THE RUSSIAN PEOPLE, THIS UNRIDDLED SPHINX
On the 19th of February the Petrine period of Russian
history definitively came to an end, so that long ago we
entered into a period of absolute uncertainty.
In the passage from “Bookishness and Literacy” cited at the conclusion of part 2, Dostoevsky identifies the populist discourse and practice of the liberal Russian elite as a prime example of “bookishness” (knizhnost'), an official discourse of power and knowledge. “Literacy” (gramotnost'), in contrast, describes another type of knowledge altogether: unarticulated and unprogrammatic, inseparable from experience and lodged in the flesh and blood, this alternative knowledge underwrites the integrity and vitality of an abject and illiterate culture.2 Uniquely possessed by the illiterate peasantry, “literacy” is the non-text–based cultural logic of genuine Russianness, that which makes the peasant from Taganrog and the one from Petropavlovsk immediately familiar to each other. It is difficult, if not impossible, to apprehend for educated Russians situated outside the common milieu (PSS 4:198/308). In his article, Dostoevsky tries to imagine how these two antithetical forms of knowledge, the elite's bookishness and the people's literacy, might be made to harmonize without sacrificing one or the other. He suggests that the resolution of this epistemological impasse will bring the Russian people into being—not simply “the people as a subset and as fragmentary multiplicity of needy and excluded bodies” but, rather, “the People as a whole and as an integral body politic.” Resolution of the impasse between bookishness and literacy promises to heal what Agamben calls the “fundamental biopolitical fracture” between the “total state of the sovereign and integrated citizens,” on the one hand, and “the wretched, the oppressed, and the vanquished,” on the other. It is thus the sine qua non of real emancipation. But as Agamben points out, insofar as the concept of the people already contains the primal division of bare life and political existence (zoe and bios) characteristic of “the original political structure,” it must always refer paradoxically to “what cannot be included in the whole of which it is a part as well as what cannot belong to the whole in which it is always already included.” The people or narod seem inevitably