Russia Imagined: Art, Culture and National Identity, 1840-1995

Russia Imagined: Art, Culture and National Identity, 1840-1995

Russia Imagined: Art, Culture and National Identity, 1840-1995

Russia Imagined: Art, Culture and National Identity, 1840-1995


"These interdisciplinary essays in Russian and Western cultural and intellectual history shed light on the migration of people, politics, art, and ideas between Russia, Europe, and the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Russia imagined is holy, orthodox, romantic, national, popular, imperial, autocratic and eschatological. Life in the real Russia has more often been nasty, brutish and short by western standards, a consequence of agricultural backwardness, grinding poverty, and cultural isolation. The real Russia historically has been secular, heretical, multinational, unpopular, anarchic and transitory.

More precisely put, there have always been two Russias, the ideal and the real. Centuries of secrecy have cloaked the real Russia so that the ideal was left to the imagination. Successive state autocracies have made claims and promises they could never fulfill to a people weary and cynical of those promises, a people whose only hope lay in future time, Christian or Marxist.

The collapse of the former Soviet Union has led us to imagine yet another Russia, perhaps a future democratic republic of a sort previously imagined by dreamers since the eighteenth century, perhaps a cyclic return to the anarchy or autocracy of some earlier Time of Troubles. In any event, Russia imagined continues to flourish, particularly in the West.

Since Thucydides, historians have noted that history is essentially autobiography, a product of the historian now and here as much as of history then and there. To be a historian is to write and teach the history of many things. The past is a foreign country. Who can disclaim the subjective whenever the historian tries to recover and reimagine the past and the other? Historians are not free to invent a past that did not happen, nor to imagine one that did not occur. Yet history is only partly autobiographical. It is also an attempt to create significant narrative from the things said, written and done by other men and women at other times and places.

Since the advent of Sputnik in 1957, I have spent nearly four decades trying to understand the history of Russia and the former Soviet Union. In the process I have focussed mainly on that relationship between Russia and the West which is itself a persistent theme of Russian culture and a source of Russian identity in the imagined community of nations. These essays represent my forays into various aspects of Russian history over the past thirty years. Because my interests and directions have been constantly changing within the broad framework of . . .

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