Introduction: Why Cultural Studies?
As Western culture's nearest, if not necessarily most significant, 'other', Russiahas inspired centuries of almost obsessive commentary and analysis by Western travellers and armchair observers. In the pre- Petrine period, visitors such as Giles Fletcherand Adam Olearius remarked on the Muscovites' propensity for bibulousness, bigotry, and buggery, as well as on their appalling taste in music, entertainments, and table manners, beginning a long tradition of attributing to Russians practices held repellent in the West (though often evident there too). Since the rise of academic study of Russiain the late nineteenth century, expressions of rank distaste have been partly forced out by more considered and nuanced representations of the country (though the former still have their place in popular attitudes towards the ' Soviet Union', if not ' Russia'). However, there still exists a conviction that it is possible to encapsulate the essence of the country, to lay it bare in an aphoristic formulation, normally as contradiction or paradox. James Billington's magisterial study of the 1960s, The Icon and the Axe, for example, saw Russian history as a long struggle between the wild and the tame on the one hand, and violence and the cult of beauty on the other.
One suspects that arguments of this kind would command little respect if applied to French, German, British, or American history; yet with regard to Russian history they appear peculiarly seductive. After all, if Russiais 'a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma', it must be possible to find a solution, to crack the code. Russian