Svetlana Klimova
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In 2005, as a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Fribourg, I met the brilliant connoisseur of Russian culture, Edward Swiderski, and for a long time after I remembered his words—that Russian philosophy was unlikely to claim a significant place in the history of world thought anytime soon. It is improbable that Europeans will ever be interested, on any large scale, in figures like Rozanov, Strakhov or Leontyev, he added. These are thinkers, largely marginal and ‘provincial’, without a clearly defined place in the history of philosophy.

Indeed, how is it possible to explain to a European audience, accustomed to categories and distinctions, Rozanov’s view that the Russian mentality can only be captured through a glance. ‘A Russian person looks at another one with a sharp eye, and everything becomes clear. And no words are needed. This is something that cannot be done with a foreigner’. How can something like that be understood through a glance? Is there some deep, ‘non-verbal’ context that provides psychological recognition of a person akin or alien to us? This kind of mystical philosophy is bound to come across as terrifying.

Fifteen years have passed since that meeting, and today Russian thought is significantly more open to the West and appreciated there. Russian philosophy is of genuine interest to American Slavists, amateurs and experts in Russian culture, literature and art. For many years, scholars have been discussing the specifics of the Russian intelligentsia. The names Dostoevsky and Tolstoy excite non-Russian readers as before, only now they are considered not only great writers, but also major thinkers and charismatic figures of their time. Research groups dedicated to the study of these figures include the International Dostoevsky Society and the Tolstoy Society of North America. And today, even the ‘marginal figures’ of Russian philosophy have entered into the orbit of Western scholarship. My work seeks to participate in this conversation on Russian thought, through the prism of the Russian intelligentsia’s search for its identity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

This small book was written quite quickly, but I thought about it for a very long time. I approached the topic from different ‘viewing angles’ so as to form a holistic picture of the Russian intelligentsia, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Strakhov and pre-revolutionary Russian culture, the latter of which was endlessly concerned about its own role in world history.

I believe that today, the era of the Russian intelligentsia is over. I believe this not only because there are no more new Dostoevskys or Tolstoys in Russia, but because the Russia of the former intelligentsia no longer exists. This was the Russia in which the Russian intelligent felt—without words, deep down inside of him—his connection with his people and his country, wanting to live for them and to sacrifice himself for their well-being. These are all words from the past; they are little understood today, not only by the Western reader, but by the Russian reader too. Nor does that same West exist—the West with which the Russian Slavophiles endlessly argued, loving and hating it at the same time. The problem has exhausted itself historically. It is for this reason that any modern attempts to resuscitate the concepts of the ‘Russian idea’, ‘Russian messianism’, and the ‘Russian national identity’ take the shape of political quackery, a naive focus on the revival of ideas that died long ago. No longer do our intellectuals experience heartache or a sense of selflessness when they think about the fatherland and, therefore, any conversation about the nature of the intelligentsia can be purely historical in nature. Nevertheless, I hope this book finds a response from the Western reader in its presentation of the ideas and feelings of the holy and sinful Russian intelligentsia.

My sincere thanks go out to everyone who helped me with questions and advice as I was writing this book. I extend special thanks to the Leo Tolstoy State Museum on Prechistenka (Moscow) and to the Museum-Estate of Lev Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana. I spent significant time in the libraries of these museums while preparing this book. I want to express my heartfelt thanks to Yury Prokopchuk (Moscow, the Lev Tolstoy State Museum), Galina Alekseeva (Tula, the Museum-Estate of Lev Tolstoy), Donna Tussing Orwin (Canada), Vladimir Paperny (Israel), Stefania Sini (Italy) and other colleagues who participated in the regular international conferences in Yasnaya Polyana, dedicated to the legacy of Tolstoy. Their advice and feedback helped me significantly in my work.

My sincere gratitude also goes out to my colleagues in the Philosophy Department at the Higher School of Economics: Diana Gasparyan, Sofia Danko and Vladimir Porus, who kindly supported my studies. I extend special thanks to the reviewer of the Russian version of my book, Teresa Obolevich, Professor of the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow, for her goodwill and objectivity.

I would like to thank my American colleagues for their support and inspiration—Alyssa DeBlasio (Chair of Russian at Dickinson College), Julia Vaingurt (Slavic and Baltic Languages ​​and Literatures, University of Illinois), Susan McReynolds Oddo (Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Northwestern University), as well as the wonderful translator of this book, Anna Razumnaya for her patience, kindness and trust in my work.

Special thanks to Brill Publishing house for the excellent edition of this book.

I have words of deep gratitude for my son, brother and all my relatives and friends. And, of course, this book could not have been possible without the endless support and warmth of my friends Andrey and Irina Maidansky, Irina Salmanova, Elena Mareeva, Valentina Filatova and the many others who helped me complete this difficult mental journey.

The writing of this book was supported by grant no. 19-08-00100 from the Russian Science Foundation.

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Russian Intelligentsia in Search of an Identity

Between Dostoevsky’s Oppositions and Tolstoy’s Holism