On the acception of Liberty Prize.
December 3, 2000, Merkin Concert Hall, New York City
I am deeply grateful to the esteemed jury and to the founders and sponsors of the Liberty Prize. It is indeed a distinct honor to be granted an award whose name, "Liberty," exemplifies the strivings of our bi-cultural community and the reason why all of us have gathered here: not only in this concert hall, but in this truly polyphonic and symphonic country.
I am happy to belong to the Russian-American culture which embraces polarities that have divided and agonized the world for several generations: collectivism and individualism, equality and freedom, communality and privacy... It is the breadth of internal tensions and contradictions that makes the Russian-American culture so vigorous and engaging. It can be properly located within neither American nor Russian tradition but rather places itself between and above them, as a rough draft of one of those fantastic cultures of the future for which Nabokov coins the hybrid term "Amerussia." An Amerussian is happily conditioned to combine analytical and practical dispositions of the American mind and synthetical and mystical gifts of the Russian soul. An "Amerussian" as a bi-cultural figure may even better accommodate Dostoevsky's universal vision of a Russian all-responsive "omni-human, "vsechelovek."
The customary notions of "emigration" or "diaspora" do not convey adequately the thrill and danger of existence on the threshold of two cultures. Fyodor Tyutchev's lines come to my mind:
"O heart filled with disquiet, How you flutter on the threshold, As it were, of two realities!... Yes, you are a denizen of two worlds..."
This is the precise formula. To be a denizen of two worlds means to perceive each one of them more sharply and vividly through the eyes of the other. The contrasting meanings of the two cultures are constantly at play when one layer of perception, Russian, which has not yet completely faded, is superimposed upon the other, American, which has notyet taken final shape. Our existence is divided between these two cultural spheres - and multiplied and intensified by dint of this duality.
That is, then, what Liberty has come to mean for us, Amerussians: the partaking of both cultures grants us an opportunity to liberate outselves from ideological precepts, mythological superstitions, and linguistic limitations of any culture by landing ourselves on their borders, taking advantage of being beyond them. If political freedom includes the right to cross state borders, then cultural freedom includes the ability to cross the borders of one's language and to become a stranger to one's own culture, as well as to become native to an alien culture. Bilingualism, or at least one and a half lingualism is a minimal condition of cultural freedom, as it allows stereoscopic, multidimensional vision of the world.
In conclusion, it may be useful to recall that the statue of Liberty stands not in the middle of America, nor in the woods of New England or on the plains of the Mid-West, but on the border, on an island in the New York harbor, facing those who arrive in America from overseas. Newcomers, outsiders, strangers have the historical privilege of seeing the face of Liberty.
Atlanta Journal/Constitution, November 23, 2000
Emory Professor Receives Liberty Prize
Mikhail Epstein, Emory University's Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of
Cultural Theory and Russian Literature, has been awarded the Liberty
Prize for his contributions to Russian-American culture. This is the second year
of the prize, which will be presented annually to two outstanding Russian
cultural figures living in America. In addition to Epstein, this year's prize
has been awarded to Vagrich Bakhchanyan, an artist and book illustrator who
is considered one of the founders of Russian conceptualist art.
"This is an extraordinary award for an extraordinary intellectual, whose
presence adds tremendously to Emory College and the university," says
Emory College Dean Steven Sanderson. "We are fortunate to have one of
the leading contemporary figures in Russian culture among us as a friend
Epstein, who has been a member of the Emory faculty for more than 10
years, specializes in 19th- and 20th-century Russian literature and
philosophy. Epstein has been the recipient of numerous research awards,
grants, and fellowships, and he has published books, articles and research
papers. Epstein currently is a member of the executive board of the
International School of Theory in the Humanities (Spain), chairman of the National Society for the Study of Russian Religious Thought (U.S.), and a member
of The Academy of Contemporary Russian Literature (Moscow). He will
travel to New York in December for the award ceremony and related
events, including a reception at the Russian Consulate and an evening of
classical music honoring the prize-winners.
The Liberty Prize is juried by four authoritative Russian-American
Cultural figures, and is sponsored financially by Continent U.S.A., a major organizer
of Russian cultural events in the United States.
Epstein is a resident of Decatur, Ga. (30033).
The Liberty prize-2002 for an outstanding contribution to the development of Russian-U.S. cultural relations was presented at a formal ceremony in Washington to director of the library of Congress and honorary member of the Russian Academy of Sciences James Billington and to director of the Solomon Gugenheim Foundation Thomas Krens. The prize which is awarded by an independent jury sponsored by the American media group Continent USA is the only award specially designed for those who actively help interaction of the USA and Russia in the cultural sphere.