3 Silly Questions I am happy to answer:
1. Why did I create such a blog at all?
I am a trained humanitarian and I got sick and tired of that ‘humanities-are-not-real-sciences’ stuff. Not only it gives non-humanitarian public the misconception of humanities as of ‘worse’ academic occupations than, say, physics, it also spoils humanitarians themselves. At the point where you assume that ‘there are no proven facts, there are just interpretations’, it is quite tempting to write whatever you like (that Shakespeare was female or that the Bible was originally written in Chinese) and call it ‘research’. There are even a few freaks that actually do that. However, my blog is not aimed specially at debunking freak humanitarians who are, after all, a minority. The real problem is that, in humanities and social sciences, the borderline between freakish theories and commonly accepted ones is not infrequently blurred. So it would be helpful to perform a bit of critical analysis on some accepted ideas.
2. Why ‘No Heffalumps’?
Though the Disney cartoon made Heffalumps appear on screen, in the original Winnie-the-Pooh by Milne a Heffalump was what never existed. There was no evidence that it did. Yet Winnie-the-Pooh believed in its existence so much that he tried to catch it. All he had at his disposal were the word ‘Heffalump’ and the authority of his master who first used it. Yet Winnie-the-Pooh had in his mind quite a competed picture of what a Heffalump was – of its size, temper and eating habits.
Many grand ideas in social sciences and humanities are Heffalumps of some sort. That is, they come from authorities and are repeated many times, yet their validity has been tested little. I think that it would be an interesting challenge to uncover how much the most commonly accepted theories owe to the thinking patterns of a post-Enlightenment white Christian, rather than to scientific thinking.
3. Who am I?
In short – the Moscow Brat. This is the name you can address me formally on the web.
More on my identity… ( Read more...Collapse )
‘Public and Non-Public Space in Anglo-Saxon and Norse Culture’ , in Cultural Perspectives: Journal for Literary and British Cultural Studies in Romania. The University of Bacau, 2008. No 13.
‘Body and Society in Pre-Norman England’ , in A Full-Bodied Society, ed. by Logie Barrow and the late François Poirier. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010.
My earlier works in Russian (free downloads)
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Well, I read about it in Russian news. But I am posting a link to the Guardian web page where you can read how a journalist of an influential British periodical was expelled from Russia .
Is is shame. My first reaction was distress. I imagined more English people talking about 'those Russians'. I imagined more Russian people - business men, journalists and university professors of my kind - not allowed into UK for political reasons (while being totally innocent, to the extent of not reading newspapers at all). I wanted to cry out: 'Stop this theatre of absurd!'
But then I saw a happier side of it. After all, it is a Guardian man. I hope that this will give to all of you lefties enough shock to become more mature. Now you are too illusioned about the non-Western countries just because they are non-Western. It is time to abandon illusions. Yes, I live in a land of shame.
Well, I saw this film last weekend. And I must say that I had never seen such a perfect sample of middle-class spiritiality before.
What do I call 'middle-class spirituality'? I was going to explain it, but there is a review in New Humanist which does it much better.
The only thing that I can add up to it is the ultimate irony of the whole story. The heroine is unhappy to be a housewife; in the end she is going to be happy as a housewife, only of another man. Was the case that she just had the wrong husband? Well, does one need to travel across three countries, to eat lots of pasta and to learn how to meditate in order to change her husband? What all this fuss was for, then?As we in Russia say, 'a mountain has given birth to a mouse'.
And, while I am not a proper feminist (I admit that women do sometimes need to be loved by men or to get married), I find the film's message not undisturbing. There is an Indian girl who is to be given in marriage to a man whom she does not even know. When she is Western-dressed and wanting freedom, she is represented as ugly, bespectacled and ridiculous. At her wedding, she is wearing a sari and is as charming and glamorous as a Dysney princess. The wedding scene itself is improbably beautiful, with all these colurful dresses and flower garlands - like a souvenir sold to Westerners. There is the message of the film: seeking for freedom is bad, partiarchal lifestyles are good. Going to Italy and eating pasta (or going to India and meditating) are the bourgois small bits of rebellion socially approved within the middle-class morals - they are like therapy, after which one is expected to resume the proper conservative values.
For anyone interested in cultural anthropology -
This is my translation of a Russian charm from the Olonets Codex (an early 17th-century manuscript). I did it for Andrey Toporkov who first published the complete edition in Russian. Since I hope to see it in print, this entry is intended as a pre-print.
The original Russian text dates back to 1630s or 1620s. The translation is as accurate as possible.
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We historians who study pre-modern societies often have to face incredible accounts of most exotic and repelling things: senicide, cannibalism, bestiality, human sacrifice etc.
How critical we must be about such accounts? There are many scholars who tend to take them at face value. First of all, it is not infrequently presumed that in the 'archaic societies' all kinds of strange things could happen. Secondly, it is presumed that the witnesses had no reason to be wicked.
Let us turn to a very modern example.
What can be more charming and innocuous than realistic-looking tiny baby dolls? I bet any 8-year-old girl would be happy to have one.
Now, an adult artist created some plastic baby dolls. And some media had been wicked enough to claim that the dolls were made from marzipan and intended for eating! .
There is a lesson to us, historians. While it would be too hasty to conclude that things that seem repelling to a modern person never existed (yes they did! Gladiator fights existed indeed), you can never underestimate how wicked your sources could be. Before you write in your work that in the century so-and-so, in the country So-And-So, people practised human sacrifices, bestiality, ritual rapes etc. - stop and think. Witnesses are more often wicked than they are not
It is not infrequently claimed that the 1656 engraving of the Shakespeare monument found in Willim Dugdale's book of antiquities represents a thing different from what we see now in Stratford-upon-Avon (see, for instance, here and here ).
The summary goes like that: the 'original' monument depicted a trader with a sack of wool (or grain), but during the 1748 restoration it was amended into a poet resting his hands on a cushion.
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AFTER THEORY… AFTER WHICH THEORY?
When reading After Theory by Terry Eagleton (Penguin Books, 2004), I stumbled upon a phrase that somehow drew more of my attention than I intended to pay it:
‘the Western narcissism involved in working on the history of pubic hair while half the world’s population lacks adequate sanitation and survives on less than two dollars a day’ (p. 6).
What on earth does this guy mean, I might ask – am I a plumber or a staff manager? Does he in fact think that a historian’s job is providing sanitation or employment to poor people? However, he does not sound like joking. ( Read more...Collapse )