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Thinking eternally and continuously. The Russian experience of Mamardashvili

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The philosophy of Mamardashvili can be presented through the prism of his experience of living through Soviet history, which became a “beneficial vantage point”, and through his understanding, not just of deeply theoretical, but also existential Russian themes. His particular style—“the living through thought” in the presence of the other (whether that other was a real or historic interlocutor) reflected a covert protest and spiritual opposition to the zombified masses and to history. In the analysis of his ideas, a special attention has been payed to the mediative—« intermittential space of the self » or the theory of symbols. In this article, an analysis of the symbolic theory of Mamardashvili and Pyatigorsky as well as a comparison of this theory and those developed by Ernst Cassirer, Aleksei Losev and Mikhail Lifshits is provided.

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  1. Elena Oznobkina drew readers' attention to the transcription of the sound recordings in which the living speech of the philosopher is audible, full of, “incidental words” and repetitions, but in which “the baroque shell of his thought is fully preserved’. All this vanishes when a written text is created. Oznobkina called this process “the organic inner vocalization of the text” (Oznobkina 1996).

  2. See: in

  3. Cf. Mezhuev 2011, pp. 73–85. In particular, Vadim Mezhuev asserts: “If Ilyenkov is, in my view, the main philosophical star of the “thaw” period, then Mamardashvili is the acknowledged philosophical leader of the “stagnation” period, when the popularity of Ilyenkov amongst the young philosophers was noticeably to be on the wane. With this I do not wish to diminish the philosophical importance of either of them. I only affirm that the differences between them may be better understood only by comparing them in the context of these two eras” (Ibid, p. 74).

  4. The novel was entitled “Intermittence du coeur”. This term was one of Mamardashvili’s favorite.

  5. These ideas are the result of the joint creation of the two thinkers.

  6. Some of the text by the author resolves around an untranslatable word play. The words for event (cobytie) and consciousness (coznanie) can be broken up to offer new perspectives and connections. Thus, co-bytie permits the author to add the notion of co-existence in the word, just as consciousness (co-znanie) permits us to separate the particle with (co) from the root of the word which on its own means knowledge or science (znanie). [Trans. Note].

  7. Diana Gasparyan points out the indirect influence that Losev had on the Mamardashvili’s theory of symbols. Losev, in particular, showed that such symbols, for example, as those of the laws of mathematics, despite the fact they are schema of descriptions of ideal objects, demonstrate the real, the whole variety of the phenomenal world (Gasparyan 2013, p. 40). But in this way the understood symbol once again returns us to the Marxist understanding of the ideal which is unsparingly objective and real.

  8. In this case, there is no reference to the mythological school in literary studies nor to ethnology.

  9. Mamardashvili believed that the choice of evil could always be causally explained. In this he was clearly influenced by the enlightened ideas of Rousseau.

  10. Despite the fact that Mamardashvili rarely mentioned the “philosophy of dialogue” of Emmanuel Levinas or Martin Buber, this school of thought, was very much in consonance with his ideas. In European thought the ethical turn in consciousness was traditionally also widely marked. In spite of their divergent approaches, Levinas connects the idea of the “intermittential self” with the turn from subjectivity to intersubjectivity. Buber identified a very similar meaning in the concept of the “Between”: “a being thinks of the other as other, as precisely that, defined, other being, in order to connect with him in the sphere extending beyond their own spheres. This sphere, emerging from that time when a human became human, I call the sphere of the “between” (des Zwischen) … The between is not an auxiliary construct but the true place and bearer of the interhuman event” (Buber 1995, p. 230).

  11. Unfortunately, Mamardashvili was very unjust to Leo Tolstoy, calling his philosophy “tattered thoughts of an illiterate”. Nonetheless, in his reflections he often reproduced Tolstoy’s own logic of thought (Mamardashvili 1997, p. 84).

  12. His well-known phrase is known by many: “Truth is more precious than the motherland.”


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The work is supported by the Russian Science Foundation under Grant 19-18-00100.

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Correspondence to Svetlana Klimova.

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Klimova, S. Thinking eternally and continuously. The Russian experience of Mamardashvili. Stud East Eur Thought 71, 199–215 (2019).

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