Tracing the Russian Hermeneutic: Reflections on Tarkovsky's Cinematic Poetics and Global Politics

Article excerpt

This article makes a contribution to hermeneutic explorations in global politics. Taking as its points of departure the growing body of work on film and the turn to aesthetic and intertextual IR, the article argues that a further conversation with cinema and poetics can be used to develop the interpretive canon in global politics. In particular, the analysis draws upon the idea of cinematic poetics, and more generally the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, who, throughout his films and written work, articulates a particular form of Russian interpretivism. The article explores Tarkov-skian cinema and engages in debates about artistic creativity and aesthetics, filmic representations of belonging and spiritualism, all shaped by a Russian hermeneutic tradition. The final sections apply these themes, illustrating how the icon presents a way to read the themes of suffering and salvation, inscribing the formation of identities in global politics. KEYWORDS: Tarkovsky, hermeneutics, Russia, cinematic poetics, aesthetics, The Icon

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Russia's postrevolutionary period was one of disruption and instability, reflected in both the artistic and philosophical questioning of meaning. The two hundred years before the Bolshevik revolution, did, however, impact significantly on the formulation of Soviet aesthetics. The work of the Romantics, Decadents, and Symbolists--and indeed, the Golden and Silver Age--epitomized a unique Russian literary and artistic heritage. (1) At around the same time as the Bolshevik revolution, the philosophical critiques of Bakhtin and the Voloshinov group began to address changes in poetics and literary art, enriching further the longstanding folkloric narratives and mystical aesthetics that had shaped Russian interpretivism. Indeed, many of the philosophical and aesthetic themes embodied in this interpretive work were to resurface in the school of poetic cinema that emerged in 1960s Russia. The cinematographer Andrei Tarkovsky was on the periphery of this group of filmmakers, and his work was to become increasingly influential for confreres and artists in the West throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Russian cinema and poetics are of interest for studies of global politics, especially given recent debates concerning the use of film within the "aesthetic turn." (2) Interestingly though, theoretical analysis in International Relations (IR) has, as yet, refrained from exploring the specifics of Russian cinema, and although some theorists in IR have recognized how film might be used as a textual source and have drawn upon film in some of their most recent work, questions remain about the location of non-Western cinema in global politics. (3) Of course prior to these interventions a range of scholars on the edge of the field of IR had drawn on film as a source, as part of the growing awareness of both the visual aspects of politics and the role played by other textual sources. (4) Elsewhere, even though the discipline of international relations has an embryonic interpretive movement linked to the turn to poetics and aesthetics, these interventions rest, for the most part, on Germanic scholarship linked to Kantian aesthetics, Heideggerian phenomenology, and Gadamerian hermeneutics. (5) In contrast, as I argue here, there is a Russian tradition of hermeneutics, and also of aesthetics, which offers insight into contemporary Russian politics.

This Russian hermeneutic tradition is exemplified by the cinematic work of Andrei Tarkovsky, and, further to readings of particular films such as Stalker, analysis of his work as an artist gives access to Russian interpretivism. (6) Indeed, the scope of Tarkovsky's work, from the Soviet war genre to science fiction, as well as the tension between the artist and the Communist system that he personified, his numerous reflections on film aesthetics, spiritualism, and Russian identity, and his reaction to the politics of aesthetics deployed by the Soviet authorities, all serve as drivers behind the decision to explore his work in more depth here. …