Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Self and the Other in Recent Russian Cinema

Birgit Beumers (U of Bristol) writes in KinoKultura
The sociologist Lev Gudkov (2004) has argued that an identity is usually constituted by reference to the Other, usually an enemy; he further argues that the victim complex is the result of the traumatic experience of the Soviet past. This self-perception is projected onto the way in which Russians are seen in world cinema (see Beumers 2008). Although the passivity and inertia that Gudkov attributes to the victim complex have been manifest in Russian culture even before the twentieth century—one only needs to think of the “Russian idea” with its submissive and aggressive elements, associating the east with passivity and the west with activity [1]—Gudkov’s point here is about a nation that has publicly and emotionally not come to terms with certain aspects of Soviet history. Thus, whilst parades mark the anniversaries of WWII with memorial celebrations that remember those who lost lives, no remembrance ceremonies have commemorated the victims of Stalinism.
For Gudkov, the victim complex is a mechanism that allows man to compensate for a lack of self-respect and self-esteem; it justifies general fatigue as the result of the ruling power’s coercion of man into action; it prevents man from turning plans into action, indeed it exempts the victim from action; it is a defense against an active Other that becomes the enemy, because it may coerce the victim into action (Gudkov 98-102): “The victim complex works like a mechanism purifying the subject of possible action from any defects and relieving it from deficiencies, from a sense of inadequacy or loss. Instead, it endows the subject with latent and potential qualities that cannot be tested against reality, cannot be realized, cannot translate into action” (Gudkov 101-2).
Gudkov’s argument that the victim complex is symptomatic of post-Soviet Russia even to a larger extent than of the Soviet era is connected to the lack of responsibility that the Soviet individual traditionally carried for his actions: “The victim complex is a perversion of personal initiative” (Gudkov 108). Therefore, the victim complex characterizes Russia’s self-perception, and strips the image of Russian-ness of the pseudo-confidence with which Soviet ideology endowed its citizens by claiming achievements, notably in the space and arms race, and in the victory over fascism in WWII. ...

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