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CREES Noon Lecture

Wednesday, September 14, 2011
12:00 AM
International Institute Room 1636, 1080 S. University Ave.

Re-imagining the East: Russian Discourse on Asia in the Middle of the Nineteenth Century

Russian educated society, a product of Peter the Great's Westernizing project, learned to look at the East through European eyes. From the eighteenth century onward, Russian philosophers, poets, and painters borrowed Western stereotypes of the East, embracing both ends of their evaluative spectrum—a fascination with the exotic Orient and a condemnation of what was conventionally labeled as Asiatic despotism, stagnation, and backwardness. When did Russians develop their own, more ambivalent, vision of the East? When did they internalize the Orient and cherish their unique, though traumatic, ties with their Eastern neighbors as a source of Russia's true identity, future glory, and fulfillment of its historical mission? Though scholars tend to connect this shift to turn-of-the-twentieth-century religious philosophy and avant-garde poetry, Prof. Maiorova argues that Russia's ambivalent attitude towards the East can be traced back to the middle of the nineteenth century, when Alexander Herzen— revolutionary émigré and classic of Russian autobiography— articulated his scathing criticism of European civilization. The talk offers insights into how, why, and when Herzen re-conceptualized the East, identifying it with the Russian people and recasting the nature of the Romanov Empire. Olga Maiorova is a specialist in 19th-century Russian literature and on the intersection of literature, intellectual history, and representations of nationality in 19th-century Russia. Her publications include a recent book, From the Shadow of Empire: Defining the Russian Nation through Cultural Mythology, 1855-1870s, two edited volumes of previously unpublished writings by Nikolai Leskov, and some 60 scholarly articles in prominent journals in Russia and the United States.