Ab Imperio (2014), 4

Titel der Ausgabe 
Ab Imperio (2014), 4
Weiterer Titel 
Spontaneous Bricolage, Masters of Assemblage, and Their Contested Blueprints

Kazan', Russland 2014: Selbstverlag des Herausgebers
124 € Jahresabo, 31 € Einzelhelheft



Ab Imperio. Studies of New Imperial History and Nationalism in the Post-Soviet Space
Russian Federation
Postanschrift: P.O. Box 157, Kazan' 420015. Tel./Fax: 7-8432-644-018
Kaplunovsky, Alexander

Dear friends and colleagues,

the Editorial Board of Ab Imperio is pleased to present the new issue of our journal: 4/2014. The fourth thematic issue within Ab Imperio’s 2014 annual program, “Assemblage Points of the Imperial Situation: Places and Spaces of Diversity,” is devoted to the exploration of Spontaneous Bricolage, Masters of Assemblage, and Their Contested Blueprints.

“Ab Imperio” is a indexed and peer-reviewed, bilingual (English and Russian) international scholarly journal dedicated to the study of empire and nationalism in the post Soviet space.

The language of each publication (Russian or English) is indicated by a letter in brackets.


Making Sense of an Embarrassment of Riches: Discipline or Celebrate?

In the archetypal perception of time, the past is associated with a Golden Age of abundance that has somehow been depleted during the lifetime of an observer who has heard of a relatively recent Silver Age, but is already living in an Iron Age of scarce resources and severe governance. All the great things in life originate in the glorious past: territorial rights, political legitimacy, and national culture. The generous abundance of the imagined past readily accommodates even seemingly incompatible claims: thus, a national narrative of resistance to wicked imperial domination proudly celebrates the territories and peoples conquered by that “nation” in the past, before the evil empire put a yoke on it for a century or two. In empire and nation, the ideal state of affairs is envisioned in terms of sovereignty enjoyed by a homogeneous community of the chosen, which in the observable “Iron Age” is but wishful thinking: there is always the omnipresence of all sorts of “aliens,” patchwork-like cultural diversity, and more often than not, someone else’s political domination. The hegemonic public discourse of the post-Napoleonic period perceives diversity as the result of the glorious past being compromised on so many counts, and expects the future to restore the lost paradise of the community’s homogeneity and might.
The popular philosophy of history thus briefly outlined permeates political discussions and historical treatises to this day, if in somewhat more sophisticated and elaborated form. Increasingly masked by the rhetoric of political correctness, it still assumes diversity to be a liability and the result of a constellation of particular historical circumstances. Within Ab Imperio’s 2014 annual theme “Assemblage Points of the Imperial Situation: Places and Spaces of Diversity,” three thematic issues have reviewed several types of historical conditions producing the most systematic and complex forms of diversity. As it turns out, these forms of sustained diversity that are unreducible to the formula of “the norm and exclusions” (or “the majority and minorities”) and shorthanded as the “imperial situation”[See Ilya Gerasimov, Sergey Glebov, Marina Mogilner. The Postimperial Meets the Postcolonial: Russian Historical Experience and the Postcolonial Moment // Ab Imperio. 2013. No. 2. Pp. 97-135.] can be produced by very different factors and in different epochs (even today). In this light, it seems natural to question the very logic of reasoning that perceives “pure forms” as the elementary “bricks” of more complex social formations and the norm as only temporarily (“historically”) undermined by diversity. It is quite possible that the imperial situation is the “natural” social arrangement, while any vision of a homogeneous community of the chosen (by gods, history, or genetics) is just a part of the myth of the Golden Age, forced on their audiences by entrepreneurs of culture. Therefore, the last issue of Ab Imperio in 2014 is dedicated to the mechanisms and strategies of ascribing meaning to the observable persistent human diversity – to “Spontaneous Bricolage, Masters of Assemblage, and Their Contested Blueprints.” Self-appointed “masters of bricolage” engage in producing new maps of human societies through social practices and high literary discourses, disciplinary knowledge, and policing of texts. The paradox of the imperial situation in modern societies is that these blueprints of modernity were, to paraphrase the famous line about Soviet nationalities, national in aspirations and cosmopolitan in origins. An assemblage point requires a simultaneous presence within the matrix of social relations and loyalties caught between empire and nation, and a certain discursive distance from this matrix, usually found in some universal (global, European, scientific, or modern) sphere. The universal and the local reinforced each other in multiple ways, and the problem of assemblage points became the problem of epistemology: can one be outside the imperial situation while attempting to map the relations between various loyalties and commitments within the imperial context? Much of the current issue is dedicated to the study of how the masters of bricolage who located the assemblage points for their contested blueprints outside of the imperial context were, in fact, reflecting the imperial situation on a new level. What this problem requires of scholars is the need to avoid binary oppositions and to make an intellectual effort to think of complexity and diversity in ways that are not reductive.
As if engaging the powerful historical myth about the Golden Age of national purity head-on, the issue opens with an article by Harsha Ram, “The Literary Origins of the Georgian Feast: The Cosmopolitan Poetics of a National Ritual.” The cultural form of the feast (supra) structured by elaborated metaphorical toasts ideally accommodates the historical myth of authentic homogeneity, past and future, which makes Ram’s deconstruction of the Georgian supra particularly far-reaching in its implications. Taking to task the nationalizing visions of the supra as an eternal element of Georgian identity and binary oppositions between the colonizer and the colonized, Ram traces the origins of the supra in the literary encounters of Russian and Georgian poets with high literary cultures of Europe − but also with their respective contexts and hierarchies in imperial societies. According to Ram, the notion of cosmopolitanism offered an easy way to combine the local and global, and to coordinate concerns of one’s own time and place with visions of postimperial “cosmopolitan” futures. This “cosmopolitanism” became the foundation of the particularistic vision of a nation, not the other way around. It was the task of “masters of bricolage” in the imperial situation (both Georgian and Russian) to reinvent an outcome of the ethnic mix of Tbilisi and of Georgian poets’ readings of Pushkin and Zhukovsky in the first half of the nineteenth century as an ancient tradition of “pure national” Georgian culture. The article by Harsha Ram provoked a lively exchange between historians and literary scholars, resulting in a forum debating the individual methodological and historical premises of Ram’s study and revisiting our implicit understandings of hybridity, purity, tradition and modernity, imperial and national, nativist and cosmopolitan.
We see cosmopolitanism (reconsidered by Harsha Ram as a communicative attribute of the imperial situation) at work in the “Archive” section of the journal. Sarah Al-Matary publishes recently discovered letters of Jacques Novicow to Gabriel Tarde, telling the story of the imperial situation projected outward. Today, the Odessan merchant Novicow is almost entirely forgotten. Yet, in his own time he was one of the most cited sociologists on the European scene, who played a crucial role in shaping sociology as a discipline and institutionalizing it in France. Novicow’s conscious privileging of his European self-identification as a scholar did not deny his political and intellectual engagement in Russia but changed the “assemblage point” of the imperial situation. His “Russian” background, especially in the Russian reception of Darwinism, colored his perceptions of the notion of the struggle for survival, and privileged Kropotkinian ideas of cooperation and pacifism, whereas his “European” intellectual affiliation informed his political and business activities in Russia. Novicow’s life experience defied the very differentiation between “Europe” and “Russia” that was so fundamental to the majority of entrepreneurs of groupness, cast in terms of homogeneity and distinctive “historical roots.” The “History” section presents the forum “Sociobiological Science in the Early Soviet Union,” dedicated to an attempt to literally normalize and standardize the diversity of the imperial situation through disciplinary practices of psychiatry and social hygiene. At the same time, Soviet practitioners of sociobiological sciences continued to perform as cosmopolitans, playing on the European scientific arena and using their foreign credentials to boost their group domestic agendas. This once again proves that all normalizing and homogenizing impetuses originate in the fundamentally diverse (“cosmopolitan”) environment, and use the resources of the imperial situation to win the day.
The origins of modern scenarios of normalized and standardized society in the seventeenth century are central to the next chapter of the history course “A New Imperial History of Northern Eurasia” published in this issue (Chapter 6, “The Seventeenth Century: Alternative Scenarios, Troubled Times”). The new social, political, and cultural order advanced a more consolidated type of society, but this new consolidation in one sphere came at a cost of tolerating and even institutionalizing diversity in another.
Finally, the “Newest Mythologies” section offers a microhistory of the entrepreneurs of homogeneity at work. Fedor Korandei examines the history of Russian translations of foreign travel books about Siberia in 1860−1880, revealing the politics of omissions and editing aimed at presenting a more “domesticated” vision of Siberia and its inhabitants. This study in some aspects is echoed in the review essay by Xenia Cherkaev, who revisits a series of recent publications on post-Soviet historical memory by Alexander Etkind. Not unlike Korandei, Cherkaev attempts to identify lacunae in Etkind’s reconstruction of Soviet and post-Soviet mnemonic narratives and practices. She claims that the established pattern of omissions reproduces the perestroika-era master narrative of memory that tries to differentiate between the historical responsibility of the Soviet regime (which it acknowledges) and the personal responsibility of individuals acting under this regime (which it ignores).
The search for the new, post-postcolonial language of hybridity, the focus on lacunae and omissions as structuring elements of the narrative, and the discovery of assemblage points even of seemingly homogeneous and nativist cultures in the global (“cosmopolitan”) context are characteristic of most contributions to this issue of Ab Imperio. Going beyond clear-cut binary oppositions of typologies and ideal models helps to deconstruct the hold of mythological thinking with its embedded paradigm of evolving from purity to diversity in historical and social formations.

Editors of Ab Imperio:
I. Gerasimov
S. Glebov
A. Kaplunovski
M. Mogilner
A. Semyonov





From the Editors Making Sense of an Embarrassment of Riches: Discipline or Celebrate? (R&E)

Harsha Ram: The Literary Origins of the Georgian Feast: The Cosmopolitan Poetics of a National Ritual (E)


Paul Manning: Domestication of the Wild Supra
Florian Mühlfried A Taste of Mistrust (E)

Florian Mühlfried: A Taste of Mistrust (E)

Ghia Nodia: The Values of the Georgian Supra: Nationalist or Nativist?
Harriet Murav On the Transnational Imaginary and the Sovereign Power of a Butterfly Wing (E)

Gyan Prakash: Ram, Chatterjee, and the Georgian Feast: Reading the National against the Grain (E)

Harsha Ram: A Feast for Thought (E)



Elena Astafieva, Wladimir Berelowitch Humanities and Social Sciences in the Russian Empire and the USSR: An Unwritten History (E)

Susan Gross Solomon Soviet Social Hygienists and Sexology after the Revolution: Dynamics of “Capture” at Home and Abroad (E)

Grégory Dufaud The Challenge of Physiology: Soviet Psychiatry in the 1930s (R)

Benjamin Zajicek Soviet Madness: Nervousness, Mild Schizophrenia, and the Professional Jurisdiction of Psychiatry in the USSR, 1918–1936 (E)


Sarah Al-Matary Happiness in Struggle: Five Letters of Jacques Novicow to Gabriel Tarde (R)



Chapter 6. The Seventeenth Century: Alternative Scenarios, Troubled Times (R)

Part 1. Transformation of Social Imagination in the Northern Eurasian Societies (R)

Part 2. The Tsardom of Muscovy in Search for “Assemblage Points” (R)


Fedor Korandei “Descriptions of Cities that Are Not of Particular Interest to Russian Readers”: Omissions in Translations of Foreign Travel Books about Siberia (Second Half of the Nineteenth Century) as a Theme for the History of Popular Geographical Knowledge



Xenia Cherkaev On Warped Mourning and Omissions in Post-Soviet Historiography (R)

Alexander Etkind Mourning, Unwarped? (E)


Simon Rabinovitch, Jewish Rights, National Rites: Nationalism and Autonomy in Late Imperial and Revolutionary Russia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2014). 392 pp., ills. Index. ISBN: 978-0-08047-9249-3.
Michail Gaukhman (R)

Andriy Zayarnyuk, Framing the Ukrainian Peasantry in Habsburg Galicia, 1846−1914 (Edmonton and Toronto: CIUS Press, 2013) xxxii + 448 pp. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. ISBN: 978-1-894865-30-2.
Christopher Gilley (E)

Lucien J. Frary and Mara Kozelsky (Eds.), Russian-Ottoman Borderlands: The Eastern Question Reconsidered (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014). ix + 363 pp. Index. ISBN: 978-0-299-29804-3.
Sean Gillen (E)

James Hevia, The Imperial Security State. British Colonial Knowledge and Empire-Building in Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). 304 pp., ills. Bibliography. Index. ISBN:978-0-521-89608-5.
Stanislav Malkin (R)

Sanna Turoma, Brodsky Abroad: Empire, Tourism, Nostalgia (Madison; London: University of Wisconsin Press, 2010). 292 pp. Bibliography. Index. ISBN: 978-0-299-23634-2.
Aimar Ventsel (E)

Aušra Paulauskienė, Lost and Found: The Discovery of Lithuania in American Fiction (Amsterdam and New York: “Rodopi”, 2007). 173 pp. ISBN 978-90-420-2266-9.
Maksim Kirchanov (R)

Dalia Leinarte, Adopting and Remembering Soviet Reality: Life Stories of Lithuanian Women, 1945−1970 (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2010). vi + 234 pp., ills. Index. ISBN: 978-90-420-3062-6.
Diana T. Kudaibergenova (E)

Larisa Fialkova and Maria Yelenevskaya, In Search of the Self: Reconciling the Past and the Present in Immigrants’ Experience (Tartu: ELM Scholarly Press, 2013). 282 pp. Bibliography. ISBN: 978-9949-490-80-6.
Irena Vladimirsky (E)

S. Iu. Malysheva, A. A. Sal'nikova. Mul'tikul'turnost' rossiiskogo regiona kak (de)stabiliziruiushchii faktor istoricheskogo razvitiia (Srednee Povolzh'e XIX – nachala XX vv.): Uchebnoe posobie. Kazan': Izd-vo “IaZ”, 2013. 272 s. ISBN: 978-5-904449-82-7.
Denis Dokuchaev (R)

A. V. Sveshnikov. Peterburgskaia shkola medievistov nachala XX veka. Popytka antropologicheskogo analiza nauchnogo soobshchestva. Omsk, 2010. 408 s. ISBN: 978-5-7779-1197-1.
Stanislav Alekseev (R)

1000 rokiv ukraїns'koї pechatki. Katalog vistavki. 24 travnia – 15 listopada 2013 r. (1000 Years of Ukrainian Seal. Exhibition Catalogue. 24 May – 15 November 2013) / Upor. Iu. K. Savchuk. Kiїv, 2013. 504 c. ISBN: 978-966-02-7024-4.
Nikita Khrapunov (R)

List of Contributors

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