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Epistemological Gaps in Cultural Theories of the Soviet East and Democratic West in the 1960s and 1970s

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EGap (Epistemological Gaps in Cultural Theories of the Soviet East and Democratic West in the 1960s and 1970s)

Reporting period: 2017-11-07 to 2019-11-06

1)Keti Chukhrov’s research, questions the old Cold War and conservative Slavic studies’ view of the Brezhnev years in the Soviet Union, the 1960s and 1970s were a period of unmitigated intellectual stagnation. Her argument challenges, therefore, the ordinary assumption within contemporary art history and post-socialist Soviet studies that the most interesting and valuable cultural and intellectual work in the Soviet Union occurred during the heroic early years of the revolution (1917-1927). On the contrary, her research shows that the 1960s and 1970s were host to an extraordinarily inventive range of work in philosophy, art practice and theory, literature theory, cultural theory and cosmology (for example, the new science fiction, Evald Ilyenkov’s ‘dialectics of the ideal’, Moscow conceptual art, and debates on women’s liberation ‘beyond gender’). But the central and innovative aspect of her research, is its insistence that this work is not simply a prefiguration of the capitalist transition. The novel and heterodox features of these years are not the early signs of the ‘postmodernization’ that will occur during the 1990s and 2000s (the standard Slavic and post-socialist studies position), but, rather, evidence of the distinctive qualities and critical possibilities of the late Soviet experience itself. Indeed, Chukhrov argues that these wide-ranging - if marginal - ‘post-Party’ ideas and cultural forms in this period not only create a renaissance in Soviet culture and intellectual life (despite the crisis of the economy), but also influenced cultural, philosophical and scientific discourse in Europe. Hence, the new philosophical ideas, the new art and new cultural theories generated during the 1960s and 1970s offer something other than mere precedent. Far from this period being one of extended and uniform collapse, artists, philosophers and writers, produce socialist conception of the modern and modernization worthy of the critique of Stalinism.

2) Chukhrov’s revisionist history, is not an attempt to culturally rehabilitate Brezhnevism politically, or diminish the difficulties that the new work faced on the ground, but to show how by the 1960s aspects of Soviet culture and intellectual life were undergoing a particular modernist transformation of its own – that is one that is defined, by a new collective social idealism, in which emancipatory thought and practice lay beyond both the husk of the Soviet state and the capitalist West. As such, Chukhrov argues, these ideals achieve a new perspicacity and value within the framework of the global ‘social and collective’ turn in art and cultural theory today. In this respect her work achieves two things in terms of social impact and significance: firstly, it opens up those blocked Cold War pathways on both the right and left, that defined the capitalist transition as one of unambiguous escape from the inertia of the Soviet past; and, secondly, in repositioning (unofficial) philosophy, art and culture in the Soviet Union within an international framework, it retrieves the critical thought and practice of this period from condescension.

3) The overall objective of Chukhrov’s research has been to re-periodize late Soviet experience as a way of contesting the bland triumphalism of the capitalist transition. That, is, she challenges the assumption that there is nothing worth detaining us from the Soviet Union, beyond its avant-garde and heroic early years. Consequently, the aim of aim of the workshops and public discussions, and conference contributions, has, crucially, been pedagogic: to present the validity of this revisionist argument in dialogue with specialists and experts who are in a position to a redefine the post-transition agenda across a range of disciplines. This was reflected in the final (interdisciplinary) workshop, at the Max Planck Institute (27/10/2019), which focused on the philosophy of Evald Ilyenkov, and brought together researchers in the areas of: the history of science, continental philosophy, Soviet history, art theory, literature, semiotics, and computation.
"Work performed

Chukhrov delivered an extensive range of talks and lectures at a number of leading Universities and art institutions in Europe, North America and Russia, that covered all the key research themes of the Fellowship, and supported the public impact and academic dissemination of the project. These included: University of Ljubljana (11-14 Jan 2018), Kampnagel, Hamburg, (10 Feb, 2018), Pushkin Museum, (26-28 Feb 2018), University of Birmingham, (March 21, 2018), Cambridge University, (April 14, 2018), University of Chicago, (May 21-22, 2018), E-flux foundation, NY, (May 26, 2018), Ljubljana Museum of Modern Art (August 25, 2018), Free University, Berlin, (November 19 2018), Edinburgh University, (May 20 2019), Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, (May 24-25 2019), Hospitalfield, Scotland, (June 29 2019), Whitechapel Gallery, London, (September 28 2019), Courtauld Institute of Art, London, (October 11 2019)

One conference (University of Westminster) one symposium, and one workshop were also delivered (Goldsmiths College and Max Planck Institute Berlin) and were all crucial to the successful public impact of the Individual Fellowship. Originally, we intended to collaborate with the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies at the University of Sheffield and the IC1(Institute for Critical Inquiry) in Berlin, on the organisation of the symposium and workshop, but internal administrative changes at both institutions in the interim, made it impossible for us to pursue this end. However, Goldsmiths and the Max Planck Institute, were happy to work with us, and provided excellent support for the discussion of Chukhrov’s research.
The research will be published as the monograph ""Practicing the Good. Desire and Boredom in Soviet Socialism"" at the University of Minnesota Press, 2020.


Conference, ‘Soviet Cosmologies and Ontologies’, organized in collaboration with David Cunningham, University of Westminster, London, October 26, 2018

Symposium, ‘Soviet Marxism and Psychoanalysis’, organized in collaboration with The Center for Philosophy and Critical Thought, Goldsmiths College and Alberto Toscano; respondent – Samo Tomsic, May 3 2019

Workshop, Max Planck Institute, Berlin, ‘Marxist Dialectics at the Time of Computational Mind', organized in collaboration with Sascha Freiberg (Max Planck Institute) October 27 2019"
The completed Fellowship research will be published as a book (Practising the Good: Desire and Boredom in Soviet Socialism), Minnesota Press, 2020. This will confirm Chukhrov's growing influence in the new Slavic studies. The extension and deepening of her research during Horizon 2020, will also feed into her new teaching when she returns to her position, at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, School of Cultural Studies, Moscow, as well as supporting her continuing success as an international guest speaker.