Scholarly article on topic 'Literature and the Russian cultural code at the beginning of the 21st century'

Literature and the Russian cultural code at the beginning of the 21st century Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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Journal of Eurasian Studies
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{"The Russian literature" / "A cultural code" / "Historical memory" / "National identity" / "Socialist realism" / "Mythogenic aesthetics"}

Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Mikhail Goloubkov

Abstract In the article the role of Russian literature at the beginning of the twenty first century is looked over. The loss of the literature-centricity in Russian culture occurred almost right after wreck of the USSR. So literature now has lost functions which were traditional for it during three last ages. Russian literature formed a national cultural code and formed a manner to feel and think, which did characterize Russian person. The Russian literature accumulated Historical Memory and National Identity, was a form of historical socialization. Also Socialist Realism is looked over as a mythogenic aesthetics.

Academic research paper on topic "Literature and the Russian cultural code at the beginning of the 21st century"

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Literature and the Russian cultural code at the beginning of the 21st century

Mikhail Goloubkov

Department of Russian Literature of the Twentieth Century, Faculty of Philology, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russia


In the article the role of Russian literature at the beginning of the twenty first century is looked over. The loss of the literature-centricity in Russian culture occurred almost right after wreck of the USSR. So literature now has lost functions which were traditional for it during three last ages. Russian literature formed a national cultural code and formed a manner to feel and think, which did characterize Russian person. The Russian literature accumulated Historical Memory and National Identity, was a form of historical socialization. Also Socialist Realism is looked over as a mythogenic aesthetics.

Copyright © 2012, Asia-Pacific Research Center, Hanyang University. Production and

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Article history: Received 13 August 2011 Accepted 7 February 2012


The Russian literature A cultural code Historical memory National identity Socialist realism Mythogenic aesthetics

1. Cultural vacuum as a factor of the modern time

The feeling of an ideological and even a cultural vacuum is becoming one of the dominants in the consciousness (and subconsciousness) of the modern society. Having appeared a long time ago, about one and a half decades, it is not weakening, but, on the contrary, is getting even stronger. This feeling is also shared by individuals, whose life goals, as a rule, are merely personal and limited by their families, private relationships or, at best, career ambitions in a company, firm, bureau or office. These things are certainly not enough: the life perspectives awaiting an individual who belongs to "the office plankton" don't seem to be satisfactory for a person who has the ability to think.

This vacuum is felt by a class of politicians as well, who over the last ten years or so have been from time to time seeking "the Russian idea" that would be shared by the whole society and be its guideline in the historic space. In other words, there exists a vacuum of ideas and concepts of what our national identity is and what it is formed by that is felt by all the strata in our society. In addition, there is a vacuum of ideology that could determine the character of the historic path that has been passed, our current place in the national-historic space and the long-term as well as short-term perspectives standing before a modern man and society as a whole.

Today, we are so much afraid of the very concept of ideology - the fear of the only true "Marxist and Leninist ideology" risks becoming genetic and inherited by the future generations. Meanwhile, the lack of an idea (or a set of reflected ideas, i.e. an ideology) is the lack of a comprehensible historic perspective. If one ideology collapsed, does that mean that no other common ideology that could unite people and organize a society for finding historic perspectives could exist? It seems that the very idea of its formation doesn't occur in the corridors of power.

And what can the present-day political elite thinking primarily in economic terms offer an individual and

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society? Some innovations limited to the total computerization of schools? (And are they so really necessary everywhere and always? Won't this rush for innovations at all costs in such traditionally conservative areas as, for example, education become a mindless destruction of what has been accumulated by the Russian school over the last three decades). The development of nanotechnology? With all the significance of these objectives they are unlikely to be of crucial social importance.

This, let us call it, mental vacuum is aggravated by TV whose influence on the consciousness of our contemporaries has become truly limitless. Its catastrophically low level that makes people blunt and the absence of political and analytical programs make the picture of cultural and ideological vacuum even worse. The Russian (and, perhaps, the world) mass-media are not even aimed at the formation and articulation of some socially and nationally important ideas.

2. A literary character in the ontological depression

Are the modern literature and the writers aware of this ideological vacuum, which can become ontological, that we are talking about? Is it articulated by the critics?

Strictly speaking, it is much more difficult to realize the absence of something than to state its presence. The lack of a national historical and ideological perspective seems to have become a common phenomenon that doesn't require any realization and interpretation. However, it has been at least reflected, if not realized and interpreted, by the modern literature. The problems raised by Y. Polyakov in his novel "The Mushroom Tsar" are in many ways determined by the emptiness of life experienced by every modern man, whether he is the owner of a small business, a former military man or a student, who has at least the slightest ability to think.

The plot of the novel is a kind of game. One day a director of the firm "SANTECHCOMFORT", selling sanitary equipment - fashionable toilets in the first place (such an ironic detail), - who is quite a respectable man by the modern standards (he is divorced and lives alone, he has a young lover and takes care of his ne'er-do-well daughter who is a student willingly extending her stay at the institute by compensating her poor academic results with generous sponsor contributions), wakes up in the morning in a company of two prostitutes and tries to understand the consequences for his health of the nocturnal adventures. A respectable and successful man, neither a villain nor a hypocrite, such a character may be perceived very positively, but only in modern times (just imagine how Igor Dedkov, a critic of the 1960s, would have reacted upon such a character, if only he had read this novel of the first decade of the 21st century!).

The plot of the novel is a widening gap between the outer well-being of the main character, Mikhail Dmi-trievich Svirelnikov (solid business, lack of private and other debts, complete material independence) and the oppressive feeling of deathly emptiness that fills his life. The character is able to recognize that his relationship with daughter is off, he has neither love that is replaced by "a relationship", nor true occupation - apart from the

toilets. Instead, he has got money that becomes the embodiment of emptiness: it buys the surrogates of love, friendship and communication. How far he is from the superhuman ideas, involvement into the national life or at least some participation in it!

The novel begins with a nearly Kafkaesque dream in which the main character gathers mushrooms, wonderful and beautiful, but after breaking one he discovers that it is rotten inside, with tiny black vipers swarming and wriggling inside instead of the ordinary yellow larvae. Awakening became a greater nightmare: choking with disgust and pain, the character pulled his sweater off and saw that many vipers had mysteriously migrated to his body and dug the gray winding tunnels under his left nipple - and after that the character found himself in the company of two prostitutes waiting for the pay. The metaphor of the dead flesh and rot is realized at the level of the detective plot of the novel: after having found that he is spied upon, the main character asks his security service to carry out an investigation suspecting his wife and her lover, his former colleague and a friend of the planning of a murder, and prepares a response of the corresponding character. Poly-akov shows a subtle and devastating destruction of some primordial moral foundations of human life: to save himself and his business the main character orders the murder of his ex-wife and it is only the efficient work of the security service that prevents the crime from happening -his wife doesn't appear to be preparing any crime against Svirelnikov, the only thing she wants is to appropriate a half of her ex-husband's business - indeed, a fair claim!

The novel has a circle composition: the nightmare of picking mushrooms repeats at the end, but in a real life. From a mobile phone call Mikhail Dmitrievich learns that the murder didn't take place and gets a great relief, akin to intoxication, "that sudden good weakness which comes down, if you drink a glass of vodka on an empty stomach". The reader begins to hope that at this moment the character will feel a revival of the genuine in himself, but no, Polyakov ruthlessly realizes the metaphor of carrion and decay, with which the novel begins. The character thanks the Mushroom Tsar, a huge and beautiful mushroom, which, as it seems to him, saved him from a crime, "Mikhail turned his head with difficulty and looking gratefully at his rescuer gently stroked its cold and wet, like a marine animal's skin, cap:

- Thank you!

From this light touch Erlkönig trembled, leaned and fell apart becoming a disgusting heap of slime infested with big yellow worms.".

Alas, the life of the character, a very modern and plunged into the socio-historical, psychological and mental environment of the mid-2000s, has no basis other than the money coming from imported toilets. In fact, having all the components of the present-day gentleman's set (a good car, a lot of money, an ardent lover, contacts with people from the middle and upper bureaucratic hierarchy, without which a business won't work), the character has nothing else but money (a half of which can be grabbed by the ex-wife and her lover). Money and groveling allow him to buy bureaucrats, a young mistress and his daughter, whom he generously endows and gets snorts in response ...

Emptiness creeping over the character could be overcome with the help of something genuine, such as a meeting with the Mushroom Tsar, the legend about whom is brought from childhood, but he, as we know, turns out to be rotten as well..

A similar situation is also reflected the novel "Asphalt" by E. Grishkovets. Generally speaking, this writer has showed in his works of recent years (perhaps unintentionally) a true existential emptiness of people who are thirty-forty years old today. This generation is involved in the pursuit of some phantoms (success, career, compulsory relocation to Moscow if you were not lucky to be born here, a trip to Paris, spending evenings in sushi bars, wasting hours in Moscow traffic jams), which are, in fact, nothing but a curtain hiding emptiness, a drapery of "Nothing" in its existential sense. A pursuit of fetishes takes all their life energy, the mirages are close and seem to be achievable, but as soon as they dissolve in the air we see that Grish-kovets' character is an unhappy and ruined man. In such minutes, he has only one desire, which is, in fact, quite understandable - to get well drunk, which he realizes.

The character depicted in "Asphalt" is a successful businessman who has nothing real in his life either, apart from his business, albeit more respectable than that of Polyakov's character: he does not sell foreign toilets, but makes road signs by request of the traffic police, and this activity brings him satisfaction financial as well as moral: he finds this activity socially important, perceives signs as an artist, as a creative person, and finds quite well-grounded reasons to conduct philosophical talks about them. In all other respects the character's life looks respectable as much as random. Random friends with whom he goes to the gym twice a week and after that drinks some colorless, tasteless and health-giving tea, even though all the three of them would prefer to smoke instead. What he has in common with friends (who usually are nothing more than just acquaintances) is the lack of life goals and interests, which are substituted by the gym, visits to restaurants, sushi bars and other places of that sort.

Grishkovets masterfully weaves the plot of the novel which is based on the character's collision with the genuine, the real, which, however, does not lead to any development of events apart from the realized desire to get well drunk. And the first such event is the death of the once very important person, the sister of a Moscow friend who supported Misha when he was making his first steps in Moscow. The character is lost and is trying to find an explanation for her absurd suicide, rushing from the investigator to a friend, from the friend to his wife, trying to find grounds ... but can't find any. In such a way Grishko-vets puts the first trap to the reader's expectations. The reader is waiting for the development of the detective story, but it doesn't develop until the middle of the novel, and then loses its sharpness and urgency. But closer to the end another detective story appears unexpectedly, with some criminal personalities posing danger to Misha, but this story, too, ends abruptly without having developed. Relations in the family could become a mainstay of the plot with the wife's outbreak of unmotivated jealousy, but even here everything settles down pretty soon. And what to do

with the children and what to say to them on Sundays -Misha doesn't know this either.

The plot of this novel tries to start a few times, but it doesn't manage to - no foundation. What should it be based on - the gym or the bath-house? Emptiness.

The story "The Healing Power of Sleep" by Grishkovets depicts the comical effect of the illusiveness of the present-day life: the character, immersed in the rush work of the office plankton, suffers from a chronic lack of sleep. He falls asleep in a Moscow traffic jam, at least for a moment until the car standing ahead is off, at a meeting with the bosses . Being sent on a business trip to Paris, he makes a plan of a night city tour (he has no other time), calls a taxi ... and falls asleep! Paris gives the most important thing to him, which he couldn't get in the avid and bustling Moscow: sleep! Joy and success come to the character after a happy night in Paris when he was sleeping sweetly - and nothing else . Sleep becoming a reality? In essence, the phenomenon is indeed very important and necessary, but is it enough? Alas, the character hasn't got an idea for what he goes to Paris. Neither do the overwhelming majority of Russians, who go to Moscow and abroad - for tourism, rest and work.

3. Historical memory and national identity

Meanwhile, this idea is truly needed. It can be named differently: the Russian idea, the national idea or the state ideology. It is to be aimed at making people, belonging to one nation and living in one country, united on the basis of transpersonal goals and interests, which is the only thing that could be opposed to the atomization of society and the transformation of the most promising part of it, the young, into the inane office plankton, the endless "managers" who inhabit large cities, and Moscow in the first place, and who have no true occupation or the perspective of getting it.

What sort of foundation should a universal national idea be based on? First of all, on a revival of the historical memory as an integral part of a man's daily life. In his/her daily life a modern Russian can and should feel as an heir to the millennial cultural and historical tradition.

Second, a modern man, like people in all times, needs to understand the historical objective of the Russian civilization existence and his/her personal involvement into achieving that objective. Only in this case can a person feel as a part of society and a citizen of a country.

Indeed, what unites Russian people, albeit disintegrated, disoriented in the cultural-historical, social and existen-tial-ontological space and often unable to go beyond their immediate social and domestic environment, in the first decade of the twenty-first century? In essence, two things: the language and the common millennial history. Learning mother tongue requires little effort from an individual, who absorbs it with his or her mother's milk, while learning history and culture requires significant work - from an individual, during his young years as well as throughout the whole life, as well as from the immediate social environment where an individual grows up and from school, where an individual spends the first ten (now - eleven) years of his conscious life. And while school gives some information on the Russian history, culture and literature

and they do exist (for some time) in the mind of a graduate, the office-managerial (or even better the bureaucratic-administrational) life of an individual has nothing to do with humanitarian knowledge given at school and at university. Thus, an individual by his thirties, entering adulthood, doesn't feel as a citizen of his country, but as a manager and a clerk, serving (if you are lucky to get a good job) the interests of transnational monopolies. Alas, this is the way the present-day economy works, which determines how social structures are organized and how social processes happen. We venture to suggest that this arrangement of things is not the only right one. On the contrary, not only does it ignore the historical perspectives of the Russian civilization and statehood, but goes against them.

To begin with, the core principles of building relations, that have been formed in the national social and domestic life for centuries, are undermined: the cult of an individual success would never dominate in the community (collec-tivist, cathedral) consciousness, where a word of honor and honesty were a priori far more important than the financial solvency and determined how an individual was evaluated, where cleanliness prevailed over uncleanliness and where a taboo on a handshake with a person existed, when honor was valued much higher than one's own life.

A question arises: if these traits, once rooted in the national mentality, have disappeared forever, how can we know about their existence in former times and how can we judge them? What sort of mythology of a former wonderful life is opposed to the current environment?

4. Literature as a form of historical socialization

Here the most important things begin, for which, in fact, these lines have been written. We can judge this from literature. It is literature that through the decades and centuries brings to us ideas about the national life standards, the system of values accepted in society, the life and moral guiding principles of its best representatives, shows the ideal and the antiideal of an individual, forms in people's minds concepts of the good and the bad, of a taboo on a handshake (a word combination that became a historicism a long time ago). Literature gives us an idea of historical events and people who were part of them - how they perceived themselves, how they found themselves in the context of the Russian history, what motivated them in making history, performing deeds and acting against the interests of their personal well-being. It is from Leo Tolstoy that we know about the War of 1812, from Griboyedov -about a Decembrist's worldview before the events on the Senate Square, from Alexei Tolstoy - about Peter the Great's reforms, from Dostoevsky - of how a person feels in the period of an accelerated development of capitalism. In this sense, the characters of "Crime and Punishment" look almost our contemporaries, especially if we recall Luzhin's "theory of entire caftans" and his idea that "everything in the world is based on personal interest" which is supported by a scientific conception. Dostoevsky shows what the consequences of such an ideology are for both an individual and a human society if they accept and follow it. The problem is that our contemporaries are not always able to

read and understand the novel written nearly one and a half century ago.

Literature bears some sort of a genetic code without which individuals and society as a whole lose connections with the past generations on the vertical line of time. Through literature an individual learns the experience that has been accumulated for centuries - the experience of national life, personal behavior and a way of feeling and thinking. And to consider that experience archaic and inapplicable in modern life (one can refer to globalization) means to renounce belonging to one's own national culture. But why, in fact, is it inapplicable? Because it is not required for work in an oil company? Or in a transnational corporation, whose basic requirement is fluent English? Yes, a cult of personal success at any cost might be in a greater demand there, and American films must appear as a more attractive source of social information than the Russian literature of the nineteenth century.

And what has the Russian literature of the last two centuries actually taught its readers? If we put it briefly, to be responsible for one's own life and the destiny of the country, underlining that the way it develops will depend on a personal and direct involvement of everybody. An irresponsible attitude to one's own life and a lack of understanding of the country's destiny were treated as an illness, about which Mikhail Lermontov openly said in the preface to his novel "A Hero of Our Time" where he pointed to the symptoms of social illness and insisted on the necessity of "bitter medicines". A cult of personal success is rejected with disgust by Chatskiy (a character from "Woe from Wit" by Griboyedov), claiming his right to serve and angrily refusing to fawn.

Of course, in order to "master" all this you need to learn to read, which should be taught at the lessons of literature at school. Alas, they are at times far from teaching this. What a present-day graduate often learns throughout these lessons is an idea of some abstract humanism asserted by literature, as well as abstract concepts of "a human life as a supreme value". But if it is for this very concept that volumes of the Russian classics have been written, how should we understand the words that Petrusha Grineva says standing under the gallows, when Savelich asks him, spitting, "kiss the villain's hand", "I would prefer the most ferocious penalty to such a vile humiliation." Hence, for Petrusha there are some more important values than his own life: he is ready to repeat without hesitations the answer given by his fellows to the impostor and to die, as did Captain Mironov and his other companions in the defense of the fortress, rather than reject honor, which is more important for him ...

5. Is there a historical blame of the Russian literature?

Looking back at the experience of the twentieth century, many writers living in the Soviet Russia and in emigration blamed the Russian literature for the historical shocks that fell to our lot. In the West, the following arguments are provided to support this view: it is the figure of a Russian man, broken and disintegrated, like Onegin and Pechorin, passively-contemplative, like Oblomov on his sofa, uneducated and lazy, like Mitrofanushka, hiding behind my

mother's skirt, that humiliated Russians in the eyes of Europeans and presented them as an easy prey for the Wehrmacht, when the "Barbarossa" plan was being developed. The Germans hoped to meet only Oblomovs here . the Russian literature had deceived them, presenting false ideas about a Russian man, and we paid a too high price for the fraud.

For the writers with a different historical experience, who have gone through repressions and have raised the camp theme in their works, it is the humanistic pathos of the Russian literature that seems completely deprived of any sense. Varlam Shalamov wrote, "I think that a man living in the second half of the twentieth century, who experienced wars, revolutions, fires of Hiroshima, the atomic bomb, betrayal and, most importantly, crowning all - the shame of the Kolyma and Auschwitz furnaces, a man ... simply can not have the same approach to art as before."1 According to the writer, the humanist literature itself has been compromised, because the reality has appeared not to correlate with its ideals, "The collapse of humanistic ideas, a historical crime leading to Stalin's camps and the Auschwitz furnaces proved that art and literature worth nothing. When confronted with real life this is - the main motive, the main question of time."2 The same motive of distrust to the classical literature is found in works by Solzhenitsyn as well - from a debate with Dos-toevsky, "The House of the Dead" in particular (When you read the description of the supposed horrors of life in penal servitude described by Dostoevsky, you are amazed at how quietly they served their sentence! as the convicts were deported not a single time over the period of ten years, "The First Circle") to a debate with Chekhov ("If Chekhov's intellectuals wondering what would happen in twenty-thirty-forty years time, had known that in forty years there would be a trial with torture in Russia <.> - none of Chekhov's plays would have reached the end, all of the characters would have gone to the lunatic asylum", "The Gulag Archipelago.").

Shalamov and Solzhenitsyn talk about a naive humanism that interprets a man as the crown of the universe and the very essence of its existence. When confronted with the collisions of real life, especially with the cataclysms of history, such a viewpoint turns out to be a complete nonsense, and "that wretched ideology of "a man being born for happiness"" inspired by literature is knocked out by "the first strike of the supervisor's bludgeon" ("The Gulag Archipelago").

It seems that in both cases it is a false and incorrect interpretation of the deep ideological pathos of the nineteenth-twentieth centuries literature. It contained not only the idea of happiness for which a man is born, like a bird is born for flight, which is expressed by a naive (according to the author's estimation) character depicted by Korolenko, a very deep and complex writer, but also affirmed, let us repeat this again, the idea of a man's responsible attitude to the world. The idea of a personal responsibility for one's own honor, which is truly more

1 Varlam Shalamov "New Prose". // New World, 1989, No 12. p. 60.

2 ibid. p. 61.

important than happiness and life, as well as for the destiny of the country, for which one can give his life with eager. And we can recall not only inert Oblomov and Onegin, but the characters of a different sort: Chatskiy, Petrusha Grinev, Tatyana Larina, Prince Andrey, Nicholay Rostov, Leskov's Lefty and ataman Platov ... the whole gallery of the figures of saints, created by the writer in the cycle with the same name.

The function of literature in the literature-centered Russian culture, was to create national images of cultural characters with whom even now every educated person identifies himself/herself. They make history alive and vivid, making it comprehensible, close and "domestic" and create algorithms of conduct in various situations and form a system of existential and ontological values. The images of literary characters, who came from the book pages into the national consciousness and subconsciousness and become national archetypes, the categories of national consciousness, with which a Russian man was thinking in the recent past, had been formed by the literature of the past centuries.

A similar role was played by the literature of the Soviet time, including socialist realism, which provided guidelines to a man who had been deprived of the most important existential and ontological fundamentals (religious, cultural, social and legal) by the Revolution, in the historical context of the Soviet era, creating the mythology of the new world and the new cultural characters (such as Pavel Korchagin Alexei Turbin, Alexei Tolstoy's Peter the Great, Vikhrov and Gratsiansky, the characters of "The Russian Forest" by L. Leonov, Woland and the Master, General Samsonov and Colonel Vorotyntsev, the characters of "The Red Wheel" by Solzhenitsyn) and explaining the existential meaning of the happening historical cataclysms. Literature created the image of a Soviet space with a man rooted in it, revealing to him the meaning of his historical existence. We can say that this space turned out to be fragile, and the historic goals set by it - unachievable, but it was literature that created such an attractive image of the Soviet world, which became a national idea for the big country that remained a world power for decades. The image of the world, created by the Soviet literature, formed a life ideal, the achieving of which determined the historic goal of several generations of Soviet people. Although this ideal was never achieved, it has an undoubted value, and does the present-day generation, who hasn't been able (at least so far?) to develop not even an ideal, but at least a comprehensible historical perspective not related to the foreign exchange rate and the oil price for themselves and their children, have the right to reject it with disdain?

Of course, history will inevitably present a claim to the Russian literature of the twentieth century. Too many important aspects of the national life have been omitted by the masters of the word - by those living in the metropolis, as well as the ones in emigration and the writers of the underground literature. And thus, according to the Russian tradition, they (hopefully, for the time) haven't been understood by the national-historical consciousness of people living in the early twenty-first century. Not being reflected in art they appear not to have been reflected in the

memory of the nation either. These include the rebellion of the Kronstadt garrison and the crews of several Baltic fleet ships against the Bolsheviks' regime, the rebellion in Tambov of the peasant army headed by ataman Antonov and its suppression by the Red Army under the command of Tukhachevsky (only two stories by Solzhenitsyn of the 1990s talk about them), the famine in the South of Russia in the early 1930s (reflected only in the stories by Ten-dryakov), the persecution of the Church and the priesthood. And even the involvement of Russia into World War I would not have been reflected in literature, if there were not "August of 1914" by Solzhenitsyn.

It happened so in the past two or three hundred years that every Russian man understood the historical destinies of the country, received his/her national identity and the national cultural genes through literature. Through literature he/she perceived the mode of thinking and the worldview of the past generations and got a blood and deep personal relationship with them. This is what we have traditionally called a literature-centered Russian culture. And this is what we have lost.

6. The loss of the literature-centricity

As recently as twenty years ago we witnessed the last, at least for the moment, outbreak of truly all people's interest in literature. Those were the late 1980s-early 1990s when the circulation of "fat" magazines was enormous and the publication of any delayed work, whether it was "The Heart of a Dog" by Mikhail Bulgakov or "The New Appointment" by A. Beck, caused a general and most sincere public interest. Literature restored people's historical memory and seemed to be pasting into the book of the nation's historical life the pages that had been torn out and destroyed. At that time it was hard to imagine that only in two years time millions of readers will reduce to fewer than a thousand.

In the eyes of the modern generation, literature is no more an area of the national self-consciousness and the national self-reflection. Now literature has lost its most important function - to guide people in the historic space and to determine their life guidelines. It has become a kind of entertainment and a possible leisure, reading is no more prestigious. As a result, the book market is filled with products of an absolutely different sort, offering Dasha Vasilyeva, a homegrown detective from the books by Dontsova, or Fandorin from the pseudo-historical novel by Akunin as modern cultural characters.

The loss by literature of the high status that it has occupied in the Russian culture, traditionally literature-centered, during the last three decades, leads to a considerable vacuum that is difficult to fill.

Should we connect such a situation of an existential vacuum with the loss of cultural literature-centricity? Apparently, yes we should. For the moment, we don't have a full comprehension of the mechanisms of culture, but the loss by literature of its traditional status and of its traditional functions couldn't be painless. And here we must talk about the role of the state in supporting (or fully neglecting) the artistic word and its impact on the modern man.

7. Literature and the authorities

Let us look back at the Soviet times. Time has passed when we scolded Socialist Realism, the Soviet regime and the elimination of the dissent in literature. The negative impact on literature of the process, which in the modern literature criticism is called the "nationalization" of literature, is well known. Certain writers and the entire literary movements (the new peasant literature represented by S. Esenin, P. Vassiliev, S. Klyuyev, A. Ganin, or the absurdism of the OBERIU representatives such as D. Harms, K. Vaginov, A. Vvedensky) became the victims of it. But the state's attention to literature was not only limited to the persecution of writers and literary movements. The First Congress of Soviet Writers (in 1934) marked a fundamentally new kind of relations between literature and the authorities, when literature became a matter of the state's concern and writers' work became demanded and socially important. There were established the Writers' Union (for the first time in the world history), the Institute of Literature, training professional writers, and the Academic Institute of the World Literature bearing the name of Maxim Gorky. And all these events attracted tremendous public attention and were perceived by the people of the 1930s as keenly and with the same pride as the flight of Americans over the North Pole and the epic rescue of Chelyuskinites.

Sometimes, though, the following opinion can be heard: a mass opening of literary periodicals, support of the Institute of Literature and the Writers' Union as well as others can't have been carried out without the persecution of writers and literary movements that didn't comply with the official ideology. We believe that it is not so. In this case, those are divergent and even contradictory vectors of the Soviet system and politics, characterized by a profound humanism and love for man (the examples are well known and include the elimination of homelessness, universal literacy, the lack of homeless people, universal secondary education, universal access to health care and many other things), and the cannibalism of GULAG and everything connected with it. One vector practically never crossed the other one as if they had existed in different dimensions, so it comes as no surprise that "Vassili Terkin" by A. Twar-dowski and the poignant tale "It's us, o Lord" by K. Vor-obyov are the books talking about the same period of time. And it was the attention and support of the state that in many ways determined the positive role of literature in the Soviet time.

It was the result of the state intervention and support that a phenomenon that became known as Socialist Realism appeared. Not understood in the Soviet time (due to the inevitable indoctrination of any of its philological studies) and mocked in the post-Soviet time, it is now attracting more and more attention of researchers. It is gradually becoming clear that Socialist Realism fulfilled a very important social need. After the Revolution had destroyed the old social institutions and the social relations had been broken, when ethics based on universal principles was declared bourgeois, religion was treated as the opium for the people and the Church was subjected to unprecedented persecution, society needed a word that would be

able to organize a disintegrating world that had lost its old relationships and structures and had gained no new ones. Literature could say such a word and did it. It was Socialist Realism that became a literary movement that showed a person, kicked out of the old social cells, his role in the new world. Literature explained the new world-order to the reader, things happening before his eyes, structured it, and showed the place of an individual in the new social structures, formed the concept of private, social and historical objectives and indicated his place in the universe. It was an organic aspiration of literature coming from inside. Literature took over the function of the organization of society devoid of existential, ontological, and religious foundations and the true moral values. In other words, literature structured the revolutionary chaos, transformed it into a post-revolutionary cosmos, giving it the features of harmony and supreme rationality, putting the reader into it and explaining to him what are the results of the grand historic transformation experienced in the past decade.

8. Socialist realism as a mythogenic aesthetics

Having lost the old mythology, society needed the new myths that could depict the Revolution as the time of the cosmos creation which brought into being the modern world. And literature responded to this social need and created an artistic mythology which formed the reader's view of the world, bright and transformed, directed toward the indisputable and obvious historical perspectives. Soviet mythology, created by the Socialist Realism literature, constructed the mode of thinking of the builder of a happy communist future.

Literature gave birth to a myth, depicting the Revolution as a grand historical transformation of a cosmic scale, which led to the creation of the New World. The historical epic novel "Peter the Great" by A. Tolstoy, the novel "How the Steel Was Tempered" by N. Ostrovsky and the kolkhoz epos "Virgin Soil Upturned" by M. Sholokhov formulated the basic constants of that myth.

Together with that myth and at the same time another myth of the New Man, the figure-demiurge, was being created. It was personified in Levinson ("Defeat" by A. Fadeev), Pavel Korchagin ("How the Steel Was Tempered" by N. Ostrovsky), Kourilov ("A Road to the Ocean" by L. Leonov). The characteristic features of such a character are asceticism, the lack of private life (love is consciously sacrificed to the Revolution), an iron will, strict rational thinking and a strong spirit dominating over a weak and emaciated body. The Christian motive of the taming of the flesh (health lost in the fight), self-sacrifice and ascension are associated with the mentioned above features of the new man.

In the mythological model of the new world, created by the literature of Socialist Realism, even space and time gained special constants. Time and history could be depicted as a stagnant source which required incredible acceleration through enormous efforts of the character-

demiurge and his companions, able to seize the Fortune's hair and to turn her to face him, to jerk the wheel of history and make it spin faster ("Peter the Great" by A. Tolstoy). The myth of triumph over time is created by V. Kataev ("Time, Forward! ").

The Soviet mythology transformed and reinterpreted the Christian and pagan images, motives and themes, giving a meaning to them in accordance with its needs. The novel "The Young Guard" by Fadeev is an example of such an interpretation. It literally soaks up the canonical Christian ideas (and this aspect of the artistic world of the novel was not changed in the course of remaking). The members of the young guard feel almost like the early Christians, their secret meetings resemble the catacomb meetings, they see their mission in the preaching of the Truth, in bringing the gospel to fellow citizens through the hand-copied leaflets and duplicated reports of the Soviet Information Bureau; they reproduce the radio-speeches by Stalin to each other and the neighbors like the words of an apostol's preaching; the flags hung out on 7 November resemble the church gonfalons. The conflict and its resolution are within the framework of the same tradition: taking part in the battle against the forces of darkness and infernal evil the members of the young guard win an absolute moral victory and gain eternal life through the sacrificial death.

The objective standing before the new literature was to form the Soviet ideomythological system: it was to "bring up the new man." A definition given to the Socialist Realism in 1934 talked about the important "objective of an ideological transformation and education of the working-people in the spirit of socialism." It is this literature that created a new mythology and oriented a person in the historical space of the twentieth century, educated him, formed the high spiritual ideals and opposed the increasing careerism and the money-grubbing of bureaucracy under Stalin, lawlessness, growing repressions and the GULAG.

9. What's ahead?

If we look at the present-day situation we can state that the loss of the cultural literature-centricity is unnatural and inorganic for the Russian consciousness. If society would like to have something that could be opposed to the cultural and ideological vacuum of our time, it should recall the only and unique bearer of socio-historical and cultural information, literature. Its uniqueness lies in the personal and even intimate appeal to every person who takes a book in his hands, a possibility opened for everyone to feel oneself a contemporary of Peter the Great, Kutuzov, Puga-chev and experience the feelings of Grinev, Prince Andrey and Aleksashka Menshikov. But in order to make it happen the readers should be educated, able and willing to think, the writers alone are not enough. Only in this case can the Russian literature justify before the present-day and future generations the very fact of its historical existence.