In the Beginning Was the Word: Logocentricity of the Russian Mentality

Alexandra Kostina, Rhodes College

The writings of Russian philosophers, theologians, writers, and linguists manifest a deep fascination, almost obsession, with the word and a strong belief in its potential for reification. In Russian culture the word is understood not only as the symbol used in communication, but also (and primarily) as the carrier of ideas and creative energy, i.e. as the Word-Logos. Myriad literary, religious, philosophical, even folkloric texts, varying in form and content, point to “Russian logocentricity--the obsession with the word that characterizes [Russian] culture” (*Russian Life*, 45). The recently published book The Word Made Self by Thomas Seifrid brilliantly illustrates what the author describes as an attempt to stipulate a model of selfhood within the phenomenon of language (2005). The Russian consciousness takes the word, both as a separate entity and as a constituent of language as a system, very seriously – in the cultural context (word as explicator of ethnic mentality) and in the theo-anthropo-cosmic sense (word as carrier of spirituality and creative potential). My presentation will give a brief survey of the history of Russian discourse on language and then argue the central position of the (Russian) word within the mental space of Russian culture and Russian kartina mira, or worldview. I will demonstrate the centrality of the word in the conceptual system of the Russian language as it is reflected not only in the separate entry “Slovo” (“Word”) in the dictionary Константы. Словарь русской культуры. Опыт исследования compiled by Iu. Stepanov, but also in such fundamental works on language as S. Trubetskoi’s Учение о Логосе в его истории, Bakhtin’s Проблемы поэтики Достоевского, as well as works of Lossky, Losev, Florensky, Potebnia, Kolesov, and Bibikhin. Pertinent examples will illustrate the ontological value of the word recognized and repeatedly mentioned in Russian literature (by Pushkin, Gogol, Mandelshtam, Akhmatova, Elagin, Rasputin, and many others) and in popular culture (comments by the satirist Zadornov or Internet-commentator Leibov). Finally, my paper will analyze some lexical manifestations of “the (Russian) word” in Дочь Ивана, мать Ивана by V. Rasputin that interprets this concept as Logos, the origin and roots of everything that constitutes existence and the supreme truth. The interest in the (Russian) word and return to it are thought by Rasputin to generate spiritual revival and productive activity, which, in turn, will lead to the resurrection of the Russian soil.


Bibikhin, V., Slovo i sobytie. Moskva: URSS, 2001.
Kolesov, Vladimir. Zhizn’ proishodit ot slova. Saint Petersburg: Zlatoust, 1999.
Rasputin, Valentin. Doch’ Ivana, mat’ Ivana. Moskva, 2004.
Russian Life, vol.48, no.2, March/April, 2005.
Seifrid, Thomas. The Word Made Self. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2005.
Stepanov, Iurii. Konstanty. Slovar’ russkoi kul’tury. Opyt issledovaniia. Moskva, 1997.