Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas:  jgo.e-reviews 3 (2013), 2 Rezensionen online / Im Auftrag des Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropastudien in Regensburg herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Verfasst von: Christian Noack


Jan Plamper / Šamma Šachadat / Mark Ėli (Hg.): Rossijskaja imperija čuvstv: Pod­chody k kul’turnoj istorii ėmocij [Das russische Reich der Gefühle: Zugänge zu einer Kulturgeschichte der Emotionen]. Moskva: Novoe literaturnoe ob­ozre­nie, 2010. 512 S. Illustrationen, Anmerkungen, Bibliographie. = Novoe literatur­noe obozrenie. Naučnoe priloženie, 83. ISBN: 978-5-86793-785-0.


This volume offers twenty contributions by eminent historians, film and literary scholars. In their introductory chapters, two of the editors, Jan Plamper and Schamma Schahadat, offer useful background information. Plamper provides a well-informed historiographical sketch of the emergence and assertion of the paradigm, while Scha­ha­dat’s shorter piece summarises various disciplinary influences on the more established research on emotions in literary and film studies.

The inclusion of literary and media studies allows the volume to cover an impressive range of topics: Andrei Zorin demonstrates how Russian sentimentalists emulated contemporary European models of emotional experiences; Olga Kuptsova takes a look at Russian theatre audiences and their emotional reactions during the nineteenth century; and Irina Popova demonstrates in her piece on Pushkin’s Postmaster that an analysis of emotions can shed new lights on seemingly exhaustively researched literary œuvres. Paralleling contemporary debates on the role of emotions, Alina Orlova reconstructs an important debate in Russian 19th century aesthetic criticism: can the natural and social sciences contribute to an understanding of the artistic process and the emotions involved? Through her analysis of emotions, Schamma Schahadat reinterprets the Russian silent movie as the missing link between symbolist literature and revolutionary avant-garde art. Two chapters deal with the emotional reaction of disgust: Olga Matich rereads Andrei Belyi’s “Peterburg”, showing that disgust denotes both resentment and attraction here. Adi Kuntsman’s analysis of Gulag survivors’ memoirs stresses the defensive function of disgust: contrasting themselves with the allegedly appalling, animal-like behaviour of homosexuals, members of the intelligentsia tried to preserve personal integrity.

To return to Plamper’s apt introduction: he distinguishes three important turning points since the ‘discovery of emotions as a historical topic, (1) the development of a “meta-historical and meta-cultural” approach to emotions heavily informed by psychology, (2) in the 1980s a re-culturalisation under the influence of post-structuralism and social constructivism, and (3) a renewed “universalization” which aims to base historical research on at least a selective perception of new findings in neurosciences. Among such historians, Plamper ascribes great influence to William Reddy, partly for the formulation of key concepts like emotional community, emotive or cogmotion, whereas Barbara Rosenwein is credited for the development of a hydraulic model linking emotions to human interaction (pp. 1921). Key texts are listed in a short bibliography.

Against this backdrop Plamper discusses opportunities and potential drawbacks of a theoretically guided emotional history. Plamper is rightly sceptical of amateurish readings of neurosciences by historians (and vice versa), and makes a strong point for an informed historical contextualisation and cultural embedding of emotional phenomena, approximating emotional history to established approaches of Begriffsgeschichte, of discourse analysis or research on the historical change of emotional norms and deviance. Beyond this, he sees the methodological instruments for an inquiry into the interrelations between emotions and events only just in the making (pp. 3136).

To what extent, then, do the historical pieces engage with the emotional turn? Two chapters go back to the 18th century. Catriona Kelly has been researching emotional norms and their inculcation avant la lettre, and her chapter is based on research for her now almost classic 2001 study “Refining Russia”. In a comparable vein, Olga Glagoleva’s piece discusses the transformations and reinterpretation of the concept of honour among the post-Petrine Russian nobility.

Students of nationalism have long grappled to find methodologically sound explanations as to why the idea of nation took ground in some cases, and in others not. Against the backdrop of the recent interest in the culture of nationalism, Ronald Suny’s extensive chapter deals with the perspectives of including emotions into the agenda. His conclusion that Imperial Russia’s demise appears as the result of its failure to reshape itself as an emotionally binding community does, however, sound somewhat familiar. Vera Dubina focusses on the small world of boarding schools (seen, following Reddy, as emotional communities) to contrast the development of the curricula with the prevailing emotional regime among the inmates – boredom. Iulia Safonova deals with emotions in a politically extreme situation: her interesting chapter confronts norms with the individual quest for appropriate reaction. Finally, Mark Steinberg’s chapter extrapolates from smaller emotional communities and finds out pessimism and melancholy as a social mood across the classes in fin-de-siècle Russia.

Several contributions contextualise seemingly irrational emotional outbreaks during the 20th century. Igor Narskii’s and Iuliia Khmelevskaia’s inquiry into the plundering of wine stores as well as Robert Edelman’s piece on Spartak soccer fans emphasise the ecstatic qualities of these emotions. Irina Sorotkina sees the ecstasy even as indispensable for some Russian and non-Russian artists in the pursuit of Nietzsche’s Dionysian unity of body and spirit.

The final part of the book presents four studies linked to fear and violence. In their chapters Jan Plamper and Ekaterina Emeliantseva trace a surge of fear in military discourses both at the beginning and the end of the 20th century. They attribute this to changes in the historical context, be it modernisation, literary influences (Tolstoi) and the development of Russian military psychiatry in the first case, or the demise of the Soviet Union and with it the Soviet concepts of patriotism and virility in the second. It is probably this change of the acceptable in the longue durée which links them with Glennys Young’s inquiry into the Perestroika time discussions on the famous 1962 Novocherkassk events. She shows how historical emotions became important arguments in retrospective. Finally, Magali Delaloye’s analysis of the emotional management in Bukharin’s famous last exchange of letters with Stalin reconstructs contemporary concepts of masculinity.

In sum, the volume vindicates Plamper’s rather cautious perspective as described above. With respect to Russian history, the book evaluates emotions as a topic and their careful historical and cultural contextualization. Beyond that, the contributions constitute adumbrations, rather than specific applications, of the methods of emotional history. Nonetheless, this volume convincingly demonstrates that the study of emotions in Russian history is a fertile ground, even if in terms of theory and methodology emotional history seems still in the making.

Christian Noack, Amsterdam

Zitierweise: Christian Noack über: Jan Plamper / Šamma Šachadat / Mark Ėli (Hg.): Rossijskaja imperija čuvstv: Podchody k kul’turnoj istorii ėmocij [Das russische Reich der Gefühle: Zugänge zu einer Kulturgeschichte der Emotionen]. Moskva: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2010. 512 S. Illustrationen, Anmerkungen, Bibliographie. = Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie. Naučnoe priloženie, 83. ISBN: 978-5-86793-785-0, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/erev/Noack_Plamper_Imperija_cuvstv.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

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