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The Imperial

An „Empire“ can in general be defined as a multinational politcial-cultural configuration. Yegor Gaidar's book The Empire's Decline, Lessons for Today's Russia ((Gibel’ imperii. Uroki dlja sovremennoj Rossii, 2006, second edition in 2007), defines the USSR as a „multiethnic state produced by military campaigns.“ He analyses the instability of the USSR in the 80s againt the background of the general fragility of authoritarian empires.

At the same time, he notes the existence of a „post-imperial nostalgia“ and „post-imperial syndrome“ in Russia, which he views as a dangerous illness and even compares to attitudes in Germany before the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. Gaidar is a social scientist who attempts to refute the arguments produced by this malady. He does not deal with the functioning of the imperial in the area of signs and symbols. In a way, our project is designed to augment Gaidar's observations in this area, led also by the conviction that the area of signs is not irrelevant also for social scientists.

The question of whether the imperial is a style is complex. In any case, restricting it to a neo-empire style or to the eccelecticism of the late Stalin period and its tranferrence to cultural areas outside of the USSR. We would like to view the signs of the imperial as a mixture of discursive (lanuage) and non-discursive strategies of signification. This has not been sufficiently noted in scholarly work on Stalinist style and motifs (for instance the institutional influence on readings of Socialist Realist novels may be more important than the plots and motifs themselves). The frames provided and constructed for signification processes can have different styles depending on the national tradition involved. This is not identical with their pragmatic function. Stalinism is not just a producer of works, but also a producer of traces.

At the latest since the appearance of the  influential book Empire by  Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in 2000, the redefinition of the imperial is on the theoretical agenda. At the same time, precisely in Russia, official and semi-official discourses are full of the nebulous and anything but theoretical word „imperskost“, which is a product of the nostalgic tendencies Gaidar describes. The relevasnce of the issue in both theoretical discussions and in cultural studies seems to be clear. The study of imperial traces seems to us to be a way of dealing with both sides of the question.