Aus unseren Neuerwerbungen – Slavistik 2020.2


Cather­ine & Diderot: the empress, the philoso­pher, and the fate of the Enlight­en­ment
A dual biog­ra­phy craft­ed around the famous encounter between the French philoso­pher who wrote about pow­er and the Russ­ian empress who wield­ed it with great aplomb.
In Octo­ber 1773, after a gru­el­ing trek from Paris, the aged and ail­ing Denis Diderot stum­bled from a car­riage in win­tery St. Peters­burg. The century’s most sub­ver­sive thinker, Diderot arrived as the guest of its most ambi­tious and admired ruler, Empress Cather­ine of Rus­sia. What fol­lowed was unprece­dent­ed: more than forty pri­vate meet­ings, stretch­ing over near­ly four months, between these two extra­or­di­nary fig­ures. Diderot had come from Paris in order to guide—or so he thought—the woman who had become the continent’s last great hope for an enlight­ened ruler. But as it soon became clear, Cather­ine had a very dif­fer­ent under­stand­ing not just of her role but of his as well. Philoso­phers, she claimed, had the lux­u­ry of writ­ing on unfeel­ing paper. Rulers had the task of writ­ing on human skin, sen­si­tive to the slight­est touch.
Diderot and Catherine’s series of meet­ings, held in her pri­vate cham­bers at the Her­mitage, cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of their con­tem­po­raries. While heads of state like Fred­er­ick of Prus­sia feared the con­se­quences of these con­ver­sa­tions, intel­lec­tu­als like Voltaire hoped they would fur­ther the goals of the Enlight­en­ment.
In Cather­ine & Diderot, Robert Zaret­sky traces the lives of these two remark­able fig­ures, invit­ing us to reflect on the fraught rela­tion­ship between pol­i­tics and phi­los­o­phy, and between a man of thought and a woman of action.
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Dos­to­evsky and the rid­dle of the self
Dos­to­evsky was hos­tile to the notion of indi­vid­ual auton­o­my, and yet, through­out his life and work, he vig­or­ous­ly advo­cat­ed the free­dom and invi­o­la­bil­i­ty of the self. This ambiva­lence has ani­mat­ed his diverse and often self-con­tra­dic­to­ry lega­cy: as pre­cur­sor of psy­cho­analy­sis, fore­fa­ther of exis­ten­tial­ism, post­mod­ernist avant la let­tre, reli­gious tra­di­tion­al­ist, and Roman­tic mys­tic.
Dos­to­evsky and the Rid­dle of the Self charts a uni­fy­ing path through Dostoevsky’s artis­tic jour­ney to solve the “mys­tery” of the human being. Start­ing from the unusu­al forms of inti­ma­cy shown by char­ac­ters seek­ing to lose them­selves with­in larg­er col­lec­tive selves, Yuri Cor­ri­g­an approach­es the fic­tion­al works as a con­tin­u­ous exper­i­men­tal can­vas on which Dos­to­evsky explored the prob­lem of self­hood through recur­ring sym­bol­ic and nar­ra­tive par­a­digms. Pre­sent­ing new read­ings of such works as The Idiot, Demons, and The Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov, Cor­ri­g­an tells the sto­ry of Dostoevsky’s career-long jour­ney to over­come the pathol­o­gy of col­lec­tivism by dis­cov­er­ing a pas­sage into the wound­ed, embat­tled, for­bid­ding, rev­e­la­to­ry land­scape of the psy­che.
Corrigan’s argu­ment offers a fun­da­men­tal shift in the­o­ries about Dostoevsky’s work and will be of great inter­est to schol­ars of Russ­ian lit­er­a­ture, as well as to read­ers inter­est­ed in the pre­his­to­ry of psy­cho­analy­sis and trau­ma stud­ies and in the­o­ries of self­hood and their cul­tur­al sources.
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