Histcon.se Time, Memory and Representation Tid, Minne, Representation

A Multidisciplinary Program on Transformations in Historical Consciousness

Ett mångdisciplinärt forskningsprogram om historiemedvetandets förvandlingar

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Irina Sandomirskaja: Blokada v slove: ocherki kriticheskoi teorii i biopolitiki iazyka (Besiegement in Language: Essays in the Critical Theory and Biopolitic of Language)

NLO, 2013. In Russian.

Irina Sandomirskaja: Blokada v slove: ocherki kriticheskoi teorii i biopolitiki iazyka (Besiegement in Language: Essays in the Critical Theory and Biopolitic of Language). Moscow: NLO, 2013. Published in cooperation with Södertörn University.

Book description:

Soviet writing of the Stalinist period, whether fiction, non-fiction, philosophy and theory, official ideology, or autobiography, both well-known and not known at all, all bears in itself traces of a unique corporeality created by wars, terror, famine, and wide-ranging administrative manipulations of the population that deeply penetrated if not constituted the Soviet collective body.

In this book, I am suggesting a new concept for the theoretical reading of the written production of the Stalinist period (the mid-1920s through early 1950s) created in the USSR and dedicated to the key problems of Soviet history and society. The idea is to unite in one method of interpretation attempts to solve two mutually connected hermeneutical problems.

The first one proceeds from the assumption that in the Stalinist universe of discourse, there exists a specific dependence between language, politics, and the body and seeks to give a theoretical account of readerly and writerly strategies in conditions of Stalinist biopolitics. The second problem, connected with the previous one, is based on the assumption of similarity between the Soviet and the European situations of the period in terms of historical, political, and biopolitical experience and seeks to think in a new way the connection between Soviet writerly production and its contemporary European theoretical thought.

For this latter purpose, I am suggesting to read Soviet writing of various genres through the lens of Walter Benjamin’s critical theory. Benjamin’s personal and intellectual biography is closely related to Soviet cultural theory and political practice, which becomes especially evident in the way he formulates and solves 20th century key questions concerning language, criticism, history, politics, technology, and individual experience. These questions were also asked by the main characters of my book: Mikhail Bakhtin, Lidia Ginzburg, Anna Akhmatova, and in a certain way, even Stalin himself.However, they posed these questions but never succeeded in providing an answer that in its consecutive methodological clarity would correspond to that commanded by Benjamin.

What I am doing in this double pronged approach is translating Russian thought into international theory through a comparative reading. Benjamin’s thought is congenial to the theoretical and political search among the Soviet intelligentsia, but he also writes as an opponent of his Soviet counterparts. At the same time, his critical theory is formulated on the basis of his personal experience of contact with revolutionary Moscow in the mid-1920s and continued exchanges via the Leftist intellectual circles in Germany that never lost the Russian situation out of sight.

In this sense, reading Soviet writing through Benjamin’s theoretical categories provides a key to a critical interpretation of these texts that never received any adequate response within the Soviet tradition of reading.

As an introduction and a conclusion to this book, I am offering two essays about deaf-blindness which are based on the reading of theoretical/autobiographical texts produced by the deaf-blind researcher and writer Olga Ivanovna Skorokhodova. I suggest looking at deaf-blindness as an allegory of Stalinist writing in general, and her experience of inventing her own deaf-blind language, as an example of a strategy towards the overcoming of this (bio)politically imposed condition.

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