This book follows the stream of Russian cultural theory and philosophy from 1968 on, as it shifted from semiotics to body theory and postmodernism. There are few similar books, not just within Japan but also in English-speaking countries and in Russia itself, which of course also indicates that it is a minor theme. One characteristic of this volume, however, is that it takes this minor theme, ties it to the post-modernization of the Russian society before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as to the similar processes taking place in the world and in Japan over the same period, and in doing so, opens it up to a more familiar context for many readers.
What is referred to as post-modernization in this book refers to the end of the meta-narrative, or the bipolar global conflict, taking as the turning points 1968—the year in which the conflict between the authorities and the people finally reached its height—and 1991—the year in which the conflict between capitalism and socialism ended. This narrative in Russia is referred to as the story of the “second world,” as typified by the form, “I am the antithesis of X.” Although Russian intellectuals had traditionally upheld an identity that said “I am the antithesis of the authorities” and “I am the antithesis of Western European modernism,” from 1968 on they faced the danger of those narratives. However, the second-world narrative did not simply disappear. Compared to contemporary Japanese thought, for example, the Russian meta-narrative whose lifeline was supposed to be cut keeps stubbornly returning like a specter. Speaking from the sociopolitical level, we can interpret the 2014 Ukraine crisis as a major return to the narrative that “Russia is the antithesis of the West.”
In one sense, the second-world narrative is definitely dead. Nowadays, even if people insist that they personally have no ties whatsoever to the authorities and have not benefitted at all from that authority, they would probably be seen as either exceedingly naive or brazen. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian intellectuals experienced the traumatic realization “I cannot be the antithesis of X (the authorities).” After the collapse of the Soviet authorities, who were supposed to be the long-standing enemy, and as the society was struck by economic chaos, the intellectuals lost the principles they were supposed to be fighting for and became powerless. Identifying oneself as being the antithesis of X requires that X exist, and in that sense, intellectuals were constantly reliant on the authorities.
However, even having gone through this difficult experience, Russian intellectuals did not let go of the second-world narrative. Even after its death, they tried to revive it, looking for a new wellspring of opposition or conflict in the space between self and X or within X. I believe this type of search may resonate as we think about Japan’s future as well.
(Written by Kyohei Norimatsu, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences / 2017)