Christology in Emigration: Toward a Redefinition of Russianhood

David B. Polet, University of Wisconsin, Madison

The Russian intelligentsia found itself in a unique situation in emigration, forced out of their homeland. Having championed ideas which helped bring about the Bolshevik revolution, the intelligentsia, led by many religious and philosophical thinkers like Fedor Stepun, Il’ja Fondaminskij, Lev Šestov, and Nikolaj Berdjaev, the intelligentsia continued its probing into the “paths of Russia” by continuing along the assumed historical path of Russia while redefining the direction of the path due to the upheaval.

The history of the intelligentsia underscores the redefinition which was occurring in the Russian community. Living in the West, the émigrés did not fully assimilate into Western life but tried to continue and create a new Russia in the West, a Russia based on the values and structures of a bygone era but endowed with a new, deeper understanding of the nature of Russia. This was accomplished, first and foremost, by the continuation of the tradition of the tolstye žurnaly. What this presentation aims to accomplish is to show how the discussions in, as well as the very nature of tolstye žurnaly, established a link between the old and the new and allowed for a reexamination of this new Russia by redefining some of the basic metaphors which reflected the self-perception of Russia.

The first part of the presentation will focus on the nature of the intelligentsia community. I will argue that the writing of “thick journals” was one indication of the bridge between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The nature of the concerns (the plight of the impoverished in Soviet Russia, for example) which pervade sovremennye zapiski reflect not just a political agenda, but a re-examination of the ideals of the older generations of the intelligentsia. To that end, the writers in the journal began to reformulate the definition and metaphors of Russia which reflected the new political and social reality. I will focus a couple of cultural metaphor shifts.  First is the shift in the nature of Russian messianism. Whereas the pan-Slavic view may have been indicative of the 19th century identifier of Russia as the bringer of a Christian  kingdom to the world (a glorious messianism), the new metaphor focuses on the messianic quality of suffering and the idea of being a remnant after the fall. This idea can be seen in various articles written throughout the 1920s by Mark Višnjak, Il’ja Fondaminskij, and Stepun. By looking at the series “Na rodine,” “Puti Rossii,” and “Mysli o Rossii,” I will show how these metaphors take form. Furthermore, the idea of the Kingdom of Christ, so much tied into the messianic idea as well as supporting an “ecclesiastical” view of the world, begins to fade away, and the idea of the Era of the Spirit starts to emerge. This can be seen not only by the lack of reliance on an institutional body (i.e. Russia), but the emergence of an almost mystical understanding of “Russia.” This can be seen in the writings of Berdjaev and Šestov, among others. The unique aspect is that these, as well as other metaphorical shifts, emerge as much from a new form of literary criticism as from a philosophical and religious stance. This will be touched upon in the conclusion of the presentation.