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Models of Personal Conversion in Russian cultural history of the 19th and 20th centuries

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Edited By Jens Herlth and Christian Zehnder

This volume offers a view of modern Russian intellectual culture as shaped by the dynamic of conversions. The individual contributions examine a rich variety of personal conversions occurring in a culture in which the written word enjoyed a privileged status and, historically, was closely linked to the sacred. However, the essays presented go beyond the original meaning of conversion as a change of religious beliefs. They address shifts in style, aesthetic outlooks, and mindsets, political and ideological transfigurations as well as religious conversions in the true sense of the term.
Whether at the level of culture, society or biography, the study of conversions opens the way to profound reflections about questions of identity, cultural ruptures, and continuity. The awareness of former conversions and the possible «convertibility» of one’s own ideological, spiritual or social stance has been among the central traits of Russian intellectual culture during the last two centuries.
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“To Be Means to Communicate …” Tat’iana Bek’s Poetry: A Dialogue Between the Poet and God

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The words quoted in the title of this chapter have been well known for a long time. They belong to Mikhail Bakhtin and were written with reference to Dostoevsky’s work, and in the course of time, after many reiterations, they began to sound like an aphorism. Therefore, it seems to make sense to bring these words back into the context where they were first set down in 1929 in the book on Dostoevsky.

It is impossible to master the inner man, to see and understand him by making him into an object of indifferent neutral analysis; it is also impossible to master him by merging with him, by empathizing with him. No, one can approach him and reveal him – or more precisely, force him to reveal himself – only by addressing him dialogically … Only in communion, in the interaction of one person with another, can the “man in man” be revealed, for others as well as for oneself. It is fully understandable that at the center of Dostoevsky’s artistic world must lie dialogue, and dialogue not as a means but as an end in itself. Dialogue here is not the threshold do action, it is the action itself. It is not a means for revealing, for bringing to the surface the already ready-made character of a person; no, in dialogue a person not only shows himself outwardly, but he becomes for the first time that which he is – and, we repeat, not only for others but for...

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