THE HISTORY OF RUSSIAN THOUGHT.

Sarah J. Young is a Lecturer in Russian at the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies; on her About Me page she writes:

I currently teach an MA course on narratives of imprisonment and exile, and undergraduate courses on Russian thought, Dostoevsky, and Modern Russian Prose Fiction (1917-41). [...] My main areas of research are nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian literature, thought and culture. I am specifically interested in questions of ethics and subjectivity in the development of narrative, including narratives of trauma and imprisonment; the tradition of Russian literature and the arts as the locus of political debate and dissent; the role of religion and spiritual ideas in Russian literature; the significance of silence and what is not said in literary texts; and questions of time and space in Russian literature.

Which all sounds extremely interesting, but the reason I’m posting about her is that course on Russian thought, for which she is putting online a series of lectures intended to provide necessary background. Her introductory post includes this appetizing bit:

Last year, one of my students said that this was the course where everything else made sense – where Solov’ev’s esoteric poetry and the rise of Bolshevism came together. Whatever their flaws (and sometimes within their flaws), one can discover in very different thinkers common ways of approaching specifically Russian questions, which can provide significant insight into Russian culture. I hope that’s what this course enables, and I hope these lectures will help overcome some of the challenges the texts present.

I’m adding her blog to my Google Reader feed and will be educating myself with avidity, and I imagine there are those among my readers who will want to do the same. I discovered her site because her first lecture, “Petr Chaadaev and the Russian Question,” was linked by XIX век, which anyone interested in Russian intellectual and literary history should also bookmark.

Comments

  1. Just read her blog on Chaadayev. Wonderfully refreshing and so apt in tracing him to modern debate.

  2. about tracing, i always thought it’s kinda disappointing that notable Russians were always so reluctant to acknowledge their admixture roots, all just gets diluted into the velikoe moguchee russkoe
    when i read about Chaadaev or Kandinsky or even Ulyanov-Lenin never anywhere they acknowledge their mongol roots, or Dostoevsky for example too that that he was originally a mordvin maybe could have played some role somehow for him to become a genius, a displaced consciousness, to see things a little differently, though surely too many generations passing between them and their wandering ancestors that that it couldn’t possibly have any influence on their minds
    what if if Chaadaev were aware about his roots Chaadaev’s scheme about god-society-individual-nature could have been formulated reverse to that order, in the nature-individual-society ordering intuitive thinking of the buddhist/shamanist asian cultures, maybe some decades earlier, in the russian or western thought, though sure the ancient greeks thought in that ‘scientific’ order too
    it’s not about holding deep down national sentiments or something like, that, too biologically conditioned, eugenics something resembling thought, bc it’s about enriching through admixtures, not about that, biological purity, cz too many examples of that great mixture of genes that enriched the russian culture, very many notable russians were of the jewish or tatar or some other inorodtsy origins who accepted wholeheartedly the russian culture and language, and gave it in return its, that, substance, tot je Pushkin is the brightest example, i mean it’s curious why they themselves never admit that “phenomenon” or it seems as if like it’s something of a taboo topic in discussing the russian culture, literature

  3. Yes, that’s absolutely true. It’s odd that the foundation myth of Russia involves foreigners (Varangians), Tatar and Georgian aristocrats were taken straight into the tsarist aristocracy, huge chunks of twentieth-century Russian culture were created or developed by Jews (and of course at least half the great twentieth-century Russian poets were Jews by background if not by belief), and yet there’s this myth of Russianism and the whole “Russia for the Russians” movement. Why can’t they celebrate their multicultural history?

  4. even Karamzin the historian!
    so denouncing the mongol-tatar yoke in the official history he was denouncing his own mere existence, so as if like paradoxical

  5. Alexei K. says:

    The fact that so many Russian aristocrats were descendants of various “Tatar princes” does not cancel out the destruction of proto-Russia by the Mongol-led invaders.
    Those Turkic roots (Chaadaev, Turgenev, Tyutchev and so on) have been recognized by the educated Russians for 200 years if not longer. Recall Sergei M. Soloviev’s description of Prince Shirinsky-Shikhmatov, a one-time Education Minister. “Ancient Russia and the Muscovite State had much suffered from the invasions of Tatars led by his ancestors, the Shirin princes, the most furious of steppe horsemen; the memory of those fateful incursions had disappeared but in the first half of the 19th century, a new Tamerlan – (tsar) Nicholas – dispatched a steppe warrior, a worthy descendant of the Shirin princes, against Russian enlightenment.”
    The so-called Eurasianism sees thing rather differently, more in favor of the steppe. Its vulgarized versions remain quite popular with a section of the intelligentsia.
    Note also that the Mongols, the driving force of the westward expansion, were far outnumbered by various Turkic speakers in the armies they led. By the 15th century, they had mostly accepted Islam. I doubt they could possibly bring old Mongol shamanism over to Russia.

  6. Alexei K. says:

    One more thing – Derzhavin’s The Vision of the Murza might be of interest as well as Derzhavin’s self-description as a “shaven Tatar”.
    Karamzin’s denunciation of the Mongol yoke is not self-denial, of course. If one of my ancestors was a cannibal, I don’t have to support cannibalism to be true to my roots.

  7. “If one of my ancestors was a cannibal, I don’t have to support cannibalism to be true to my roots”
    see, this is the attitude, very biased, whatever is of the steppe culture and heritage is barbaric and backwards to you, russians, if held by the ethnically pure russians themselves maybe that is no surprise but Karamzin and other “tatars” themselves denouncing the yoke, what is it if not clearly self-denial?
    see this link, http://www.shsu.edu/~his_ncp/RamTat.html
    why can’t they recognize barbarism of the bizanthines then, see the parts about harems or religious tolerance or honesty in diplomacy and warfare
    the eurasians acknowledging their roots and what was positive in the mongolian empire are treated not that different from chernosotentsy, as far as i can tell, i could be wrong of course, by the enlightened westernized russian intelligentsia, when they the eurasians seem just try to acknowledge what is the historical truth, which is perhaps long due to be acknowledged as such
    but it’s not only about mongolo-tatars, wasn’t Mendeleev too of mordvin extraction, the great russian culture and science and literature was built by so many like him and they all themselves never thought of themselves anything other than russian, that seems pretty strange, why, because the culture is that intolerant?
    or maybe that was something like american culture, immigrants coming to the “land of the free” to pursue the “american dream” were too too eager themselves to blend in and become true americans, changing their names and fates

  8. In Muscovy and imperial Russia, all that mattered was one’s religion. No one cared if you were Mordvin or Tatar as long as you were Greek Orthodox. (Not an old believer or a Jew though; that would have been problematic.) There was a saying before 1917, “My mom’s a Turk; my dad’s a Greek; me, I’m Russian.” (Мама турок, папа грек, а я русский человек.) In contrast, “common people” in modern Russia tend to be vulgarly ethnocentric.
    But I think you misconstrue the ways educated Russians think about themselves. First, they freely admit that the Russian ethnos arose from different sources, such as Slavic, Ugro-Finnic and Turkic (I’m using those labels very loosely). For values though, most educated Russians now as well as in 1861-1917 are looking to the West, not to the ancient woods of the upper Volga, not to Byzantium (except for the church art and thought perhaps) nor the steppe of yore. We do not seek to imitate our hypothetical wife-burning Slavic forebears any more than our speculative Uralic ancestors. Karamzin could have admitted, “Yes Sir, I am descended from that bane of peaceful settlers, the Black Prince (Kara Murza); but I was educated in a German school and have conversed with the deepest thinkers of the Continent, as an intelligent student if not yet an equal.”
    It’s basically a barbarism to civilization narrative; incredibly simplified, it still makes sense because it focuses on the value of the individual. Critics argue that the Eurasianists, by emphasizing the benefits of Mongol rule, deny the values of the West such as the primacy of the personal – the very values on which Russian high culture is founded.

  9. “it’s basically a barbarism to civilization narrative”
    so it’s very civilized to talk about the great civilizing russian culture, but barbarism to acknowledge the minorities contributions to that culture so that they should denounce any such influences themselves?
    “We do not seek to imitate.”
    why do you need to imitate anything, can’t you be who you are, at least physically first
    if history was different there wouldn’t have been karamzins, chaadaevs, bulgakovs, or do you think someone else would have done what they discovered and created just the same?
    I don’t think pushkin’s poem could be written by anyone else
    “by emphasizing the benefits of Mongol rule” which was altogether denied before their movement, i think the eurasianists try to be who they are, simply, seems it’s fair and brings, that, balanced view to the double standards of the cultural attitude among russians felt towards the west and east
    Well, my email account or isp is stiil blocked it seems, a reminder of my own ” mongol wars” around these parts, so perhaps i can’t comment till the evening

  10. Alexei K. says:

    “so it’s very civilized to talk about the great civilizing russian culture, but barbarism to acknowledge the minorities contributions to that culture so that they should denounce any such influences themselves?”
    Not at all; you’re misinterpreting this narrative again. What’s civilizing here is not Russian culture itself but Christianity and European thought, directly or via Russian culture. In goes like this: Slavs were barbarian until Christian Greeks showed them the light. Slavs had some virtues, but on their own they were nothing. Then some Mongols and Tatars joined in. Then, dark ages of Muscovy with only a few bright spots. At last, Peter the Great brought new light from the West. That was the true birth of the Russian nation. (It’s a straw man, of course.) So you see, anyone un-Christian and/or un-Westernized is barbarian in this scheme, Slavic or not. It’s not that different from dominant European narratives of the 19th century.
    The Eurasianists not only observed how things were but said, “we have been Eurasian, therefore we should embrace Eurasian values.” That is, descriptive becomes prescriptive. Whereas Westernizers say, “it doesn’t matter what we are, but we should strive toward certain European ideals.”
    It’s true that some Russian intellectuals would be happier if there had been no “Oriental” influences on Russia’s development, mostly (apart from sheer racism at times) because they associate those influences with despotism and slavery. I’m afraid not unjustly – although it’s not the original, 13-th century Mongols to blame, rather Byzantium and the mature Golden Horde and its successors.

  11. Sorry, I forgot I had blocked your ISP in a fit of annoyance; I think I just unblocked it, so try again.

  12. oh we know that narrative too well, what is novel in the eurasian movement they tried to see history from a different side, not holding christianity and the western values as the universal standards
    about what is considered the civilizing forces, if you read L.N. Gumilev’s “Drevnyaya Rus’ i VeliOkaya Step’”
    he mentions such medieval atrocities native to europe, rus’ and the middle east all over at that time that our wars seem pretty noble compared, as it was an attempt of establishing the universal pax of lawfulness, meritocracy, religious tolerance, even gender equality etc. but those qualities are not considered as such unless those are coming from the enlightened europeans of course
    well, this all may sound strange, of course, if to recall the math how many people were killed etc. the numbers also sound exaggerated as LNG pointed out too, and surely nobody can be benefited by force, as the communist experiment has shown too clearly too

  13. test
    i’ll try, cz commenting through the phone besides work is pretty difficult to type
    thank you, LH!

  14. Chaadayev occupies a rather peculiar place in the centuries-old and still going (even right now on this page!) squabble of theories of Russia’s true origins (a Western civilization at its core, an Asian one, or something deep and profound in its own right). According to Chaadayev, Russia is neither, and that’s the root cause of its misery:
    Одна из наиболее печальных черт нашей своеобразной цивилизации заключается в том, что мы еще только открываем истины, давно уже ставшие избитыми в других местах и даже среди народов, во многом далеко отставших от нас. Это происходит оттого, что мы никогда не шли об руку с прочими народами; мы не принадлежим ни к одному из великих семейств человеческого рода; мы не принадлежим ни к Западу, ни к Востоку, и у нас нет традиций ни того, ни другого.
    Basically he writes that Russia is behind in most obvious concepts and truths, because it insulated itself from both the Western and Eastern tradition, and instead tried, sadly, to go it alone.
    Like Lev Gumilev later, Chaadayev is convinced that Russian system of governance is a direct product of the Mongol civilization, but he finds little good in such a heritage:
    свирепое и унизительное чужеземное владычество, дух которого позднее унаследовала наша национальная власть, — такова печальная история нашей юности.
    (It’s sort of like the childhood of a Nation happening in an abusive family; surely the Nation learns some practical habits, but more importantly, it’s traumatized forever)
    Of course, as someone fascinated by Catholicism and European civilization in general, Chaadayev has a clear agenda when he writes off Russia’s “Eurasian” heritage as chaos rather than synthesis … even he has to admit that a synthesis might have been possible:
    ведь, стоя между двумя главными частями мира, Востоком и Западом, упираясь одним локтем в Китай, другим в Германию, мы должны были бы соединить в себе оба великих начала духовной природы: воображение и рассудок, и совмещать в нашей цивилизации историю всего земного шара. Но не такова роль, определенная нам провидением
    So what follows? Hmmm … I guess, at the very least, a suggestion to read and Alex to tone down their so non-Chaadayevian discourse ;)
    And of course, the old saying “My mom’s a Turk; my dad’s a Greek; me, I’m Russian” never meant to imply that the “Russian” is a catch-all category. Rather, it was a patronizing point view on people whose identities are so hopelessly tangled and mixed that they could as well be considered sort of Russians.
    No one cared if you were Mordvin or Tatar as long as you were Greek Orthodox probably isn’t a statement to be taken too seriously, but surely Orthodox Christian Tatars (such as Nağaybäk Cossacks) maintained, and still maintain, a very separate identity from both Slavic Cossacks and other Tatars.
    Orthodox Belorussians and Karelians, resettled into the post-Black Death desolation of Tver after the Time of Troubles, and interspersed with their Russian co-religionists there, still retained their separate identities for over 3 centuries, well into the XXth century; their dialects remain distinct, although they now self-identify as ethnic Russians.

  15. J.W. Brewer says:

    From the POV of Western Europe by the 18th century et seq., both the Mongols and the Byzantines were “Eastern” and Other-ish, but by any other measure they were rather different from each other, whatever their respective inputs into the chaos/synthesis of Russian-ness may have been. I assume the “Eurasians” (who I take it are a bit different in emphasis from the 19th C. Slavophils even if they have some of the same we-have-nothing-to-learn-from-the-West rhetoric) are focusing more on the non-Christian steppe cultures, not the notion that Orthodox theology was itself “Eurasian” because formed on both sides of the Bosporus (3 of the 7 ecumenical councils occurring in “Europe” and 4 in “Asia.”).

  16. “Like Lev Gumilev later, Chaadayev is convinced that Russian system of governance is a direct product of the Mongol civilization, but he finds little good in such a heritage:”
    and coming from the Chagatai’s descendant that is pretty, that, ironical and sad, for us, we have a proverb “geree martsan Geser” – Geser who forgot his home, someone who is always busy elsewhere to not come home – a zombie in other words, one of those gesers who condemns the culture and history that bore him without consideration of any possible merits to those, well, how many centuries had passed, sure
    the Gumilevs, father and son, on the contrary, seemed felt some sympathy to their mongolo-tatar ancestors and tried to
    see so distant for them heritage, unprejudiced

  17. Thanks, Dmitry and read, for stating the case so well. The Chaadaev quotes remind me of one of my favorite movies, Tarkovsky’s The Mirror, in which Pushkin’s 1836 letter to Chaadaev about the role of the Russian people in history features so prominently.

  18. and coming from the Chagatai’s descendant that is pretty, that, ironical and sad, for us, we have a proverb “geree martsan Geser”
    No disagreement, but isn’t it a very common condition, distrusting one’s own origin and denying one’s own ancestry?
    the Gumilevs, father and son
    not to mention the mother, who even adopted a Tatar pen name after her distant ancestor, Khan Ahmat

  19. Here are the opening paragraphs of Dorothy L. Sayers’s last Peter Wimsey novel, Thrones, Dominations. It remained unpublished at her death and was finally completed in a posthumous collaboration by Jill Paton Walsh in 1998. It’s generally supposed that this particular passage, however, is echt Sayers. Lord Peter’s disreputable old uncle Paul Delagardie is talking with a Parisian friend, in French of course; the year is late 1935 or early 1936.

    ‘I do not,’ said Monsieur Théophile Daumier, ‘understand the English.’
    ‘Nor does anybody,’ replied Mr Paul Delagardie, ‘themselves least of all.’
    ‘I see them pass to and fro, I observe them, I talk to them – for I find it is not true that they are silent and unfriendly – but I remain ignorant of their interior life. They are occupied without ceasing, but I do not know the motives for the things they so energetically do. It is not their reserve which defeats me, for often they are surprisingly communicative; it is that I do not know where their communicativeness ends and their reserve begins. They are said to be rigidly conventional, yet they can behave with an insouciance without parallel; and when you question them, they appear to possess no definable theory of life.’
    ‘You are quite right,’ said Mr Delagardie. ‘The English are averse to theories. Yet we are, for that reason, comparatively easy to live with. Our conventions are external, and easily acquired; but our philosophies are all individual, and we do not concern ourselves to correct those of others. That is why we permit in our public parks the open expression of every variety of seditious opinion – with the sole proviso that nobody shall so far forget himself as to tear up the railings or trample on the flowers.’
    ‘I beg your pardon; I had for the moment forgotten that you also were English. You have so much the outlook, as well as the accent of a Frenchman.’
    ‘Thank you,’ replied Mr Delagardie. ‘I am actually only one-eighth French by blood. The other seven-eighths is English, and the proof is that I take what you have said as a compliment. Unlike the Jews, the Irish and the Germans, the English are pleased to be thought even more mongrel and exotic than they are. It appeals to the streak of romantic sensibility in the English temperament. Tell an Englishman that he is pure-bred Anglo-Saxon or a hundred per cent Aryan, and he will laugh in your face; tell him that his remote ancestry contains a blend of French, Russian, Chinese or even Arab or Hindu, and he will listen with polite gratification. The remoter, of course, the better; it is more picturesque, and less socially ambiguous.’
    ‘Socially ambiguous? Ah! you admit, then, that the Englishman in fact despises all other races but his own.’
    ‘Until he has had time to assimilate them. What he despises is not other races but other civilisations. He does not wish to be called a dago; but if he is born with dark eyes and an olive complexion, he is pleased to trace those features back to a Spanish hidalgo, castaway upon the English coast in the wreck of the Great Armada. Everything with us is a matter of sentiment and association.’
    ‘A strange people!’ said Monsieur Daumier. ‘And yet, the national type is unmistakable. You see a man – you know at once that he is English, and that is all you ever know about him. [...]’

  20. Alexei K. says:

    “and coming from the Chagatai’s descendant that is pretty, that, ironical and sad, for us, we have a proverb “geree martsan Geser” – Geser who forgot his home”
    But that is the very essence of all development and progress – had we not forgotten our ancestral homes, we would all be living in caves now.
    Besides, Chadayev equally “betrayed” his pagan Slavic and Mongol ancestors. He doesn’t give much credit to ancient Slavs, and it’s only logical. Not just him, but anyone who lives in a changing world (i.e. the world as studied by historians) must of necessity “betray” his roots and ancestry.
    And besides, why should Chaadayev have given that much deference to Chagatay, whose contribution to the philosopher’s genes was 1/(2^15), or about 1/32,768 (assume 5 centuries, 3 generations per century), and not the other 32,767 people?

  21. Alexei K. says:

    Delagardie, an Englishman with a Swedish surname of French origin? Well known in Russia, too, for the De la Gardie anabasis of 1609-10.

  22. so, “Not just him, but anyone who lives in a changing world” should have to adopt the values hold by englishmen?
    the excerpt JC cites sounds a bit different from for example Kipling’s views which is a good thing i guess, just it’s again as if like curious why it’s an englishman a chimera, not british or anglosaxon or at least a native (not native too i guess if it’s that all including) english speaking person

  23. “whose contribution to the philosopher’s genes was 1/(2^15), or about 1/32,768 (assume 5 centuries, 3 generations per century”
    nevertheless without those genes he just wouldn’t have existed
    and his giving credits to only Europe and Asia/China as the humankind’s cultural cradles skipping all of the Eurasia in between seem too like narrow-minded, from nowadays’ perspective of course, about slavs he at least didn’t say anything like “свирепое и унизительное” and that is coming from a presumably chingisid, the male line seems was direct and uninterrupted, sounds twice as that, obidno
    surely the more genetical diversity the more maybe extraordinary traits in one’s becoming, and making those, progress and development, possible too, and it’s strange that it took so long to understand that, what’s with all the racism and ethnical cleansing things of the past and present, so maybe it should be talked more about that, as if like, “reverse positive” “eugenics* something, i don’t know whether there something like that exists in the medical or social sciences or people just avoid talking about the biological determinants now, too discredited cz, antropology and genetics do of course studies, but they sound as if like they are studying the bones of hominids or isolated primitive communities etc, not going much into the comparative cultural study of the “civilizations”, if to start those comparative cultural genetics then it will turn into another giant warfare i guess
    whenever i read about someone really extraordinary it turns out it’s the one who was displaced one or other way, they prescribe travel to autistic children now bc it stimulates their brains to get more adaptable to the outside, so something like that works perhaps in those displaced genius beings too

  24. Sir JCass says:

    Well known in Russia, too, for the De la Gardie anabasis of 1609-10.
    I first came across Magnus de la Gardie as the evil dabbler-with-the-dark-side in M.R. James’s story Count Magnus.

  25. What he despises is not other races but other civilisations
    Thanks, John! I already asked,
    isn’t it a very common condition, distrusting one’s own origin and denying one’s own ancestry?
    and thinking some more about the assimilation and the specter of self-denial, I think that indeed, it mostly happens when an assimilated person strongly aspires to absorb the wholeness of the adoptive civilization, and blames one’s misfortune on one’s inability to morph and assimilate completely and to shed all the vestiges of one’s cultural otherness.
    You can definitely feel the undertones of this bane-of-an-incomplete-acculturation line of thought in Chaadayev’s Letter (in his vision, Russia moved a long way from the steppes of Asia towards the cherished wholeness of European civilization, but still failed to shed its otherness, and so woe to her)
    In America, we often find people who worship its values and hate their own origins and aspirations. A nation of immigrants turning on immigrants; a long series of filanderers and child abusers vehemently supporting family values; people whose livelihoods depends on government largess decrying the evils of government assistance … all of these apparent contradictions may have a common thread, that of aspiring to a lofty ideal while at the same hating our lowly selves for our failure to shed our basic nature and to become on with these ideals.
    Hmmm it’s already long-winded. Should I continue on a different topic, to explain why Chagatay is, gene-wise, the most important of the distant ancestors of Chaadayev (far more than “a 1/32,768th”) ? Are we ready for a discussion of genetics and heredity ;) ?

  26. PS: blames one’s misfortune on one’s inability to morph and assimilate completely and to shed all the vestiges of one’s cultural otherness
    Can’t resist an anecdote. A Russian-American family (from the 1970s wave of immigration, when the departing refuseniks had the door slammed shut behind them) raised their kid as a true American, English-only, all applie pie and no foreign cultural influences. The kid’s strongest word of blame to his parents has been, consistently, “You haven’t brought me up American enough! You still subverted my destiny by your own being too foreign!” As in, even, when his Chinese gf dumped him, this, too, was blamed on his vestigual Russian-ness, and in the end Mom’s failure to ensure his 100% assimilation.
    Doh, of course a teen’s parents always end up being “the dinosaurs” and all in the wrong :) But we took note from this tale, and never once made “perfect assimilation” look like a worthy goal to the kids. They better cuss us for our being wrong in any other way. But “wrong” for not making them “loose their heritage”? Sheesh, fat chance.

  27. maybe LH knows about this book
    http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft158004q8;chunk.id=0;doc.view=print
    seems like a great book, on Mandelshtam about Chaadaev, Tsvetaeva and others, self-denial, Russianism etc among other things
    needs to read it more slowly, i just scrolled down, seemed like so much, that, it’s like, pretty overwhelming
    curiously, M thought of buddhism as threatening

  28. Thanks, read! Mandelstam’s essay is actually a lot shorter, and more eloquent (and more fun to read IMVHO) than this book. The whole point of Mandelstam’s is that Chaadayev’s denial of Russia is … so quintessentially Russian. And it’s hard to disagree.
    Россия, в глазах Чаадаева, принадлежала еще вся целиком к неорганизованному миру. Он сам был плоть от плоти этой России и посмотрел на себя, как на сырой материал. Результаты получились удивительные.
    Chaadayev saw Russia as fully belonging to the world of chaos. He was flesh of this Russia’s flesh himself; he considered himself a mere raw material. And it led to wonderful results.
    Chaadayev’s idealized West is also quintessentially Russian:
    Только русский человек мог открыть этот Запад, который сгущеннее, конкретнее самого исторического Запада. Чаадаев именно по праву
    русского человека вступил на священную почву традиции, с которой он не был связан преемственностью.

    Only a Russian could have discovered *this* West, the one which is more concentrated and more concrete than the real historical West. Chaadayev exercised his Russianness when he stepped onto the sacred soil of the foreign tradition which didn’t have a hereditary bind to him.
    Return of Chaadayev to Russia is then compared to the Biblical return of doves to Noah’s Arc … the first seekers disappear, but then one of them comes back with a promise of new land and life; and with Dante’s return from Inferno. Many Russians never return, writes Mandelstam; sometimes their bodies stay put, but the souls are abroad. Chaadayev’s return to the City of Dead, as he called Moscow, is destiny, in a true Russian way.
    Of course to Mandelstam, there was also a more specific meaning of “wandering and return”, and Dante isn’t mentioned without a deep reason; for Mandelstam insisted that a Poet’s calling must be to bring home the messages from the Other Spheres. To fly far, far away and to be back with the verse.

  29. maybe LH knows about this book
    Yes, it’s an excellent book (Gregory Freidin’s A Coat of Many Colors: Osip Mandelstam and His Mythologies of Self-Presentation); I’ve quoted it a couple of times, e.g., here. Of course it’s not as “fun to read” in the usual sense as Mandelstam, but it’s not really fair to compare an academic to one of the great writers of the last century. If you’re interested in Mandelstam and don’t mind footnotes, there’s a lot of good stuff there.

  30. whose contribution to the philosopher’s genes was 1/(2^15), or about 1/32,768 (assume 5 centuries, 3 generations per century
    OK a bit of genes lore. The genealogy of Chaadayevs / Chegodayevs can only be traced back to 1600s, but if it indeed can be traced to Chagatai Khan (as is very likely), then not one but great many ancestral lines would ascend to this one historic person. Because Chagatai’s descendants have been numerous and socially advantaged; many of them would have married their distant cousins, making Chagatai himself a pra-ancestor in a multiple degree.
    But that’s not all. Chagatai’s brothers, Jochi, Udegei, Tolui, shared about half his genes, and their descendants would have had massive presence in Chaadayev’s family tree, indirectly passing Chagatai’s more genes to him.
    But even that’s not all. Chagatai’s genes were also widely shared with his clan, and with other Mongols, and Asians in general, and to a sizeable extent with the Russians too. Chaadayev would have inherited more of his pra-ancestors’ genes through his other ancestors who were more or less closely related to the Khan … his clan cousins, his tribal distant cousins, and his very distant cousins across the great landmass of Eurasia.
    One sizeable chunk of Chaadayev’s genome would have been essentially all Chagatai’s, it is the Y chromosome, the well-known “Genghiz haplotype” shared by millions of living people.
    A few more arcane points: while we get half of the genes from each parent, we do NOT get 25% of genes from each grandparent. In your father’s or mother’s half, exactly how much comes from each of their parents is purely a game of chance. Most of us are 5 to 10% “genetically closer” to one of our grandparents, because of this. Step back a few more generations, and these notions of 1/32rds or 1/64s etc. become fairly useless … that’s how the humans used to think about their ancestors, but it simply isn’t how it works. Some of your distant ancestors actually haven’t directly contributed *any* genes to your genome.
    Step back a few more generations, and you’d discover that most genes now come to you in bits and pieces (because the random reshuffling of DNA happens not just between genes, but within them, too). Numerous new mutations arise in each generation too, making your genes increasingly distinct from your ancestors. You still get a lot of “genetic material” from the ancient ones, but you can’t call these unchanged ancestral chunks “genes” any more.
    BTW the 3 generations per century is fairly close to the accepted estimate of 29 years.

  31. John Cowan says:

    When Daniel O’Connell taunted Disraeli in Parliament for his Jewishness (he was in fact a convert to Anglicanism), he famously replied “Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.”

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