Cover image for Fiction's overcoat : Russian literary culture and the question of philosophy
Fiction's overcoat : Russian literary culture and the question of philosophy
Clowes, Edith W.
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Publication Information:
Ithaca : Cornell University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xvii, 296 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
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B4231 .C57 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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If Dostoevsky claimed that all Russian writers of his day "came out from Gogol's 'Overcoat,'" then Edith W. Clowes boldly expands his dramatic image to describe the emergence of Russian philosophy out from under the "overcoat" of Russian literature. In Fiction's Overcoat, Clowes responds to the view, commonly held by Western European and North American thinkers, that Russian culture has no philosophical tradition. If that is true, she asks, why do readers everywhere turn to the classics of Russian literature, at least in part because Russian writers so famously engage universal questions, because they are so "philosophical"? Her answer to this question is a lively and comprehensive volume that details the origins, submergence, and re-emergence of a rich and vital Russian philosophical tradition.During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Russian philosophy emerged in conversation with narrative fiction, radical journalism, and speculative theology, developing a distinct cultural discourse with its own claim to authority and truth. Leading Russian thinkers--Berdiaev, Losev, Rozanov, Shestov, and Solovyov--made philosophy the primary forum in which Russians debated metaphysical, aesthetic, and ethical questions as well as issues of individual and national identity. That debate was tragically truncated by the events of 1917 and the rise of the Soviet empire. Today, after seventy years of enforced silence, this particularly Russian philosophical culture has resurfaced. Fiction's Overcoat serves as a welcome guide to its complexities and nuances.Historians and cultural critics will find in Clowes's book the story of the increasing refinement and diversification of Russian cultural discourse, philosophers will find an alternative to the Western philosophical tradition, and students of literature will enjoy the opportunity to rethink the great Russian novelists--particularly Dostoevsky, Pasternak, and Platonov--as important voices in the process of shaping and sustaining a new philosophy and ensuring its survival into our own age.

Author Notes

Edith W. Clowes is Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Kansas.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Clowes (Univ. of Kansas) examines the emergence of a unique Russian philosophical tradition that began in the 1830s and flourished until the early 20th century, when the new communist rulers hindered its development after the 1917 revolution. The book title refers to Dostoevsky's observation that Russian writers of his generation emerged out of Gogol's famous short story The Overcoat. The author expands on this idea and argues that while Russia did not have a strong academic philosophical tradition during the 19th century, a vibrant philosophical culture did emerge then from the "overcoat" of a well-established Russian literary tradition, rather than from the Western philosophical tradition. Russian philosophy developed in the context of an ongoing conversation with literature, radical social writing, and theology. The result was a philosophical tradition very different from that of western Europe; it was a tradition that passionately debated a wide range of issues, including metaphysical, aesthetic, and ethical questions. Clowes studies how numerous well-known authors such as Dostoevsky, as well as lesser-known ones (Solovyov, Rozanov, Berdiaev, et al.), contributed to this philosophical tradition. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. N. M. Brooks New Mexico State University

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Note on Transliteration and Translationp. xiii
Abbreviationsp. xv
Introductionp. 1
Part 1 The Displacement of Philosophy (1820s-1860s)
1. The Possibility of a Russian Philosophy: Language and Reader in a New Philosophical Culture (1820s-1830s)p. 17
2. Competing Discourses: Philosophy Marginalizedp. 44
3. The Parting of the Ways: Chernyshevsky, Dostoevsky, and the Seeds of Russian Philosophical Discoursep. 76
Part 2 The Birth of Russian Philosophy (1870s-1920s)
4. Philosophical Language between Revelation and Reason: Solovyov's Search for Total Unityp. 103
5. Philosophy as Tragedy: Shestov and His Russian Audiencep. 130
6. Philosophy in the Breach: Rozanov's Philosophical Roguery and the Destruction of Civil Discoursep. 155
7. Philosophy as Epic Drama: Berdiaev's Philosophy of the Creative Actp. 182
Part 3 The Survival of Russian Philosophical Culture (1920s-1950s)
8. Image and Concept: Losev's "Great Synthesis of Higher Knowledge" and the Tragedy of Philosophyp. 211
9. The Matter of Philosophy: Dialectical Materialism and Platonov's Quest after Questioningp. 235
10. "Sheer Philosophy" and "Vegetative Thinking": Pasternak's Suspension and Preservation of Philosophyp. 258
Conclusionp. 282
Appendix The Generations and Networks of Russian Philosophyp. 289
Indexp. 291