Russia Reviewed Monthly, July 2019

Blog news

First things first – blogging was done this month

Even if it was just updates from the Workshop – first, second, third, and fourth weeks here.

***

A reminder that because I’m waist-deep in the Workshop, I will have to postpone several releases.

Initially I thought I’d have enough spare time during the Workshop to stay on schedule with blogging. How wrong I was.

A summary of the changes:

  • 2019 Summer Series “Familiar Fictionalized Faces” will be postponed to Fall 2019. Month TBD.
  • A planned response to Drozdova and Robinson’s “A Study of Vladimir Putin’s Rhetoric” will be published in early August.
  • I do not know what will become of the pushback post to “autocrat specialists” and the expat commentary (see last month’s bulletin). Although I’d like to write both, I don’t know where to fit them in.

***

То, что я успела прочитать в прошлом месяце.

The Maciste Films of Italian Silent Cinema by Jacqueline Reich (Indiana University Press, 2015)

Политшансон by Vsevolod Emelin (ИЛ-music, 2014)

Thank you for reminding me why I don’t read overtly political poetry.

Socialist Fun: Youth, Consumption, and State-Sponsored Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1945–1970 by Gleb Tsipursky (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016)

Здесь живу только я by Aleksandr Pelevin (Пятый Рим, 2016)

Nobody told me there was another Pelevin.

Nobody told me he was this entertaining.

Language and translation

Russian Coach’s tips for making the most of your trip to a Russian-speaking country. Standouts for this reader included: Don’t go with a group of people from home

Traveling is more fun when you do it with friends, but if you travel with friends, even with Russian speaking ones (unless Russian is the only common language of the group), you will be speaking in your language with them all the time. Especially if you are not the extrovert of the group, the extrovert will handle the conversations with the outer world to get by and you will go back home without speaking much. This includes too much social media. Feeling a bit lonely is good. It will force you to interact with local people.

(This was a major problem with the student clique in Petersburg, by the way)

…And enroll in non-language related classes, where your peers will be locals.

I once went to St. Petersburg State University language school for three weeks. Don’t get me wrong. It was a fantastic language school. But being there for only three weeks, the classes were merely repetitions of what I have studied at home, not a lot of new things. Besides, Russian classes are not the best places to make friends with Russians. One of my friends took dancing classes in Russia. When he came back after only a week, I could observe the leap in his speaking.

New discoveries

If this is how wolves write, then we need more of them in the world.

***

Article on ethnic nicknames/monikers as indicators of interethnic relations (in Russian). Sketchy.

***

I read a scholarly article about the proliferation of Putin-Trump slashfiction during and after the 2016 presidential election, and I have crossed the Rubicon.

I’m not even going to link to the effing article – it is bad enough that it exists, and worse still that I finished it.

***

She’s in Russia, but not reporting on it

After two years, the podcast She’s in Russia has gone on an undefined hiatus.

It would be a bit of a stretch to call me a fan of the podcast, but I’m nevertheless sad to see them pause/go. It was nice for once to have a pair of ordinary young people – not careerists, opportunists, or Old Guard affiliates – discuss Russian affairs. In many regards they hit the nail on the head as to why smaller content creators tend to drift away: encroaching monotony, fatigue, diminishing returns on your project, even changes in one’s personal life. We get bored, frustrated with a lack of views; we run out of things to say. Multiple mutually-citing sources estimate the average blog lasts a mere 100 days. The life expectancy of a podcast is unknown, though I suspect two years is also no small number for one.

Again I must ask whether Russia itself had anything to do with hiatus. Or rather, a pair of outsiders’ weariness with Russia’s perceived inability to change for the better (that “better” being circumscribed by their American political persuasions). This pattern repeats, again and again: beacons of more or less independent Russia-related content flare up, burn bright, and within a few years, they’ve all but flickered out, like candles.

Honestly, it’s still too early to say SIR has joined the likes of A Good Treaty, Poemless, Putinania, Russia Monitor, UCG’s Blog, Ivanov Report, ROPV, Russia Watchers, and Siberian Light. However, the domain name for SIR’s site appears to have expired, and nobody has attempted to renew, so that’s not a good sign.

Commentary

Even with three years of blogging for an audience under my belt, I still on occasion write things even I don’t fully understand.

Some time ago a dream was dreamed of enrolling at a Russian university. Not merely as an attempt to circumvent the exorbitant cost of graduate education in the U.S. (a sad but true fact which I am unashamed to admit), but out of genuine curiosity about the experience.

The dream was quickly buried under a pile of doubts. What program? How would I pay for my living arrangements and tuition, to say nothing of airfare? Could someone leap from the American to Russian system and stick the landing? Would the resulting degree be recognized by institutions back home? Would potential employers stigmatize it? Would family, friends, and peers try to distance themselves, knowing I had studied at “the enemy’s university?”

But it appears this dream is making the rounds again, in watered-down form, spurred by newfound confidence and bursts of idle thought between classes.

Has an ill-formed idea ever haunted you the same way?

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13 comments

  1. Re: “Article on ethnic nicknames/monikers as indicators of interethnic relations (in Russian).”

    This article is very mid-2000s produced by the philosophers. Not anthropologists, ethno-linguists, sociologists and/or philologists. By the philosophers.

    While the article captures the zeitgeist of certain intellectual current of mid-2000s (a time in Russia that was far from easy and calm, but not as disastrous as the “Holy Democratic 90s”), its pure scientific value is questionable. What the article does, is listing some of the “pseudoethnonims”. That’s it. That’s the only thing of some value that the article does – it introduces unaware person to the existence of (some) mean names for ethnicities.

    The article at the same time does not show how much in use (and by what categories of the people) these “call-words” are in, well, use. Meaning – it lists some rare or defunct “pseudoethnonims” along with more widespread, not bothering to explain the methodology which drove the author to compile his list in this particular way. There is no any “big data analysis” of particular words usage be it in the Media, fiction, Internet, conversation, official documentation etc.

    E.g.: the article lists as “pseudoethnonim” covering Caucasus ethnicities such words as “zerbud”, “the face of Kavkaz nationality” and “khach” among others. I’m not an august head of Barnaul’s Uni philosiphy department, but, surely, the fact of me being Russian from Russia (resident of Russia), with wide ranging life experience, moderately well-travelled and who served in our Armed forces, I might have some important corrections and comments, worth noticing. Lets start from the beginning – it is no “zerbud”, it is, Highly Likely ™, “(azer)boht” – a sobriquet for the Azeris from Azerbaijan, more likely to be heard from ethnic Armenians (due to well understood reasons). Next – “khach”, actually, derives from the Armenian word meaning “cross/crucifix” (sidenote – ask yourself about origins of the Russian term for the peasant, i.e. “крестьянин”). The article does not expound on the words origin and history, i.e. how it came into use long, long before mid-2000s zeitgeist, due to the need from the Imperial Russia’s time to make distinguish among the Christian and Muslim people of Caucasus. Finally, the term “faces (persons) of Kavkaz nationality” is not even “pseudoethnonim” – its an official Soviet militsiya protocol designation which appeared c. in 1980s, and came under the scrutiny of the shy and conscientious Soviet intelligentsia in 1988 via article in the Ogonyok magazine – a trumpet of Perestroika sensibilities.

    As one can see, into one and the same “bowl” the author of the article threw with abandon: A) Incorrect “pseudoethnonim” (“zerbud” instead of “(azer)boht”). B) Old-timey term that under vagaries of changed societal being mutated as well (the article does not tell – why and how). C) The official designation, that was still more popular with the officials and Media, compared to the general population.

    That’s not viable research. That’s not a science. That’s someone being lazy-ass and hype-eater.

    In late 1980s there appeared EngLang short vocabulary of Russian phrases, which irrevocably mind-violated throngs of amateur Russia-watchers into believing, that the strongest possible (or even – just possible) Russian swear phrase was nekulturny.

    Still, to this day, you are bound to have authors trying to “inject authentic Russian culture” ™ into their cardboard characters performing at the plot-holes ridden badly research background by their use of the ubiquitous “nekulturny” nearly as often as of “nazdoroffye” after each toast of vodka.

    Well, maybe it was all for the better and helped GRU and FSB catch Western spies (taught under “nekulturny” doctrine) pretending to be Russians and failing in such small detail. So, at the great risk of (possibly) harming my own country’s defenses against future Western agents attempts of infiltration, I have to say the following. Dear Americans! We, in Russia, does not call you «америкус», «штатник» or «юс» as the article might have you believe. Never called you like that in fact – not now, not in the past, not during mid 2000s zeitgeist captured in the article. We call you “пиндосы”. Thank you for your time.

    The really sad thing is that there’s no defense against such “expert” articles about “real Russia”. Suppose, this article somehow finds a foreign, Westerner reader who can read and understand Russian. Just by the virtue of the article’s impressive “tutelage” (i.e. published by the department head of the University) and general nonexistence of the informational immune system of that reader (due to general lack of ANY first hand/reliable knowledge about Russia past or present) it is Highly Likely ™ that contents would be consumed and digested uncritically, and then serve as a foundation of the “Knowledge of Russia”. Besides, the article already feeds into the vaguest and voguest (negative) preconceptions about Russia. Same person, who’d casually call Canada “Canuckistan” populated by “moose-ridin’ maple syrup drinkin’” puns of all possible jokes, would, at the same time, sigh with indignation at Russia (and the Russians) “dehumanization” of other ethnicities. Russians – they are totally Not Like You. They are different. They are bigots. Here’s a scientific article to prove it, although the reader has no means to apply scientific method to verify its findings. Thus said reader has to believe into its contents. Believe religiously, because – what else to do?

    Like

    • All is well and good with the breakdown of this article and why it is questionable at best.

      But if you prefer that it be removed from the bulletin, you could tell me. Directly.

      Like

      • “But if you prefer that it be removed from the bulletin, you could tell me. Directly.”

        REMOVE it? No, no! Of course not. J.T., I’d never ever told you what to add/remove pieces of content in your blogging. I think the article at the very least is… stimulating. It stimulates debate, for one. It serves as an example (mostly of how not to do things). I’m also open to the possibility that it would stimulate someone to defend it – which would in turn stimulate me to response to this apologia. Articles like this one are important not to turn anything into an echo-chamber – but to illustrate, what methods create echo-chambers in the first place.

        Banning something outright or pretend it does not exist? No way. As the old pirate saying goes: “If life gives you cannons – make a cannonade!” 🙂

        I only have one question though – did you encounter this article via official recomendations via the people in charge of your intense language courses? Because, honestly, I can’t really imagine how one can “chance” upon this article (in CyberLeninka to boot!) without outside recomendation(s)/assignment.

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        • Oh! Sorry! It appears we had a misunderstanding.

          No, this article wasn’t recommended to me by the people at SLW – I indeed stumbled upon it in CyberLeninka while searching for something else.

          Trust me, I’m in no position to defend it given my limited knowledge on the subject matter. It also “helps” that because of SLW, I’ve been running on 48% power…can barely lift a finger to type anything that isn’t аннотации, сочинения or new Anki flashcards…

          Like

        • BTW, I wonder whether the recurring “remove and forget” phenomenon on this blog is actually a biproduct of American political correctness culture, i.e.:

          >Don’t wanna offend anybody
          >Unintentionally offends somebody
          >Destroy the source of offense

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  2. TBH I’m not going to miss She’s in Russia. Could say I wasn’t too impressed with the take. Though I will hand it to them that their sphere of interest was broader than that of the average ruspol blog or pod.

    Like

    • At first, I didn’t want to comment on “passing” of SiR podcast. I already expressed my attitude towards the “creative team” and content they produced beneath another “monthly recap” here on RR.

      Two things inspired me to break my silence. First – Elle’s comment above. Turns out I’m not the only one here with “unpopular opinion”. Second – this:

      “Jennifer Wilson:
      …Something I’ve been enjoying this year is a podcast called She’s in Russia, and it’s by these two best friends, and one lives in St. Petersburg, and the other lives in Brooklyn. Each episode is about something completely different. One was about an American horse trainer living in a Russian forest. Another was just about Russian cafeteria food. One was about the concept of race in Russia. One of the things that I really like about the podcast is that it’s so motivated by curiosity and you can hear them learning and thinking out loud. They’re so open to guessing, trying to figure out why things are the way they are. I find work like that very refreshing. Work that is not so concerned about how it’s going to be metabolized in the mediasphere as it relates to Russia.

      Julia Phillips:
      I love this. I want to listen to this podcast! I really couldn’t agree more, Jenn.”

      […]

      *Siiiiiiiigh*

      […]

      Now, I’d call upon your powers of imagination and a tad bit of personal honesty. Imagine two ordinary kids (i.e. pre-teens) – like yourself and your best friend. Imagine them having a conversation about “the world”. It would be very… peculiar conversation:

      Q: “What are the stars?”
      A: “Tiny holes in the sky, through which the Real Sun is shining”

      Q: “What will happen if you eat a tree leaf?”
      A: “A little frog will start growing on your tongue”

      Q: “Who invented the wheel?”
      A: “My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-parents, of course!”

      And the adults can’t help by going “Ahwwww, how cute!” at these kids.

      This is literally the intellectual level of SiR, done by two (nominal) adults, at least of whom also has a University diploma by now.

      For, you see, kids don’t really know a thing about the world for sure, yet they compensate it with conviction and stubbornness. Their still developing minds are not even salad bowls of dibs and drabs of knowledge (over)/(mis)heard somewhere, opinions of their parents or teachers, sensationalist things acquired from the Net/TV. It is not even a “salad”, because “salad” presupposes some, even basic, efforts to prepare a dish out of chosen ingredients. In their mind bowls though are thrown un-washed and un-cut veggies of dubious provenance, then this is “dish” is presented to everyone’s judgment as some kind of mighty culinary achievement. Presented, needless to say, without even an ounce of salt.

      There is an intellectual Abyss instead of knowledge about Russia (past and present) in the West. The Enlightened Western Public ™ simply doesn’t know a lot about Russia. SUDDENLY (c. in late 2016), they felt an urge to learn something about Russia and the Russians and how to utterly destroy dem bastards. In the dreary landscape of Russia-watching they encounter SiR podcast – which instead of providing reliable data, provides… intellectual nothing. Such content fails to satisfy both the throngs of born again Russophobes and those few who really just want to learn about Russia, furthering their knowledge about he humanity and world at large.

      That’s btw is also the “moral of the story” of that “LA Review of the Books” conversation – professional (i.e. paid for their work) Russia watchers are dismayed, that the newfound interest in Russia tries to weaponise their field. It could be argued how much they are dismayed because of the lack of basic ethics in the act of such weaponisation, or because they feel “left out” (there is only as much use for spinning your expertise in Gogol’s “Dead Souls”, to recast yourself as someone who will help the adorable masses to “understand” Putinand survive in the “Age of Trump”) by the mainstream. In short – it’s about money. The wave of Russophrenia did not benefit a significant number of the people, who ought to be the beneficiaries of such newfound interest.

      P.S. Who are you, Elle?

      Like

      • Re: She’s in Russia.

        Call it sympathy, not sadness, then. SIR may not have been the most well-structured podcast. Argumentation may have been sloppy due to both hosts (and their local friends) being of the same political persuasion, and thus not having to explain their POV too much. Their takeaways from Soviet socialist realist art may have been eyeroll-inducing. I definitely understand how someone might not find SIR intellectually stimulating (indeed I drifted away relatively quickly). But the show at least tried to distance itself from the opportunists and the Old Guard.

        What should they have done? How should they have conducted their podcast, to make a positive intellectual impact? One of the hosts was already living in Petersburg, and you would think that lived experience would add some depth to it…

        Also – it’s not fair to call them nominal adults. A nominal adult is the beginning Russian student who, upon arriving in Petersburg, becomes obsessed with finding Russian translations to all their favorite English swears and raunchy words and tries their damnedest to insert them into daily speech, much to the chagrin of instructors and classmates alike. The nominal adult complains to their temporary friends in Токио-сити about how they don’t understand how anything works in Russia while the adult goes out and learns informal names for Petersburg locales almost exclusively through street conversations 😉

        I am too forgiving. I am too forgiving of mediocrity. But when the selection of Russia-related media is as abysmal as it is, you must make do with what you have.

        Re: The LARB story.

        I came away with a different “moral,” especially after the initial period of “Wow! Thanks!” wore off. Anthony Burgess knows better than I do that:

        Reviews are mainly intended to provide immediate information about new novels: they are done quickly and are subject to the limitations of space; they not infrequently make hasty judgments that are later regretted. (source)

        ^Just replace “novels” with “articles” and you’re set.

        A snippet from my draft post on Literature in a Time of Collusion, which will probably be altered before final release.

        Even a culture writer inevitably will gravitate toward those voices which are most compatible with their political views. We like to feel safe and validated, to know that our convictions are also held beyond our borders. So we amplify those voices, irregardless of how representative they are of sentiment in their home country.

        I am not saying that these perspectives shouldn’t be brought into the conversation. I just question what delivering #ЯНеБоюсьСказать and Russian nonbinary gender identities to an audience already saturated with such trending topics truly accomplishes.

        During the Cold War, public intellectuals also gravitated toward those Soviet (dissident) voices which overlapped with U.S. attitudes towards democracy, freedom of expression, the artist versus the state, and so forth. You denounce Cold War practices. But how is your project any different?

        You’re still playing a political game – just not by Washington or the mass media’s rules this time.

        The moral of the story is that American writing about Russia is doomed to be extractive and exploitative. No group is safe. If the men and women in Washington are talking, we’ll get stories of atrocities, corruption, or daring resistance to the state to the detriment of all others. And if it’s the cohort of privileged thinkers in New York…

        Like

        • “What should they have done? How should they have conducted their podcast, to make a positive intellectual impact? One of the hosts was already living in Petersburg, and you would think that lived experience would add some depth to it…”

          Understanding full well, that, probably, I was never among their intended audience, here’s several suggestions:

          1) Talk shop, i.e. have a podcast with themes connected to their professional expertise (whatever it is…). This way there is a high probability of actually knowing what you are talking about, which gives you an opportunity to share that with the rest, plus, you’d attract others from your “craft”.

          2) Make it “comparative slice of life” podcast, comparing ordinary, yet vitally important differences of ordinary day to day life in St. Pete as compared to NY. What is it like to shop for groceries in “Diksy” or “Piatyorochka” as compared to your typical convenient store in the US? St. Pete has its own underground metro system – how it compares to the one in NY? What Russians are wearing depending on season (hint – that’s an opportunity to disprove some clichés). Btw – there were several podcasts that did exactly that, e.g. the one describing a short jaunt to Vyborg.

          3) In display of blatant honesty, make it all about promoting your own business, instead of sneak posting an ad link one in a while after (some of) podcasts.

          “Also – it’s not fair to call them nominal adults. A nominal adult is the beginning Russian student who, upon arriving in Petersburg, becomes obsessed with finding Russian translations to all their favorite English swears and raunchy words and tries their damnedest to insert them into daily speech, much to the chagrin of instructors and classmates alike…”

          That’s a number of… very specific examples, J.T. 🙂 To which I will reply by producing a trump card – at least this is not in the same “didn’t think it through” league of veeeery risky moves as participating in pro-Navalny protest rally while being a foreign student on foreign student visa. A date in their birth certificate/official papers makes them legally adult. But “maturity” is too sublime a concept to be governed by the paperwork.

          “I am too forgiving. I am too forgiving of mediocrity.”

          Which is both amazing for you (given how you are too unforgiving to yourself)… and humbling for me.

          “A snippet from my draft post on Literature in a Time of Collusion, which will probably be altered before final release…”

          I completely agree with your conclusions J.T., as they say here in RuNet – ППКС. Reading that LARB article I could not help but imagine their complaint as a “Bees Against Honey!” political rally. I also noticed, after second reading, one important detail – there is no conversation among the 4 of them. Each of them talks past others, voicing her pet peeve. Each of them “unburdens the soul”, but I don’t think that it was really a “conversation”, given that’s unlikely that they agreed on anything or accepted each other’s points. But, hey! I’m a notorious pessimist realist, surely I’m just biased against members of the creative class venting some steam off and complaining about the Tough Life.

          Like

          • 1) Talk shop, i.e. have a podcast with themes connected to their professional expertise (whatever it is…). This way there is a high probability of actually knowing what you are talking about, which gives you an opportunity to share that with the rest, plus, you’d attract others from your “craft”.

            If I’m not mistaken, one of them graduated with degrees in Russian and Women’s/Gender/Sexuality Studies, and works in marketing in Russia.

            Did you really want to hear entire episodes about androgyny in Soviet socialist realist art? Or that Fortochka popup?

            2) Make it “comparative slice of life” podcast, comparing ordinary, yet vitally important differences of ordinary day to day life in St. Pete as compared to NY.

            So, do for Petersburg what Sergei Baklykov did for Ufa – until he took on a bunch of sponsorships and moved to Piter. It’s admittedly been a few years since I watched anything on his Youtube channel, but I remember it was there that I first saw the interior of a Diksi, learned about Sabantuy and Day of the First Former, and “visited” a typical dacha and handicrafts festival on the ground floor of a fast food restaurant.

            That’s a number of… very specific examples, J.T. …

            You could say the kvetchin’ mill re “The Adventures of J.T.’s Compatriots in the Land of the Russes” runs even to this day.

            I do agree participating in a pro-Navalny rally as a foreign student is a stupid move, though.

            Two more things we must consider re: SIR;

            -The political Russia podcast is well-trodden ground by this point. You’ve got Kevin Rothrock’s The Russia Guy, RFE/RL’s Power Vertical, (sometimes) SRB, mayyyybe New Books Russia/Eurasia…

            -The market. Relentless; favors opportunists who can riff current events and churn out content quickly – one thing that the LARB culture writers got right.

            Like

            • “If I’m not mistaken, one of them graduated with degrees in Russian and Women’s/Gender/Sexuality Studies, and works in marketing in Russia.”

              […]

              Wow. Didn’t know that.

              Well, I’m shocked (shocked, I say!) that said individual now engages in base and vulgar pursuit instead of furthering the global knowledge of humanity about itself and the objective reality that surrounds us! How come that in the uber-progressive and cosmopolitan city of New York, one can’t find a sinecure well-paid job based on carrying on, uh… “Russian and Women’s/Gender/Sexuality Studies”…, and, instead, have to become a (literal) rag merchant? Oh, the cruel world! /s

              On the serious note – well, nothing could be done here in this, ah, “department”. Which only shows the limitations of the people behind SiR podcast in their capacity to create a really valuable content.

              “So, do for Petersburg what Sergei Baklykov did for Ufa – until he took on a bunch of sponsorships and moved to Piter.”

              Yeah, why not? If nothing else, it would serve to disprove the most egregious of myths and stereotypes about Russia, like (and I’m not joking here) that because Russia is a “dictatorship, like China” (c), then the locals don’t have access to YouTube. Baby steps in furthering general populace’s knowledge about the “Inimical Other”, but still – a true progress!

              “The market. Relentless; favors opportunists who can riff current events and churn out content quickly”

              […]

              That’s the essence of the “market competition” between various Russia-watching outlets. Not to improve quality of the content (so they would look better and more credible compared to others) but, instead, increase the quantity riding one wave of “Russian panic” after another.

              Like

  3. studying at a Russian university doesn’t have to be a pipe dream. it can be realized. only you need to ask yourself: is your body ready for the paperwork?

    But I dunno, actually.

    Like

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