The Interactive Anthology of Alternative Ideas: An Introduction

Mikhail Epstein

From the book Transcultural Experiments: Russian and American Models of Creative Communication. New York: St. Martin's Press (Scholarly and Reference Division),  1999, pp. 290-301 (Chapter 23)

The Interactive Anthology is a collection of alternative ideas in various fields of the humanities: philosophy, ethics, aesthetics, linguistics, history of religions, and theory of culture. Fragments from many books serve as illustrations for these ideas that challenge established theories and concepts in the humanities. That is why the anthology is also called "Book of books," or "Book2." Alternative thinking is different from negation or opposition: It does not require the removal or destruction of what already exists but rather adds another dimension or option, posits a new alterity.

For example, linguistics, a crowning discipline in twentieth-century humanities, is formed around words and sounds that break the silence, not around the silence from which the units of language and speech are extracted. Silence sets the boundaries for the activity of language and creates the possibility and background for its articulation. Thus a new alternative discipline may come into existence?the linguistics of silence or, more precisely, silentology, the exploration of pauses and ellipses, of "sils"?units of silence that form speech both phonetically and semantically and create subtext, ellipsis, aposiopesis, all kinds of figurative meanings. Accordingly, under the rubric "silentology," the anthology offers representative fragments from several books, such as On the Borders of Language: Introducing the Linguistics of Silence, The History of Silence in Russian Culture, and others. The IAAI is an encyclopedia of alternative thinking, a compendium of strange, suspicious, condemned, and exiled ideas that for various reasons were denied entry into the history of the humanities but with the anthology have a chance to be realized in the future.

Positive Deconstruction

The Book2 is an attempt to deconstruct those concepts and theories that determine the identity and self-consciousness of the contemporary humanities. However, this is not the critical type of deconstruction that, following the initiatives of Michele Foucault and Jacques Derrida, became so widespread in Western academia. The Book 2 is a deconstruction through the creation of multiple variants, alternatives, competing models of conceptual systems. This is a positive deconstruction, or what we earlier called potentiation, designed to demonstrate that alongside each discipline, theory, concept, and term there exists its "shadow," which, from a different perspective, could appear as a primary object of consciousness. Positive deconstruction does not simply shatter the foundation of some system of concepts, exposing its vacillation and relativity and confronting a reader with an ironic "naught": no signified, no presence, no truth, no origin. Positive deconstruction deploys a series of constructive alternatives for a concept or theory; instead of focusing critically on the given discourse, it potentiates new ones, inscribes each concept into a broader framework where it can be posited as only one in a whole family or cluster of possible concepts. This is a logical potentiation of a term, multiplication of its possible meanings, the process of building it into a larger field of consciousness. The logic behind alternative thinking is not deductive or inductive but abductive, suggesting that a certain phenomenon can be abducted from the conceptual network to which it belonged for a long time. I would define abduction as a method of reasoning from which one infers an alternative explanation or conceptualization of the same fact.1

I think that new historical foundations for the abductive logic of potentiation were laid in Russia in the 1970s and 1980s, when the totalitarian system was already losing its grip on the social consciousness and growing relatively weak but at the same time remaining strong enough to extinguish any direct opposition or countermovement. Thus the system underwent a series of oblique and fuzzy metamorphoses, mutating toward the variety of alternative theories and practices on the margins of social consciousness without splitting or breaking it. Political dissidentism (inakomyslie) was only a small, visible island of this powerful vibrating other-thinking (inomyslie) that dissolved the solid foundation of the regime but surfaced much later. Along with the political Archipelago that Alexander Solzhenitsyn made famous, there was still another, intellectual Archipelago of silenced concepts, entrapped theories, and darkened corners of thinking that may only now emerge into the light of consciousness.

The metaphor of an archipelago perfectly fits these scattered islands of alternative thinking that resisted totality on each small conceptual plot of its aggression. Alternative thinking clung to each ideological slogan, philosophical postulate, or politico-economic term imposed by the official system and thought of it differently; multiplied its interpretations; potentiated from it different, equally relevant terms and postulates. If the official slogan was, following Marx, that "religion is the opium of the people," then, watching the ubiquitous alcoholism among the citizens of the first atheistic state, it was fair to conclude that "when religion is abolished as the opium of people, then opium becomes the people's religion."

Now all these islands of intellectual resistance come together to present an unknown configuration on the intellectual map of the twentieth century?a different GULAG: Archipelago of Gonimykh Umov, Logicheskikh Al'ternativ i Gipotez (Persecuted Minds, Logical Alternatives and Hypotheses).2

The Archipelago GULag, subtitled "An Experiment in Literary Investigation," is not just a single work; it is a literary genre created by Solzhenitsyn. The Interactive Anthology is a variety of this genre, but here the unit of representation is not a human life but a human thought?a manuscript, an idea, a conception . . . The Book2 is an experiment in the encyclopedic presentation of lost or unsolicited ideas. This is not historical or documentary research, but, unlike Solzhenitsyn's book, it is also not a literary investigation, not a narrative. Rather, it is an imitation of encyclopedic discourse targeting the objects of consciousness: theories, concepts, and terms.

Books in Search of Authors

I have been working on The Book2 for fourteen years (since 1984), and I will continue to work on it for ten to twelve years more. The Book2 contains fragments of several hundreds of books on philosophy, theology, ethics, literature, and linguistics written by many authors (still unknown and mostly anonymous) in the years 1950 to 2000 in Russia. It is the Book of Condemned Ideas and Conceptual Provocations and contains challenges to Plato, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, to all those who had the opportunity to establish their ideas in our civilization and thus, often contrary to their intentions, founded the intellectual Archipelago . . .

I would like to place among the Russian thinkers of the twentieth century those missing figures who never existed but could exist. They had something to think about and wished to share their thoughts with their contemporaries and with posterity. But these potential authors died in a political gulag, or their ideas perished in an intellectual gulag. There are books that have never been written; there are schools and trends of thought that never have emerged as a historical fact but still abide as a logical possibility, and therefore, exist as the reality of thinking. The Book2 embraces this continuum of ideas that earlier or later had to find its entry into historical time. Regrettably, this happened later rather than earlier; still, it is important that logic, though lagging behind chronology, nevertheless could secure its place in the history of ideas.

I look at the Dictionary of Theories?"one stop to more than 5,000 theories3?or at the Key Ideas in Human Thought?"2,500 of the most important terms and concepts that have shaped the modern world."4 Magnificent compendiums! Even Vladimir Lenin is here: "bolshevism," "vanguard party." And Mikhail Bakhtin is here: "polyphony," "carnivalization," "dialogism." But why canít I find in them the term "theomonism," coined by Yakov Abramov, or "verbject," suggested by Maksim Turnin? Because these thinkers were never given the chance to write, to publish, or sometimes even to exist. We do not discuss here which vicissitudes of social or biological evolution prevented them from becoming major thinkers of the twentieth century. Some were killed or exiled, some were banished from publishing, some fell into depression or madness, some married happily and withdrew from academic careers, some were never born because their potential parents died prematurely or never met each other. But their ideas still have the right to exist. The gaps in existing dictionaries need to be filled. And if the twentieth century was cruel enough to forsake some valuable elements of its intellectual heritage, let the twenty-first century recover them and erect a monument to them at the entry to the new millennium.

I would like to collect in this Book all possible metamorphoses of thought that were solicited by the logic (or absurdity) of our life in Russia towards the end of the communist era, on the crossroads of so many intellectual traditions coming from Judaism and Christianity, from fathers of the church and founders of the Enlightenment, from Plato and Hegel, from Marx and Nietzsche, from Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, from Solovyov and Fedorov . . . My intent is to bring together all those disparate variants and alternatives of thinking over which this epoch wracked its brains searching for the escape from the prison into which Thinking itself, in its most sublime, idealistic, and ideocratic models, incarcerated the being and the lives of all of us.

The books contained in this book are looking for their potential authors not only in the past, but also in the future. Every text presented here is only a fragment that miraculously survived the fire that destroyed our Philosophical Archive . . . But each text is also only a rough draft of those books that might comprise the Library of the Humanities in the coming century. This is a book of new disciplines, methods, trends, and paradigms of thought that were never given a chance to be written. The presses that could have produced these books and the stores that could have sold them were banished. The Book2 is not a collection of real books but is an attempt to restore the imaginable books of the past and to stimulate their writing in the future. Their excerpts are obtained from the library of the twenty-first century, where the humanistic archive of the twentieth century would have been preserved.

I wrote the first draft of the book, about fifteen hundred pages, in Moscow in 1984-88. Although it contains no borrowings from other authors, except for those that are explicitly quoted, this book is designed as a collection of many books that have been written by other authors. Which authors, will depend on those creative readers who will volunteer to assume authorial rights and responsibilities.

To Potential Authors

I address here all readers of The Interactive Anthology of Alternative Ideas. If, in any of the books that comprise the anthology, you recognize your own voice, please consider it to be your own. Add new chapters, finish this book and publish it under your own name. In relation to these books, all rights of intellectual property are revoked. It is not only permissible but desirable that all fragments be adopted by an author who will take full responsibility for their fate and further embodiment of a given idea. If you feel that an idea is simply stolen from you, that you had been thinking the same way but just forgot to write it down, then please, consider this idea your own, consider yourself the author of any book of your choice and to your taste. Polish and finish it and submit it to publishers under your own name. It depends on you whether the given fragment will take the form of a book, an article, an essay. But don't fail to attend to it if it contains something cogent for your mind?introduce it into the family of your creations.

I would be happy to receive a notice from you about your adoption of a certain fragment. Then I will put under this text your full name, and you will be confirmed as its author. If an editor or a publisher should become interested in this book, he will address you, not me. If at least part of these fragments are adopted and grow into separate books, in two or three generations an entire library will emerge from The Book2, whose initial fragments will become scattered and forgotten, as rough drafts that have been many times revised and expanded.

I hope that eventually the book will acquire as many authors as there are books in it. As many signatures as there are titles.

I will cite the titles of several books that are sampled and excerpted in The Book 2:

The Kenocracy of the Future

Introduction to Theolinguistics

A Thing as an Object of Ethics

A History of Penny-Pinching and Hair-Splitting

Morphology of Garbage

How to Collect Nonexistent Objects

Physiosophy of the Itch

Cells and Holes

Poetics of the Dictionary


All books are open for free authorization, except for the Book of books itself, its prefaces and afterwords, which belong exclusively to me. Are foster authors subject to some moral or material obligations? It is desirable that you give an articulate expression to a certain idea, transform it into a monograph, an article, a practical project. But if this does not happen, it's not your fault, it's the fault of the idea itself that failed to be viable and vigorous enough to receive proper embodiment. Hence my only request: If you feel that the adopted fragment is wasted, please return it where it belongs, that is, let me know that you are returning the idea to The Book2. No explanations or apologies are needed. Simply from now on the text will be expecting another foster author.

Now it is easy to imagine an American-style advertisement of this Russian intellectual product: Free selection of texts for all manner of creative uses and intellectual appropriations. A paradise for thinkers and scholars: a collection of new ideas, never signed and cited before. Fragments of books that were never published. Drafts for numerous books that await their authors.

Virtual Books

The hope of this anthology is that it will find many foster authors who will develop and complete its numerous fragments. But a still deeper hope is that some of these fragments will stay unauthorized and present the books from which they are extracted in their essential virtuality. The term "virtual book" here will refer not to an electronic form of a book but to the virtuality of every book inasmuch as it presents a possibility for reading that rarely comes to fulfillment. Usually we purchase a book not in order to read it immediately but in order to have the possibility of reading it in some imaginable time and space. The majority of books are present in our consciousness as a set of authors' names, titles, and several key ideas and fragments. One hundred lines usually contain about one-half of the entire information that we assimilate from the book even after it is completely read.

The virtual book consists of two or three pages, one of them being the title page and the others containing several short excerpts. The virtual book is an intellectual form of the book without its textual extension. It is a function of a book separated from its physical substance. It is a sign of "book" without the signified. It is the eschatological expectation of the book that never fully comes through but allows us to experience even more sharply the "bookness" of the book precisely as a result of its substantial absence, as a pure potentiality that is not damaged by actualization.

It is important for such a book to have a title in order to function differently from the genres of aphorism or maxim, which speak from themselves, not on behalf of some larger virtual whole. An aphorism does not have margins. It destroys the surrounding space (context) by exhausting the topic in its most condensed formulation, whereas a virtual book institutes broader margins than could be filled by any amount of text. A virtual book may further be divided into virtual chapters and sections citing appropriate excerpts from them and expanding even more its internal space.

Thus, The Book2 is a collection of virtual books that should be partly completed to generate a library of the future, and remain partly empty to demonstrate their pure potentiality.

Reverse Citations

The Book of books not only projects future books but virtualizes existing books, authors, and systems of thought, thus creating virtual spaces and meaningful "bubbles" in the substance of culture. Many sections of the Book are created by the method of the "reverse citation." Direct citation is my use of someone else's words; reverse citation is the donation of my words to another author. Reverse citations are necessary to rethink the heritage of some authors of the past who initiated certain intellectual movements that have not found and will never find their full expression either with these thinkers themselves or with their followers. The potentiality of Hegel's thought exceeds its actuality as fixed in the body of his texts. Hegel continues to think through my own consciousness. In the manner of Hegel one can produce a variety of utterances that relate the potentiality of his thought with the actuality of new historical conditions. For example, we cannot find in Hegel any references to the Bolshevik revolution, World War II, or the Internet though Hegelian thought to a certain degree initiated these historical events and can illuminate them.

>The realization of the Absolute Idea in the period of its post-capitalist development goes through the phase which can be characterized as an attempt at suicide.< Are you not familiar with this often-quoted utterance? This is Hegel's inscription on the margins of Lenin's book State and Revolution.

Instead of inserting ideas from other authors into The Interactive Anthology, we will insert its excerpts into many other books and systems of thought. Sometimes these are unknown works of great thinkers, such as Hegel's unfinished treatise, History Beyond Logic, or a draft of Nietzsche's aphorism "Will for Defeat."

If reverse citations are attributed to previously published works, we give a precise reference including the number of the page and of the paragraph where an alternative turn of thought could take place. For example,

>The possible as compared with the real is the being of the first and the third order whereas the real belongs only to the second order because it actualizes some possibilities and potentiates others. The real is only a mediation between two orders of possibilities.<5

Of course, do not bother to look for this utterance in the indicated section of Hegel's magnum opus6; it is inscribed into Hegel from the Interactive Anthology and belongs to alter-Hegel, the alternative possibility of Hegelian thought that was never realized in his works but was suggested by them. Subsequently I will designate reverse citations with reverse quotation marks.

The reader will discover that a certain sentence could be inscribed into Hegel, another into Plato, a third into Descartes in such a way that if these citations had been assimilated by these authors their thought could develop in a different direction and bring forth a different history. These inscriptions serve as alternative formulations of familiar ideas that reveal their capacity for self-differentiation. The aim of the Interactive Anthology is not to criticize or synthesize but to potentiate the previous systems of thought through their alternative rereadings and rewritings. If the Hegelian history of philosophy sublates all previous teachings in the final synthesis, then the Interactive Anthology deploys a projective history of ideas, an experiment in their transformative interpretation.

I inscribe in Socrates: >I do not know what I know.< I believe that this utterance belongs not to myself and not to the historical Socrates but to an alternative Socrates. The historical Socrates pronounced, "I know that I know nothing," but this capacity to transcend one's own limits of knowledge should be investigated in both directions, as my superiority over my ignorance and my inferiority to my own knowledge. The fact that historical Socrates explored only one of these alternatives encourages us to explore the other, to "abduct" the thought from Socrates and to return to him a different thought.

I indulge in those potentials of thinking that can be revealed at the borders of the historical record both as resulting from and alternative to the original concepts. This is a retroactive history of thought read not from the previous periods to the present but from the present to the past, which will also integrate the openness of the future. For me Socrates, Descartes, and Hegel are thinkers not only of the past but also of the future, still unknown to themselves and to anybody else in the world. The history of philosophy embraces these multiple alternatives, which depart from the past and, making a circle, return to the past in the form of alter-Socrates and alter-Hegel.

I find counterproductive the "anti" genre, such as Engelsís Anti-Dühring, or Marx's and Lenin's numerous critical works that could be titled Anti-Proudhon,Anti-Mach , etc., which is so characteristic of the Marxist classics, masters of short-lived polemics. "Anti-" is a degraded form of "alter-." If you have something to say against a certain thinker, say it for him and on his behalf because even this criticism is provoked by his own thought and should be reinscribed as alternative ramifications and bifurcations in the corpus of his work.

Thus, the Book of books aims to create virtual spaces in the systems that seem to be most solid and esteemed in the history of ideas. This is what I understand by the term "potentiation." Even the actuality of the past still contains those resources of alterity, those potentials for rewriting, not only rereading of history that make the past open to the indeterminacy of the future. Since the twentieth century has more systematically worked in the opposite, utopian direction, trying to impart to the future the determinacy of the past, the potentiation of the past is a post-utopian gesture of compensation with which the century comes to an end.

I would like to further illustrate the range of the reverse citational mode by presenting a collection of responses to the Interactive Anthology itself.

Preliminary Reviews

The interactive network InteLnet conducted a poll of outstanding authors from various cultures regarding the Interactive Anthology (Book of books) on the eve of its first electronic publication. According to the standards of American documentation, the responses are listed in the reverse chronological order of their submission.

>Announcing the end of the Book and the beginning of the epoch of Writing, one has to admit that the interval between these two epochs is filled with all kinds of "metabooks," which retroactively project the infinity of writing on the discrete genre of the book and therefore explode the latter from within.<

Jacques Derrida

>The medieval library was composed of numerous commentaries on a single Book. The postmodern Middle Ages move in the opposite direction: from the scholastic culture of multiple commentaries to a single metatext, to a Book-as-Library. That is why the second millennium ends with the Interactive Anthology.<

Umberto Eco

>Russian metaphysics of the Soviet era as presented in this anthology has reached us only in scattered fragments and is reminiscent of the elusive heritage of the gnostics or the pre-Socratics. The works in their entirety were either destroyed or banished from publication by the victorious dialecticians?powerful persecutors of metaphysicians. The genre of the book reminds ancient doxography of Diogenes Laertiusís Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. Unlike the latter, the anthology is almost void of "lives" and contains only "opinions." In this sense, Russian metaphysics of the twentieth century is even more ancient and mythic than Thales and Anaxagoras.<

Milorad Pavic

>This colorful world is split into a multitude of glittering fragments, and, like that of Balzac and Dostoevsky, is also the result of the turbulent invasion of capitalism into the relatively quiet stagnant Russia of the period of rotting feudal communism. This book reflects a gigantic collapse, unexpected collisions of such diverse systems of thought that previously peacefully coexisted in the sleeping consciousness of Brezhnev's epoch.<

Fredric Jameson

>Artistic strategies?estrangement and polyphony?elaborated by Russian theoreticians Viktor Shklovsky and Mikhail Bakhtin now have been transferred into the domain of an imaginative history of ideas. The most conventional schemes of thought that go back to Plato and Aristotle all of a sudden are estranged, de-automatized and reveal their strangeness, whimsical character, and even a touch of madness.<

Julia Kristeva

>It is easier to perceive the nature of a flower from one flower than from hundreds of flowers. This is a book that contains hundreds of books and at the same time does not resemble any of them.<

Araki Yasusada

>This book has an unusual quality: The thoughts that you extract from it are easily forgotten, but when you recall them you cannot find them where they once were. It seems that during your absence, somebody shuffled the pages or rewrote them anew.<

Michel Montaigne


1. See a somewhat different explanation of the term "abduction" by Chris Eliasmith in his entry in the electronic Dictionary of the Philosophy of Mind:
2. GULag (Gosudarstvennoe upravlenie lagerei) is a Russian acronym for the Soviet government agency that supervised labor camps in Stalin's epoch. Solzhenitsyn used this term as a metaphor for labor camps that were scattered through the ocean of civil society like a chain of islands extending from the Bering Strait almost to the Bosporus.
3. Jennifer Bothamley, Dictionary of Theories (London, Detroit, and Washington D.C.: Gale Research International Ltd, 1993).
4. Key Ideas in Human Thought, ed. Kenneth McLeish (New York: Facts on File, 1993).
5. Hegel, Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences, Vol. 1, Science of Logic. Second Subdivision. The Doctrine of Essence. C. Actuality, paragraph 143 n.
6. Actually Hegel wrote: "[A]ctuality is the more comprehensive, because it is the concrete thought which includes possibility as an abstract element. And that superiority is to some extent expressed in our ordinary mode of thought when we speak of the possible, in distinction from the actual, as only possible." The alter-Hegel's utterance belongs precisely to this section on actuality from which it is eloquently absent, because it could subvert the entire system of Hegel's idealism-historicism-actualism.