Reintroducing Russian Thought

Table of Contents

This joint discussion examined the major contexts and present-day circumstances regarding “Contemporary Russian Thought,” the basis for this two-volume special edition. Russian literary scholars Hajime Kaizawa and Kyohei Norimatsu, the film scholar Muneaki Hatakeyama, and Hiroki Azuma participated in this discussion.

At the start of the discussion, Norimatsu posited the question of whether it would be possible to reconsider Russia—which like Japan emerged late into modernity and aimed to “overcome modernity” —in relation to the art critic Noi Sawaragi’s concept of the “bad place” (warui basho). This would allow for a reconsideration of Russia’s complex historical twists as it came to consider itself in opposition to Europe and America. Accepting this proposal, the first half of the discussion focused primarily on the what the meaning of “Russian” is.
Kaizawa emphasized that following the collapse of the Soviet Union, high culture and thought connected to the left stagnated as culture became more conservative and focused around the petit-bourgeois. Moreover, he observed that the characteristics of “Russianness” emerged in conditions similar to those at the end of the 19th century, when Russian literature spread domestically in the form of pseudo-religious mass literature, as opposed to its reception in Europe as a “noble” literature that spoke to issues of the soul and God.
Hatakeyama indicated the mediation of globalism between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as parallels between Russia and the United States. Comparing these characteristics with the case of Japan, where tendencies to resist globalism can be seen in the country’s excessively nativized subcultures, Azuma cast doubt over the view that “Russianness” was an idea that was fabricated artificially for the sole purpose of acting in opposition. He suggested that the concept of “Russianness” does in fact contain some substantive elements.
Norimatsu pointed out that the representative model for “Russianness” discovered in the latter half of the nineteenth century by intellectuals at the time was “sobornost,” a word meaning “unity among many” that idealized a community nonexistent in Western Europe.

The latter half of the discussion focused on the similarities between the concept of “sobornost” and Bakhtin’s theory of polyphony, as well as the reception of contemporary thought in Russia.
According to Kaizawa, Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century had imported Husserl’s phenomenology in a unique form, and Bakhtin attempted to surpass Husserl using methods different from those of Heidegger. Kaizawa remarked that parallels could be observed in Bakhtin and Heidegger as two developments of Husserlian thought.

The discussion touched on various other viewpoints that capture “Russianness.” These include the Russian “database” that prioritizes a classification transcending concrete time and history, the philosophical connection between cosmism and California ideology, and the drive towards the intertwining of the body and language. The discussion ended by considering the possibilities for oppositional thought that could be produced in present-day Russia.