“Tsar and God” and Other Essays in Russian Cultural Semiotics
This is a collection of essays on the semiotics of history, a product of the 30 years collaboration of the two co-authors. All the articles are devoted to the history of the Russian culture, treating it not as an isolated phenomenon, but as an integral part of the world culture. Semiotic analysis of various fonts allows to define both universal and pecular characteristics in the history of Rusian culture.
The present study simultaneously belongs to literary studies and to social history, including the history of culture and of political ideas. Indeed it concerns attitudes about the tsar in Russia during various periods of Russian history, and the linguistic - and more generally speaking, semiotic - means in which these attitudes were manifested. Obviously, this is connected to the history of political views. It is demonstrated how differing attitides toward the tsar correlate with various stages of Russian political and cultural history; how diverse aspects of Russian cultural life converged around this question; and how in different periods the very same texts could be interpreted as having very different content, relating to the interests of the particular time.
The political preconditions for the sacralization of the monarch in Russia were twofold. On the one hand, this was the transference onto the tsar of Moscow the functions of the Byzantine basileius, that could be realized both in the conception of Moscow as the Third Rome, which was contrasted to Byzantium, and in the later Byzantanization of the Russian state and ecclesiastical life (beginning in the reign of Aleksei Mikhailovich). On the other hand, this was the tsar’s assimilation of the functions of head of the church (beginning with the reign of Peter I). The very combination of these two essentially contradictory tendencies only became possible in the conditions of Baroque culture, insofar as texts that were authoritative for cultural consciousness could be reconceptualized in any direction within a Baroque framework.
The psychology of royal imposture in Russia is directly connected with the question of the attitude to the Tsar, i. e. the special way in which royal power was understood. Pretenders made their appearance in Russia only after there were Tsars, and this is connected with the sacralization of the Tsar. The notion that the royal power was established by God accounts for the distinction (actual in Russia) between "righteous" and "unrighteous" Tsars. Hence the most striking pretenders crop up precisely at those moments when the natural order of succession has been broken and when the actual occupier of the throne could in fact be regarded as a pretender.
After the fall of Byzantium a restoration of the Byzantine Empire was enacted in the Muscovite state. Thus originated the tsardom of Muscovy, which subsequently became the Russian Empire. This tsardom was modelled as a theocratic one: Moscow was conceived as the New Constantinople and the Third Rome. In conformity with this conception, there appeared in Moscow, as in a New Constantinople, a tsar, that is, basileus or emperor (the Byzantine emperor was called “tsar” in Russia) and subsequently a patriarch. Clearly it was stipulated by the orientation towards Byzantium; however Byzantium had been long gone by that time. What is more, long after the fall of Byzantium, contacts between Moscow and Constantinople remained severed. Thus the Russians modelled themselves not on a tradition that actually existed, but on a certain notion of theocratic state in which ideology played a far greater role than real facts. This is especially evident in the rite of enthronement and royal anointment: the Russian rite differs drastically from the Byzantine one. The special Russian custom of royal anointment contributed to the idea of sacralization of the tsar.
The diffusion of a name related to a certain cultural-historical center and representing a particular cultural-historical tradition, generally speaking, may be based either on the principle of metonymy or on the principle of metaphor. In the first case we have a natural process of cultural expansion, while in the other we face an artificial process of cultural orientation. In the one case centrifugal forces are manifested (the principle of metonymy), in the other centripetal forces prevail (the principle of metaphor). When England was called "Great Britain" (i.e. Great Bretagne), it was the result of a metonymic association. When a town in America received the name New Amsterdam or New Orleans, it was the result of a metaphoric association. In the case of a toponymic nomination based on metonymy the problem of center and periphery is actual; in the case of a toponymic nomination based on metaphor, the problem of old and new prevails. Generally speaking, metonymy is connected with relations in space, while metaphor is connected with relations in time. While a periphery is not necessarily contrasted to the center, the relations of old and new as a matter of principle appear as a contrasting opposition: the new is created as the antithesis of the old.
After the reforms of Peter I, Russia belongs to Europe not in a metonymic but in a metaphoric sense. In other words, the appurtenance of Russia to Europe appears as a result not of the expansion of Europe as the center of civilization to adjacent lands, but rather as a conscious and conspicuous orientation towards Europe: this was not a centrifugal but a centripetal proces