Damskij Mir and Occultism

Jane Gary Harris, University of Pittsburgh

Damskij Mir belongs to the type of early twentieth-century woman's periodical which assumes that the woman's struggle and its potential solutions must be aired within the privileged space of the woman's world, on woman's terms. Although the definition of this privileged space of female subjectivity--the domain of separateness, difference, autonomy and identity--has continued to be a major philosophical and psychological issue of twentieth-century women's discourse, such publications have been largely dismissed by both Russian and Western scholars as "apolitical," "domestic," or "bourgeois," that is, as non-ideological and therefore irrelevant. The fact that such women's periodicals have consistently emphasized "rights" specific to female identity (in addition to, or in contrast to, civil equality or civil identity) has not been recognized for many reasons, perhaps mainly because such rights were rarely couched in the language of political discourse, and thus not recognized as "rights," or because they were embedded in the discourse of a "separate" women's culture which privileged issues traditionally defined by men as women's priority. Indeed, the more obvious of these "rights" were usually represented as "moral issues," and hence, treated as secondary concerns or dismissed as "women's issues," rather than "rights."

At the end of the twentieth century, Luce Irigaray still speaks of the need to re-define women's rights, of the need for women to "tailor the rights they have gained in the name of equality to their own identity as women." Particularly apt are Irigaray's statements that the women's movement is "a privileged space of elaboration of new discursive practices, which enables the political evolution of feminism," and that women's collective efforts will "empower and symbolize her specific sexuality, jouissance, textual practice, and political vision."

Above all, perhaps such early twentieth-century women's periodicals as Damskij Mir offered their readers a privileged space or world in which to construct and explore the female self. They offered an illusion of security by providing a forum in which being a woman is accepted as unproblematic and as sufficient qualification for participating in the culture of the magazine. That culture may be defined in terms of "woman talk," or women's discourse. However, the range of that discourse expanded greatly over the course of the existence of this specialized press. But how did these publications add new dimensions to the expression of women's discourse and discussion of women's identity? How did they identify the woman's angle on topics of discourse (i.e., war and peace, health, work); and how did they gender topics not previously gendered?

I will focus on Countess Aleksandra Zaxarovna Murav'eva's Damskij Mir (1907-1918), a commercially successful upper class venture which was initiated as a fashion magazine, but quickly expanded its coverage with an emphasis on all the new trends in European and Russian culture, and by 1910, included a minimal political agenda as well. In addition to realist fiction of both Russian and European origin, Murav'eva introduced the most fashionable Russian women authors of the day. Hence, it may not be surprising that it was this periodical which introduced the discourse of occultism in 1907-1908, but how that discourse was introduced quite consciously as a gendered discourse--that is, as a mode of thinking and writing corresponding to the feminine, the romantic, the transgressive and the revolutionary--is the topic I wish to explore in more detail in this paper. Why specifically, the interest in the occult? How is that topic broadened, gendered, reinterpreted? And how is the gendering of the occult associated with women's endeavor both to redefine knowledge and to redefine their own identity as women? How is the occult employed by women thinkers and writers? What might the gendering of the occult have signified for women's discourse, women's publishing, and the women's movement?