Mikhail Epstein

Culture - Culturology - Transculture

In the book: Mikhail Epstein. After the Future: The Paradoxes of Postmodernism and Contemporary Russian Culture, Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1995, pp. 280-306.

For the past two decades, the concepts of post-modernism, post-structuralism, post-history, and post-industrialism have dominated the theoretical scene in the West. I would like to suggest that this "post-" paradigm itself may now be a thing of the past. The present era, which seems to have begun with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, needs to be redefined, probably in terms of "proto-" rather than "post-."

As far as theory and the arts are concerned, the twentieth century, began well before the year 1900, and the twenty-first century may be under way already. One of the major factors that will determine its cultural identity is the idea of pluralism, which has gained recognition throughout the world, acquiring particular importance in the former Soviet Union. Paradoxically, the world-wide dissemination of pluralism has served to break down its character as a specifically Western, liberal idea, while also serving to revive the value of cultural unity or integrity. We live in a more pluralistic world, but it is a single world, which was previously divided into East and West (along with other internal divisions as well).

Moreover, the type of pluralism that predominated in Western culture of the 1970s and 1980s contained strong elements of relativism, and tended to ignore or even undermine the very notion of unity. Some postmodern thinkers have theorized "culture" as something specific to each separate nation, race, gender, age group, and so on. Now that a pluralistic worldview has increasingly come to prevail from Moscow to Berlin and, hopefully, also to Beijing and Havana, the promising perspectives of transcultural human identity become ever more tangible. To define the patterns of this new unity based on pluralistic values should be, in my view, the most immediate aim of the contemporary humanities. (If the reader will kindly bear with me in the more or less simultaneous exposition of various aspects of a few key ideas, I will come to a definition of what I mean by "transculture" after first focusing on more basic notions.)

The notion of "proto-unity" emphasizes the positive values of spiritual "totality" which were so monstrously perverted by Eastern totalitarianism. The concepts of "organic collectivism/conciliarism" (sobornost') and "integrative knowledge" (tsel'noe znanie) have long been intrinsic to traditional Russian culture, so that it was almost natural for the political authorities to exploit these concepts in pursuing their own ends. It is not surprising that one and the same set of ideas may be pressed into the service of essentially incompatible philosophies if we recall, for example, that Russian intellectuals of diverse persuasions have invariably argued for the inner unification of a human being's various capacities. How will this essentially Eastern tenet be assimilated into the proto-unity of future civilization?

Furthermore, one must question whether or not the multiple cultural types--ethnic, local, sexual, professional, which are emerging in the United States as well as post-communist Russia and many other places--are really self-sufficient, or do they depend upon each other to provide the foundation for a future cultural synthesis? How can diverse cultural identities merge without relinquishing their individual peculiarities?

These problems have been posed in the past by German romanticists, American transcendentalists, and Russian religious thinkers, and now, on the eve of the twenty-first century, they regain their vital significance. Not only multicultural, but transcultural consciousness promises to be a defining characteristic of this new age, as numerous existing cultures search for the broadest possible framework to shape their interactions. This search calls into question such conventional assumptions as "East and West," "integration and pluralism," which have often been distorted and interpreted as polar opposites. I propose to elaborate a theoretical model which will 1) disentangle the concepts of "totality" and "totalitarianism," (2) free pluralism from indifferent or cynical relativism, and (3) demonstrate how pluralism and totality need not be construed as contradictory values.

My primary focus will be the formation of a mentality which I call "transcultural consciousness," as it has evolved in Russia over the course of the past 20 some years. In conclusion I will also draw a number of parallels with the American concept of multiculturalism.

1. Culture and Civilization

Although the question of culture and civilization may seem to be long out of date, it has arisen anew in contemporary Russia. The crucial, transitional state of our culture today suggests that this is not merely a question of shifting phases in a process of intra-cultural evolution, but one of much larger scope. Perhaps we are witnessing the birth of a new type culture from the womb of Soviet civilization. Therefore, it may be useful to recall the historical correlation of these two global concepts as well as the differences between them.

According to Oswald Spengler, civilization is the twilight and decline of culture, a time when governmental and technocratic mechanisms equalize all specific ways of life on a mass scale, eventually supplanting traditional cultural forms of organic spiritual activity. Spengler wrote that,

civilization is consummation. It follows culture, just as completion follows commencement, as death follows life and as rigidity follows formation. . . It is the inevitable end; all cultures come to the state of civilization with a deep, internal necessity.

However, another vector or route of evolution may be just as valid. Russian and American history demonstrate that the opposite of Spengler's process is also possible: culture can be born from civilization. In the United States of the nineteenth century, there existed a powerful bourgeois-democratic civilization which had achieved high technological and economic development, while remaining almost destitute in terms of culture, importing all of its viable forms, genres and so on from Europe (with a few exceptions). The appearance of American culture, as an original, spiritually-rooted, national organism capable of exerting world-wide influence, is a fact of the twentieth century, determined after the end of the First World War. The same is true of Russia. Here, the eighteenth century was a time of intensive development of civilized institutions under the influence of West European models and spurred by Peter the Great's reforms. The resulting Russian civilization was a weighty edifice that pressed down upon a friable and unstable soil. Only during the following century, beginning in the 1820s, did our civilization manage to put down real roots into this national soil and thereby develop a unique modern Russian culture achieved through suffering. Alexander Herzen's well-known observation expresses this very idea: one hundred years after Peter's reforms, Russia answered with the dazzling phenomenon of Pushkin. In this view, culture becomes a nation's answer through self-development to the challenge of other nations' civilizations.

Spengler's analysis may be more appropriate to those organic cultures which developed on firm national soil, with consistent ethnic characteristics. According to this model, such cultures as those of India, China and Western Europe gradually degenerate into civilizations. But the opposite process would seem to characterize regions which have fallen under strong foreign influences. In those places where civilization has intruded from the outside, where it appears borrowed or amalgamated, as in America or Russia, it may actually precede the development of culture. Here, civilization evolves into culture as a natural extension of its own ripening and demise.

In those nations where the cycle of development proceeds from an already civilized condition, characterized by the ascendancy of social and political interests, the central ideas of citizenship and the state, culture represents the twilight of this world, in whose dusk a multitude of secret, intimate, spiritual worlds take on new form. The civilized "day," with its hustle and bustle of activity, has faded, and in its wake, rays disperse in complex patterns in all directions, refracting varied and fantastic hues, the blossoms of colors in decline: the wealth of obscure cultural metamorphoses spawned from a once clear and predictable day. Everything earthly has already been claimed, and everything historical has been achieved, so as civilization approaches its mysterious end, shrouded by dusk, it regains the transcendental vision and intuition of the beyond which belongs to culture. As Hegel loved to repeat, "The Owl of Minerva flies out in the dusk."

Each civilization feeds on an idea of history and progress which is eventually exhausted over the course of time, until it inaugurates a golden age of metaphysical ideas. As it lives out its planned existence, civilization eventually overruns the time granted for its own fulfillment. After coming to an end, civilization continues to exist in an afterlife which turns out to be culture. In realizing its own finality in an epoch of decline, civilization acquires the sharpened night vision characteristic of culture. It generates a vision of the next world, as its sensitivity to the final questions of existence grows more acute. As a prevailing sphere of civilized activity, politics gives way to religion, philosophy and art. Thus, over the course of the last century, the "twilight" of Saint Petersburg civilization (from Nicholas I to Nicholas II, from Pushkin to Blok) generated the striking phenomenon of Russian classical culture, as creative intuition was intensified by the feeling of a growing crisis in social relations. Culture is the dusk of civilization, the fermentation of distilled liquid, and the conversion of water to wine--a miracle of Transfiguration.

The most important moment in the transition from civilization to culture is the eruption of an internal split, not unlike an individual's ability to see him or herself from without. With very rare exceptions (primarily in the work of Radishchev and, in part, Derzhavin), Russian civilization of the eighteenth century was monolithic, devoid of the organic "defects" of self-reflection. Only in the 1820s did the ruling class split in two, giving rise to political opposition, in the form of Decembrism, and the psychology of the "Outsider," in the form of "superfluous people." As a result of this internal split in the nobility and, hence, in the social foundations of this civilization, the remarkable culture of nineteenth-century Russia was created.

Thus, culture is civilization that has realized its end and embraced its own limit in the perspectives of self-destruction: political opposition, economic crisis, environmental catastrophe, or a cultural meta-language capable of using "civilized" language in a practice of self-analysis or self-critique. The feeling of pain and death at work within civilization expresses its potential for becoming culture. We do not need to hide from ourselves, to artificially dull the pain, to resist the coming metamorphosis. Civilization must die so that from the shell of this voracious, metallically monotonous caterpillar, which has sunken in the state of hibernation, immobility and pupation, an immortal soul may suddenly emerge: culture, the butterfly of the night.

A decisive indication of culture's ability to reflect upon itself is the formation of a specific discipline, which, unlike all others, encompasses the culture itself as its integral object. This is what gradually arose in Russia in the 1970s and 1980s under the name of "culturology."


2. What is Culturology?

The closest English equivalent of "culturology" is no doubt the term "cultural studies." The contemporary Russian meaning, however, conveys the essential concept of a whole, indivisible discipline which can't be reduced to a number of special studies. The object of study in this case is culture as the integral system of various cultures--national, professional, racial, sexual, etc.

Since the post-communist culture of a newly emerging Russian state has only recently been born from "Soviet civilization," culturology long remained a blank spot on the map of the Russian humanities. What was termed the "theory of culture" in the Soviet Union was taught to future librarians and club workers: the theory of political management of cultural affairs and the administrative organization of its institutions. Yet politics is one of the constitutive parts of culture and is itself subject to culturological analysis and justification.

The poorly developed state of our culturology by no means implies a dearth of outstanding culturologists. It is sufficient to mention such names as Mikhail Bakhtin, Aleksei Losev, Sergei Averintsev, Georgy Gachev, Iury Lotman, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Vladimir Toporov, Vladimir Bibler, and others. But such is the paradox of our new-born culture: the presence of very gifted writers does not necessarily make a great literature, and the presence of gifted scholars does not guarantee a high level of scholarly research. In the same way, culturology presupposes a social mode of thought, action and ideas, which cannot be enacted through the efforts of individual thinkers working in isolation. It is not surprising that all of our culturologists are "migrants" from other, more specific fields of study--most often philology, literary criticism and the general history of art--who "illegally," at their own risk, have overstepped the boundaries of their narrow disciplines. But the question remains: when will it be possible for culturology to develop on the basis of its own object of study, on the scale of an all-encompassing system of knowledge? This integral area requires specialization in its initial stages, but at the present point in time, we must have specialists in the universal. Only in this way can the universal take its place amid the many faces of particularity and begin the work of transforming and synthesizing them. Today we need culturologists not only from the fields of ancient philology, general Slavistics or the history of Russian literature, but from culturology as such.

The fact that culturology could not exert a tangible influence on the development of "Soviet culture" reflected the latter's arrogance and one-dimensionality. Official culture resisted intimate scrutiny or comparison with other cultures, claiming for itself a kind of super-historical and super-cultural status. It failed to develop the need or capacity for self-reflection, and it is precisely this that constitutes culturology. For many decades, Soviet civilization assumed the right to judge and not be judged, as it described itself in a language of evaluations without objective concepts which it denigrated as "ideologically harmful and alien." It did not need culturology but rather "culture-apology," and so it lost the true attributes of culture, which needs a zone of distancing, non-participatory, or alternative thought.

As Russian culture gradually revives from the self-hypnosis and paralysis induced by the Soviet state's delusions of grandeur, it becomes what it always should have been: only culture and for this very reason, truly culture--a realm of active, objectified and multifaceted freedom, which characterizes the individual's attitudes as well, in terms of the freedom to accept or reject various cultural forms, to participate or to decline participation. The influence of culturology is now free to grow, since it represents our culture's self-determination, including its ability for self-criticism, self-denial, and the formation of various counter-cultures. Indeed, counter-cultures become possible only within the context of a highly developed culture, as evidence of its ripeness and sacrificial fullness, like an individual who has reached the highest level of attainment and can do nothing more than give of him or herself to others (a thought of Dostoevsky's). Similarly, a developed culture repays debts to nature and faith, sacrificing itself for the sake of spontaneity, immediacy, originality, general harmoniousness and love. An "escape to nature," with physical survival guaranteed, is only possible thanks to a culture so generous and firmly established, it can allow itself to be ignored.

Such self-estrangement without loss of unity is only possible within the intermediary realm of culture, which corresponds to the intermediary position of the human being between the realms of Nature and Spirit. I venture to add one more definition of culture to the hundreds that have been formulated already: culture is everything humanly created which simultaneously creates a human being. Nails or machines are certainly created, but to the extent that they serve only to produce other objects, they do not belong to culture. Trees and flowers may mold the human soul in a certain way, but they are not themselves humanly created. Culture, in the broadest sense, is humankind's self-creation: it is only in cultural activity that the human being appears as both creator and creation, balancing the attributes of the divine Creator and the humble creature. To use the terms of information theory, nature is a text whose receiver is the human being, while the sender is Someone Other; cult, on the contrary, is a text whose sender is the human being while the receiver is Someone Other. Culture, however, is a text whose sender and receiver is humanity, making it the council of all nations and all generations, of humanity's internal affairs.

While culture is humanity's message to itself, culturology is the objectified self-consciousness of culture; it explores the perpetual self-estrangement of the human spirit (in its almost compulsive production of external objects) as well as its self-acquisition (in its on-going interpretation and appropriation of these objects). Culturology is for culture what culture is for humanity--a means of self-knowledge and self-regulation. If culture is the cultivation of nature, then culturology is not merely the study of culture, but its further cultivation. In the process of self-reflection and self-estrangement, culture becomes an object of its own intellectual activities, and culturology is the locus of this activity.

Thus, the cultural sciences may be distinguished from the natural sciences in that the former play a key role in constituting their subject matter: physics and biology are not parts of nature, while philology and psychology are parts of culture. Culturology offers integrative knowledge of the various parts of culture. Culture includes many crafts, sciences, occupations, arts, professions, and beliefs, all of which develop within their own spheres with little awareness of one other. Culturology studies the whole which is present in each of these spheres as an unrealized other, as a fundamental unconscious, uniting all types of social consciousness: aesthetics and ethics, art and science, politics and mythology. Culturology's subject matter extends beyond the confines of all individual areas of the humanities. Within its proper limits, for example, aesthetics knows nothing of the relation between avant-garde art and the religious, eschatological consciousness of the twentieth century; the same is true of theology. Culturology is called upon to realize the ideal of cultural wholeness, as it reveals connections and relationships unknown to separate disciplines. The relationship between culturology and the humanities is similar to that between mathematics and the natural sciences: both are spheres of meta-language, of meta-scientific consciousness and description. The broadest and most comprehensive concept corresponding to that of "nature" is precisely that of "culture."

As for the relationship of culture and society, there has long been a bias toward the latter, so that culture was perceived as a by-product of certain stages of social development, i.e. as something secondary and contingent. Moreover, this fostered the inclusion of culture studies within the confines of social inquiry, precluding culturology in favor of a sociology of culture. Yet this is tantamount to replacing aesthetics with a sociology of art, or physics with a sociology of science. To be sure, certain features of a social order enable or prevent certain elements of content in culture, but this does not imply that content itself is a mere derivative of social relations: it possesses its own source of creative energy, which provides the essential stimulus and perspective for social development. The scope of culture is much broader and deeper than that of society as such. While society encompasses all living people in their combined activity and the interrelations of their roles, culture embraces the activity of all previous generations accumulated in artistic works, scientific discoveries, moral values, and so on. The social level is but one horizontal section of culture, which in its totality permeates all historical worlds as we see in the perpetual migration of texts and meanings--from country to country, from generation to generation. Culture is the totality of objectified relations of human beings among themselves. And therefore, as the individual becomes part of culture, growing in the knowledge of multiple levels of cultural heritage, s/he discovers ever more facets of humanity within him or herself.

Of course, culture necessarily includes the social dimension, but it cannot be reduced to it. To live within society and to be free of it--this is what culture is about. It enters the blood and bone of society, in order to liberate individuals from the constraints of their social existence, from its repressive tendencies and historical limitations, much as spirit is not free from body but represents a liberating force able to transcend external obstacles. Society can develop only with the nourishment of non-social, meta-social, and trans-social elements, such as those contained in the cultural products of different epochs, in their mystical revelations, artistic imagery and ethical imperatives. Culture is the porous and sponge-like quality of a social body that enables it to breathe the air of all times.

As a force for liberation, the ideal of culture--rather than that of politics or technology--is predominant in truly democratic societies. Enlarging upon the definition proposed above, I would add that culture is the creation of a human being insofar as s/he is free from physical, social and other needs; at the same time, culture functions for the liberation of other human beings as well. It is an objectified form of freedom, passed down through times and spaces, so that a single person may become the representative of all humanity in its past, present and possible future.

Social cataclysms and revolutions of all kinds (such as Russia is experiencing today) re-emphasize our need for the deepest possible perspectives on liberation, the kind of cultural perspectives that open up following a political coup (and often in opposition to it) and leading far beyond the confines of politics. This is the reason that the following words written by Osip Mandelstam in 1920 are so relevant to our present context.

In a state of divine madness, poets speak the language of all times and all cultures. Nothing is impossible. As the room of a dying man is open to all, the door of the old world has been thrown open to the crowd. All at once everything becomes common property. Go and take it. Everything is within reach: all the labyrinths, all the hiding places, all the secret passages. The word has become not a seven-barreled flute, but a thousand-barreled one, enlivened by the breath of all ages at once.

In genuine cultural activity one cannot take without giving or creating something new in return, yet in Russian libraries, when one looks in the subject catalogue under "culture," one finds a bibliography on libraries, museums, historical monuments, collectors and restorers, clubs, circles and societies of culture, institutions and agencies concerned with culture. This indicates the popular misconception that culture consists in the activities of collecting, preserving and restoring cultural products, or else it equates culture with the work of propaganda, education and popularization--as if the chief treasures of culture have all been created in the past, and the only remaining task is to distribute them among the masses in a fair, equitable way. The West is often called a "consumer society," and while this may be accurate in a sense, it is just as obvious that to consume in increasing quantities requires that one first produce what is to be consumed. Soviet society, on the other hand, may be called the society of distribution, for this problem lies at the center of interest: who gets how much, and not who creates how much. Consumption is not necessarily a vital issue, particularly since the quality of what is produced is often such, that it is not really meant for consumption, whereas regulated distribution provides the key to achieving equality at the lowest possible level of both consumption and production. The "distributional complex," or neurosis, also functions within the Russian cultural sphere: while little effort goes into producing anything genuinely new, the main concern is to distribute what there already is, most of which was created (not necessarily by us) decades and centuries ago. Hence the emphasis on such retrospective activities as "cultural" applications of one's leisure time, "cultural" events, "mass-cultural" work, "cultural field trips," "kultorg" (a cultural organizer in the work place), "kulturnik" (a cultural organizer at vacation resorts), and so on. In the popular understanding, culture is equated with a variety of ready skills, a mastery of traditions, reflected in the coinage of a unique expression: "the cultured person"--which means, roughly: "well-read," "well-informed," "polite," "considerate." But culture is not the sum of habits and skills, no matter how noble; rather, it is a sphere of creativity and freedom, where the person becomes his or her own creation and creator. Culture is essentially a laboratory where creative possibilities are tested.


3. The Laboratory of Culture

For these reasons, culture needs not only libraries, museums and schools (although these, too, are often lacking), but above all laboratories, focusing on experimental production of cultural objects and ideas in small quantities, but of genuinely new quality--an approach that precludes the distributional emphasis. After all, the culture of the Modern Age was born in craft workshops, alchemists' laboratories, and artists' studios. Each epoch of cultural tumult (an important part of which is always some type of political "perestroika") renews our perennial need for "minor," socially unconnected forms of intellectual production, conspicuously discrete from the dominant ideologies of the time. By its very nature, culture is an alternative form of consciousness: in the fifteenth century, it offered an alternative to religion, in the twentieth century--to politics, and in the twenty-fifth century, perhaps it will offer an alternative to science. Yet an alternative to culture itself is hardly possible when we conceive of culture as the totality of alternatives, rooted in human freedom.

Society has need of culturology in order to effectively concentrate within itself the genuine totality of human capacities. And by the same token, culturology should not only be an indispensable part of an individual's consciousness, but should also represent the wholeness of this consciousness as it integrates all aspects of life and cultural participation. If the whole of culture is usurped by any one of its components, such as politics, technology, or ecology, then a distinct type of totalitarianism reasserts itself and will inevitably seek to reign over all others. In a post-totalitarian country, no new type of totalitarianism can be productive except that of culture in its role as the free totality of all types of political activity, artistic endeavor, scientific inquiry, and so on. To the extent that they all work to liberate the human being, philosophy, art, science and politics mutually check each other's power over the individual and society--power that, if unchecked, could become monopolizing and enslaving. Thus, it is only through the mutual limitation of its various alternatives that culture remains a force for liberation from religious fanaticism and political authoritarianism, from scientism, aestheticism, moralism, technocratism--all of the usurping pretensions of each separate cultural realm, as they attempt to rely on themselves alone.

This is not to say that culture functions on the principle of "divide and conquer." Rather it aims to "liberate by unifying": it does not so much rule over its constituent parts as it frees them from their innate restrictions by unifying them into a more truly complete entity. Culture liberates us from the dictates of each specific sphere of consciousness, from the restrictive fate of being only a "political," or a "technical," or a "moral" human being.

Science and art, philosophy and religion--all taken as a whole form the central concern in the Laboratory of Contemporary Culture to the extent that it finds its own center and its unifying conception in a liberating vision of culture. Mikhail Bakhtin emphasized that "the most intense and productive life of any culture occurs on the borders of its various realms, not there and then, when these realms retire into their specificity." This primary intuition of Russian culturology was further elaborated by Bakhtin's follower, philosopher Vladimir Bibler: "Culture can live and develop, as culture, only on the borders of cultures. . . Culture is the form of the simultaneous being and communication among peoples of various cultures--past, present and future--in the forms of dialogue and mutual generating of these cultures. . ." Thus, culture is never self-identical--it exists in the overstepping of its own borders, the interaction of various cultures, diverse in terms of age, social status, profession. It is the interaction of youth and "adult" cultures, the traditional and the avant-garde, mass and elite, political and artistic. The goal of the Laboratory is to interrogate the depth of these interrelations, their hidden basis for kinship, and the increasing openness of the Whole.

The term "contemporary" must not be understood too narrowly. The contemporary is something whose time has come. For us in Russia today, the epoch of early Christianity is more contemporary than that of the Enlightenment. It is precisely because we are severely behind in time, that for us the borders of the contemporary extend themselves to include an entire century which produced the as-yet-unread Soloviev and Nietzsche; to encompass a century and a half, within which appear the unknown Chaadaev and Khomiakov, Kierkegaard and Schelling; and even to reach back a thousand or two thousand years separating us from the crucial turning points of our own and world culture. All of this may be "con-temporary" as never before, perhaps more so than in its own time, for the irreversibility of what we have missed grows with every year and epoch missed, as does the urgency of its entry into our life. Therefore, we cannot limit our definition of the contemporary in chronological terms. The program of our Laboratory includes the study of cultural traditions that nourish contemporaneity and are perceived as its anticipation, as the inter-resonant con-temporaneity of different times within the present day.

With its compact research collective, the Laboratory is a microculture that models the processes and patterns of macroculture, developing and forecasting its main tendencies in a compressed and accelerated manner. The products of such culturological investigation are themselves a part of that same contemporary culture, although they are reconstituted at a new level of reflection which comprehends itself as a Whole, as a spiritual synthesis of different cultures. Culturology becomes the point of departure for cultural genesis: conscious interdisciplinary creativity aims to produce not only individual works of art or science, but also works in the genre of culture itself. Thus the task must be understood in a dual sense: ours is a laboratory for both the study of contemporary culture and the development of its new, experimental forms.

Ideally, of course, it would be desirable to speak not only of one or two laboratories, but of an entire laboratory movement which would simultaneously carry out both analysis and synthesis of different cultural forms, varieties and orientations. In Russia we have a tradition of staunch bias against self-consciousness, reflection and self-reflection--which have been presumed to destroy the intrinsic wholeness of an individual entity. In actuality, it is only self-consciousness which can provide such wholeness: it allows the individual, a totality of diverse habits and character traits, to become "someone for oneself." In the same way, culture stands in need of self-consciousness, since it represents a vast, unimaginably dispersed aggregate of different sciences, arts, traditions, contingencies, texts and professions. The laboratory movement in culture may be seen as a path toward self-consciousness, the self-discovery of wholeness and creativity in the forms of wholeness.

Why should science and art, politics and philosophy be spheres of creativity, but not culture as such? With the increasing integration of human reason, its powers will move into precisely the realm of such transcultural creative work, in the sense that transculture is a mode of culture created not from within its separate spheres, but organically in the holistic forms of culture itself--within the field of interaction of all its constituent parts. Our entire post-communist culture can become a laboratory in which all previous cultural forms and styles are rediscovered and intermingled into a new non-totalitarian totality.




4. Culture and Religion

No doubt the most painful issue in this emerging totality is the relationship between culture and religion. Both sides of this theme were utterly neglected in the Soviet Union. From the standpoint of official culture, only humanistic and atheistic values received recognition, and from the standpoint of the Orthodox church, believers were enjoined not to interfere in "cultural" activities. Now it is time to get rid of the prejudice which, strange as it may seem, many believers share with non-believers: that only the past tense of culture belongs to religion, whereas the cultural future has nothing to do with faith.

I would like to emphasize that both pre- and post-revolutionary relations between culture and religion were predisposed to mutual indifference or even incompatibility. It is well known that the great Russian poet Pushkin and the great Russian saint Seraphim of Sarov lived at the same time, but knew nothing about one other. Such facts as this could prove fatal for Russian culture as a whole. This estrangement may be rooted in certain peculiarities of Orthodox spirituality, with its traditional suspicions of the mundane and profane aspects of cultural life. When Gogol and Tolstoy attempted to devote themselves to a religious calling, they expressed an emphatic aversion to culture, including their own previous artistic work. Conversely, when culture declared its freedom and independence, it aggressively challenged religious values: Soviet atheistic propaganda is the hyperbolic extension of this Renaissance-like, anti-clerical gesture. So far we have seen convincing evidence that this division is disastrous for both sides. Culture loses its spiritual and, indeed, its etymological root, which is "cult," devolving into a sort of literacy, a technology that Stalin called, "the engineering of human souls." As for religion, it loses its vital elan, grows decrepit, and devolves into ritual, a technology of salvation that appeals exclusively to the elderly.

This period of mutual estrangement of religion and culture can now come to an end. The aspiration of such major Russian thinkers of the early twentieth century as Vladimir Soloviev, Dmitry Merezhkovsky and Nikolai Berdiaev who contemplated the comprehensive interaction of religion and culture as two sovereign realms, can now, at the century's end, become a vital, broadly evident imperative. Religion and culture are two indispensable parts of one whole, its ascending and descending aspirations, breath and exhalation.

There is, however, a move expressed in various nationalist and quasi-Orthodox writings to re-establish the medieval patterns of spiritual life in order to re-assert ecclesiastical controls over culture. But were such a disbalance reproduced at this point in time, culture would certainly demand revenge at the next point, and so on ad infinitum.

I believe that a new sort of relationship between these two global systems of human life and thought must be elaborated with the help of culturology. To illustrate this argument, I would draw a parallel between the relationship of material culture to nature and between the relationship of spiritual culture to religion. From ancient times and into the Middle Ages, man was almost totally dependent on nature, but beginning in the Renaissance, he has tried to gain freedom from his living environment. As a result, he violated and subdued nature to such a degree that he exhausted many vital resources and began to suffocate from the poisoned air and to die of thirst near the poisoned stream.

The same occurred in the spiritual sphere. When God was removed from the center of the universe, dethroned as the Creator of all things seen and unseen--what did we put in his place? At first, it was the collective egocentrism of all humanity; then social criteria prevailed, and the "center of the universe" came to be identified with exploited humanity and the oppressed classes. Still later, political parties and the "party spirit" declared themselves the measure of what could be considered "spiritual," until culture degenerated into a cult of party leaders and "fuhrers." Thus, in its search for total autonomy and independence from God, spiritual culture lost its vital sources and humanistic creed, just as technological culture, having achieved dominance over nature, lost its capacity to serve humanity.

Where can we find a way out? Should we return to the supremacy of nature or the supernatural over weak and trembling human beings? I think the transcultural approach to both material and spiritual culture is the most promising. This means that culture, overstressed by its yearning for autonomy over the past four centuries, may gradually rediscover cultural values beyond culture in the realms of both the natural and the supernatural. Ecology, or the relationship of material culture to nature, must be complemented by the analogous approach of spiritual culture to the supernatural. Cultural egocentrism must yield its place to eco-centrism, as culture transcends its own boundaries in descending to nature and ascending to God.

What I propose is neither the ancient model of nature-centrism nor the medieval model of theo-centrism, but a stance consonant with the new dimensions of culture itself. Arriving at the dead-end of its autonomous development, culture must now recognize its dependence on the natural and the supernatural, must reconsider its arrogant opposition to the environment and to religion. Culturology, as the advanced self-consciousness of culture, leads beyond these narrow, "narcissistic" limits, giving rise to transcultural consciousness, which seeks to assimilate the values of non-culture.


5. The Way to Transculture

The twentieth century is the century of diverse independent cultures, each with its own unique value. As these values made their impressions on twentieth-century conciousness, the development of culturology became a natural result. Culturology arises when a culture is able to take a detached view of itself, presupposing the existence of another culture beyond its own boundaries. One of the achievements of culturology is the very possibility of using the word "culture" in the plural, because previously this entity was construed as exclusively singular, as a model, norm, or ideal common to all nations. There was only one culture, which presumed itself to be the Culture. The diverse traditions of various peoples or nations could be regarded as more or less "cultured" insofar as they belonged or did not belong to this single culture, identified with the standards of Western civilization. Today, however, it is widely recognized that there are cultures, not only different national and racial cultures, but youth cultures, feminine cultures, and so on. Culturology arises in the space between these cultures, as their ability to distance and objectify each other's existence. Culturology is inherently connected with democratic and pluralistic mentalities because it takes its starting point from the gap between various cultures.

In Russia as well, we can now observe and experience the multiplicity of cultures which have entered the spiritual space of the twentieth century and are now occupying our conciousness impetuously over the course of just two or three years. The twentieth century appears overly hasty to us, with its inexorable acceleration of the urge to grasp and embrace everything discovered and devised in many epochs and nations. But now Russia has to assimilate this abundance of inventions and discoveries in a period of several years. The Russian cultural situation of today is a condensed replica of the twentieth century's multicultural situation.

"Past-shock" is now the dominant feeling of the former communist world, analogous to the "future-shock" which dominated the Western world in the 1960s. This is the shock of meeting one's own unfamiliar past as well as that of all humanity. We managed to bypass future-shock (borrowing Alvin Toffler's term), but now the inevitable stress of adjusting to time overtakes us in another form, as we are shocked by the sudden encounter with the whole of twentieth-century culture, much of which has already become a thing of the past for Western countries. The cultural past of all humanity is now our only future.

At the same time, we are colliding with our own past face to face. During the seventy years of our Soviet "brave new world," we essentially had no past; we existed in the present and hoped to endure into the future. The pre-revolutionary past was not our own, but belonged to the dead, exterminated people of "damned tsarist Russia." Now, however, the communist "future" and the socialist "present" have become our genuine past, so that all of our history opens to us simultaneously, along with all the historical layers of twentieth-century humanity. The present may be chaotic, unstable and unreal, but we have finally come into possession of the past, or, more precisely, it has come forward to possess us.

To some extent, the current situation may remind us of the period of the first five year plans, when Russia endeavored to catch up with the advances of Western industry which had been developing consistently for centuries. The implicit task of the current period could be formulated in such a slogan as: "To master twentieth-century culture in five years!"

This situation strongly aggravates the danger of cultural schizophrenia. We are dizzy with the abundance of new literary periodicals and creative organizations, with the process of interference when one cultural stratum accumulates on top of another. Nabokov becomes for us a contemporary of the early Gnostic writers, and Solzhenitsyn may be read in one portion of time with the Kamasutra. In a single magazine, photographs of nudes appear alongside the blessings and admonitions of the Orthodox Patriarch. A young man may attend lectures on the arts of antiquity, performances of avant-garde theater, exhibitions of medieval icons and of abstract paintings; he may read Henry Miller and the life of Saint Sergy of Radonezh, may listen to rock music and participate in psychological groups for interpersonal communication. Taken separately, all this can split and empty one's personality rather than enrich it. How should we respond to the threat of cultural schizophrenia? Transcultural development is necessary to bring humanity into the wholeness of culture and the interrelation of its main branches and meanings. Otherwise we may end up with hundreds of books, concerts, exhibitions, ensembles--but no culture at all. The transcultural approach incites us to search the diversity of educational and professional spheres for some center which is culture itself.

What is the relationship between culturology and transculture? I call culturology the discipline which investigates the diversity of cultures and their common underlying principles. Transculture, however, is not just a field of knowledge, rather it is a mode of being at the crossroads of cultures. A transcultural personality naturally seeks to free his or her native culture--be it Russian, Soviet or any other--from self-deification and fetishism. If all other specialists work inside their own disciplines or realms of culture, unconsciously abiding by all their rules and taboos, a culturologist makes his own culture the object of definition and thereby surpasses its finiteness, its limitations. In so doing, he or she exhibits a transcultural awareness which derives from this calling. A culturologist is a "universalist," participating in the diversity of cultures. This presupposes some emotional openness and a scope of knowledge which can free a person from the limitations imposed by any particular cultural heritage. Transculture offers, moreover, a mentality capable of therapeutically benefiting those possessed by manias, phobias, and obsessions attendant upon their belonging to a specific cultural group.

The quality and merit of culture is its capacity to free man from the dictates of nature, its restrictions and necessities. But it is the merit and capacity of transculture, to free man from culture itself, from its conventions and obsessions. Normally we live as prisoners of culture. We feel obliged to act and think in full accordance with the presumptions established in our native traditions. If one is a truly "Soviet" man, he should consider Lenin's Mausoleum, with its well-preserved corpse of the great leader, to be the sacred center of a kind of ideological universe. He should believe, along with Lenin and Chernyshevsky, that the duty of literature is to teach people how they should live. But when he learns to participate in other forms of worship and other modes of creative writing he stops being a purely "Soviet" man and becomes a more truly whole personality, without narrowly specified attributes. This is the merit of transcultural consciousness.

In his article "Party Organization and Party Literature" (1905), Lenin asserted that it is impossible to live in society and to be free from society. But today we can see that the multiplicity of cultures creates this possibility, makes a social being free of society while also giving new impetus to social development. One can agree with Lenin: you are not free from your car when driving it, but, still, you drive it only because you are free to do so. Society is also driven--primarily by those people who are free from society, from its limitations and taboos.

Although it overcomes the limitations of culture, transculture does not mean simple negation. This temptation is too familiar to the Russian people, with their many past experiences of cultural nihilism. Some obvious examples are, in Pushkin's words, the "senseless and merciless Russian revolts" of razinshchina and pugachevshchina, the great October revolution, leninshchina and stalinshchina. Like barbarism, such movements overstep the limits of culture, but in this they reveal their anti-cultural, not trans-cultural foundations. Transculture is a transcendence of culture, which has nothing to do with the barbarous destruction of cultural objects and traditions. The latter derives essentially from pre-cultural conditions and becomes an anti-cultural force; although it attempts to liberate the personality, it ends by subjecting it to the even harsher laws of the tribe, or of the mob. Thus the cultural nihilism of Mao or Sartre seems to be a mere illusion of liberation. When he destroys culture, man is taken prisoner by nature, and returned to the world of hunger, terror and oppression: the struggle for survival. All the facts of modern barbarism bear witness to this.

By sharp contrast, transculture does not regress to the far crueler realm of "natural law" as it exceeds the bounds of culture, but rather moves on to new degrees of freedom. Liberation from culture through culture itself and its endless diversity is the fundamental principle of transcultural thinking and existence.

There may be certain points of correspondence between transcultural consciousness and the concept of supra-mental consciousness, as described and promoted in India by the great sage Sri Arubindo. In principle, however, supra-mental consciousness can be attained by an isolated individual in his or her own house through the process of inner contemplation, whereas transculture is not reached by a purely psychological process. Russians, for example, are oriented more toward the West, than toward the East, and for them, consciousness has real importance only in its relation to the material culture of humankind. Though transculture depends on the efforts of separate individuals to overcome their identification with separate cultures, on another level, it is a process of interaction between cultures themselves in which more and more individuals have found themselves "outside" of any particular culture, "outside" of its national, racist, sexist, age, political and other limitations. I would compare this condition with Bakhtin's idea of "vnenakhodimost'," which means being located beyond any particular mode of existence, or in this case, finding one's place on the border of existing cultures. This realm beyond all cultures is located inside of transculture and belongs to this state of not-belonging (nakhoditsia v meste vnenakhodimosti).

Transculture is the mode of existence of one liberated from nature by culture and from culture itself by culturology. This transcultural world has never been extensively described because the path that leads to it--culturology, or the comparative study of cultures--was opened only recently. Some great insights are found in the work of Oswald Spengler, Herman Hesse, Thomas Mann, and Jorge Luis Borges, but even here transculture is often presented in oversimplified form, as a sort of caricature. Transculture is not a rarified and isolated construct that stands separated from real historical cultures, as Hesse suggests, for example, in his novel, The Glass Bead Game. Hesse imparts a somewhat satiric tone to his description of "transcultural" Kastalia, even though he criticises the same "light literary," "feuilleton" quality as a trait of pre-Kastalian culture. As distinct from Hesse's conservative and escapist Game, which is essentially derivative and forbides the creation of new signs and values, transculture aspires entirely to the sphere of creativity.

The transcultural world lies not apart from, but within all existing cultures, like a multi-dimensional space which appears gradually over the course of historical time. It is a continuous space in which unrealized, potential elements are no less meaningful than "real" ones. As the site of interaction among all existing and potential cultures, transculture is even richer than the totality of all known cultural traditions and practices.

Through the signs of existing cultures, a "transculturist" tries to restore the mysterious script of the simultaneously present and absent transcultural condition. In essence, he or she both discovers and creates this realm. While scientists, artists, and politicians make significant but separate contributions to culture in their respective fields, the transculturist elaborates the space of transculture using various arts, philosophies, and sciences as tools to develop the all-encompassing genre of cultural creativity. From existing materials he strives to invent new cultural possibilities, so that the "art of the possible" is truly his most necessary skill.

In Borges' great story "Aleph," the brightest point of the universe is described as a place where all times and spaces may be present together, without hiding or overshadowing each other. In the typical terms of physical reality, Aleph is a pure fantasy, but culture is, after all, a symbolic reality which can be condensed indefinitely by the increasing scope of its meanings. We may imagine transculture as the Aleph of the entire cultural world.

6. Transculture and Multiculturalism

The concept of transculture took shape in Russia over the past decade and should be clearly distinguished from multiculturalism, a specifically American phenomenon with which it, nonetheless, shares certain features.

The transcultural project emerged in a totalitarian society, which had been isolated for seventy years from other cultural worlds. These conditions determined the two-fold goal of transcultural activity: first, to challenge the one-dimensionality of official culture and second, to ascend to a genuine totality that embraces a variety of modes of cultural thought.

For example, if I live at the end of the twentieth century, how can I acquire the experiences of an Italian of the fourteenth century, or an ancient Greek, or of one of the first Christians? If I am a middle-aged man, I would like to participate somehow in the spontaneous play of children and also to partake of the wisdom of the elderly. If I am an engineer, I cannot realize my full human potential without participating in some artistic, musical, or literary activities. Because the cultural reality in the Soviet Union was so poor, it actually stimulated the imaginative search for alternatives beyond the borders of one country and one century.

Many representatives of the young Russian intelligentsia had three or four highly differentiated facets to their professional profile. For example, a particular man might be a mathematician by training, while earning a living as a caretaker and devoting himself primarily to writing poetry. The same person might sing in a church choir and practice martial arts. To participate in several cultures, some of which originally excluded one another, became the fundamental tenet of transcultural existence. By simultaneously reading books about the Gnostics and about the Gulag, one could attempt to reconcile these experiences within his or her own existence, which might not prove to be so very difficult, when the world is viewed broadly as one big prison.

The multicultural approach, which was the topic of ardent discussion when I first arrived in America, entails a similar impulse to unite different cultures while recognizing their multiplicity. Indeed, transcultural and multicultural tendencies seem to have much in common; they reject ideological canons: totalitarian communism, in the case of the former Soviet Union, and Euro-centrism and white male dominance in the West. They also share a sharp interest in those "exotic" cultures, which were closed for the Soviet people by the Iron Curtain, and those which were viewed in the West as "oppressed minorities."

This search took very different trajectories in the two societies, however, proceeding in essentially opposite directions. For example, the Euro-centrist approach, which seemed so boring and oppressive to American multiculturists, was highly attractive to Soviet transculturists, who had long been denied the right to be Europeans themselves. A few incidents on the level of personal experience may serve to illustrate this point. I was surprised on one occasion when a friend of mine, a Finnish businessman and writer, went to a Moscow record store to buy many albums of Azerbaijani music, not only for himself, but also as gifts for Western friends who shared his interest. No self-respecting Muscovite would think of buying such albums, since this music was considered provincial and of minor aesthetic value. A similar recollection arises from my first trip abroad, to Hungary in 1984. I was overjoyed at the chance to view Apocalypse Now, a film with a tremendous underground reputation in the Soviet Union. But when I tried to convey my enthusiasm to an American traveler with whom I had become friendly, I was surprised to find him more interested in what he deemed a better offer: to attend a performance of the Cuban circus! Thus my prejudice, common among Soviet citizens, against Cuban and Azerbaijani products, as being second-rate to all "Western" products, was definitively revealed.

Of course, these are only surface differences concerning the substance of Russian and American interests. Deeper differences between transculturalism and multiculturalism may be found on the level of their ultimate spiritual goals and structural disparities.

In the United States, the traditional emphasis that is placed on the rights and dignity of individuals naturally produces a variety of cultures proceeding from different nationalities, races, genders, ages, and so forth. Since the individual is the ultimate minority, it is logical that the individualistic and pluralistic tendencies in America support a multiplicity of separate and distinct minority cultures.

On the other hand, the Russian philosophical tradition places a premium on wholeness, which has played a number of cruel tricks on the events of Russian history and spawned a political totalitarianism that ironically tried to envelop all of life into a single ideological principle. This consequence determined the specific boundaries of Soviet transculture in its attempt to attain a free multi-dimensional totality opposed to totalitarianism. Thus, the notion of transculture differs from American ideas with their acceptance of many separate and distinct cultures which may exist side by side without taking the slightest interest in one another.

Though the maxim of multiculturalism could be "to accept and value difference," the result of such differentiation is sometimes similar to complete indifference in practice. It is instructive to see how pluralism, when pushed to the extreme, may turn into its opposite. The paradox of equality for all people, heterosexuals and homosexuals, healthy and handicapped, can lead to an erasure of the fundamental differences between them. There are two kinds of indifference: one is totalitarian, which suppresses everyone who tries to be distinct, and the other is tolerant, accepting everyone who is distinct, as if all people were essentially the same.

Pluralism as such, "self-complacent" pluralism, which recognizes that everyone has morals and customs of his own, tends to make us indifferent and dulls the charms of differentiation. If everything is equal, self-sufficient, or justified in and of itself, then we lose compassion or attraction for those who are different from us. According to the logic of total equality, why should the able-bodied pity handicapped, or "differently-abled" persons?--this is seen as insulting and humiliating for them. But such an understanding of "difference" is close to indifference. The compassion of healthy people towards handicapped people, on which many scenes in the gospels are built, is indispensable for any culture. To imagine those sufferers whom Christ healed as "differently-abled" or the dead whom he resurrected as "differently alive" is not only blasphemous but also tasteless--lacking in flavor, neither hot nor cold.

All genuine feeling develops between people because they are deeply different from each other: between a man and a woman, a healthy and a handicapped person, a child and an adult. The greater the difference, the stronger our emotions tend to be. Generally speaking, the theme of emotionality has been vastly underestimated in the last thirty years, roughly since existentialism was ousted from the Western philosophical scene. But now we have entered a new, post-structural epoch when emotions should regain their place in the philosophy of differences, because emotions are the lifeblood of difference.

The richness of culture will be lost if all existing cultures are treated as self-sufficient and perfect in their own way. A more fruitful approach calls on each group to take account of its own insufficiency. A man may feel a deficiency in that he cannot give birth to children, cannot feel what a woman feels; he would like to remain who he is, but also become those he is not. No one can embrace everything in this existence, so everyone lacks something. Perhaps the most effective way to feel difference is to embrace the feeling of one's own incompleteness.

I view culture as a form of compensation for our being incomplete entities. No human is a full entity, so all of us are called to restore, through our cultural perceptions and occupations, the full totality which nature does not give us. I am a middle-aged white male, but at the same time I would like to be black or female or adolescent. . . These experiences may be acquired through books, theatre, painting, cinema as compensations for my being so specific. There are many ways of self-identification within culture which nature cannot provide, so that culture becomes the infinity of self-redefinition, self-compensation. By way of culture one has a chance to become everyone, as if a magic wand allows us to identify with woman, child, or madman.

At the same time, we must recall that natural cultures have a tendency to become mere extensions of inborn human qualities, as revealed in the very terms, "racial," "national" and "sexual" differences in culture. To find one's own cultural identity means merely to be faithful to one's nature, one's origins. Transcultural pursuits should aim to understand and overcome the limitations of one's inborn culture, i.e. those secondary, "cultivated" deficiencies and restrictions where one's cultural self is imprisoned. I would name such a project "creative pluralism," because it does not limit itself to the simple recognition of other cultures' integrity, but goes so far as to consider them all necessary for each other's further development..

Ethnic and sexual minorities both in the United States and in contemporary Russia are anxious to promote their own values and to have opportunities to succeed on a national scale. This multicultural tendency is quite justified but needs to be supplemented by a transcultural perspective. Multiculturalism proceeds from the assumption that every ethnic, sexual, or class culture is important and perfect in itself, while transculture proceeds from the assumption that every particular culture is incomplete and requires interaction with other cultures.

Here I would like to consider the work of Merab Mamardashvili (1930-1990), a major Russian philosopher of Georgian origin, who spent his last years in Tbilisi, where he suffered through the delights of Georgian cultural and political nationalism exacerbated by the downfall of the Soviet empire. Mamardashvili sympathizes with multiculturalism as a mode of liberation from a monolithic cultural canon, but objects to the glorification of ethnic diversity for its own sake. Parroting a typical argument: "Each culture is valuable in itself. People should be allowed to live within their cultures," Mamardashvili objects that, "The defense of autonomous customs sometimes proves to be a denial of the right to freedom and to another world. It seems as if a decision were taken for them: you live in such an original way, that it is quite cultural to live as you do, so go on and live this way. But did anyone ask me personally? What if I were a Peruvian, or I don't know who. . . . Perhaps I am suffocating within the fully autonomous customs of my complex and developed culture?"

Thus, what needs to be preserved, in Mamardashvili's view, is the right to live beyond one's culture, on the borders of cultures, to take "a step transcending one's own surrounding, native culture and milieu not for the sake of anything else. Not for the sake of any other culture, but for the sake of nothing. Transcendence into nothing. Generally speaking, such an act is truly the living, pulsating center of the entire human universe. This is a primordial metaphysical act." By metaphysics, in its primary essense, Mamardashvili understands the movement beyond any physical determinance and liberation from any social and cultural identity: "This understandable, noble aspiration to defend those who are oppressed by some kind of culture-centrism, for example Eurocentrism or any other--this aspiration forgets and makes us forget that there exists a metaphysics of freedom and thought that is not peculiar to us alone. This is a kind of reverse racism." This type of racism is reductionism, not only the reduction of a diversity of cultures to one privileged canon, but also the reduction of a diversity of personalities to their native, "genetic" culture. To transcend the limits of one's native culture does not constitute betrayal, because the limits of any culture are too narrow for the full range of human potentials. From this standpoint, transculture does not mean adding yet another culture to the existing array; it is rather a special mode of existence spanning cultural boundaries, a transcendence into "no culture," which indicates how, ultimately, the human exceeds all cultural definitions.

Moreover, the essence of a given culture may be penetrated from the viewpoint of another, foreign culture better than from its own inner perspective. In the words of Mikhail Bakhtin, "only in the eyes of an alien culture, does another culture opens itself in a fuller and deeper way." As Bakhtin points out, a human cannot fully visualize even his own face--only others can see his or her real appearance from their location beyond those personal boundaries. In the same way, antiquity did not know the same antiquity which is known to us today. The ancient Greeks had not the slightest idea of what is most significant about them: that they were ancient. The essence of "male" culture may be more deeply perceived by females; the essence of "white" culture may be more deeply perceived by blacks, and vice versa. "Being beyond" (that is, in the position of vnenakhodimost', as mentioned above) is an advantageous situation for understanding. One can never understand oneself from within, without taking another's point of view into full account, even if this "otherness" is only fixed in one's own consciousness.

Let me expand on the example of relations between the sexes. Multiculturalism stresses the specific patterns of feminist writing as opposed to traditionally male-dominated literature, while transculturalism emphasizes the feminine ideas and moods in writing by males. Such outstanding Russian thinkers as Vasily Rozanov in his book People of the Moonlight (1913), Nikolai Berdiaev in The Meaning of the Creative Act (1916), and Daniil Andreev in his The Rose of the World (1950 - 1958), underscore the notion that creativity overcomes the opposition of the sexes, making men more feminine and women more masculine. According to Andreev, perhaps the preeminent intellectual influence in contemporary Russia,

In the spheres of the highest creativity, something occurs which is opposite to what we see in the physical world. There the woman is the fertilizing principle while man is the principle of shaping and incarnation. The Divine Comedy is the product of two authors and could not appear without both Beatrice and Dante. If we could penetrate the depths of the creative process of the majority of great artists, we would become certain that it was through a woman that the spiritual seed of the immortal creations was thrown into the depth of their [artists'] unconscious, into the hiding-place of their creativity.

From the multicultural point of view, a male writer is a representative of a specifically male culture, whereas a female writer should express a specifically feminine viewpoint. The category of difference becomes primarily a capacity for self-identity; everyone has his or her permanent nature and character, dependent upon being born as a woman or man, black or white, and so on. Multiculturalism supposes that these inborn differences determine specific cultural roles for each individual. Transculture, on the other hand, maintains that cultural development transforms the individual's nature by providing those characteristics which were lacking in his or her original, natural state. Personality is capable of transcending the distinction between sexes and thus is viewed as a microcosm of various cultural types. In Daniil Andreev's view, "not only woman, but man too, must be feminine."

Andreev predicts that "there will be a cycle of epochs when the feminine component of humanity will manifest itself with unprecedented strength, balancing the previous dominance of masculine forces in a perfect harmony." While multiculturalism defends gender differences against the power of a single male canon, transculture aspires to "all-unity" (vseedinstvo ), or "androgynism," rather than any type of specialization. In the West, the struggle against sexism is considered to be the transition from forced cultural integration to creative differentiation and equality. In Russia, it is the transition from the narrow-minded splintering of culture to its future spiritual synthesis.

Providing equal opportunities for each race and sex is only the political and legal aspect of culture. The spiritual aspect means helping each sex and race to feel that they exist in the context of other cultures, to help every individual identify not only with his or her own social, national and sexual group but also with representatives of other groups. The ideal of difference means to be different not only from others, but also from one's own self, to outgrow one's identity as a natural being and to become an integral personality, which can include the qualities and possibilities of other people's experience. At the bottom of our souls we want to belong to all cultures and share all possible experiences, and this makes every person a potentially transcultural being who is not only immersed in one culture, but tries to counteract it through contact with others.

The discussions of "difference," which have been so popular in academia, remain superficial if they fail to include its crucial aspect: the differences within an integral personality that can embrace "otherness," by occupying the standpoint of different cultures. For a culturologist this means being a representative of other cultures within his or her native culture and being a representative of the native culture within the others. No sooner does the process of differentiation penetrate the intimate self of an individual, than it turns into a process of integration with the other. A guiding principle of such self-differentiation is formulated by Homi K. Bhabha:

Cultural difference marks the establishment of new forms of meaning, and strategies of identification, through processes of negotiation where no discursive authority can be established without revealing the difference of itself.

I would like to add that this "difference from itself," not simply "the difference of one from another," is the starting point of cultural integration.

American universities have indeed succeeded in conceiving ever newer alternative and multicultural readings of classical and modern texts. In the next phase it will be essential to integrate all of these alternatives in a broader cultural model capable of appealing not only to specific minorities but to the universal potentials of human understanding. Thus, multicultural differentiation may finally lead to the experience of a new, expanded creative totality which is transculture.

1988, 1991





The greater part of this chapter was presented as a lecture at the official opening of the Laboratory of Contemporary Culture in Moscow, on March 26, 1988, with the intention of offering a program for the laboratory's future work (see the introduction to this volume for additional information on this topic). The lecture was published in abridged form in Nauka i zhizn' [Science and life], 1990, no. 1: 100-103. Additional material contained in the present essay was developed in conversation with Anesa Miller-Pogacar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, January 10, 1991.

See the more extensive discussion of the concept "proto" in the Conclusion to this book.

The type of knowledge which incorporates an awareness of the wholeness of the world cannot be limited to any one single scientific, artistic, or philosophical field but rather should emerge as an experiment in shaping a transcultural consciousness capable of overcoming the boundaries that divide specific disciplines.

Oswald Spengler, "Causality and Fate," in The Decline of Europe, Saint Petersburg, 1923, vol. 1, part 1, pp. 33-34.

Translator: Alexander Nikolaevich Radishchev (1749-1802) is best known as the author of a travelogue describing his observations of rural poverty and conjectures on the possibilities for social reform, entitled A Journey From Petersburg to Moscow, for which he was sentenced to ten years of Siberian exile. Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin (1743-1816) was well-known in his lifetime as both a statesman and a poet. He came to be considered the greatest writer of lyrics and odes of the era of Catherine the Great.

Translator: "Decembrism" refers to a short-lived conspiratorial movement which ended tragically for its primarily young, aristocratic participants following their attempted demonstration of protest against serfdom and other tsarist policies in December, 1825. Five leaders of a diverse group centered among officers of the military were executed as a result of the conspiracy, and many more were sent into exile.

On the "superfluous man," see Chapter 3, "After the Future,"section 2.

A similar definition of culture is proposed by the contemporary Russian philosopher Vladimir Bibler, who writes that "Culture may be defined as a form of self-determination, self-preconditioning (and the possibility of reconsidering) of human activity, will, consciousness, thinking, and fate,. . . as the form of concentration in an individual fate, in the present, of all past and future times." Vladimir Bibler, Ot naukoucheniia - k logike kul'tury. Dva filosofskikh vvedeniia v dvadtsat' pervyi vek (Moscow: Politizdat, 1991), 304.

Osip Mandelstam, Slovo i kul'tura (Moscow, 1987), 42-43.

See note 1 to this chapter.

M. M. Bakhtin, Speech Genres & Other Late Essays, trans. Vern W.McGee, ed. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986), 2.

Bibler, Ot naukoucheniia - k logike kul'tury, 286, 289.

Translator: Vladimir Soloviev (1853-1900) was a philosopher and poet who strongly influenced both the symbolist movement in Russian literature and Orthodox religious thought of the early twentieth century.

Petr Yakovlevich Chaadaev (1794-1856) was a social philosopher and independent scholar who came to be considered a leading thinker of the "Westernizing" bent, in that he sharply criticized what he deemed the isolationism and narrowness of native Russian traditions, while expressing admiration for Western European ways. Although none of his critical works could be published during his lifetime, Chaadaev's thought survived as an inspiration to such poets as Pushkin and Mandelshtam.

Alexei Stepanovich Khomiakov (1804-1860) devoted himself to the areas of historical philosophy, theology and creative writing. Ostensibly an ideological opponent of Chaadaev, Khomiakov became a leader of the Slavophile movement which sought the roots of Russian culture in traditional beliefs and practices; nonetheless, the two men are said to have had profound personal respect for one another. Certain of Khomiakov's ideas were later extrapolated in Soloviev's work as well as among the symbolists.

The reference to "a thousand or two thousand years separating us from the . . . turning points of our own and world culture" indicates the christianization of Kievan Rus in 988 A. D. (see further mention of this event in Chapter 6, "The Origins and Meaning of Russian Postmodernism") and the dawn of Christianity, respectively.

Saint Serafim of Sarov (1760-1833) taught that the goal of Christian life is to search for the Holy Spirit (stiazhanie Dukha Sviatogo). He is considered to be the greatest spiritual patron of Russia, and a number of churches, restored in the postcommunist period, are dedicated to him.

Translator: On Vladimir Soloviev, see n. 11 above.

Dmitry Sergeevich Merezhkovsky (1865-1941) was a writer and religious philosopher associated with the early phases of the Russian Symbolist movement.

On Nikolai Berdiaev see Chapter 2, "Avant-Garde Art and Religion," especially n. 11, and also Chapter 6, "The Origins and Meaning of Russian Postmodernism."

The German thinker Johann Herder was probably the first (as early as 1784-1791) to insist on the principle of plurality of cultures in his Ideas on the Philosophy of History of Mankind. It was not until the early twentieth century, however, that this usage was established in European languages. See Raymond Williams. Keywords. A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 79.

This example is taken from the first issue of the magazine Dar. Kul'tura Rossii (1992), which is sponsored by the current Russian government and intended to present the most characteristic aspects of contemporary Russian culture.

Translator: Pushkin's phrase refers to the violent excesses and poor leadership typical of Russian peasant and national rebellions, such as those instigated by Stenka Razin between 1670 and 1671 and by Emelian Pugachev between 1773 and 1775. The combination of these men's names with the suffix -shchina yields a term meaning, roughly, "the Razin or Pugachev syndrome," which is here extended to the names of Lenin and Stalin as well.

See, for example, Sri Aurobindo, SAVITRI: A Legend and a Symbol (Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press, 1950-51).

"In order to understand, it is immensely important for the person who understands to be located outside the object of his or her creative understanding--in time, in space, in culture." Bakhtin, Speech Genres & Other Late Essays, 7.

In Bibler's definition, "culture is a communication of actual and/or potential cultures"(Ot naukoucheniia - k logike kul'tury, 298). I prefer to avoid the vicious circle that Bibler deliberately and permanently emphasizes in his works, incorporating the concept of culture in the very definition of culture and producing a kind of tautology. This exemplifies his "logic of paradox," but it must be clear, that "culture" in the left and right parts of his definition belong to different logical types, and what arises through the "communication of cultures" is a new, "meta" level of cultural existence which I call "transculture."

Merab Mamardashvili. Drugoe nebo (Other sky). In his book Kak ia ponimaiu filosofiiu. (How I understand philosophy). Moscow: Progress, izdatel'skaia gruppa "Kul'tura," 1992, pp. 335, 337.

Ibid., 336.

Bakhtin, Speech Genres & Other Late Essays, 7.

Daniil Andreev, Roza Mira. Metafilosofiia istorii. (Moscow: Prometei, 1991), 123.

Andreev, Roza Mira. 124.

Andreev, Roza Mira. 125.

Bhabha, Homi K. "DissemiNation: Time, Narrative, and the Margins of the Modern Nation," in Bhabha, Homi K., ed., Nation and Narration (London and New York: Routledge, 1990), 313.



M.Epstein's Virtual Library Catalog