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A Nation Astray: Nomadism and National Identity in Russian Literature

A Nation Astray: Nomadism and National Identity in Russian Literature

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A Nation Astray: Nomadism and National Identity in Russian Literature

420 pagine
6 ore
Nov 15, 2012


The metaphor of the nomad may at first seem surprising for Russia given its history of serfdom, travel restrictions, and strict social hierarchy. But as the imperial center struggled to tame a vast territory with ever-expanding borders, ideas of mobility, motion, travel, wandering, and homelessness came to constitute important elements in the discourse about national identity. For Russians of the nineteenth century national identity was anything but stable.

This rootlessness is at the core of A Nation Astray. Here, Ingrid Anne Kleespies traces the image of the nomad and its relationship to Russian national identity through the debates and discussion of literary works by seminal writers like Karamzin, Pushkin, Chaadaev, Goncharov, and Dostoevsky. Appealing to students of Russian Romanticism, nationhood, and identity, as well as general readers interested in exile and displacement as elements of the human condition, this interdisciplinary work illuminates the historical and philosophical underpinnings of a basic aspect of Russian self-determination: the nomadic constitution of the Russian nation.

Nov 15, 2012

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A Nation Astray - Ingrid Anne Kleespies

© 2012 by Northern Illinois University Press

Published by the Northern Illinois University Press, DeKalb, Illinois 60115

Manufactured in the United States using acid-free paper

All Rights Reserved

Design by Shaun Allshouse

Library of Congress Cataloging-in Publication Data

Kleespies, Ingrid.

A nation astray : nomadism and national identity in Russian literature / Ingrid Kleespies.

pages ; cm

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-87580-461-3 (cloth) — ISBN (invalid) 978-1-60909-076-0 (electronic)

1. Russian literature—19th century—History and criticism. 2. Nomads in literature. 3. Travelers in literature. 4. National characteristics, Russian, in literature. 5. Karamzin, Nikolai Mikhailovich, 1766–1826. Pis’ma russkogo puteshestvennika. 6. Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 1821–1881. Zimnie zametki o letnikh vpechatleniiakh. 7. Chaadaev, P. IA. (Petr IAkovlevich), 1794–1856. Lettres philosophiques. 8. Goncharov, Ivan Aleksandrovich, 1812–1891—Criticism and interpretation. 9. Pushkin, Aleksandr Sergeevich, 1799–1837—Criticism and interpretation. 10. Herzen, Aleksandr, 1812–1870—Criticism and interpretation. I. Title.

PG3015.5.N66K54 2012



The glamour of youth enveloped his parti-coloured rags, his destitution, his loneliness, the essential desolation of his futile wanderings. For months—for years—his life hadn’t been worth a day’s purchase—and there he was, gallantly, thoughtlessly alive, to all appearance indestructible solely by the virtue of his few years and of his unreflecting audacity.

—Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness




Chapter One:

Tracing the Topos of the Eternal Russian Traveler

Karamzin’s Letters of a Russian Traveler and Dostoevsky’s Winter Notes on Summer Impressions

Chapter Two:

Chaadaev’s Wayward Russia

Capturing the Trace of an Errant History

Chapter Three:

A Poet Astray

Pushkin and the Image of a Nomadic Wanderer

Chapter Four:

A Journey around the World by I. Oblomov

Goncharov’s Unlikely Eternal Russian Traveler

Chapter Five:

A Radical at Large

Alexander Herzen and the Autobiography of a Russian Wanderer


Notes to Introduction

Notes to Chapter 1

Notes to Chapter 2

Notes to Chapter 3

Notes to Chapter 4

Notes to Chapter 5

Notes to Conclusion




I would like to convey my gratitude to the many colleagues and friends who have contributed to the completion of this book. The idea for it was conceived while I was a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley; thus my first thanks and largest debt are to the illustrious faculty there who set me on the path of writing this project: Harsha Ram, Olga Matich, David Frick, Anne Nesbet, Yuri Slezkine, Viktor Zhivov, Joachim Klein, and, for more inspiration, encouragement, and assistance than I can possibly express, Irina Paperno. This book was largely completed while teaching at the University of Florida, and I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to my many kind and generous colleagues there, but especially to Michael Gorham, Galina Rylkova, and Barbara Mennel for their tireless support of both the moral and practical variety. This project has benefited greatly over the years from conversations and collaboration with many wonderful and valued colleagues, among them: Sara Dickinson, Anne Dwyer, Katya Hokanson, Anne Lounsbery, John Randolph, Valeria Sobol, Gitta Hammarberg, Michael Kunichika, Jenny Kaminer, Victoria Somoff, Luba Golburt, Avram Brown, Anne Eakin Moss, Lynn Patyk, Stuart Finkel, Boris Wolfson, Christopher Caes, and James Goodwin. I would also like to thank the editors Amy Farranto and Susan Bean at Northern Illinois University Press for their assistance and support throughout the publication process, as well as the anonymous readers for their most valuable comments and suggestions.

I owe special thanks to Anne Dwyer, Kirsten Rodine Hardy, Deborah Yalen, and Lisa Zwicker for their abiding friendship and intellectual companionship over the years and across many milestones. My deepest gratitude is to my husband, Conor O’Dwyer, whose patience, support, marvelous reading and editing abilities, and calm in moments of crisis have done much to make this book possible. I dedicate it to him and to my son, Declan.

I am indebted to the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere at the University of Florida and the former Center for Slavic and East European Studies (now the Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies) at the University of California, Berkeley for their generous financial assistance at various stages of this project. My work has benefited from access to valuable resources at the Houghton Library at Harvard University and the Slavic Library at the Czech National Library in Prague. I am grateful to the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow for permission to reprint Isaak Levitan’s painting Vladimirka (1892) on the cover of this book.

An earlier version of Chapter 1 was published as "Caught at the Border: Travel, Nomadism, and Russian Identity in Karamzin’s Pis’ma russkogo puteshestvennika and Dostoevskii’s Zimnie zametki o letnikh vpechatleniiakh" in the Slavic and East European Journal 50.2 (2006): 231–51. Material from Superfluous Journeys: A Reading of ‘Onegin’s Journey’ and ‘A Journey around the World by I. Oblomov,’ Russian Review 70.1 (2011): 20–42, appears in revised form in Chapter 4, and a modified version of the second half of Chapter 4 has been published as "Russia’s Wild East? Domesticating the Siberian Frontier in Fregat Pallada" in the Slavic and East European Journal 56.1 (2012): 21–37.


Even today these homeless Russian wanderers continue their wandering; they will not disappear, it seems, for a long time yet. And if in our time these wanderers no longer go to Gypsy camps to search in that wild, distinctive way of life for universal ideals, nor look for respite from the contradictory and absurd life of our Russian intelligentsia […] in the bosom of nature, then, all the same […] they go with new faith towards another field and work on it enviably, believing […], that in their fantastical endeavor they will reach their goals and will attain not only personal, but universal, happiness.

—F. M. Dostoevsky, Pushkin¹

The lines above come from Dostoevsky’s famous 1880 Pushkin Speech, delivered in Moscow at the first public commemoration of Pushkin in Russia since the poet’s death in 1837. The Pushkin Jubilee, as it was known, was a highly significant literary and historical event, one that reveals a great deal about the role of literature—and writers—in nineteenth-century Russia. Pushkin had died at odds with the authorities and at an apparent low point in his literary career; the government made his funeral a restrained affair for fear that allowing a massive outpouring of grief might serve as a catalyst to liberal protest or even outright rebellion.² Almost fifty years later, the three-day jubilee in 1880 was the long-overdue acknowledgment of Pushkin’s foundational role in Russian arts and letters; those present experienced it as a major historical happening.³ Unexpectedly, it was Dostoevsky’s speech, presented on the last day and at the very height of his own career, that became the cornerstone of the event.⁴ The speech, in which Dostoevsky celebrated Russian distinctiveness through the lens of Pushkin (both the man and his oeuvre) and avowed Pushkin’s genius to the world, incited jubilant pandemonium and even fits of hysteria in the receptive crowd.⁵ In this epic meeting between two of Russia’s greatest writers, Dostoevsky turned on its head the familiar critique of Russian elite culture as derivative of the West, proclaiming instead that Russia’s capacity for cultural imitation was in fact a special form of national genius: one of appropriation and transformation. Russia, he argued, appropriated the best products of other cultures and transformed them into something new and superior. His speech championed Pushkin, construed as simultaneously the most European and the most Russian of Russian poets, as a protean Russian chameleon extraordinaire, one who not so much imitated as brilliantly outperformed all others in any and all European literary forms. Less immediately apparent, but of crucial importance to the impact of the speech, is Dostoevsky’s introduction of the term Russian wanderer (russkii skitalets). Dostoevsky gave name to a powerful motif in Russian culture here, and this motif—or discursive phenomenon—is the subject of this book.

Leaving aside the messianic conclusions of Dostoevsky’s speech—that Russian unity would offer salvation to Europe and the world—this discussion takes as its starting point Dostoevsky’s characterization of Russian national consciousness and, in particular, his personification of aspects of Russian identity in the figure of the Russian wanderer. While he suggests in positive terms that the genius of Russian literature is its malleability, its ability to change shape and inhabit the forms and practices of other national literatures, at the same time he identifies as problematic the wandering or nomadic nature of the Russian elite, embodied for him both by Pushkin himself and by some of the poet’s most famous characters. Indeed, even what Dostoevsky identifies as Pushkin’s genius of changeability is easily viewed more as a form of national rootlessness than poetic skill. Defined by homelessness, a lack of connection to their native land, and displacement, Dostoevsky’s Russian wanderers are national travelers, nomads, or wanderers by virtue of their lack of fixity and purpose. The wanderer embodied in the speech is a metaphor that reaches far beyond Dostoevsky and his performance at the Pushkin Jubilee, however. It is a potent symbolic articulation of the troubled nature of Russian national identity, an identity embodied by a nineteenth-century intellectual elite that has been cut off from the Russian people (narod) by its Western-style education and cultural proclivities, yet remains excluded from Western European society by dint of its native Russianness.⁶

In Dostoevsky’s speech, this identity is personified by two iconic characters from Pushkin’s poetic oeuvre, Onegin and Aleko. Onegin, the restless protagonist of Eugene Onegin (1833), is doomed to a life of figurative homeless wandering when a combination of ennui and superfluity leads him to kill a friend in a duel and to spurn the love of the heroine, Tatiana. Aleko, the protagonist of Pushkin’s 1823–1824 poem The Gypsies, is an exile. Cast out from society for an unnamed crime, he attempts to join a band of Gypsies in the Russian south. He is in turn exiled from the Gypsies when his jealous nature leads him to murder his unfaithful Gypsy lover Zemfira and her lover. As Russian readers were well aware, Aleko’s name is a version of Pushkin’s own name, Alexander, and Pushkin himself had served time as a political exile in the same southern borderlands in the early 1820s. Symbolically speaking, Pushkin shared in his protagonists’ peripatetic homelessness, and the appearance of these iconic examples in Dostoevsky’s speech marks a discursive practice that encompasses much more than Pushkin’s works or Dostoevsky’s treatment of them. The perception of Russia as a figuratively nomadic nation and of Russians themselves as nomadic wanderers excluded from, or confined to the margins of, European civilization and history came to be a central topos of nineteenth-century Russian national thought. It was articulated most vibrantly in key works of Russian literature, and especially in work by the seminal writers Nikolai Karamzin, Petr Chaadaev, Alexander Pushkin, Ivan Goncharov, Alexander Herzen, and Feodor Dostoevsky. Recent scholarship has demonstrated just how crucial symbols, myths, and metaphors are to the understanding of national identities; the perception of Russia as nomadic, while articulated in literary terms, mattered far beyond the realm of arts and letters.⁷ National symbols and metaphors always bear political power, but in a restricted public sphere in which civic and political debates on nation and empire building were constrained or notably absent, as in nineteenth-century Russia, symbolic representations of the nation came to be all the more forceful. Thus the conceptualization of Russia as nomadic would come to be a defining feature of national consciousness.

Just how did the problem of elite Russian identity come to be embodied in the figure of a homeless wanderer for writers such as Dostoevsky, Pushkin, or Herzen? Where did the image of a Russian wanderer derive from? This book considers these questions as it examines the discourse of wandering, traveling, and nomadism that developed around the perception of an uncertain, or unfixed, Russian identity, particularly as it was imagined in relation to Western Europe. Dostoevsky was hardly the first Russian writer and thinker to understand the problematic nature of Russian identity in such terms: as his speech suggests, Pushkin’s Aleko and Onegin are but the most readily identifiable examples of a literary phenomenon that plays a central role in Russian thought. In this book, I consider the origins and meaning of a nineteenth-century discursive practice in which Russia was construed as a nation of travelers and as a nomadic nation, one that was not fixed in space or time, but was instead perceived to be excluded from history and as lacking definition as a territorial entity or homeland. In readings of works by the authors named above, I draw out a key, if previously underexamined, aspect of Russian national thought that sheds light on the reception and integration of ideas of identity, history, and European civilization in the Russian context.

The writers and thinkers mentioned above were deeply concerned with the question of what it meant to be Russian, and, with the exception of Chaadaev, they engaged in some form of travel writing as a means of elaborating on this question. While the practices of travel and travel writing played an important role in European culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was in the Russian context that these practices acquired a special metaphysical slant. Travel itself came to be perceived as an essential aspect of Russianness—it was an identity of travel, or, in other words, of movement, of rootlessness, and of lack of fixity, an identity that was best crystallized in imagery of eternal travelers, wanderers, and nomads. Such imagery may seem surprising for Russia given its history of serfdom, travel restrictions, and strict social hierarchy; however, the identity addressed here encapsulated both Russian and Western views of Russia’s relationship to the outside world, and in particular to Europe. The discourse of travel-as-identity drew from several strains of contemporary thought, including European engagement with leisured travel and its role as a key component of elite education, and more deeply, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Enlightenment and Romantic conceptions of the individual and society. Contemporaneous theories about history and the relative development of European and non-European societies also played an important role, while the Romantic worldview, in which the topos of the journey was a fundamental organizing principle, provided a critical symbolic language for the expression of anxiety among Russian elites over both individual and national identity.

In an even more primary sense, the very idea of national identity was itself an imported one in the Russian context. Educated Russians in the nineteenth century were the bearers of a peculiar kind of national consciousness, one that was perceived as having come into being in reaction to, or because of, the existence of this concept in the West. An awareness of its own imported nature profoundly shaped Russian national consciousness from the outset in complex ways.⁸ It had at its core an awareness of Russia’s difference—and distance—from the West. This was a consciousness that was not experienced as rooted (that is, as organically derived from spatial-cultural origins), but rather as in a constant state of awayness, and, as such, it was defined in basic terms by its distance and exclusion from original models, such as those of English or French nationhood. In this sense, Russians first came to know themselves only as other, as objects of observation rather than as subjective observers. Regardless of the accuracy of such perceptions, the presence of these ideas contributed to a consciousness that was by nature unsettled. In order for the Russian subject to conceive of himself in national terms, he had to perform an operation of mental travel, however brisk, to Europe and back.

Any discussion of Russian national consciousness in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries necessarily touches on Enlightenment conceptualizations of civilization and historical progress. Eastern European societies, while not actually nomadic, were as yet perceived to be less developed than the civilized societies of Western Europe; in fact, there was a powerful association of the East with barbarism.⁹ In the case of Russia, the legacy of nomadic Mongolian invasions from the Steppes, the comparatively lower level of cultural and political development, and the perception of exclusion from the course of Western European events combined to create a common Western perception of Russia as barbaric and uncivilized. Further, among the most frequently cited examples of nomadic groups in Enlightenment literature were the ancient Scythians and the contemporary Tatars, groups that had played a historic role in the formation of the Russian state and which were contained within the boundaries of the Russian empire. In the eyes of European and Russian observers alike, a fine line demarcated Russian society from exotic, and presumably more truly nomadic, peoples such as the Gypsies (as they were referred to in the nineteenth century). Internalization of a Western binary of civilization and its others would coalesce in Russian literary consciousness under the influence of emerging Romantic narratives that privileged motifs of alienation, dislocation, and rootlessness. The resulting perception of Russian identity is the subject of this book.

The notion that Russia was uncivilized forms a specific undercurrent for Russian Romantic identity. The logic by which civilization was seen to derive from the establishment of a sedentary-agricultural mode of subsistence would find a curious application in the Russian context: a people perceived as uncivilized and uncultivated in comparison to Western Europe came to be understood, in figurative terms, as ahistorical and nomadic; that is, as not yet belonging to the sedentary-agricultural, cultivated, historical world. The belief that Russia was not yet a historical entity like the nation-states of Western Europe meant that Russia was metaphorically positioned at a pre-historical, pre-civilized stage of development, like that of pre-agricultural pastoral nomads. European observers of Russia had arrived at such a conclusion in the early nineteenth century. The French thinkers Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald, and later the Marquis de Custine, all applied the descriptor nomadic to Russia, not so much to suggest observation of an actual pastoral social structure, but rather to illustrate their perceptions of Russian backwardness, ahistoricality, and exclusion from European civilization.¹⁰ For these authors, the metaphor of the nomad served to embody in spatial terms (i.e., homelessness, rootlessness) the perception of Russia’s temporal displacement in relation to the civilized centers of Europe. This subtle rhetorical move would form a critical backdrop to the work of the writers considered here, and in particular to philosopher Petr Chaadaev’s choice of the image of the nomad to describe Russians in his famous 1829 First Philosophical Letter.

Travel writing serves a special purpose for my discussion of Russian identity here. Arguably, the genre is one innately concerned with the dilemma of history in that it attempts to capture that which is by nature fleeting—movement through space and time. In this vein, travel writing functions as a productive medium for the articulation of the idea of Russian itinerancy, that is, the perceived lack of any secure attachment to history. While texts such as Karamzin’s Letters of a Russian Traveler (Pis’ma russkogo puteshestvennika, 1797), Pushkin’s Southern poems (1820s) and Journey to Arzrum (Puteshestvie v Arzrum, 1835), Goncharov’s Frigate Pallas (Fregat Pallada, 1858), and Dostoevsky’s Winter Notes on Summer Impressions (Zimnie zametki o letnikh vpechatleniiakh, 1863) are more or less classifiable as travel texts, they are also fundamentally preoccupied with Russian identity, the role of the Russian writer, and Russia’s complicated relationship to conventional narratives of Western European history. Consequently, this book is concerned not with Russian travel texts per se, of which there are many, but specifically with canonical works of literature that address the issue of Russian identity in metaphysical terms of travel, nomadism, and wandering.¹¹ For this reason, I also include Chaadaev’s 1829 First Philosophical Letter, Goncharov’s 1859 Oblomov, and Herzen’s 1852–1867 My Past and Thoughts, none of which are travelogues, but all of which function as key philosophical elaborations of the metaphor of Russians as travelers.

I consider here how the topos of nomadic wandering itself travels through key works of Russian literature. I look at critical textual moments in the interval between the publication of Nikolai Karamzin’s Letters of a Russian Traveler and Feodor Dostoevsky’s Winter Notes on Summer Impressions. Karamzin’s work, while not the first example of Russian travel writing, was a seminal text in that it established the paradigm of an elite, educated Russian who is first and foremost a traveler, and specifically a traveler to the West. While Karamzin’s narrative pose in Letters of a Russian Traveler is seemingly cosmopolitan and self-assured, I argue that the legacy of this text was quite different. The powerful association of an elite Russian identity with travel gave rise to unsettling associations, suggesting that Russians were on the road, removed from the domestic sphere, and psychologically suspended between a recollected home and a lived abroad. These components, lying beneath the surface of Karamzin’s positive image of the successful traveler, came to be writ large in the Russian national consciousness during the ensuing decades.

Tracing Karamzin’s image of the Russian traveler, I examine how notions of history, civilization, the nation, and the individual coalesced in Chaadaev’s appropriation of nomadic wandering as a central metaphor for Russian subjects and for the Russian state in his First Philosophical Letter (1829). Pushkin’s representations of the lyrical Russian subject in his Southern poems (1820s) as a troubled, demonic wanderer astray in the imperial borderlands and in Journey to Arzrum (1835) as a restless, endlessly circulating authorial self are important manifestations of nomadic wandering. Pushkin’s characters, conventionally received as emblems of Russian elite identity, are cast out from both civilization and history; they are travelers who cannot leave a trace. I argue that the image of the Russian astray—or the homeless Russian attempting to return to a fictional point of domestic origin—is developed at length by Ivan Goncharov in Oblomov (1859) and in his 1858 travel text Frigate Pallas. Here, in a powerful reimagining of the Russian wanderer, Goncharov’s protagonist is a homebody without a home, trapped in a permanent state of awayness. In his seminal autobiography My Past and Thoughts (1852–1867), a text that reflects wandering on both the thematic and formal levels, Alexander Herzen represents both himself and his generation as eternal travelers and wanderers: they are exiles to the West, enacting Romantic biographies of peripatetic rebellion. Herzen at once builds on and reacts against Hegelian constructs of historical progression to argue for a reversal of Chaadaev’s critique: Russian nomadic or outsider status is transformed into an advantage over Western fixity and decay.¹² Finally, in his Winter Notes on Summer Impressions and the Pushkin speech of 1880, Dostoevsky on the one hand explicitly critiques his immediate predecessors for perpetuating the discourse of Russia as a nation of nomads and strangers and, on the other hand, recreates this very stance. Winter Notes is, in many respects, a reworking of Karamzin’s Letters of a Russian Traveler, one in which the Russian traveler is exposed as permanently abroad and incapable of homecoming, too European for Russia and too Russian for Europe. In the Pushkin speech, where we began, Dostoevsky identifies the Russian wanderer as a phase of Russian historical development, thus seeming to place an endpoint on this troublesome trope of traveling. Yet Dostoevsky’s very insistence on this endpoint (while serving as a natural endpoint for my discussion) belies the deep and continued relevance of this image to Russian national thought.

Nomads, Wanderers, and Travelers

Taken together, the symbolic figures of the nomad, wanderer, and traveler suggest mobility, lack of fixity, homelessness, and alienation or exclusion from a prevailing social context. All three terms are related to exile, but they are distinguished from this static state by their explicit emphasis on movement. If they are taken separately, however, there are key differences in meaning among them that require delineation here. The English word nomad, like the French nomade, derives from the Latin nomos and the Greek root nemein (to take, allot, divide, distribute) and is related to the practice of portioning out pasturelands. The word appeared in English in the 1600s but did not come into regular usage until the eighteenth century,¹³ when the disciplines of the social sciences, especially anthropology, began to take shape. The word was conventionally used to describe pastoral groups, or those whose primary mode of subsistence consisted of herding animals. This was a means of life in which periodic and sustained episodes of travel were essential. In its most fundamental application, the term nomad describes a system of social organization; its application to any group, however, has never been free of the judgment that nomadic societies are less developed than settled ones—or of other critical assumptions about nomadic society that I will discuss below.

A wanderer differs from a nomad in that he is not a member of a social group, but rather an individual who has been removed from society, whether by choice or necessity. While not inherently a negative image, the wanderer in literature frequently has dark origins, as in the Biblical story of Cain or the apocryphal tale of the Wandering Jew. In contrast to the nomad, the wanderer travels permanently, and moves from place to place without a specific destination. Further, the wanderer does so outside of the confines of tradition and culture. While by definition he lacks a fixed destination, the wanderer is often depicted as someone seeking after an ideal, such as spiritual redemption. The nomad is placed within a group civilizational hierarchy of settlement and non-settlement; the wanderer serves more as an antithesis to the individual in a conventional, settled society.

Finally, the traveler, like the nomad and the wanderer, is on the move, but only temporarily so. The traveler may well have a home or homeland to return to, but for the duration of his journey he is distanced from his normal social milieu and, like a wanderer or a nomad, away from home—even, in a temporary sense, homeless. The Romantic image of the eternal traveler is a further elaboration on this theme: here the traveler is perceived as permanently on the road, not wandering without a clear destination, but rather, doomed never to reach his destination or return to his point of origin. Problematic points of origin and return—and the relevance these have to the difficulties of locating home and homeland in the Russian context—will play a critical role in some of the works considered here, especially those by Goncharov and Dostoevsky. The symbolic overlap and exchange between the figures of wanderers, travelers, and nomads in Russian literary discourse constitute what I term nomadism, that is, a framing of Russian socio-cultural dilemmas in metaphoric terms related to travel, mobility, and itinerancy.

To add yet another wrinkle to the distinctions above, the practice of wandering (stranstvie) carried distinct religious meaning in the nineteenth century Russian cultural context.¹⁴ The iurodivyi, or holy fool, was a highly eccentric, if not truly mad, individual believed to have special spiritual and prophetic powers. Iurodivye typically roamed the Russian countryside, subsisting on charity and offering various forms of spiritual guidance to the community. The veneration that iurodivye received meant that irrational behavior, such as speaking incomprehensibly or dressing in chains, was elevated to the level of saintly spirituality in traditional Russian culture.¹⁵ Chief among the important paradoxes the iurodivyi embodied was his vagabond lifestyle and role as a wanderer (strannik).¹⁶ This peripatetic life lay in direct contrast, even reproach, to the settled life of mainstream society. Ewa Thompson notes that the holy fool’s opposition to legalism and to stable social structure was highly esteemed in Russian society, suggesting that the holy fool’s rejection of domestic sedentarism was received as a marker of intense spirituality.¹⁷ Furthermore, the vagabond lifestyle of the strannik was viewed as a unique national practice, one that distinguished Russian tradition and society from its Western counterparts.¹⁸ This phenomenon serves as an important backdrop to the literary and philosophical treatment of wandering and nomadism under discussion here. In order to distinguish between the individual or religiously motivated practice of wandering and the expression of an existential national dilemma that I discuss here, I refer to the latter as nomadic wandering.

It also bears noting that nineteenth-century Russia possessed its fair share of real wanderers and vagabonds, whether religious or otherwise. As Alan Wood comments in his history of Siberia, vagrancy played a role in nineteenth-century imperial Russian society, perhaps to a greater extent than in other European contexts:

…Russia was in fact a country with a rich variety of nomadic and migratory traditions. A huge internal diaspora of runaway peasants, cossacks, pilgrims and peripatetic sectarians, caravans of merchants, peddlers, gypsies, schools of skoromokhi [wandering players], bands of migrant hunters, craftsmen and promyshlenniki [tradesmen], as well as the nomadic tribes of steppe, forest, and tundra—all for countless generations had been the collective personification of Russia on the move.¹⁹

While vagrancy in nineteenth-century Russia is not the central point of discussion in this book, it is important to bear in mind that the socio-cultural practices of vagabondage, migration, religious wandering, and actual nomadism helped shape the literary articulation of Russian identity in terms of peripatetic mobility.

The Four Stages of Development: Nomads versus History

The concept of civilization came into being during the Enlightenment, and with it arose related concerns about the nature of history and the relative status of different nations and societies.²⁰ As noted earlier, the term nomad did not come into regular usage in English until the eighteenth century, and the reason for the appearance of these words—civilization and nomad—lies in the twin Enlightenment impulses of global discovery and the development of the social sciences. The rise of travel as both a leisure practice and a form of scientific exploration lent impetus to the urge toward categorization and comparison that would form the basis of disciplines such as anthropology. The attempt by Enlightenment scholars to understand the nature of man and society in scientific terms helped to produce comparative schema for evaluating the respective development of nations and societies.²¹ As the voyages of discovery and the prolific literature inspired by them revealed, distinct peoples lived by different means in different places. These people could be classified for better or for worse—usually for worse—into categories of relative development in comparison to the centers of Western Europe. In fact, the very division of Europe into distinct socio-political entities of West and East would take place in this period, as Western thinkers began to conceive of an Eastern Europe that was less developed than the West. In this formulation, Eastern Europe, and Russia in particular, was placed in a unique position as Europe’s other, that is, as a shadow version of the West, not fully civilized and not integral to the historical progression of Western Europe.²²

Thinkers from Smith to Rousseau generated a widely accepted conceptual framework for observing and comparing societies within a larger construct of universal history. This framework consisted of a set of four stages through which all societies were believed to progress (or fail to progress). As social scientist Ronald Meek shows in his classic study, this resulted in a perceived hierarchy of social development, in which societies progressed from the first to the fourth stage over time.²³ The first and most primitive stage was that of hunter-gathering. The American Indian tribes were believed to provide a contemporary example of this stage in the mid-eighteenth century. The second stage was identified as the pastoral or nomadic, in which basic needs of food and shelter were met by keeping and following herds, but additional resources were not sufficient for the development of agriculture or for the practices of cultivation—of the fields or of manners. The third stage was marked by the transition from the pastoral-nomadic way of life to the sedentary-agricultural; attainment of an agricultural lifestyle was deemed the most critical in terms of a society’s relative level of advancement and was thought to be prompted by population growth, the rise of leisure, and an emerging sense of individual property. The fourth and final stage of social development was commercial and was characterized by the exchange of goods, the circulation of money, the further development of culture and the arts, and the rise of metropolitan centers (developments which would, ironically, lead to new forms of mobility). This last stage represented the apotheosis of civilization, while the first two stages were deemed uncivilized and primitive. Hunter-gatherers were regarded as savage, that is, as living a minimal, almost animal-like existence, and nomads were traditionally viewed as barbaric—that is, as lacking the advanced attributes of the sedentary, civilized world, such as stability, culture, and history. From early on, barbarians were viewed by those who defined them as such as intrinsically hostile to the sedentary world. Importantly, while certain positive values were attributed to peoples in the nomadic stage, including egalitarianism, freedom of movement, and self-sufficiency, the divide between primitive and civilized was mapped firmly on to the developmental boundary between nomadic and sedentary-agricultural modes of subsistence.²⁴

A related topic of Enlightenment debate was that of the nature of history: What was its point of origin? What about history was universal and what particular? Scholars linked the

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