The changes that have been taking place in Russia for the last five years can be called exceptional to the point of emergency. These changes express themselves in a completely new rhetoric of power, which, in contrast to previous systems, has succeeded in constructing its ideology through the complete ambivalence of political priorities.
Under these conditions of the full indeterminateness of any ideological choice, the state has only succeeded in creating a simulatory “patriotic field”, which accumulates all of the traumatic symptoms of previous regimes: sovereign monarchism, Russian-Orthodoxy, Communism, the war in Chechnya etc. It has also been successful in combining contradictory types of PR: xenophobia and the struggle against it, “friendship” with the West and an undeclared war led to regain the positions lost during the post-Perestroika period, the declaration of net surplus and the refusal to make social investments.
This type of state-rhetoric, which is devoid of any declaration of choice, is subversive* in terms of form and utterly opaque to civil society. This, incidentally, is the kind of “opacity” that Alexander Tarasov has aptly defined as the main characteristic of any authentic revolutionary movement . It is symptomatic that one of the main tools of revolutionary activity has also been appropriated by the state.
However, the main subtlety behind the rhetoric of opacity hardly lies in that we fail to understand the reforms’ intentions or their future results, but that there is, in fact, nothing to discover. The secret is that there is no intention, and that there never was. All possibilities are left open to allow for their usurpation if necessary. This kind of total reversibility of all notions and ideologemes is something entirely new to Russian politics. Why are such modern “subversive” means that are so “native” to revolutionary struggle so easy to integrate into a totalitarian system? Perhaps this is one of the main questions one should ask in approaching the contemporary state in general and that of Russia in particular.
M aybe this is happening because society faces one of the most vicious and simultaneously desired (one of the most subversive) questions about the Big Other?
During the 1930-1940s, this image was sacralized, while today, it is subject to eroticization. The Big Other is both every citizen’s intimate interlocutor and the symbol of a unified, total body of government. This image becomes subversive when the gap between the abstract notion of the state and the attempt to transform it into a “desired body” is smoothed over and triumphs as ontology.
Doesn’t revolutionary propaganda operate according to this very principle? Any movement spreads through the superimposition of a political program as an ontological given. This type of politics and existence is an exception, an emergency. This is why I would venture to say that in the situation at hand it is the state that is in control of the rhetoric of revolution, that the state has appropriated the technologies of creating an emergency. The recent events in Ukraine illustrate this idea quite well.
If revolution is an array of technologies, the arsenal of artistic-revolutionary instruments seems rather insignificant in comparison to the might of the contemporary state’s political design-machine. For this reason, the narrative of revolution or of a personal, more intensive emergency is not as important in the current situation as wariness, which many artists lose as soon as they come into contact with the economic ambitions of their own country, with the prestige of their so-called “motherland”. In fact, the radical turn of all mass-media has pulled along a large number of intellectual publishing-house, writers and artists in reanimating the notion of “Russia” and “all things Russian”. It is far easier to develop a narrative of resistance than to suppress the ambitions and traumata of the state. There is a slim chance of remaining an artist or a philosopher if one is unable to overcome one’s own attachment to the main point of reference, the priorities of the state (this most unconscious of all substantiations).
As far as criticism is concerned, both artistic and political discourses have shown that any critical position has become or proven to be reversible, since any type of discursivity is, in fact, capable of being reversed. The mass-media and advertising have taken hold of the possibilities for creating new forms or means, a function that any avant-garde artist still felt to be her-his life’s work in the not-too-recent past. Since the territory of art has been broached from all possible sides, the artist’s main goal lies in resisting the seduction of choosing her or his “favorite” narrative and in remembering the gaps between politics, creativity and existence.
* We understand subversion in the context of this term’s use in texts by Deleuze, Lacan, Groys, and iek. This consists of an object’s failure to correspond with itself, when the failure to correspond is chosen as a means of representing the object in question.