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Regular version of the site

Article

HYBRIDITY: Marrism and the Problems of Language of the Imperial Situation

Ab imperio. 2016. No. 1. P. 27-68.
Mogilner M., Glebov S., Gerasimov I.
This article revisits Joseph Stalin’s infamous 1950 critique of Nikolai Marr’s controversial linguistic theory as a “linguistic turn,” to borrow a modern concept. The authors argue that this was literally a shift in the language describing social diversity, rather than a purely ideological campaign as earlier studies suggested. Stalin explicitly insisted on the academic nature of his intervention, which was quite banal in terms of its theoretical input, reproducing standard theses of classic linguistic theory from prerevolutionary textbooks. One aspect, however, was both theoretical and original: the elaborate attack on the concept of “crossing” (skreshchenie) of languages as the driving force of linguistic processes, the central and most stable element of the evolving theory of Nikolai Marr and his disciples. By reviewing the intellectual context of the forming of Marr’s theory during the first two decades of the twentieth century (including cases of physical anthropology, archaeology, and nonclassical linguistics), the article claims that Nikolai Marr’s scholarly pursuits were but a specific case of rethinking and constructing the language of hybridity. Modern social sciences in Russia have produced a distinct metalanguage to describe and analyze the complex diversity of imperial situation. “Hybridity” was the central trope of this metalanguage, or rather its equivalents at the time – “mixing” (smeshenie) and “crossing” (skreshchenie) – insofar as “hybridity” had not yet entered the Russian vocabulary. It is in this sense that “hybridity” is discussed in this article: as a language of self-description in the imperial situation (category of practice) and as an element of the analytical language of the project of modern imperial social sciences, rather than a direct importation of the concept of hybridity from contemporary postcolonial scholarship (as used by Homi Bhabha and others). The emergence of scholarly models that explicitly used the trope of hybridity and perceived hybridity as a foundation of the norm (rather than a marginal condition of deviation from pure forms) is characterized here as the late imperial epistemological revolution. This epistemological revolution became possible and had potential in the context of the imperial situation and in the ideologically pluralistic regime of the late empire. It was already exhausted by the late 1920s, having received support from neither the hegemonic Soviet discourse nor from the subaltern Eurasianist or Soviet national and anticolonial projects. Methodological constructivism and hybridity as a whole became obsolete as survivals of the unstable and limited pluralism of the New Economic Policy era. Their final marginalization in the USSR was just a question of time, given the consolidation of the Stalinist regime throughout the 1930s and the stake on the Russian nation as the official Staatsvolk. The upheaval of World War II delayed the official correction of the metalanguage of social hybridity based on the controversial Marrist linguistic theory of “crossing,” until Stalin’s “linguistic turn” of 1950 formally established the foundations of the literally “counterrevolutionary” episteme of “simple things” and the project of the ideological state based on that episteme.