"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Is it the Third or Fourth Rome--and Who's Counting?

Tensions in the Orthodox world, and the pretensions of the Russian Church, can both be understood in part as the result of the longstanding fantasy that sees Moscow as the "Third Rome." The first Rome was ostensibly replaced in May 330 by the second or New Rome, Constantinople, and--so this reasoning goes--Constantinople in turn was lost in May 1453 when it fell to the Muslims. Shortly after that, Providence ostensibly used Ivan III (married to the niece of the last Byzantine emperor) to raise up Muscovy and its main city, Moscow, to become an imperial power ("tsardom") to occupy the place abandoned or lost by the previous two imperial cities. Now comes a new book to look at the history of the city itself: Katerina Clark, Moscow, the Fourth Rome: Stalinism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Evolution of Soviet Culture, 1931-1941 (Harvard University Press, 2011), 432pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
In the early sixteenth century, the monk Filofei proclaimed Moscow the “Third Rome.” By the 1930s, intellectuals and artists all over the world thought of Moscow as a mecca of secular enlightenment. In Moscow, the Fourth Rome, Katerina Clark shows how Soviet officials and intellectuals, in seeking to capture the imagination of leftist and anti-fascist intellectuals throughout the world, sought to establish their capital as the cosmopolitan center of a post-Christian confederation and to rebuild it to become a beacon for the rest of the world.
Clark provides an interpretative cultural history of the city during the crucial 1930s, the decade of the Great Purge. She draws on the work of intellectuals such as Sergei Eisenstein, Sergei Tretiakov, Mikhail Koltsov, and Ilya Ehrenburg to shed light on the singular Zeitgeist of that most Stalinist of periods. In her account, the decade emerges as an important moment in the prehistory of key concepts in literary and cultural studies today—transnationalism, cosmopolitanism, and world literature. By bringing to light neglected antecedents, she provides a new polemical and political context for understanding canonical works of writers such as Brecht, Benjamin, Lukacs, and Bakhtin. Moscow, the Fourth Rome breaches the intellectual iron curtain that has circumscribed cultural histories of Stalinist Russia, by broadening the framework to include considerable interaction with Western intellectuals and trends. Its integration of the understudied international dimension into the interpretation of Soviet culture remedies misunderstandings of the world-historical significance of Moscow under Stalin.

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