International Seminar 2005

RUSSIA AT THE CROSSROADS: LANGUAGE, LITERATURE, CULTURE AND SOCIETY IN THE XXI CENTURY

From the desk of the office bearers of INDAPRYAL

18-19 October, 2005

New Delhi

 Introduction

Russia, Soviet Union, the Russian Federation.

Very few nations have gone through so many cataclysmic changes in the living history of just one century. Belying the estimations of the ideologues of the socialism, Russia, instead of Germany, became the epicenter of the socialist experiment. Russia had at that time in the early XX century lurched from still growing capitalism to socialism. At the end of the same century Russia’s experiment with socialist style ‘command economy’ failed under the pressures of the worldwide recession in the market. Russia moved on the bumpy path of restoration of capitalism, resting upon the slogans of glasnost’ and perestroika. As the world endlessly discussed the ever-revealing horrors of a ‘totalitarian’ and ‘stagnant’ regime celebrating the collapse of the Soviet socialism, it suffered from partial amnesia and forgot that other European countries have also at different times gone through periods of authoritarian rule, mass dislocation, holocaust, racial discrimination, imperial expansion and economic collapse in the XX century itself.

Perestroika and the ensuing restoration of capitalism in Russia also saw the resurgence of ethnic conflicts and emergence of cultural and political nationalism. As in most of the countries in Russia also economic liberalization and restructuring was accompanied by the emergence of the very sensitive question of identity.

Russia’s movement forward towards a democratic and equitable society is marked by a sense of instability, fear of reversal of freedom of expression, fear of disintegration etc. Russia also has to face issues related to its internal security and is part of the world ‘anti terrorist operation’. There are other challenges vis-a-vis Russia’s relationship with the other former East European ar CIS countries. The possibility of emergence of a Slavonic cultural integration though a worthwhile idea to ponder upon, does not seem to be happening.

Thus, in the XXI century Russia is faced with a host of issues related to i1 future. Russia’s future in terms of its geopolitical space is fraught with man challenges. Russia is at crossroads in more ways than one.

Issues

The two significant indicators of any nation’s uniqueness manifest through it language and culture. Needless to say that globalisation, the opening of all borders and emergence of new technologies, have greatly impacted the Russian Culture and society. Russian language also experienced hitherto unheard o changes. This language is the mother tongue of almost 285 million people and another 180 million people are striving to learn this language. It is constantly evolving as it deals with the influence of the language of globalization. Great flexibility became the hallmark of the period: new words freely entered the Russian language space and speech etiquette also underwent cataclysmic change. Seemingly the challenge for the Russian language today would be to uphold plurality and yet retain its magnificence. The practice and theory of translation has also gone through a sea change. Translation has moved beyond the ‘language meets language paradigm’ and this needs to be studied in the new cultural context.

The twin processes of globalization and identity politics were to make themselves felt in the post-Soviet space. These changes were to have a profound impact on culture and society in Russia, changing all previous paradigms of cultural values. The homogeneity of Soviet culture, which had taken precedence over plurality, was replaced by multiple cultural influences with the opening of borders. The question of what constituted ‘Russian identity’ saw a renewal of the XIX century Slavophile-Westerner debate. While some felt that globalisation eroded national identity, others welcomed it with enthusiasm. Though a new homogeneity that of globalisation, was at work. Russia fears ‘westernisation’ as much as it fears losing its ‘uniqueness’. The information revolution has removed boundaries and influenced culture. Migration, too, is now more of a socio-economic and cultural phenomenon than a political one.

Since culture was no longer ‘automatically’ viewed as being part of a superstructure, many new methodologies came to be employed in its analysis. Cultural studies, ‘kulturologiya’, from a variety of standpoints became an important discipline.

The collapse of a more or less unified cultural and literary process, its fragmentation, its lack of a defining objective or cause or enemy, made Russian writers and artists questioning all the tenets they had grown with.

After the first flush of Literature that had returned’ had passed, and had been savoured, other issues emerged to the fore. The first, of course, was the economics of cultural production under the new order. The second issue was the very nature of creative output under this order. The third issue was the relationship between society and culture.

The new economic order saw the State withdraw its munificent hands from the field of culture. Publishing had to find other sponsors to keep its printing going. The ‘tolstyie zhurnaly’, the serious journals were the ones who had to, on the one hand, find money for publication, and on the other, face competition from the commercial magazines. Popular literature that drew on genres also emerged at this stage. Yet another dimension of those times marked by plurality of ideas was the appearance of the writings by the Russian women that moved from the periphery to the center stage of literature. New technologies like the Internet, too, played an important role in defining the new literature. It also became clear that language of creative expression could not be discarded as quickly as political systems could be. Writers from the Asiatic Republics, who had been working in the Soviet space like Aitmatov, continued to write in Russian, even in post-Soviet times.

The new relationship between a market driven society and the artist created more problems than it solved. The removal of censorship, whether of the state or the artist herself/himself, did not immediately lead to a flourishing of literature. Unable to express themselves or deal with the new realities many eminent writers fell silent. To be at crossroads late in life was not a pleasant experience. Though, paradoxically enough, modeled on the western literary norms, many awards, like the Booker, the Anti-Booker and others like the Solzhenitsyn or Apollon Grigoriev awards were set up.

New critical trends as tools for analyses as well as methods of writing have surfaced in debates over the last decade. Three broad trends can be identified: postmodernism, post realism and new realism. The new Russian, the new reality, the new underground, the new small man, the new superfluous and the super hero – these are the types that populate the post-soviet literary space.

Russia, at different points of time in history has shown the phoenix like capacity to rise from the ashes, reinventing itself from any crisis. Crossroads are a place of meeting and of departure and Russia seems poised, at the begin of the XXI century, to reinvent itself yet again. In this context, the seminar invites papers on the following themes under the sections:

Language and translation

  • Russian language today: new words, new borrowings, Russian of mass communication
  • Cultural functions of language and translation; translating cultures
  • Emergence of new language registers / language as it functions on the internet/ language of advertisements / language of mobile communication
  • The dynamics of new speech `;
  • Translation, communication: new approaches
  • Russian language in the countries of the CIS & the world

Culture

Cultural plurality; Changing cultural paradigm in the post-Soviet space Cultural identities in the times of globalisation and universalisation National culture vs. global world culture Cultural revivalism, Religious liberalism Multiculturalism, migration, cultural displacement Cultural changes and the informatics revolution

Literature and Literary Criticism

  • The changing face of Russian publishing (journals: serious vs. commercial; internet vs. print; literature: serious vs. popular)
  • Postmodernism, Post-realism, New realism
  • Women’s writings: concerns and apprehensions
  • The literary awards: dynamics of influence and the contemporary literary process Russian literature: new realities, new heroes, and new themes Literature in Russian from the CIS

Society

  • Russia: Europe, Eurasia; the new Slavophils and Westerners Russia: transformation and reinvention Russia: oligarchy – democracy, ethno nationalism – jingoism Russia and the CIS – issues and concerns 12 Russia and the Slavic identity – changing perceptions.