Traditionally, Russian symbolic geography has been governed by two major binary oppositions: ‘the provinces vs. the capital’ and ‘Russia vs. the West.’ I explore the semantic field in post-Soviet culture, where these binaries intersect, and the ‘provinces vs. the capital’ opposition emerges as a thematic and ideological alternative to Russia’s perpetually problematic relationship with the West. The emphasis on the provinces in the discourse of contemporary nationalism functions to redirect discussions of Russia’s national identity: from its loss of imperial might and prestige, and psychologically unsatisfying opposition to the West, to a hermetic national model, where the provinces replace the West – not as a superior Other, but as one more ambiguously defined.
Lyudmila Parts (PhD, Columbia University, 2002) is an Associate Professor of Russian in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at McGill University (Montreal). She is the author of In Search of the True Russia. The Provinces in Contemporary Nationalist Discourse. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2018; The Chekhovian Intertext: Dialogue with a Classic” (Ohio State UP, 2008) and the editor of The Russian 20th Century Short Story: A Critical Companion (Academic Studies Press, 2009). Prof. Parts’ research interests include post-Soviet culture, genre theory, and cultural representations of nationalism. She has published articles on Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Tolstaya, Petrushevskaya, Pelevin, and, more recently, on the provincial myth and national identity. Her current research project is on the Russian travelogue.