, Volume 63, Issue 2, pp 159-171
Date: 27 Apr 2011

Utopias of return: notes on (post-)Soviet culture and its frustrated (post-)modernisation

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Abstract

This article discusses the role of representative strategies in twentieth-century Russian culture. Just as Russia interacted with Europe in the Marquis de Custine’s time via discourse and representation, in the twentieth century Russia re-entered European consciousness by simulating ‘socialism’. In the post-Soviet era, the nation aspired to be admitted to the ‘European house’ by simulating a ‘market economy’, ‘democracy’, and ‘postmodernism’. But in reality Russia remains the same country as before, torn between the reality of its own helplessness and poverty, and the messianic myth of its own greatness. Post-Soviet culture is a product of Stalinist culture. ‘Russian postmodernism’ was created less by artists, writers, poets, and film makers, than by theorists and critics. At the beginning of the 1990s, a need to describe contemporary Russian culture emerged. In this way, ‘Russian postmodernism’ arose from the desire to ‘sell’ projects in the West—from the simple obligation to describe socialist experience in concrete, transferable terms that Westerners could grasp. The nostalgia experienced by the post-Soviet era creates its own simulated postmodernism, in which the matrices of the construction and functioning of culture cease to be connected with specifically Russian (Soviet) history, and instead reproduce Western models almost exactly. We are facing yet another attempt at radical cultural modernization. If the first attempt (revolutionary culture) was the most original and fruitful, and the second (Stalinist culture, Socialist Realism) was less productive but still original, then the third, post-Soviet, attempt (rich in individuality, but lacking in original ideas or style) is for the moment the least productive and original. If we exclude sots-art (conceptualism) from ‘Russian postmodernism’, there would be nothing left. Clearly, an original cultural model in post-Soviet Russia will not take shape until original strategies for processing the country’s cultural past are developed. In their turn, these strategies can only result from a radical transformation of post-Soviet identity into a new, genuinely Russian one.

Translated by Samantha Sherry (University of Glasgow).
An erratum to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11212-011-9143-1