Speech Genres: Individual vs Social

I think Bakhtin [intentionally, for his own purposes] misreads Saussure when he says: “Therefore, the single utterance, with all its individuality and creativity, can in no way be regarded as a completely free combination of forms of language, as is supposed, for example, by Saussure (and by many other linguists after him), who juxtaposed the utterance (la parole), as a purely individual act, to the system of language as a phenomenon that is purely social and mandatory for the individual.” (Bakhtin, 1986, 81; cursive is author’s).



Bakhtin, Mikhail. (1986) “The Problem of Speech Genres.” In Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Austin: University of Texas Press. 60-102.

Starbucks Durée

Starbucks is a cozy nook of a paradise for a citizen. It mimics home space yet is public. Since they are robots, citizens do not eat. They only have to show from time to time that there is nothing human from which they are completely estranged. This is where paper coffee cups and sugar substitutes come.

A surge of appetite—not hunger—accurate cones, rolls, candies, slices of cinnamon or chocolate bread, chalk on the blackboard: the menu. Starbucks is a culmination of the institutionalized eating of sweets.

The urban deity inhabits the mixer. Deity ex mixer.

Starbucks is not unique: it is ubiquitous, a specially organized shared space, like other corporations: McDonald’s, Wal Mart, Whole Foods. Starbucks is not unique and therefore Starbucks unifies. Globalization is written in the sheen of its surfaces with an invisible marker.

International corporations, such as malls, or Starbucks, produce spaces that never change, know no time of the day, nor season. Interiors are designed with intention to keep the customer unaware of floating of time. Starbucks creates durée around you, affect of sorts.

Nostalgic Audio Objects

“In Britain until the Second World War, the broadcast announcer was an anonymous authoritative (ruling-class) voice.” (Williams, 1988, 39)

One of the broadcast announcer on the Soviet radio during the Second World War, Yuri Levitan, had a velvet baritone with metal overtones. His voice embodied the power of the Soviet state. Levitan was an incarnation of the Soviet Leviathan. His intonations were triumphant and conquering, unwavering and suspenseful, and affective: prompting the listener to act and feel.

Please listen to this broadcast. The music of the radio was a familiar interlude. Then the voice of Levitan interjects and sounds like a voice of fate: “Attention! Moscow speaks.” This is the announcement of the German attach on Russia on June, 22, 1941.


This kind of presentation was a general mode of radio presentation at the time. For people back then, Levitan was almost a family member, a party comrade. Now, his voice is a nostalgic audio object.


Willliams, Raymond. (1988) Television: Technology and Cultural Forms.

Visual Representation of Things

I think that the interest to the Soviet past has been not very intense or deep, but steady. It is paired with the interest to visual representation of things, to black-and-white photography, movies. There is a certain political request of re-imagining the Soviet past. Which is more about adding a little bit of a gloss to it than about critical re-evaluation. It is nostalgic and lyrical, as Svetlana Boym noted on a number of occasions.

Notes to the Theory of Translation

Les belles infidèles — if they are beautiful, they are unfaithful.

Different worlds, between which you are doing translation, do not match up, they are incommensurable worlds.

That’s why the “skyscrapers of commentary” (Nabokov) are needed in order to make the translation accurate: if not precise, then at least approximating the meaning. Meaning ultimately can be translated, but the sheer joy of text is quite another matter. What kind of joy, beyond purely scholar enjoyment, is possible from reading the text that, as you know, is not going to be comprehensible unless you read “skyscrapers of commentaries”? Who is going to read commentaries and why?

Translation might be possible, or it might be impossible, but here is the situation when it has to be made, and the most amazing part is it is happening.

The point of the translation is that it is a repetition. The translated text should be seen as “the same thing,” or it’s not a translation. The idea of translation disturbs the idea of singularity of the text itself, because it says: The text can be repeated.

Cultures are “repeatable,” in a grand cultural trope of their difference. Cultures are different, but in a similar way: everyone has different food ways, and ways of organizing sleep. Radical forms of difference are universal: they are organized along the same scales — social life, political life, economic interactions, rituals, routines; these are totalizing entities. The translation of the text is happening between the two cultural universes.

Performance of Authenticity

Proving that they are a tribe to the state, the Mashpee have to perform their authenticity in the theater of court. Elaborate performance of authenticity shows that you are not authentic, yet to be considered authentic you have to perform your authenticity (Clifford, 1988). A Clifford paradox.
Clifford, James. (1988). “Identity in Mashpee” in “The Predicament of Culture.”

Notes to the Theory of Translation

According to Durkheim (1995), cultural and linguistic translation is universally possible and evolutionary defined: everyone, through different stages, should arrive at science, because societies are rooted in the real. Translation is inevitable, in a sense, since the humanity moves in one direction, that of universal progress.

Durkheim, Emile. (1995). The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Fields, trans. Free Press.

Affect: Nostalgia and Loss

Nostalgia is always connected with a sense of loss (Stewart, 1988). An acute feeling of having lost something might not be rational, it does not depend on the consideration that the loss was imaginative, or if the object sensed as lost did not exist in the first place, or if this loss has affected the future in a positive way. The contemplating of ruins easily begets nostalgia and the feeling of loss.

The concept of imaginative loss explains why it is possible to probe the waters of nostalgia being in a place you have never visited before. The question whether one would experience a surge of nostalgia is the question of having a particular swarms of associations evoked. Nostalgia verges on the border of déjà vu, slipping into recognition: what has happened, would not be happening any more, regardless of how often it had been happening before.

Ruination is the byproduct result of loss, the fixed material consequences of loss. Attempting to reconstruct, what it was that was lost, that was being lost right now, all sorts of arbitrariness take place. A sense that history might have go in other direction is vivid. The functionality of ruination is such that ruination has the ability to produce the image of the past in our consciousness. This image is very appealing, full of allure, and has very little to do with the actual past. It is the invocation of the past, reflected upon the future.

“Hegemonic and resistant nostalgias, “middle-class” and “working-class” nostalgias, the nostalgia of a “mass culture” and the nostalgia of and for local, nameable places are a three-ring circus of simultaneous images in the arenas of life-style, spectacle, and loss. The angst-ridden modern city is replaced by the delirious surround of consumer capitalism (Jameson 1983). Nostalgia, like the economy it runs with, is everywhere. But it is a cultural practice, not a given content; its forms, meanings, and effects shift with the context—it depends on where the speaker stands in the landscape of the present.” (Stewart, 1988).

This landscape of the present is not given also, but it is fluctuant and fluid, glitters vaguely; and the subjectivity experiencing nostalgia is shifting in the depth of it, now directed at the object, now at itself, but mostly reflecting itself and preoccupied with itself, and the object, or perhaps surroundings, the agglomeration of objects, the untold and not easily detectable but delectable characteristic of which triggers the avalanche of falsified memories, the atmosphere, the luminosity, the texture, the shadow, the trembling, the rapture and the twitch.

Nostalgia is a feeling that one is likely to have as a side effect of relocation. In case when ubiquitous ruins denote the bygone that was there, the relocation is happening without the change of locus, with all the force of emotion composing the feeling of being lost, the pressing necessity of re-finding oneself in the changed conditions of life; the despair, the regret, and the hope. Thus ruins reframe the ordinariness, making it possible for everyday life to hide the huge caverns of nostalgia where you can slip any time. Any day turns out to be charged with nostalgia for the moment that has just past. Nothing is stable, the certitude of the world is profoundly undermined.

Garden of Ruins / Nostalgic Seizure

With the breaking of the Communist rule, there emerged, among other architectural incongruent consequences, the gardens of ruins, stone gardens, in a way: specifically organized spaces where sculptures and monuments whose symbolic meaning expired, are collected. Inspirations that effigies had to provide before they were discarded, on a number of occasions were transformed into the didacticity of “look how terrible it was, how ugly, how megalomaniac, and how unstable and fleeting was their existence, as well as the existence of regimes which engendered them.” Such a park exists, for instance, in Moscow near the TsDKh, the Central House of Artist (Tsentralny Dom Khudozhnika; it retained its Soviet-time name), side by side with the agglomeration of the modern, quite amorphous and ugly, perhaps intentionally, contemporary sculpture. With their existence, they pose the question: To what extent and how ruins encode ideological meaning? They necessarily evoke the image of active construction, of practices that were at play at the time; of which they are mere husks. The splendor they once exuded is not lost, but transformed.

The charmed garden of the broken statues of Lenin, Dzerzhinsky, Stalin, sickles and hummers, machine gears and five-arrowed stars on the backyard of what seems to be civilization, restores in the mind of the visitor the USSR of a never arriving future. The utopia of a country, where only the best images of life proliferated and replicated, such as young pioneers applying their puffed lips to the horns, with the scarlet reflections of the red flag on their slightly downed, gilded cheeks, is floating here vaguely. Yet it is also impossible to look at the heavy bronze monuments without recollecting devindividualized, often nameless, dehumanized bare life in barren landscapes of forced labor camps. Another vision is a columbarium of the party cemetery, the niches of which, for instance, on Novodevichie cemetery, are full of ashes of devoted Communists. The sculpture garden is a columbarium of monuments.


Ivan Petrovich Petukhov, the member of KPSS since 1904. The member of the former Society of Old Bolshevicks. (Novodevichie cemetery)

Once again, looking at the garden of ruins, one could not help but notes: a huge bronze sculpture of the USSR national emblem, stone embodiments of revolutioners and Bolshevicks’: Felix Dzerzhinsky by Vuchetich (the monument which was previously towering over Lubyanka square); Yakov Sverdlov by Ambarzumyan; Slalin by Merkurov; writer Maxim Gorky, and several incarnations of Vladimir Lenin; fallic symbols of nations’ friendship, along with compositions commemorating deeds of the military glory, some probably discarded for no good reason.[1] Ironically or not, but certainly intentionally, “istukans” (“idols”) were gathered in vicinity of the modern memorial commemorating the repressed.



[1] In the spree of reconfiguring the space, unreasonable displacement of sculptures or acts of renaming happened on more than several occasions. Thus, when the names of the Moscow metro stations were changed massively, in the late 1980s and 1990s, exterminating the communist mapping of the city and replacing it with the map of the new times, the metro station Lermontovskaya, commemorating the name of the magnificent Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov, was wiped out from the plans. It was renamed to the supposedly historic Krasnie Vorota, The Red Gate, in honor of the triumphal arch above the ground, demolished in 1926 by Mossovet, the city administration of the Soviet government. Moscow palimpsest is the palimpsest of lacks, losses, glaring gaps and broken texture of a manuscript, rather than the palimpsest of careful obliteration of details and replacing them with new layers of meaning.

Post Soviet Spaces: Women and Men

The North American culture has developed a special type of masculinity Russia apparently did not. I’d never met so many so assertive men in my life while in Russia. I cannot decide whether I like it or not but apparently you could not confuse the American man.

I don’t know how would a man feel about women there and here, are they different or not; but I expect he would. Naturally, he would.

There was never an idea of the Soviet woman as a housewife, waiting for her husband in a light dress, elegant shoes, and with a nice band in her accurate do. Not to mention pin-up pictures, not to mention journals for men directed solely for boosting their consumptive masculinity, and reconstructing women exclusively as decorated objects. It was not in existence in the Soviet universe.  There were no rubrics like “A beautiful woman tells us an anecdote; note that the anecdote told by a beautiful women might not be funny” as The Esquire in Russia now has. There was plenty of the objectification of women and assigning the secondary roles but it was aligned along different power arrows.

In the public Soviet imaginary, the Soviet man, of course, was very masculine. He was a worker with bulging muscles, a builder of the new world, a savior of comrades suffering under capitalism; a learner of Marxism, a peruser of Lenin, a sailor / soldier / geologist; a son, a husband, and a father; a loyal Communist, a pioneer of the remote places, a cosmonaut, an architect of and laborer at the constructions of the century. His sins were few and itself masculine. He might have been a drunkard in his degraded version, in which case he was also a smoker, and was ridiculed and punished by the gentle Soviet satire. As the result of his alcoholism he was also a wreaker of the family and a frail wheel in the production machine. Sometimes he was unfaithful, but his wife was willing to forgive him. And that was all. He could not even to be gay, in the public mythology, or a buyer of prostitute’s services (on a side note, it was prostitutes who were being ridiculed, not the client). In the late Soviet period, as a young and a pretty effeminate man, he might have had a set of sins labeled “the slavelike mimicking of the West”: loving Western music, wearing long hair, jeans; actually buying stuff and enjoying it (omg), like a type recorder or something.

The Soviet woman was also undeniably masculine, feminine though she was as well. Her femininity was not constructed for the consumption of a man, it was intended for the state. She was a mother, or a future mother, no exceptions. She was healthy, had an open smile and good teeth; was robust, strong, capable of playfully doing man’s work. She was also a soldier if needed, but she amounted to a solid, square girlfriend of a soldier too. She did not concern herself with her looks, dresses, or accessories at all; she was beautiful with her brimming youth and excellent health, always eager to play sports, run, swim, fly, and do a set of energizing exercises. Her children were safely fed, put to sleep, woken up, read Marxist books, in daycare; and later taught in schools, joyful, carefree, looking smilingly in the future that their parents were building for them and for the globe, the future that kids themselves were about to embark on building, happily.

The Soviet woman was predominantly white and European-looking; but she did have friends and comrades of color, as did the man. The friendship between the nations was an inevitable part of ubiquitous propaganda. The emblematic image: children united, a white golden-haired boy, a black boy with thick lips, and a vaguely yellow kid of an uncertain gender, with slant eyes.

As an old woman, the Soviet woman was a mournful widower, she lost her husband and likely one of her sons, or her only son, to one of the Wars, but not just any war the USSR led; mother of her grownup children, and grandmother of her grandchildren. She belonged to rurality rather than to urban space. She had her head covered with a kerchief, wore a skirt, and her wrinkled, hard-working hands with spelled veins were always in the objective.

In the last twenty years everything has changed; it was a carefully created and maintained set of myths anyway.

I did not look at the statistics but I would guess American men marry Russian women more often than Russian men marry American women. I don’t know whether Russia is on the leading positions of the list of the countries prostituted by the Americans (the document should include mail-order brides’ statistics). I would guess right after the USSR official collapse, Russia and other former USSR countries jumped high up on such a list, and then gradually dropped to some place in the first half but not in the beginning.

I would expect an American woman is more demanding than a Russian woman. Other stereotypes needn’t be articulated here but probably speak for some conventional truth.