much as the New Russians might want to elevate capitalism or a market economy into a new ideology, it just isn't happening - for them, all the new economy has led to is excessive consumption and a typical nouveau riche display of wealth, whereas for a significant number of other Russians, it has only led to further impoverishment. Furthermore, there's no sense of national identity in the concept (or for that matter the reality) of capitalism. What is Russia? Who are Russians? If not an empire and an imperial people, do they even exist? I think these are the questions that are boiling just under the surface of the Russian political and domestic scene right now. And it is this national identity crisis that will continue to create problems, not only for Russia but for the rest of the world, well into the foreseeable future.

IMHO, Russians should just focus on their stupendous artistic achievements as the source of their national identity and pride, and then all would be fine. But hey, I'm the first to admit that I'm a tad naive.
« Last Edit: December 14, 2006, 11:51:35 AM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Elisabeth

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The Slave Soul of Russia?
« Reply #65 on: March 27, 2009, 10:14:34 AM »
I have a question. How could a well-respected American scholar like Daniel Rancour-Laferriere publish a book entitled The Slave Soul of Russia: Moral Masochism and the Cult of Suffering? This is a psychoanalytic treatment of Russian cultural history that concentrates, as the title says, on the Russians’ so-called slavish humility and obedience to authority figures, up to and including tyrants and mass murderers like Stalin. Rancour-Laferriere, as a good Freudian, insists that Russians have brought all this suffering upon themselves, since they have only ever got the government they deserved and wanted, and that this pattern has held from time immemorial (perhaps ever since ancient times when the Rus’ tribe supposedly asked the Scandinavian Varangians “to come and rule over us” because they could not keep order amongst themselves). Rancour-Laferriere also discerns numerous examples of what he terms “moral masochism” in the works of great Russian writers such as Tolstoy and especially Dostoevsky.

I myself have tremendous moral and spiritual difficulty in blaming victims for what was inflicted on them. Rancour-Laferriere seems to have very little knowledge of the symptoms associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or indeed, any real knowledge of the syndrome itself (and I would say this is typical of Freudians, who tend to blame victims of abusers rather than the abusers themselves). One of the symptoms PTSD sufferers evince is identifying with the abuser and making excuses for him because this was in fact the only way to survive, psychologically, in a potentially life-threatening situation. In other words, you convince yourself that the abuser is basically a good, kind, humane person, as opposed to an evil and inhumane one, because to accept the truth would be the equivalent of accepting one’s own imminent murder. And this most people find this very hard to do. Because most of us don’t have the inner stuff required to be heroes. And I hardly think that such a natural fear (indeed terror) can or should be taken as an overall reflection on an entire culture!

I would like to ask members here, are Rancour-Laferriere and other modern (usually Western) commentators right to describe Russians as basically “slaves” in their mentality? Moreover, are they right to blame Russians for both their past and present historical predicaments? The October Revolution, Stalinism, and in our own day, stillborn democratization, increasing authoritarianism under Putin, etcetera etcetera, etcetera?
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Offline RichC

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Re: The Slave Soul of Russia?
« Reply #66 on: March 27, 2009, 03:33:53 PM »
Hello Elisabeth,

Here are my thoughts:

It seems to me that a lot of this behavior is cultural rather than the result of PTSD.  Russian's aren't happy unless they are miserable.  Otherwise they wouldn't be Russians, they'd be French (who are only happy when everything is done for them).  Look at Boris and Gleb who meekly allowed themselves to be murdered -- the ultimate submission if you ask me.  Isn't it a basic tenet of the Russian Orthodox Church that one can only reach salvation through suffering -- just as Christ suffered on the Cross?  And how about the way Russian's literally beat themselves with sticks in bathhouses?  It's as if they all want to be martyrs.   

Offline Mike

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Re: The Slave Soul of Russia?
« Reply #67 on: March 27, 2009, 03:52:02 PM »
Oh no, not with sticks! Bunches of birch twigs are commonly used in Russian bathhouses.


Offline nena

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Re: The Slave Soul of Russia?
« Reply #68 on: March 27, 2009, 04:09:58 PM »
I love this thread, firstly.

Now, my opinions --- there is term 'Russian Slave Soul' used in world for people who are good, spiritually, have charm and way speaking very different from others. That way s=of communication is special -- they understand each other without words, they are in love with a river, with any field, every grass in the nature around them. They love summer, winter, they love to work, they are emotional, use diminutives in speaking, have sweetish word, etc. one man studied this subject, and decided it is almost impossible to define 'Russian soul/Slave'.

But someone would ask, after all unhappy happens after 1917, things went down, and all changed. How to explain this, after a big contradiction mentioned above? Well, Revolution changed Russia and rest of world in all possible ways. Now Church comes, after end of 80s, things became inverted -- IMO, things are a bit in some way, like were before the Great War, but I am sure, somewhere, deeply in Russian human person, still stands A Russian soul. Many priests would agree Revolution brought some curse n Russian people, and happens what will be later.

Especially when threads are like these, I write my opinions in a poet way, and which best describes. One said - 'Who would in one word say all about Russian mysterious Soul' 

Russian poets and writers are ones among best in the worlds -- long sentences and deep meanings says all. All Slave people are similar, so their Souls, languages, are similar in many point of view.

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Offline RichC

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Re: The Slave Soul of Russia?
« Reply #69 on: March 27, 2009, 04:51:42 PM »
Oh no, not with sticks! Bunches of birch twigs are commonly used in Russian bathhouses.



If you ask me, twigs are even more painful because they're more flexible and sting more.  OUCH!

Offline nena

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Re: The Slave Soul of Russia?
« Reply #70 on: March 27, 2009, 05:13:43 PM »
And, no, Orthodox Church don't believe you can get salvation only if you through suffering, besides it, it is enough if you go to Churches, proffes customarily, and man must do whole life on yourself, etc. Not only through suffering, at least, life is full of probations. All of us suffer sometimes. But to back on original topic.
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Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Slave Soul of Russia?
« Reply #71 on: March 27, 2009, 07:52:15 PM »
Hello Elisabeth,

Here are my thoughts:

It seems to me that a lot of this behavior is cultural rather than the result of PTSD.  Russian's aren't happy unless they are miserable.  Otherwise they wouldn't be Russians, they'd be French (who are only happy when everything is done for them).  Look at Boris and Gleb who meekly allowed themselves to be murdered -- the ultimate submission if you ask me.  Isn't it a basic tenet of the Russian Orthodox Church that one can only reach salvation through suffering -- just as Christ suffered on the Cross?  And how about the way Russian's literally beat themselves with sticks in bathhouses?  It's as if they all want to be martyrs. 

The Finns beat themselves with sticks in bathhouses, I believe the practice actually originated with them, and no one accuses the Finns of masochism. I think the basic problem is, that Rancour-Laferriere identifies Christianity itself with moral masochism. So Russia, as an exemplar of human suffering in the 20th century (let's face it, their only rivals in this category, at least in the Western world, are the Ukrainians and the Holodomor or the the Jews and the Holocaust, but the latter weren't Christians) gets beat over the head with 20/20 hindsight, in other words, the attitude that I told you so, and you were only asking for it all along.

It's Rancour-Laferriere's underlying notion that Russians take a masochistic pleasure in their suffering that leaves me with a particularly bad taste in my mouth.

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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Slave Soul of Russia?
« Reply #72 on: March 29, 2009, 09:33:28 AM »
I would like to ask members here, are Rancour-Laferriere and other modern (usually Western) commentators right to describe Russians as basically “slaves” in their mentality?

Russia is a huge conundrum to me regarding this question.  There are certainly aspects of Russian political society that indicate a strong tendency to subservience and a heightened appreciation of the "strong man", as manifested even today by Russians' tendency to view Putin's KGB background as a plus rather than a minus.

I do not find the presence of these traits at any one point in time as uniquely Russian, though.  For instance, a strong tendency to subservience and a heightened appreciation of the strong man is an apt descriptor of Spartan society in the classic age, of French society momentarily in the late 18th century, of German society in the 1930's, and of Chinese society in the 1970's.  What I do find uniquely Russian is the re-assertion of these traits over and over as the political landscape convulses around them.  So it does indicate to me the presence of some very strong gravital force that pulls Russian society back to an autocratic center every time it seems poised to break free.

But rather than seek a psychological explanation, as Rancour-Laferriere apparently does, I tend to seek a historical explanation.  If one looks at the city-states of medieval Russia, one finds in places such as Nizhny-Novgorod and Kiev social and political systems in many ways more advanced than those of western Europe at the time, with many of the same underpinnings that in Europe were to form the foundations for later liberalization.

We could discuss this question by examining the trajectory of Russian history from the era of the city-states, through the Mongol invasion, on to the emergence of Muscovy and the spread of its autocratic system, right on up to Lenin, Stalin, glasnost, and now Putin.  In fact, it might be fun to do so if others are game.

But to me the real turning point came with Peter the Great, the intense assertion of autocratic force to turn Russia superficially westward, and -- most importantly of all -- his subjugation of the Orthodox Church to the yoke of the state, thereby removing the one potentially effective counterforce to a completely autocratic society.

Well, that's my starting punch in this discussion . . . .


Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Slave Soul of Russia?
« Reply #73 on: March 30, 2009, 08:09:37 AM »
I would like to ask members here, are Rancour-Laferriere and other modern (usually Western) commentators right to describe Russians as basically “slaves” in their mentality?

Russia is a huge conundrum to me regarding this question.  There are certainly aspects of Russian political society that indicate a strong tendency to subservience and a heightened appreciation of the "strong man", as manifested even today by Russians' tendency to view Putin's KGB background as a plus rather than a minus.

I do not find the presence of these traits at any one point in time as uniquely Russian, though.  For instance, a strong tendency to subservience and a heightened appreciation of the strong man is an apt descriptor of Spartan society in the classic age, of French society momentarily in the late 18th century, of German society in the 1930's, and of Chinese society in the 1970's.  What I do find uniquely Russian is the re-assertion of these traits over and over as the political landscape convulses around them.  So it does indicate to me the presence of some very strong gravital force that pulls Russian society back to an autocratic center every time it seems poised to break free.

But rather than seek a psychological explanation, as Rancour-Laferriere apparently does, I tend to seek a historical explanation.  If one looks at the city-states of medieval Russia, one finds in places such as Nizhny-Novgorod and Kiev social and political systems in many ways more advanced than those of western Europe at the time, with many of the same underpinnings that in Europe were to form the foundations for later liberalization.

We could discuss this question by examining the trajectory of Russian history from the era of the city-states, through the Mongol invasion, on to the emergence of Muscovy and the spread of its autocratic system, right on up to Lenin, Stalin, glasnost, and now Putin.  In fact, it might be fun to do so if others are game.

But to me the real turning point came with Peter the Great, the intense assertion of autocratic force to turn Russia superficially westward, and -- most importantly of all -- his subjugation of the Orthodox Church to the yoke of the state, thereby removing the one potentially effective counterforce to a completely autocratic society.

Well, that's my starting punch in this discussion . . . .

And an excellent starting punch it is, practically a knockout blow. Except that I find myself in a form of agreement with you, for lack of a better phrase, so maybe I'm not quite on the mat yet?

I think that since the reign of Ivan IV, the Terrible, in the 16th century, the national identity of Russia has always been closely bound up with the idea of empire. It seems that in the 21st century, some Russians without empire, even some former Soviet citizens who are not ethnically Russian, feel somewhat cast adrift in this modern, post-Soviet world of non-empire... It's as if, without empire, Russia and Russian national identity ceases to exist all together. I think this attitude explains in part Russia's agression towards its former colony, Georgia, last summer.

You're absolutely right about Peter the Great subjugating the Orthodox Church, and how this threw out of whack the entire balance of power. I fondly remember my High Middle Ages professor drumming into me and the rest of my class the fact that the Catholic Church played a huge role in limiting the power of individual states and kings during the Middle Ages and even afterwards.

My only quibble with your argument would be that I believe this power imbalance came about even earlier, more than an entire century earlier, with Ivan the Terrible's reign of terror against the Church. I know this is a somewhat controversial and not exactly a popular idea right now, but I do think Ivan the Terrible's term in power was pivotal to Russian history. Put bluntly: prior to him, Russia had a lot going for it. After him, the city states like Novgorod were completely subjugated, the Russian Orthodox Church was subjugated, serfdom was becoming entrenched as an institution, in other words, everybody had been more or less (usually more rather than less) subjugated to the tsar, the God-given representative of the Russian state (empire).
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Offline Louis_Charles

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Re: The Slave Soul of Russia?
« Reply #74 on: March 30, 2009, 09:11:01 AM »
The psychologist's position, as you describe it, sounds like Alexandra: "Russia loves to feel the knout!"  And that isn't a compliment.

I'm not sure I agree with national identity diagnoses. After all, wasn't basically every western power but England an autocracy, more or less, prior to 1789? And even if the monarch wasn't particularly powerful, weren't the bulk of the populations under the heel of the upper classes until a middle class emerged (largely due to colonialism, never a Russian long suite) to counter their power with financial clout?

Russia was a largely rural nation in 1914, although there were nascent signs that a middle class was (1) emerging and (2) going to cause trouble when it did --- pace the Duma. World War I put a stop to that and plunged the country into a repressive regime --- far more so than the rule of the Tsars. Their repressive regime lasted a lot longer than, say, Germany's and Italy's, because the Allies beat the tar out of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in World War II. We did not beat the tar out of Franco's Spain or the Soviet Union (indeed, we saved Stalin's borscht by forcing Hitler to fight a two-front war). Meanwhile, repressive, bloody regimes continued to exist on mainland China, Uganda, Argentina, the list is (sadly) pretty long. Are all of those nationalities gifted with the knack for suffering?

This strikes me as pop psych silliness. Although RichC's crack about the French made me snicker!

Simon

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