2014 was a year of sharply aggressive foreign policy and of economic crisis, however at the level of social discourse, as initiated by the powers that be, it was also a year of discussion of the foundations of state cultural policy and, in general, an official Year of Culture. Clearly, it was precisely cultural politics, as well as the politics of cultural identity that undergirds it, that were responsible for the development of crises in both economic and foreign policy. This is connected with the fact that the space of “Russian culture” (not in the sense of a multiplicity of actually existing practices and institutions, but rather as a construction of state patriotic discourse) began to function as a screen, of sorts, on which were projected various complexes and desires (including the imperial). The “Russkii mir” or “Russian World,” “historical Russia,” “Russia as a civilizational unit, around which the neighboring nations consolidate,” “Russia as a special form of spirituality” — all of this is the conceptual, rhetorical topoi of contemporary discourse of national identity, which one way or another relates to a complex of lost empire.
Operating as the foundation of these hegemonic dispositions of state patriotism, the topos of “Russian culture” projects a space in which the national and imperial dimensions of Russia are interwoven. The “Russian World” gives a name to this distorted space, this temporal formation, which may best be described with the help of the Bakhtinian analytical notion of the chronotope, which renders ideological premises explicit via one or another form of the mutual concatenation of time and space. Just so, one may analyze the “Russian world,” in the form in which it is articulated in official patriotic discourse, as a sui generis type of discursive logic, making it possible to connect nation and empire by means of a special topology of time and space. The “Russian World” is a post-imperial chronotope, making it possible to manipulate historical time and political space in the language of the cultural tradition, presenting the “characteristics” of past time as the signs of present spatial property, making sense of foreign territory in terms of one’s own historical time, legitimating foreign policy in terms of national history and cultural legacy, and presenting the nation as a medium for empire. The affirmation of the universal civilizing mission of Russian culture, that, as contemporary patriotic discourse insists, lies in the depths of the national character, creates a paradoxical (inverted, in comparison to the classical imperial order) stacking-doll construct, according to which the empire is concealed inside the nation and the future is pregnant with the past, to which it promises to give birth when the imperial core comes to light out of the depths of the national identity.
Ilya Kalinin is Associate Professor at the Department of Liberal Arts and Sciences, St.-Petersburg State University. His researches focuses on early Soviet Russia’s intellectual and cultural history, practices of self-fashioning of the Soviet subject and on the historical and cultural politics of contemporary Russia (post-soviet social and cultural transformations; contemporary Russian politics of history; modernization/demodernization and politics of identity in contemporary Russia).
He is editor-in-chief of the Moscow-based intellectual journal Emergency Rations: Debates on Politics and Culture (Neprikosnovennyj Zapas: Debaty o politike i culture) and two series of books published in Moscow Publishing House “New Literary Observer”.