Petersburg, Moscow, Rome: Intertwining Metropolitan Myth

(The City As A Meaning-Generating Center of Culture)


The city is not just a habitat for humans. A far more complicated social and ideological phenomenon, the city, especially the metropolitan one, conveys most essential characteristics of the national culture, comprising the traditions, the mores, the habits of its inhabitants. As such, the urban environment is a way of transforming the national culture or, in a wider sweep, the national Weltschaaung, into actual forms of living through which a formation of new generations is being carried out. The culture shaped so into the phenomenon of a city is thereby endowed with a translation from one generation into another. And the city (as opposed to the country) attracts, for most time (except, perhaps, for some crisis periods) the «best and the brightest» of the nation. In this respect, especially significant is the role of a metropolis, most often capitals but not necessary, as Saint Petersburg in Russia, Uppsala in Sweden or New York City, if not in America then at least in the land of those with an incurable crush on the «Big Apple».

By morphing the national culture into modus vivendi, the city turns out to be in rather complex relations with the culture as a spiritual and material entity. This notwithstanding, one may discern two opposite roles of a city within the culture which correspond to the predominance of one or another of the above-mentioned functions of a city. Thus, the preponderance of the «translation» function, i.e. the function of preserving the ethos, may well eventually lead to what is called a traditionalism, stick to the inherited and short on innovation, especially from outside. Most often such a role is performed by smaller, provincial towns, used to withstand the «metropolitan model» intruding. While on the contrary, metropolitan cities are playing the role of the «locomotives» of cultural development, the aspects of creativity and innovation prevailing over just a translation of the ethos 1.

Naturally, the bigger is the city's role within the nation's culture, the stronger is the aspiration towards finding out the purport of and grounds for the city's singularity, for a special, if not a leading, position in the culture as a whole or at least in some niche of it.

It is the myth of a city that provides a conceptual framework for this aspiration, setting up some space of meanings, at once conveying and interpreting most essential constituents of the city's history, architecture, mores. Referring to this conceptual framework as a myth is justified by its being shaped up «anonymously» within the collective consciousness of the city's inhabitants. At the early stages of its development, the myth of a city just embraces some grassroots, by definition motley, notions of the townsfolk about the predestination and fate of the city and its inhabitants. However, the myth of a city may well become an overt part of the nation's ideological buildup that the powers that be would use for achieving certain political goals.

In general, the problem of tracing back the origins and process of how the mythology of a city is taking shape seems to be very difficult. Thus, we'll be dwelling at length on only one but rather characteristic issue: the essential meanings of the myths of Moscow and Saint Petersburg and the elucidation of the role of these two cities in the culture of Russian. For that, it is just inevitable to conjure up the myth of yet another metropolis - Ancient Rome. The whole point is that the making the most of the image of the «Eternal City» had been of greatest importance in the shaping of the myth of Moscow.

After the fall of Constantinople (1453), the capital of the Christendom, the «Second Rome», continuing as the successor of Rome for almost a millennium, the Czardom of Moscow remained the only Orthodox power. In the wake of that, the Russian monk of obscure origin Philopheus advanced up as early as in the 16th century the famous motto «Moscow is the third Rome». In an eschatological conception of Philopheus, the Russian people was the last Christian people chosen by God and Moscow as the capital of a young Russian autocracy was to become the center of the Christendom at the very last stage of human history. Later this motto served as an ideological and theological basis during the epoch of Boris Godunov, Czar of Russia (1598-1605), for establishing the rule of a Russian patriarch, independent from the bishop of Constantinople, still the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church. «Moscow is the third home» paradigm had become a cornerstone of the myth of Moscow to be completed in the period followed the victory of Russia and its allies over Napoleon in 1814. Flushed with its success, Russia had been experiencing at that period an unprecedented uplift of self-consciousness. Within the myth of Moscow, two constituents are clearly discernible. The former is the imperial idea consisting in a conviction that Europe should be united under the predominance of Russia with Moscow as the center of a New Order, while the latter is the religious idea: this unification was meant as a victory of the Russian Orthodoxy over all sorts of «infidel» religious belief, for one thing, and as a supremacy of the Russian Orthodoxy in all the issues of ideology and culture.

These two most important constituents of the myth of Moscow came to be mingled in a rather bizarre way with yet another trait of Moscow's «self-consciousness»: the conception of the naturalness of this city, its thrownness into the Nature. This conception is partially responsible for what that, being the capital of a vast and wealthy state, Moscow had looked for so long as a «big village» with neither a general layout nor prominent features of a metropolis (straight broad avenues, large stone structures, developed means of communication).

By contrast to Moscow, Saint Petersburg is a comparatively young city to have emerged in a very brief period of time, according to a general plan, worked out up to the then most advanced city layout's canons. Built under the orders of Peter the Great on a swamp (in defiance of the old Russian tradition), hardly suitable for a normal living, Petersburg comes up within the context of the myth of Moscow, not surprisingly, as intentionally artificial, hostile to the Nature and, as a consequence thereof, doomed 2.

Within the context of the myth of Saint Petersburg, the opposition between the old and new capitals of Russia is also clearly articulated. Here, in turn, Moscow seems to be doomed at least to a cultural fading out due to its self-imposed isolation from European culture 3. On a more positive side, both the myths share, as the most essential part of them, the imperial idea - the concept of Russia as a great European power. However, in the case of Petersburg, this idea was devoid of any religious background. This reflects a dramatic shift of the Russian imperial idea from an orthodox faith in the supremacy of the Russian Orthodox faith over all other ones to an all worldly, all embracing sweep. This shift happened by (the Schism as a result of Patriarch Nikon's reforming in the 17th century) and especially during the times of Peter the Great. The Schism came to reveal the «crisis of the Russian messianic idea» 4 on a whole, downright undermining the idea of Moscow's being the third Rome as a capital of a true Orthodox faith. Peter the Great just institutionalized this shift in the further secularization of Russian autocracy, stressing out the aspects of cultural and military supremacy instead of religious one.

From the very birth, Saint Petersburg was conceived by his founder as an European crossroads (recall Alexander Pushkin's line from the Introduction to «The Bronze Horseman: A Tale of Petersburg» (1833): «We'll be hosting every flag»), as a place where a synthesis of all cultures, all traditions all religions being possible, where the embracing of whatever most significant in European civilization being underway.

Thus, during the 18th and 19th centuries, Saint Petersburg and Moscow determined the opposite trends in the development of Russian culture. By and large, Moscow set a trend for Russia's isolationism implied by its refutation of the West, with the Slavophiles (A. Khomyakov, I. Kireyevsky, K. Aksakov, to name just a few) as the ideologues of this trend. Whereas Petersburg urged Russia to integrate into a one European civilization by assimilating and developing Western culture. It was F. Dostoyevsky who pronounced this most ecstatically in his famous «Speech on Pushkin» (1880). According to him, «universal responsiveness» as an intrinsic ability of incorporating other cultural patterns is the most inherent characteristic of Russian culture and of the Russian national character.


In order to grasps understand and evaluate more deeply and more faithfully these trends, a deeper analysis of Russian culture is needed. For that, we apply to a typology of culture, proposed in our earlier paper 5.

Underlying this typology lies a hypothesis that any culture, in the very essence of it, is a form of the synthesizing of two metaphysical poles which may be referred to, rather conventionally, as the spheres of the «Eternity» and the sphere of the «Temporality». The former is a sphere of absolute, ultimate values, as epitomized by religion. The latter is a sphere of the historical reality of our being, of our transitory, instantaneous being to be destroyed by the irrational flow of time.

All the history of human culture is evolving through ages as yet more and more profound and fruitful synthesizing of these two poles. The Ancient World culture could proceed this synthesis only in a most superficial form. Thus, at the early stages of humankind's development the following two polar types of culture prevailed: the culture of the «temporality» type and the culture of the «eternity» type, corresponding to the priority of either pole. A singular example of the latter type the Ancient Egypt culture delivers. Featuring the dominance of religious background, of constancy and selfsameness of cultural patterns, this culture conveys exclusively the idea of the existent eternity, viewing through the prism of it the ephemeral being of a mere mortal as senseless.

The culture of the opposite type, i.e. of «temporality», is much harder to identify. Being immersed entirely in its historical time, such culture is rich in sensual concreteness, intricate grace and vitality but devoid of this internal force that strikes most in a culture - the force of an abyss yawned, of the Eternity opened up. Most likely, it is a culture of this enigmatic burgeoning type that the mysterious Cretan (Minoan) civilization flourishing in Crete and on some islands in the Aegean Sea during the advanced Bronze Age, had engendered. The characteristic features of this culture shows the top priority of its «temporal» constituents: the scarity of special sites of worship that speaks about a minor role of religious and mythological background, preponderance of playful forms of culture (music, dancing, sports events), an endemic cult of women, emphasizing physical love, and so forth. «The Cretan art, - writes B.R. Vipper, - appeals for neither the mind nor the will of an observer but for one's emotions and moods»6. A lack of rigid canons and strict traditions, a bias towards the «momentous» were conducive to what just few monuments of this civilization have remained, ornamental effects and genres prevailing in its art.

These polar types of culture are devoid of authentic history that comes to emerge only once some balance of the metaphysical poles is achieved. In the history of humankind, it is Ancient Greece, especially in its «classical» period, that seems to be the first to have achieved such a balance, thus bringing forth quite a unique pattern of «harmonious» culture. Therein lies the true origin of European cultural tradition on a whole, adherent to the principle of the most organic synthesizing of the Temporality and the Eternity 7. By contrast, most cultures of Asian Orient are still bending to the «Eternity» type, whereas African culture on a whole - to the «temporality» one.

However, in a seemingly paradoxical way, supreme Harmony and sublime perfection often come to display a certain metaphysical shallowness of culture. Thus, Old Greek culture could not penetrate into the essence of the Eternity so deeply that the vision of it would have amazed them to the same extent as Old Egyptians were. But this comparative hollowness had become a basis of their superiority, letting incarnate the vision of the Absolute into a historical being and, thereby, give an incontestable pattern of culture in its authentic self-expression.

Most important, in our view, is to state the existence of yet another type of culture, in a sense, opposite to the «harmonious» (Ancient Greek) culture but, at the same time, very distant from the polarized types of «temporality» and «eternity» ones. This type of culture is notable for a deep penetration into the sphere of the Eternity, though without diminishing the significance of the polar sphere, making thereby our sense of belonging to the temporal order of being even more acute and intensive. Such culture may be called, for lack of a better adjective, «dissonant»: while opening up both the poles of Being to the utmost extent, this is unable to synthesize them into a harmonious, self-sufficient Weltanschaung of an epoch through «calming down» its contradictions. Doomed to the fate of perennial restlessness intrinsic discords, and ultimate tension beyond the edge of clear conscience, such culture, thus, most often finds expression not in genuine and completed works but in an obscure gust to be realized only in an expansionist drive, a seizure of either other terrains or cultures.

Pretty close to this type was the culture of Ancient Rome. Here we encounter a wondrous nigh singular for the Antiquity, feeling of fluidity, of the transiency of human conditions of the uniqueness of the individual (as incarnated in either portrait sculpture or lyrics). What we have come to know about the «Eternal City» provides a strong evidence for this statement. Take this thirst for sensual, irrational emotions, as the Romans were experiencing at fierce festivities, for one thing, or their cult of domestic oven (the Lares and the Penates, tutelary deities of the home and of the state). At the same time, the opposite pole was also clearly seen in an incessant drive of the Roman spirit to conquer the entire world.

In general, any «dissonant» culture has a clear choice: to achieve at least some external juxtaposing of its metaphysical poles or to die out. In the case of Ancient Rome, it is the imperial idea that had become a consolidating force, pushing into the background more organic, «inner» forms of unifying its culture. The main intention of the Roman spirit shaped out into the tenet of outward expansion, of the building up an «absolute» State in an attempt to link its vision of the Eternity with its adherence to the irrational flow of time.

But for all its internal contradictoriness, the dissonant culture possesses one intrinsic advantage over the tempered one: while embracing other cultures in the process of outward expansion, it is apt to assimilate them deeply, thereby gaining a footing for «harmonizing» its internal gust. Ditto for Rome. On conquering Greece, Rome found out in Greek culture an underlying base for a more genuine synthesis of temporality and eternity. Thanks to Rome, the antique culture of «harmonious» type Greece had begotten in all its integrity gained a worldwide sweep, having exerted an ineffaceable influence on yet younger cultures of Europe.

In its subsequent development, European culture on a whole had been connected with yet deeper penetration into the sphere of absolute values where the Eternity reigns. Yet more profound vision of the Eternity had been shaping into yet more complex and integral forms of culture and history. The most significant shift in this direction was caused by the advent of Christianity. A new optic of the Eternity had eventually led to a deeper synthesis of the Being's metaphysical polarities. The Antique Culture, professing the realness of the acme of perfection, gained once and for all, came to just recapitulating itself, whereas the culture the Christianity begot, though experiencing a poignant feeling of the impossibility to achieve perfection, was altogether oriented to the incessant pursuit of it.

The gravitation of European culture towards «harmonizing» meant by no way a lack of dynamism in the process of its development. In the history of European culture one may find out effortlessly the periods when either «eternal» or «temporary» constituents started prevailing or «dissonant» character was heightening. Diverse trends may also be traced down in the development of Europe's regional cultures: while some of them invariably bending to the «harmonious» type, the others were doomed to incessant internal discords.

The early Middle Ages in Europe passed under the sign of a shock caused by the advent of Christianity - yet another bursting into the sphere of the Eternity. Not surprisingly, the art of that epoch, which is rightfully called the epoch of Roman culture, shows some affinity with Ancient Egypt art. At once, the opposite pole also came to gaining ground: the earthy, transient state of being more and more attracts the human and candidly penetrates into the culture of Christianized Europe. Thus, a novel stage of «dissonance» in its development emerges - the Gothic. Born out of an acute withstanding of the temporary and the eternal, this, as well as any «dissonant» culture, reveals the aspiration towards some ideal beyond reach and, often, comprehension. This aspiration most graphically the Gothic cathedral, with the spire pointing out to the infinity, symbolizes. Some trends in the history of this dissonant epoch as the late Middle Ages crusades also disclose the same unquenchable and eventually aimless thirst of man who, despite all his efforts to create history, is unable to carry out in his historical time the constancy and logicality of the Absolute he came to see clearly.

However, alongside the development of the «dissonant» Gothic, the birth of a regional culture happens which would reach new horizons of «harmony» - the early Italian Renaissance. Though not so much in common may be found in the aesthetical principles of the Antiquity and the Renaissance, an intuitive conviction of the new epoch's ideologues in the affinity between their own creative quests and the Antique creative intentions has a sound metaphysical ground: both these epochs in European history came to engender ultimately «harmonious» cultures, on reaching an organic synthesis of temporality and eternity.

The later intertwining of these «dissonant» and «harmonious» cultures - the Gothic and the Renaissance - had been shaping up a developing, open-ended art of the Mannerism and the Barocco. Therein lies the origin of a whole subsequent development of European culture well into the early 19th century. Even a later bias towards «harmonizing» in the epoch of the Classicism could not fade out these creative impulses that the interaction of the Gothic and the Renaissance had brought about.

All the history of human culture gives a strong evidence that «dissonant» cultures play a specific role in history. Possessing certain «incompleteness» and «inferiority» in comparison with more «harmonious» cultures, they at the same time have had an indelible influence on the fates of the civilization. Often within them a latent ripening of something novel, unknown is happening, bringing about a bursting into the future. Of special interest in this respect are those national cultures that are doomed to be «dissonant» not only in some brief periods of their history but nigh over its duration. Two of such cultures are Austrian and Russian ones.


The logics underlying the development of «dissonant» cultures often does not obey the natural laws valid for «harmonious» ones. The history of Austria-Hungary provides a striking example of the persistent striving for a Utopian goal: the existence of this deliberate Empire made of a conglomerate of peoples, quite alien to each other, in the 18th-19th centuries contradicted to any logics and common sense. But, seemingly, it is the deep national conflicts that had caused what a creative impulse of the Gothic gave an outburst of Austrian Barocco and did not let the culture «calm down», «harmonize» itself. As any «dissonant» culture, Austrian one had existed at the expense of constantly renewable attempts to elaborate or to borrow from outside some forms which would let achieve an organic synthesis of the culture's internal contradictions. And, to a considerable extent, it had succeeded in this process (in this respect, its fate is similar to the one. of Ancient Rome): as an incarnation of the «harmony» achieved became Vienna - one of the most beautiful and, at the same time, one of the most paradoxical cities of Europe. It had become at once an embodiment of an invariable «harmony» gained once and for all, and a symbol of new ingenious impulses, breaking up with tradition: a man seeing the city for the first time could be absorbing the deepest currents of its inexhaustible creative energy and, at the same time, be experiencing a chilling, paralyzing glamour of pompous, rigid perfectness.

But the last uplift of the late 19th - early 20th century Austrian culture proved out to be originated through not a so hard and long achieved «harmony» but through yet another bursting of internal «dissonance». The contradiction between dispersed national trends and the idea of a supernatural unity had created by the shank end of the 19th century a unique milieu, where man came to experience most acutely the rupture between the eternal and the historical between the Absolute and life.

This intrinsic discrepancy of the discourse of our freedom reverberates in the music of Gustav Mahler. The hero of his symphonies is a wanderer, leaving his native land for good heading for the horizons unknown. The image of a wanderer renders quite well the feelings of a man of a «dissonant» culture. The wanderer being thrown into the Time, the meaning of his journey is wandering through the current time. He is tied with the Time as nobody else. The Time is taking the shape of his existence, even incorporating space - the space of his journey. But, underlying his outward bursting, there is yet another, genuine meaning - an attempt to reach out beyond the Time. Only he for whom no place in the world may be a terminal point, a last abode, may be justfully called a «wanderer». The state of being a wanderer is the state of absolute unsatisfaction, the state of the Being's discrepancy: being immersed into the Time, even dissolved in it, the wanderer, acutely experiencing any instant passing away, is driven to the Eternal, the Absolute, to what is beyond the Time but open to his spiritual sight.

The pursuit of «another reality», of the Absolute incarnated, overwhelms the main hero of a well-known novel by R. Musil «Man without Properties». From his relationships with people, he is trying to squeeze the «juice» of the Eternity so as to reach out some edge beyond which the Time loses its power over a human. What this novel remained uncompleted, just proves out once more, for both the author and his hero, that this pursuit is doomed to be eternal, for it is impossible to eschew from being thrown into the Time. Still, it seems that man could. hardly overcome his intrinsic drive to get out of the reign of the Temporality, thus dooming himself to the eternal quest of the Eternity.

But the most profound insights of the early 20th century Austrian culture are connected with a city located at the Empire's national periphery - with Prague, in a sense, a counterpart of Vienna. While Vienna incarnated incessant and often successful attempts of culture to achieve wholeness integrity, Prague came revealing its internal «dissonant» character. It is here, within a strange German language culture, as though impending in the air of an alien national environment, that such artists as F. Kafka and G. Mayrink could come up. Heroes of their novels are also wanderers of a sort but their path runs into some metaphysical depths of life, where the inner disharmony of our earthly being is becoming starkly polarized. Kafka and Mayrink are utterly disclosing a metaphysical «frame», on which are stretched painted cloths of our outwardly ordered and logical existence. And it turns out that our peace of mind, our satisfaction with life - it is a terrific disease causing death, and the only hope for saving oneself consists in the daring of our freedom, withstanding the absurd, deeply rooted into the very grounds of existence.

Only a personality, feeling acutely a gap between the Temporal and the Eternal, could be willing as passionately as Rilke a realization of a harmonious, «healthy» world. The same prophetic feeling let him grasp to the full his spiritual kinship with Russian culture, where he came to discern the most authentic complete expression of this grief for wholeness, for harmoniousness of the Being, of this grief that is caused by a deep rootedness into the Time and a deep terrifying vision of the Eternity. Even the very Russian word «toska» («grief», «grievance») Rilke considered as a unique expression of the gist of this spiritual self-consciousness that engenders the greatest creative achievements of humankind .


All the path of Russian culture confirms the correctness of Rilke's insights, its dissonances having been predestined by some peculiarities of the formation and development of the Russian ethos. Just a glimpse at the works by Scythian craftsmen suffices to have grasped how deeply our distant ancestry from the Steppes were experiencing the whimsical flow of life. Scythian culture was a vivid culture of «temporal» type and though it was bound to die soon, this culture could outlive itself in a supernatural way, passing on this pagan, irrational feeling of the fluidity of existence to a people to have «sprouted» out of the soil, with which its ashes.

Christianizing the pagan Old Rus, started around the year of 988, had determined a breakthrough into the second pole of culture. But unlike most European countries, christened by or that time about, that adhered to the Rome Church and, thereby, to the Ancient Rome cultural tradition, Rus ,as Bulgaria, adhered to the Byzantine Church. The impact of the Byzaritine spiritual and cultural tradition on a young Christian nation had been overwhelming over a span of several centuries. Some masterpieces of Russian architecture and icon-painting, fostered by the patterns borrowed from Constantinople, are widely known. Yet, on a whole, the effect of Byzantium proved not strong enough to have formed a really efficacious core of a culture of «harmonious» type. Consequently, these ingenious impulses of freedom that were seething within the Russian soul's abysses could not have been morphed into some natural and refined phenomena of ideology and culture. They went mostly into a great many riots («a Russian riots insensate and ruthless», to quote another famous line by A. Pushkin, this time from his novel «The Captain's Daughter»), bursts of fanatic faith or, at the very best, into an unsatisfiable and aimless outward expansion, a drive into space that had led to an incredulous extension of the boundaries of the Old Russian state 8. The latter fact provides grounds for claiming a metaphysical identity of the Old Russian and Old Roman cultures, though not implying a phenomenological closeness of these cultures, as realized by the two peoples in history. The depth of «disconcertedness», inherent to the Russian spiritual life, had proved to be so striking that Russian culture was doomed to remain «dissonant» over a whole span of its development.

The whole history of the before-Peter-the-Great Muscovite Rus presents itself as a few endeavors to develop own cultural patterns through assimilating the Byzantine legacy. And in a historical perspective, one has to admit that even the greatest achievement of Russian culture at that period - the Russian Orthodox Church architecture and icon-painting - could not lay down the foundations strong enough for its self-sufficient development.

Moscow stands by itself as probably the most striking incarnation of the tragedy of before-Peter-the-Great Russia. The city mirrored all the chaos and fruitlessness of these endeavors to have an original «harmonious» culture created. Devoid of a footing, solid enough to cool down inner controversies, the own cultural patterns had proved out to be too fragile, so easy. to be destroyed in pursuit of yet another, not lesser ephemerical ones. Moscow's memory is so feeble that any new epoch starts from a nigh downright demolition of the monuments considered antiquated. This attitude had predetermined the city's fate: whether intentionally or not (recall the Great Fire of Moscow in 1812 during Napoleon's invasion), the city's past came to be destroyed more than once. And this process of depriving Moscow of historical memory kept going well down our time. Just a stroll down today's Moscow shows quite well how radically the city memory is uprooted, how few traces of its gloriose past remained, except for the Kremlin and around.

The persistent attempts to make Moscow the center of the State, of the Empire's activity, directed outwardly had been draining out own, internal cultural patterns, since the primary goal of this activity was seen as an expansion of the culture over vast lands and conquered peoples. Rather curiously, ditto for Rome at the early stage of the development of the Roman state: on conquering vast lands and becoming the center of a powerful state, Rome had very long remained a typical «out-of-the-way» town against the background of the magnificent cities conquered by the Roman legionaries. Failed to inherent the heritage of «harmonious» cultures, Moscow was bound to be a city with a most bizarre mosaic of magnificent architectural monuments (the Kremlin, cathedrals palaces and mansions of the nobility) laid down on gloomy faceless surroundings. A city that did not appreciate its beauty, even sought to destroy it in order to give place for yet novel incarnations of the specter of the Empire's might. Under the Bolshevik rule, this plague of reconstruction had heightened to a catastrophic dimensions: lots of what had left from old Moscow was destroyed and, instead, pompous Stalin's Empire and faceless constructivism of glass-concrete-and-steel boxes were burgeoning.

The epoch of Peter the Great had exerted a decisive influence on the formation of a genuinely authentic Russian culture through bringing Western tradition and experience to the country. Ever since Russia has been evolving in a deeper and deeper contact with European civilization. In particular, Russian culture at large has succeeded in acquiring an array of completed and balanced patterns, worked out during a millennium of the incessant development of European culture. As a material elaboration of this process, Saint Petersburg and its suburban parks had become. It is worth pointing out yet again that this assimilation of the West did not plunge Russia into the state of a poor imitator. «Harmonious» patterns came to be injected into a people which had kept either a pagan worshipping of an earthly, transitory being and a sense of its closeness to God. The depth of «metaphysical dissonance» here proved out to be so dramatic that these borrowed «harmonious» patterns had been transformed and developed in a very brief period of time (around a hundred years) as to convey, into these novel patterns, the same withstanding of the Time and the Eternity, the acute sense of which has ever been the gist of the Russian spirit. That «universal responsiveness» of the Russian soul, its aptitude for adopting other cultural traditions, its willingness to learn from other peoples thus has become a great advantage of Russian cultural tradition. Still retaining its «dissonant», character, ingenious impulses, and spirituality, Russian culture acquired at last a language for conveying its profound insights.

And, most and foremost this is true with respect to the Russian language itself and Russian literature. Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837), Russian poet, prosaic and playwright, may, be rightfully considered as a creator of modern Russian literary language. The importance of Pushkin in our history stems from what it was him who had «closed» the outcome of a whole century of acquiring western cultural patterns, especially French ones, and started a radical transformation of them, adjusting them express a novel vision of the world and man in it well beyond contemporary tradition. A. Pushkin's creative development evolved from borrowed romanticism (Byron, Ossiang, Parni) to a mature realism through ironic reinterpretation and enhancing romantic stereotypes. In his novel in verse, «Eugen Onegin», Pushkin created, according to our understanding scholar, late Yu. Lotman, a «formula of Russian novel», based on «a conception about essential incompatibility of life and fiction, about the plenitude of possibilities and infinite variancy of reality» 9. But also, in Pushkin's creative activity we are finding out not only the drive for rendering the wealth of life; he is also quite aware of the opposite pole of Being, the Eternity, that rises above the human as somewhat stone-like, as superhuman and unhuman, as an «idol» of Don Guan in his «Don Guan» from the cycle «Small Tragedies». The withstanding of the chaotic, the irrational, the living, for one thing, and of the eternal, merciless, inpenetrable constitutes a key paradigm of late Pushkin's writings. And man is thrown into the very center of this notwithstanding, while his pursuit of freedom comes up as the only way of keeping his dignity against the fatality of his destiny. Not surprisingly, Petersburg stands as a perfect setting for Pushkin's heroes. In the poem «The Bronze Horseman», Eugene, a humble clerk, comes to revolt against Peter the Great incarnated in a famous monument to him, by Falconet and Callot, whose Emperor's will set a city in a place unfit for living.

This artistic paradigm has become, in the essence of it, absolutely exact expression of that metaphysical paradigm, underlying «dissonant» culture. In verity, A. Pushkin indeed became a national genius, a prophet, who was the first to realize in perfect artistic forms the very gist of Russian fate, of the Russian national spirit.

Back to our comparative analysis of the Myths of Moscow and Petersburg, one may state that these myths manifest in a very precise manner two intentions inextricably linked with a «dissonant» culture.

The first intention is to reach some «outward» supremacy by gaining land and material resources while mostly neglecting own original forms. Thereby, this would eventually lead to a somewhat gloomy though ostensive cultural milieu (cf. a close affinity between the artistic styles in Stalin's Soviet Union and Nazi Germany). This intention is clearly pronounced in the main, imperium constituent of the myth of Moscow.

The second intention is to assimilate other cultural patterns in order to convey own creative impulses and to develop national culture of a quite distinctive character. This is the hallmark of the myth of Petersburg. In this respect, Petersburg may be compared with Ancient Rome. Indeed, the then Rome, particularly under the emperors, was a cosmopolitan city, a melting pot foil all the cultural traditions, contiguous with each other within a framing of one Antique civilization. Here peacefully coexisted temples and shrines to every deity under the Sun. Here, in a whimsical way, altogether diverse trends in architecture were reverberating and interweaving. The Ancient Rome comes up as a symbol of one, tolerant all-embracing European culture.

Owning to its metaphysical substantiveness, Saint Petersburg is beyond the Time. The city conveys the very essence of culture as the being on the brink of the Eternity. as a burst into the sphere of the Absolute; expressed in the most adequate form, this burst is not to breaking up with the historical time but overwhelming it. And it is not incidentally that Petersburg was doomed to a tragic fate of the «city of three revolutions». The message it has been carrying - to transform downright the historical time in compliance with the laws of the chasm yawned had turned out to be too grandiose, nigh impossible for a young nation. A brisk, unstoppable Russian national spirit came to get this message with enthusiasm. But in attempting to «conquer» history by one effort it went far beyond the natural course of evolutive development. Once more, the destructiveness of our national being came to surface, once again what had been achieved over a century of creative development came to be destroyed.

Since the fall of Communist rule in August 1991 we started to comforting ourselves with the hope for a final recovering from «dissonance» plague on the roads of turning back to Christianity and human values. Alas, the October 1993 storming of our own «White House» in Moscow, war in Checnya and all the pleasures of born-again capitalism have faded out this hope.

Fortunately, Saint Petersburg keeps standing outside this turn of events, thus giving another hope. The hope for another revival, for yet another attempt to become a site of quite new, matured and calmed down Russian culture. Metaphorically, a true «second Rome», or a «second Athens», or just Saint Petersburg, inextricably linked with the times of Pushkin and Dostoyevsky, with the times of Alexander Block and Ossip Mandelstamm, with the time of our youth.


[*] Let us note that these two aspects involve different social structures. Translating may be carried out, for instance, through the structures responsible for upbringing and education, the mass media or mass culture, whereas the impulses of innovation being condensed only in a tiny streak, the cultural elite. The priority of one or another aspect is determined, to a considerable degree, by a kind of interrelation between these structures. If the cultural elite (though even numerous and creatively active) happens to be detached from educational structures, from the influencing on the mass media and the political elite, the general function Once of a city would be, by necessity, conservative. If, the other way round, the practice of exchanging people and ideas between these social spheres established, the function of a city within the culture would be, in a greater extent, innovative.

[*] In prophecies on the perish of this «invented» city, Russian that literature abounds, most well-known are the ones by F. Dostoyevski and D. Merezhkovsky.

[*] For a detailed comparative analysis of the single constituents of the myths of Moscow and Petersburg see: Lotman, Yu. M. «The Symbolism of Petersburg and Problems of the City Semiotics» - In: Semiotics of the Town and Town Environment: Petersburg. Tartu, 1984 (in Russian).

[*] Berdyaev, N.A. «The Russian Idea. Main Problems of the Russian Thought of the 19th and the Early 20th Centuries» - In: On Russia and Russian Philosophical Culture. Collection of Papers. Moscow, 1990, p.54 (in Russian).

[*] Yevlampiev, I.I. «On the Brink of Eternity. Metaphysical Foundations of Culture and its Fate» - Metaphysics of Petersburg. St. Petersburg, 1993.

[*] Vipper, B.R. Art of Ancient Greece. Moscow, 1972, p. 17-18.

[*] In this respect, two personages from Greek mythology may be evoked, the Sphinx and Minotaur, as reflecting the perception by Old Greeks of Egyptian and Creten civilizations respectively. .While either of these creatures menacing humans, their messages were outright diverse, even polarized. The Sphinx incarnated the Eternity perceived as the absolute Inevitability and the absolute Truth (henceforth, the Sphinx's riddles), whereas Minotaur - an unpredictable, irrational chaos of Time. Both of them turned out to be slain by Greek heroes (Oedipus and Theseus, resp.) in the end. That testifies to what Greek civilization, already at the later mythological stage of its development, had a presentiment of the character of its superiority over the civilizations of Egypt and Crete.

[*] On this immune trait of the Russian national character, Nikolai Berdyaev wrote at length, attributing it to a variety of historical and geopolitical factors. See, for instance: Berdyaev, N.A. «The Russian Idea. Main Problems of the Russian Thought of the 19th and the early 20th centuries» - In: On Russia and Russian Philosophical Culture. Collection of Papers. Moscow, 1990, p.44 (in Russian) and Berdyaev, N.A. The Origins and Meaning of Russian Communism. Moscow, 1990, p.7-8 (in Russian).

For that matter, let us recall some favorite ideas of Russian political, social and religious thinker Pyotr Chaadayev, author the famous «Philosophical Letterlt (1836). He wrote (in French): «… Nous marchons si singulierement dans le temps qu'a mesure que nous avancons la veille nous echappe sans retour. C'est une consequence naturelle d'une culture toute d'importation et d'imitation. Il n'y a point chez nous de developpement intime, de progres naturel; les nouvelles idees balaient les anciennes, parce qu'elles ne viennent pas de celles-la et qu'elles nous tombent de je ne sais ou. Ne prenant que des idees toutes faites, la trace ineffable qu'un mouvement d'idees toutes faites, la trace ineffable qu'un movement d'idees progressif grave dans les esprits, et qui fait leur force, ne sillonne pas nos intelligences. Nous grandissons, mais nous ne murissons pas; nous avancons, mais dans la ligne oblique, c'est-a-dire dans celle qui ne conduit pas au but…» (Chaadayev, P. Complete Writings and Selected Letters, in 2 Vol. Vol. 1. Moscow, 1991, p. 92-93).

[*] Lotman, Yu.M. In the Shool of Poetical Word. Pushkin. Lermontov. Gogol. Moscow, 1988, p. 17.


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