Colloquium by Boris Gasparov, Columbia University: On Female “Otherness”: Looking from the Perspective of Early Romantic Metaphysics
Kant’s critique of cognition, by laying bare categories inherent to pure reason, caused what could be called “metaphysical anxiety” among the generation of the 1790s: a feeling that the self is imprisoned in its own consciousness and cut off from the absoluteness of the universe. While philosophical idealism, beginning with Fichte, sought to assert the absoluteness of the ‘I’, early Romantics envisioned a “dialogical” solution, whereby the Self overcomes its inherent limitation by reaching out to the Other, and through the multiplicity of interactions and influences among individuals, opening the road to the infinite. The relationship between genders came to represent the most powerful emblem of this general principle as various dimensions of the “otherness” of the female element was projected onto different domains of spiritual life: e.g., individual psychology and behavior in relation to national identity, the connection between philosophy and poetry, language structures and the influence they are purported to have on the character of their speakers. Through this philosophical subtext, the archetypal literary plot of “the love story” acquired a new symbolic depth as vicissitudes of the lovers’ relationship came to stand for the transformation of character and the existential conditions of human life. Gasparov’s paper concentrates on the impact of this motif on Russian literature of the Romantic epoch, specifically on Pushkin (Prisoner of the Caucasus, Eugene Onegin) and Lermontov (Hero of Our Time).
BORIS GASPAROV is Boris Bakhmeteff Professor of Russian Studies at Columbia University. He received his education in Slavic and general linguistics and in musicology in Moscow. Beginning in 1966 and until he left the USSR in 1980, he taught at Tartu University, and actively participated in manifold academic activities of Tartu-Moscow semiotic school. After having emigrated to America, he taught at Stanford (1981-2), Berkeley (1982-92), and Columbia (thereafter). His interests include philosophy of language, descriptive and historical linguistics, Russian and European Romanticism, and the history of Russian music. Among his recent books: Five Operas and a Symphony (2005), Speech, Memory, and Meaning: Intertextuality in Everyday Language (2010), and Beyond Pure Reason: Ferdinand de Saussure’s Philosophy of Language and its Early Romantic Antecedents (2012).