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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: July 2012

4 - Asia

from PART I - CULTURAL IDENTITY
Summary

Grattez le Russe et vous trouverez le Tartare!

(Scratch a Russian, find a Tatar!)

napoleon bonaparte (attr.)

Let it be clearly understood that the Russian is a delightful person till

he tucks in his shirt. As an Oriental he is charming. It is only when

he insists upon being treated as the most easterly of western peoples

instead of the most westerly of easterns that he becomes a racial anomaly

extremely difficult to handle.

rudyard kipling, The Man Who Was

No less than other peoples, Russians have traditionally been open to the proposition that there is a logical meaning and significance to be read into their geographical position in the world. And because they are further inclined to believe that this significance of location has direct implications for the most basic questions about their national identity and destiny, it has commonly been the object of rather intense preoccupation. In the case of Russia, “location” is to be understood first and foremost in terms of a gradient running east to west, that is to say from the Orient to the Occident. The country, it is well appreciated, had the peculiar historical–geographical fate to emerge and develop in a vast intermediary space between highly differentiated zones of global civilization, and the ensuing sense of occupying some sort of critical middle ground has been pervasive, throughout modern Russian history at least. To be sure, Russia is not the only society to see a significance in its intermediate position (one thinks immediately of Germany, or indeed Turkey) but it is fair to say that in no other country has this awareness worked to provoke such an enduring and profoundly disquieting ambivalence in the national psychology. In Russia, this ambivalence assumes the form of a sort of existential indeterminacy between East and West, a veritable geo-schizophrenia which for nearly three centuries has penetrated irresistibly and tormentingly to the very core of the society's self-consciousness.

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The Cambridge Companion to Modern Russian Culture
  • Online ISBN: 9781139030359
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9781107002524
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