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On the 'Soviet Paradigm'(Remarks of an Indologist)

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On the 'Soviet Paradigm'(Remarks of an Indologist)
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  SERGEI SEREBRIANY ON THE ‘SOVIET PARADIGM’(REMARKS OF AN INDOLOGIST) * KEY WORDS: current hermeneutic situation, epistemology (naı ¨ve vsreflexive), from unilinear monism to pluralism, humanities (human science)in Russia, interdisciplinarity, philosophy as anathema, scholarly servility vsfreedom, Soviet Marxism, ‘‘Soviet paradigm’’, Soviet vs post-Soviet con-dition, the ‘linguistic turn’, unilinear pseudo-historism.THE POST-SOVIET HERMENEUTICAL SITUATION At present, the human sciences in Russia find themselves, if notoutrightly in crisis, then doubtless in a transitional state, muchlike the country as a whole. 1 It is not a matter simply of ‘‘inadequate financing’’ or the brain drain. Rather, followingdecades of pressure and repression our human sciences arefinding it hard to get a new lease on life and to put to use thenew freedoms (restricted though these may be) which they havebeen experiencing for some 10 years now. It would appear thatwe need new people, new generations who never knew repres-sion, never sought to accommodate themselves, did not ‘adjustto meanness’, 2 people, that is, who have grown up in conditionsof political and informational freedom. Then, let us hope, thehuman sciences in Russia will really enter into a new period of their history.Today, here, there, and everywhere we hear and use suchterms as ‘‘(scientific) paradigm’’ (Kuhn) 3 and ‘‘episteme’’(Foucault). 4 I do not presume to discuss the limits of applica-bility of such terms. But our current (post-Soviet) situation inthe human sciences can be described readily as a situation of paradigm shift or as a change of episteme. It is a change whichoccurs slowly, in part ‘underground’, as it were, that is, less Studies in East European Thought (2005) 57:93–138    Springer 2005DOI 10.1007/s11212-005-2002-1  than explicitly and in full view. 5 For some (perhaps even formany) it is a painful process: those of the older and middlegenerations do not have an easy time changing their establishedintellectual habits (and what we call today ‘mentality’.) Takingleave of the past sometimes has no more than a declarativecharacter, so that ‘‘plus c¸a change, plus c’est la meˆme chose.’’The situation in the human sciences, to repeat, reflects thestate of the country as a whole. We did not, in the 1990s, pushthrough the kind of radical demarcation from our recent pastthat, say, Germany and Japan did in 1945. Whether this is goodor bad for the society and the state as a whole is a separateissue. But the fact that there was no such radical demarcationwithin our human sciences is rather regrettable.Moreover, the ‘Soviet paradigm’ (or, if you prefer, the ‘So-viet episteme’) 6 in the human sciences has to this day never, sofar as I know, been subjected to comprehensive and detailedanalysis. There is a variety of reasons for this. Some wanted topreserve the paradigm, modifying it ever so slightly (bysloughing off the most reprehensible elements and adding, withan eye to prestige and mimicry, more up-to-date ones). Others,on the contrary, wanted rather to forget the paradigm, to dis-card it as soon as possible. But the ‘Soviet paradigm’ (in itsdifferent hypostases) had existed so long and been so powerfuland all-encompassing, that is has been virtually impossible (asthe experience of the post-Soviet years shows) to brush it aside,to simply forget and discard it and pass on to something else.And where would this ‘something else’ come from?The Soviet paradigm continues to exist and exercise, as itwere, 7 its effects in the sub-conscious of many people whosincerely did and continue to consider themselves its opponentsand now take themselves to be entirely free of its pressures. The‘Soviet paradigm’ gave forth such a powerful ‘energy field’ thatto one degree or another it subordinated even those whostruggled to stand in opposition to it. Seen in a historical per-spective, opposition not infrequently amounts to accommoda-tion, since at the very least the language of the paradigm (or thecorresponding ‘aesopian language’) had to be implementedsimply in order to attack it. 8 Not a few texts, written during the SERGEI SEREBRIANY 94  Soviet era in the spirit of opposition to the ‘Soviet paradigm’,are seen today to bear its characteristic stamp. 9 In what follows, I will try to articulate my view of the ‘Sovietparadigm’ and its persisting presence in our ‘mentality’, as wellas to suggest some ideas about how to overcome it. The pe-culiar character of our current ‘hermeneutical situation’ resideslargely in the protracted process of our parting with the ‘Sovietparadigm’. I will also address myself to several interconnected‘turns’ which I believe have to take place if we are really to quitthe ‘Soviet paradigm’. 10 At least some of these are alreadyoccurring. The complexity of our current hermeneutical situa-tion consists in our having simultaneously to accomplish anumber of ‘turns’ in several dimensions, in other words, amulti-facetted ‘turn around’ of our cognitive habits.Several preliminary remarks are required.The ‘Soviet paradigm’ in question here is doubtless anabstraction or, in other words, a simplified model.In the first place, the Soviet system existed for some 70 yearsand was therefore hardly something changeless from 1917 to1991. ‘Soviet ideology’ changed with the times, its history canbe apportioned into at least several quite distinctive periods.Correspondingly, a more exacting analysis of the ‘Soviet par-adigm’ would have to take into account this temporal dimen-sion. But here, as a rule, I will leave it out of account. I willconcern myself instead with the state of the ‘Soviet paradigm’ inthe post-Khrushchev, Brezhnev period of Soviet history, sincethis is what we (currently active scholars in the human sciences)directly inherited and that still remains extant to a large degree.In the second place, the ‘Soviet paradigm’ (though it pro- jected itself as ‘monolithic’ and ‘changeless’) was quite pluralistover and beyond the temporal dimension.In different human sciences it made itself felt in a number of ways. So for instance linguists (especially toward the end of theSoviet period) managed to a great extent to free themselvesfrom the grip of the paradigm. However, linguistics (mostprobably by reason of its greater proximity to the natural sci-ences) occupied a rather special position. In my description of  ON THE ‘SOVIET PARADIGM’  95  the ‘Soviet paradigm’ linguistics will play less of a role than,say, philosophy, literary studies or history.It should be remembered, too, that in practically all thehuman sciences exceptional individuals managed to createsomething new even within the limits of the ‘Soviet paradigm’(or as if within its framework by resorting to a variety of tricks). 11 But here I want to consider the ‘paradigm’ as such; Iwill have little to say about those who somehow did manage tobreak out of it. THE TURN FROM PRIDE TO HUMILITY How are paradigms and epistemes to be described? Do theyexhibit some sort of ‘constitutive regularities’? Can one, forinstance, distinguish within them a ‘base’ and a ‘superstructure’(i.e., on the one hand, something fundamental, primary, and,on the other, something derivative)? How do their parts andtraits relate to one another? I simply don’t know. I will gropeforward and, perhaps along the way some kind of scheme willemerge and/or some kind of connection among the parts.Let’s start with what I will call the ‘complex of superiority’or, using somewhat more traditional language, pride or theabsence of humility. It was often assumed (always sincerely?)that the ‘Soviet scholar’ was fitted out with the ‘uniquely sci-entific’ and ‘unquestionably valid’ ‘world view’ (‘method’),named ‘Marxism’ or ‘Marxism-Leninism’ (other, less envelop-ping labels were ‘dialectics’, ‘dialectical materialism’, ‘historicalmaterialism’, etc.) This ‘method’ assured the ‘Soviet scholar’superiority over ‘non-Marxist’ scholars, and, moreover, servedas a kind of a passe-partout to all scholarly (and not onlyscholarly) problems. Hence, the gnoseological (epistemological)pride, the absence of humility in the face of the complexity andpossible inscrutability of the world. 12 Within the human sciences, Soviet texts purveyed the imageof an all-knowing author: armed with the ‘authentically scien-tific’ method, the human scientist penetrated freely into all themysteries of history and the human soul and judged with firm SERGEI SEREBRIANY 96  conviction how and why other (in particular ‘non-Marxist)scholars were correct and incorrect in their views. 13 As recentexperience has shown us, this kind of ‘position of omniscience’(that is, epistemological pride) is not closely tied to any par-ticular ‘all-conquering teaching’. This role could be played by‘Science’ or by any of its partial and modish hypostases, evenby post-Soviet neo-Orthodox Christian doctrine (some of whose exponents are not infrequently repented ‘Marxists’).To be sure, Soviet Marxist epistemological pride was for themost drawn from the West, together with the entire ‘package’of Marxism or even the ‘modern European episteme’ as awhole, that is to say, borrowed and coarsened on Russian soil.Possibly, there was some influence here, too, from the side of the pre-Petrine (Orthodox Christian, Byzantine) base: for afterall, like Soviet Marxism Orthodoxy, too, considered and stillconsiders itself the ‘uniquely true world view’.Among the turns that I believe our human sciences have totake, pride of place falls to the turn from pride to humility. Notonly because the scientific ethos generally presupposes the lat-ter, but also in view of our current specific situation (thedescription of which is the point of the present essay). THE TURN FROM MONO-LINEARITY TO PLURALISM Together with ‘epistemological pride’ the package we receivedalso contained several other closely linked elements of the 19thcentury European mind; they can be described as ‘unilinealhistoricism’ and ‘historical-cultural monism’.The former is a stereotype of historical thinking that arose inthe 19th century in a Western Europe that was flushed with itssuccesses in industry, science, and colonial expansion. The en-tire wealth of human history was rolled out as a single line, theinitial point of which was ‘primitive, srcinary man’, the cul-minating point being contemporary Western Europe, regardedas the summit of human history and the very model fordevelopment of all nations. Already in the 19th century criti-cisms were addressed to this naive pseudo-historicism by cer- ON THE ‘SOVIET PARADIGM’  97
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