Q: Instead of classifying 20th and 21st century Russian thought by philosophical schools or traditions, your book highlights the weight of the generational dimension in the construction of thought. Why are you interested in the generational factor of philosophy?
The history of philosophy generally aims to study philosophical traditions and schools, but I'm interested in a new perspective, which is to study interpersonal and existential exchanges within philosophical communities. Over the course of my career, I have more than once realized that the emergence of new philosophical concepts results from the creation of bonds of friendship or, on the contrary, disputes within philosophical communities. The study of philosophical generations enables us to reconstruct the human context in which philosophy is formed. Outside this context, much will remain incomprehensible.
Of course, the answer to the question "Do philosophers work alone or together?" varies from one generation of philosophers to another. The attitude towards philosophy as exclusively personal work, subjecting the individual to a solitary lifestyle in a space of self-sufficient thought, is characteristic of the Russian generations who began philosophy in the 1950s, 1970s-80s and 2000s. For most philosophers of the 1960s, 1990s and 2010s, on the other hand, philosophy is a shared, collective affair. I believe that reading the history of philosophy as a history of philosophical generations will help to change the usual approach, focusing researchers' attention on the horizontal and vertical connections within the professional community, clarifying both the individual contributions and the influences that determine the birth and development of philosophical ideas, and perhaps also marking new milestones in the course of history and philosophy.
How do you define a philosophical generation?
The term "philosophical generation" that I have introduced is new and not yet legitimized (it can be found neither in philosophical encyclopedias nor in dictionaries of cultural studies and anthropology). The concepts closest to “philosophical generation” are “intellectual generation” and “cultural generation,” although they all reflect a different reality. It's important to point out that in philosophy, the time interval over which one or another generational paradigm prevails varies considerably. There are no standardized systems, patterns or approximate durations classifying generations into fifteen- or twenty-year intervals.
A philosophical generation is defined, in my view, by the existential contribution to philosophy made by people who are close to each other during their apprenticeship and integration into official and unofficial philosophical institutions. The mutual understanding of those who belong to the same philosophical generation, despite all their stylistic and ideological diversity, is based on the sharing of a bibliography, i.e. the intellectual foundations established during youth through literature, films, blogs, performances, exhibitions, poetry, music, journalism, folklore, social experience and travel. The philosophical generation refers not only to the age of those who "do philosophy", but to a professional community characterized by a "philosophical way of life" of its own, which didn't exist before. I’m speaking of the emergence of new questions and a new attitude towards philosophy itself, new ideas and meanings, new ways of discussing old problems or phenomena, a new social and cultural role for philosophy, a new understanding of the world and of man as a whole.
What are the different philosophical generations living together in Russia today? How would you characterize them?
In my opinion, we can distinguish six philosophical generations within the Russian philosophical space. The generation of the 1950s began their studies after the Second World War, but studied philosophy according to the pre-war paradigm. This generation came to philosophy in dark times, when the Soviet philosophical community was in ruins after Stalin's purges. This generation was delivered over to dogmatic Marxism and Leninism, but retained a keen critical interest in philosophy and was able to achieve professional fulfillment in its mature years.
The generation of the 1960s was the one whose university years coincided with Khrushchev's reforms. It was a romantic generation, open to the world, characterized by corporatism and solidarity. The philosophers of the 1960s felt confident in their own circle, united by their “allegorical language,” their myths (for example, the myth of the Arbat). Their culture was, in many ways, western culture. Their philosophy was defined by the ability to communicate, and they saw themselves as part of the global cultural tradition. They had something to say to the world in an egalitarian dialogue, so it was necessary for them to lift the Iron Curtain. This generation felt embarrassed and oppressed by isolationism. It was a universalist, ecumenical generation that sincerely believed in progress, hence the popularity of Hegelian philosophy in the 1960s. This generation reformed Marxism, revived the study of modern philosophy, phenomenology and existentialism. It was also associated with an upsurge in the study of Eastern philosophies, and the development of logical research and the methodology of science. This was the first post-war philosophical generation to achieve international professional recognition. Its intellectual center was the journal Questions of Philosophy(Voprosy filosofii), founded in 1947. This generation positions itself and is perceived by all as the philosophical generation par excellence.
The generation of the 1970s is a long one, beginning its philosophical journey at the end of the 1960s and taking shape before the onset of Gorbachev's perestroika. It was a generation of solitary, autonomous and self-sufficient individuals. Each cultivated their own direction, without feeling involved in their own generation. They didn’t like having generational standards applied to them, or being compared to the generation of the 1960s. They had no illusions, were pragmatic and were opposed to the generation of the “thaw,” which did not accept them into their circle. Having entered into the profession market in the stifling atmosphere of Brezhnevism, the 1970s generation generally sought spiritual sustenance in the absolute, beyond history and time. Their professional advancement was difficult and slow. Without the opportunity for self-fulfillment, their professional careers and sometimes even their lives came to an early end. While the 1960s generation gravitated towards large-scale projects, the generation of the 1970s-1980s appreciated the depth of immersion in a specific subject. They gathered in circles, but did not create their own generational reviews.
The 1990s philosophical generation is the one that studied philosophy at the dawn of perestroika, from the second half of the 1980s to the early 1990s. I belong to this generation. My generation's entry into philosophy took place during a short period of history, “perestroika,” in an atmosphere of freedom and open discussion. New books appeared, archives were opened. The tradition of the “Silver Age” era [a phrase referring to the artistic and intellectual proliferation in Russia in the late 19th–early 20th century] was revived, with open debates between people of different generations, professions and beliefs, converging in the pursuit of lively dialogue and mutual understanding. During these years, a new generation of sincerely bookish idealists emerged, who were fortunate enough to enter the profession at the beginning of the peak of “glasnost,” when it seemed that history in Russia was taking a new turn, defining a special role for the philosophical generation of the 1990s. Having received the impulse of freedom, my generation carried it throughout its life. The center of gravity of my philosophical generation was the magazine Logos (founded in 1991).
The 2000s generation is made up of those now just over forty, who entered the professional field in the second half of the 1990s. They continued the model of the 1970s and 1980s, broken down into solitary individuals and small groups of people. They experienced the collapse of the illusion that Russia could quickly and easily reproduce the European model and integrate the Western way of life. What’s more, after the massive infatuation with intellectual life at the end of the 1980s, it was very difficult to survive economically as a philosopher in the 1990s, marked by the difficulties of Russia's transition to a market economy. This generation accepted the logic of events, obeying the objective course of events. Many representatives of this generation cloistered themselves in philosophy, devoting their lives to the multiplication of knowledge, forgetting wisdom, i.e. the existential understanding of this knowledge. Others, on the contrary, abandoned vain knowledge, which had become a mortal barrier between them and their lives. A dividing line between the partisans of the analytic tradition and those of continental philosophy runs through this generation. This generation is fundamentally alien to the idea of a journal as a generational corporate center. It is a collection of dissimilar units, distinguished by their value orientations.
The generation of the 2010s is that of the “grandchildren of perestroika,” aged around thirty. It has inherited from its teachers of the 1990s generation an interest in the identity of culture and life, tradition and freedom, European history and the concrete character of Russia. A distinctive feature of this generation is its openness to interaction. This was a brilliant, close-knit generation that felt at home in the Russian philosophical space and beyond. A generation that received a brilliant education, is free, professional, works for pleasure and is success oriented. Sadly, this promising generation has been shattered by the war. Many members of this generation left Russia after February 24, 2022. Those who remained are now facing a crisis. Time will tell what awaits this generation, and how and where they will be able to find professional fulfillment. I have faith that they will find success in school and life. The spirit of this generation, which gravitates towards various forms of collaborative work and sees philosophy as a collective affair, can be found in the magazine Fig Juice (Finikovyy kompot), founded in 2012.
In short, these six generations can be designated as follows: post-Stalin, thaw, stagnation, glasnost, market reforms and relocalization...Or: the generation of Marxist-Leninist philosophy; the generation of Hegel and the young Marx; the generation of reformed Marxism, Kant and Derrida; the generation of Nietzsche, Foucault, Berdyaev and Solovyov; the generation of Heidegger, Wittgenstein and Ivan Ilyin; the generation of Deleuze, Arendt, Dennett and Chalmers...Or in another way: a generation that spoke dogmas, a generation that spoke its allegorical language, a silent generation, a generation that translated into Russian, a generation of interpreters, a generation that speaks the languages of the world...The variations are numerous.
You began studying philosophy at Moscow University in 1987, at the height of perestroika. What was the intellectual atmosphere like in Moscow at that time?
My philosophical generation brings together people who came to philosophy in the mid-1980s and 1990s. Our entry into the profession came at a time of open opportunities and vibrant emotions, years of hope for transformation. Borders and stereotypes were broken down. Traditional national values were revived in a spirit of universalism. A sense of openness to the world gave rise to a sense of living in history. It was a time when we really felt the link between times, when we recognized the world in all its diversity and heterogeneity. Culture and everyday life were inseparable and full of meaning. In the spiritual atmosphere of this period, we felt the birth of a new global sense, the personal participation of each and every one of us in world culture. In 1989, the Department of History and Theory of World Culture was created in the Faculty of Philosophy at Moscow State University. I don't think there has ever been, and it's unlikely there ever will be, another university department that brings together so many geniuses. Sergey Averintsev, Vladimir Bibikhin, Mikhail Gasparov, Aron Gurevich, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Georgy Knabe, Elezar Meletinsky gave extremely popular public lectures there. Even the huge auditoriums of Moscow State University's first humanitarian building could not accommodate all those who wished to attend.
By the end of the 1980s, religious conversions among young people had also become more frequent. Lectures by Father Alexander Men, Father Artemy Vladimirsky and Deacon Andrei Kuraev were scarcely less popular than speeches by famous scientists. However, it would be wrong to say that only the Russian Orthodox Church prospered. The early 1990s were a time of religious and denominational self-determination: the number of Catholic and Protestant parishes grew considerably, and Russia's Muslim and Jewish communities experienced a second wind.
On the other hand, this era was also marked by a politicization of Russian society that reached proportions unprecedented even for a country as ideological as Soviet Russia. From the first Congress of People's Deputies onwards, almost every political event united large numbers of people sitting in front of their TV sets. The 1989 summer exam season was under threat as teachers and students stood in front of their TV screens, watching government debates taking place across the country. Thousands of democratic demonstrations became an integral part of metropolitan life in late 1989 and the early 1990s.
This period was also remarkable for being steeped in art. Tiny theater studios sprang up, boldly experimenting and innovating; photography, art and sculpting studios were transformed into clubs. Academia, and indeed the whole of Moscow, lived the life of a great festive spectacle. The entrance hall of Moscow State University was halfway between a creative laboratory, a concert hall and an exhibition hall.
What shared references, inspirational figures and readings formed the common ground of your generation of philosophers? What were the great debates that inspired you?
I don't think I'd be mistaken if I listed, among the books that every student of the philosophical generation of the 1990s read in their youth, two monographs by Piama Gaidenko, The Tragedy of Aestheticism. An Experiment in Characterizing Kierkegaard's Worldview and Fichte's Philosophy and Modernity, Erich Solovyov's The Unconquered Heretic (Martin Luther and His Time), and Valery Podoroga's trilogy The Metaphysics of Landscape. Communicative strategies in nineteenth- and twentieth-century philosophical culture. I'm sure that today, among the philosophers of my generation, no one has forgotten the songs of Boris Grebenshchikov, Yuri Shevchuk and Viktor Tsoi. We discussed the music of Edison Denisov, Sofia Gubaidullina and Alfred Schnittke, sang Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Our cult films, along with Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker, Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point and Sergei Solovyov's Assa, were Pink Floyd: The Wall by Alan Parker and The Courier by Karen Shakhnazarov. We knew the films of Bertolucci, Visconti, Pasolini, Fellini, Buñuel and Bergman by heart. We spoke Borges, Hesse, Mann, Proust and Salinger, and knew by heart not only Brodsky, Mandelstam, Pasternak, Gumilyov, Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva, but also Mallarmé. We debated Umberto Eco, Kafka, Joyce, Dürrenmatt, Nossack, Pavic, Kundera, Cortazar, Amado and Marquez.
Our generation has realized its full potential in historical and philosophical work. It has produced an impressive number of analyses and translations of the latest Western and Eastern works, and of the classics of Russian philosophy. Several representatives of our generation have founded publishing houses that have shaped the philosophical tastes and thinking style of Russian-speaking intellectuals.
What was your relationship with previous generations? Which generations did you feel you inherited?
Poet Andrei Voznesensky described the 1990s as an echo of the 1960s. This formula is also true for philosophical generations. My generation learned philosophy from Khrushchev's thaw generation, which initiated the second thaw — that of Gorbachev. The generation of the 1990s inherited sociability, faith in fraternity, solidarity, openness to the world and the conviction that science in general, and philosophy in particular, is a collective affair from the teachers of the 1960s. It was the 1960s generation that passed on to us the baton of personal commitment to the cultural tradition and the ideal of a free and open scientific community, whose main criteria for success are professionalism and the ability to create new meanings. They have passed on to us the aspiration to the future, the desire to go beyond the limits of what was originally set. They opened the doors of the scientific community to us, immediately taking us seriously. They saw us as their intellectual successors. Like the 1960s generation, our philosophical generation formed around a philosophical journal that became the mouthpiece of our philosophical paradigm - Logos, which, after ten years of existence, became a genuine competitor to the 1960s generation's journal, Problèmes de philosophie. Our generation saw itself as neither Soviet nor non-Soviet. We were the first post-Soviet philosophical generation.
Why was the legacy of the liberal thinking of perestroika (Yuri Afanasyev, Leonid Batkin, Yuri Levada, Yuri Burtin...) quickly forgotten and neglected in post-Soviet Russia?
Yes, from autumn 1986 onwards, we were all reading the magazines Novy Mir, Znamya, Ogonyok, Moskovskie Novosti with articles by Yuri Afanasyev, Leonid Batkin, Yuri Levada, Yuri Burtin, Boris Grushin, Otto Latsis, Nikolai Shmelev... But during the perestroika years, the trajectory of Russian society's development changed. On the one hand, the revolutionary intellectual boom was replaced by a struggle to improve private life. On the other, academic research took over from socio-political journalism. The social sciences, isolating themselves from the daily hustle and bustle in libraries and confining themselves to discussions within their professional communities, missed the boat and failed to notice the restoration of the old anti-Western values being cultivated in the Soviet years. Liberal leaders were true masters of thought, their authority was absolute, and their renown bordered on that of the classics of world literature and the heroes of world wars. Why have their names disappeared? I think it’s a natural process: they fulfilled their civil duty with honor and remain in the grateful memory of many Russians. It’s thanks to these people that Russia has lived in dignity for over two decades. Why are their names not heard today? Because of a pendulum swing.
The rise to power of the conservatives was based on many factors: old social stereotypes, fear of the new, lack of personal knowledge of the world outside Russia, the unfamiliarity of most Russians with foreign languages and, consequently, the lack of alternative sources of information, the absence of an unambiguous questioning of the Stalinist past at state level... Added to this are persistent fears and antinomies operating at the archetypal level: admiration for all power and strength, and, at the same time, lack of confidence in state institutions; persistence of Soviet collectivism but lack of solidarity; suspicion of those who dare to raise their voice and, at the same time, refusal to take responsibility...Getting rid of the past requires patience and a lot of time.
Other thinkers, such as emigrants Nikolai Berdiaev and Ivan Iline, became very popular...Indeed, instead of a single ideology based on the necessary quotation of Marx's or Lenin's texts at every opportunity, both appropriate and inappropriate, ideological pluralism came onto the scene — each political group chose an appropriate philosopher, whose name began to be used as a label denoting its ideological preferences. Before the collapse of the USSR, at the start of Gorbachev's democratic reforms, Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900) was the main philosopher referenced. His inherent universalism, calls for tolerance and assertion of the unity of Western culture and civilization proved most welcome as the country entered a single global community. Nikolay Berdyaev (1874-1948) can be considered the second most popular author of his time. His famous works The Sources and Meaning of Russian Communism, The Russian Idea: Essential Problems of Russian Thought in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries and The Meaning of Creation, with their characteristic search for the religious truth of communism, softened the blow of the collapse of socialist values and helped the country emerge from its ideological crisis.
In 1990, when Russian sovereignty was declared, the figure of Vasily Rozanov (1856-1919) came to the fore. The themes of his thought — moderate conservatism and nationalism, admiration for the traditional way of life, emphasis on the everyday problems of the individual, family and gender issues, glorification of domestic comfort—won him immense popularity. Russia's subsequent self-determination as a sovereign state and the difficulties associated with it subsequently led to the emergence of two antagonistic camps in the country's ideological space: the liberal-anti-imperial camp, which espoused the ideas of Georgiy Fedotov (1886-1951), and the fiercely anti-Western Union of Imperial Forces, of which Ivan Ilyin (1883-1954) was an effigy.
In 1996, you defended your doctoral thesis on “Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy in Russia (late 19th–early 20th century).” Why did you choose this subject? How has Nietzsche been received by post-Soviet philosophical generations?
My interest in Nietzsche grew out of my interest in early twentieth-century Russian religious philosophy. During my years at university, I, like many of my classmates, was fascinated by skimming through specialized libraries and archives to read previously forbidden texts by Russian philosophers, in which Nietzsche occupied one of the central places. I was interested by the fact that not only symbolists and idealist philosophers, but also Russian Marxists perceived Nietzsche as a spiritual prophet who gave the world the idea of a religious justification for the meaning of creativity, a modernizer of life, a reformer of Christianity. Moreover, I've noticed that the positive or negative attitude of the Russian intellectual elite towards Nietzsche's legacy since the late 19th century serves as an indicator of Russia's pro- or anti-Western trajectory. Nietzsche’s name invariably comes to the forefront when one of Russia's eternal questions — issues of cultural and national identity — becomes topical. Depending on whether the quest for Russian identity is perceived as a means of drawing closer to the West, a pledge of Russia's Westernization, or, on the contrary, as the basis for isolationism through the Russification and "nationalization" of non-European Russia, Nietzsche's name acquires positive or negative connotations. It was important for me to understand the logic behind the formation of twentieth-century Russian philosophy through the history of Russian Nietzscheanism.
If we’re talking about the present, then Nietzsche is still at the center of attention for two philosophical generations — my generation of the 1990s and the generation of the 1970s-1980s. Christian neoconservatives, who advocate the transformation of Russia into an anti-Nietzschean “Eastern Christian civilization,” blame Nietzsche for having created those post-classical values of the modern world, those of Western Europe, which contradict the image of classical Europe, that eternal and inaccessible ideal of Europe, which they dream of embodying in Russia, but which, in fact, exists only in the mythical past or future. In contrast, Dugin's "Third Way" ideologists quote Nietzsche's aphorisms out of context. They see their task as forming in Russia the “conservative-revolutionary pole of the Eurasian imperial order”— in other words, a new path for Russia's development as non-European. Much work remains to be done to rethink Nietzsche's legacy, both academically and popularly, to rid his name of its associations with far-right Russian conservatism, ultranationalism and Eurasism.