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Interview of Vladimir Kantor to the 'Philosophy' Bachelor’s Programme site

Interview with Doctor of Philosophy, Ordinary Professor at HSE, Lecturer at the "Philosophy" Educational Program, the head of the International Laboratory for the Study of Russian and European Intellectual Dialogue Vladimir K. Kantor

The foundation of the International Laboratory for the Study of Russian and European Intellectual Dialogue has become one of the most discussed events of 2017 in the philosophical community. Of course, the significance of the new HSE research project leads to a number of questions: what was the impetus for the creation of the laboratory? Why is the laboratory created now?

Prof. Kantor, 
We lived in this problem. If it’s permissible to talk about myself, I have been engaged in Russian culture and Russian philosophy since I was thirty. And Russia has always felt - in attraction and repulsion - closely connected with Europe. So for me and my colleagues, this is not just academia, not just a scientific problem, this is life, the solution to quite existential issues. We all understand that without solving the problems of our own cultural life, in the words of Chaadayev, Russia's place in the world, it is difficult to understand this world. And behind us, at least 250 years of great Russian literature, Russian philosophy, Russian music, Russian great painting, Russian theater, Russian ballet. All this wealth must be mastered in order to live at the level of high spiritual development, at the level of European culture, which, unlike us, knows our intellectual life better than we do.
When we started to publish the series “From the History of Russian Philosophical Thought” (forty volumes came out; I was one of its initiators and publishers), our "pochvenniki" joyfully exclaimed that now the West would know how great we were. But the West knew, we did not know. It was the West that kept and published the texts of Russian thinkers and writers, listened to the music of Stravinsky and Rachmaninov, read Bunin (giving him the Nobel Prize). Our thinkers, exiled to the West, were by no means imitators of European thinkers. Semyon Frank argued on equal terms with Heidegger. And this is what Europe appreciates! No wonder it was the Germans who published the eight volumes of Semyon Frank's works in German.
And why is the laboratory created right now? Because there was a competition of projects, because our project won. This is quite situational. It is not situational that the need for such a project was recognized.

Q The laboratory is international; it explores Russian culture and European intellectual traditions. In this regard, it is important to take into account the specifics of relations between Russia and the Europe countries - the turn towards improvement is only just beginning. Was there a certain tension and, possibly, distrust of Europeans towards us (and vice versa) at the stage of creating the laboratory, or scientists are always outside politics? Does the political environment affect the work of the laboratory at the moment?

Prof. Kantor,
Our work does not focus on geopolitical passions and fears. This is not a scientist's business. This is a fear of totalitarian thinking. It is time to learn to think freely, regardless of market conditions. And adjusting to the political intrigues of Europeans is just as embarrassing as, say, embarrassing adjusting to the decisions of the Soviet regime. There are Europe and Russia - two powerful Christian entities. This is a fact, and it needs to be comprehended. And be afraid of crooked looks? Let it remain at the communal level.

Q
The main question answered by the research activities of the laboratory: “What ideas that grew on European intellectual and spiritual soil could attract a person of Russian culture, and vice versa?”. And if the influence of Europe on the formation of Russian philosophy is not in dispute, then there is still no single point of view regarding the reverse process. Could it be that in Russia there is essentially still very little “of one's own” (compared with the legacy of the West)?

Prof. Kantor, 
Many times I participated in Western conferences dedicated to Russian thinkers. A man of Russian culture grew on the basis of Greco-Roman and Christian thought. Plato, Aristotle, Augustine are also close to the Russian mind, as well as the western. The West had the same teachers as Russia, and as far as possible interpreted them. It’s just that Russia came to free teaching much later. You need to know the story. Know when the West was baptized, when Russia. Russia was not yet in sight, and the West had already gone Antiquity, medieval theology, etc. And then more than three hundred years of the Mongol yoke. It is amazing that Russian thought survived, and, having received freedom and opportunity, rushed forward. 
If we talk about our influence on the West, I recall that, say, Nietzsche and Camus obviously survived the influence of Dostoevsky. Not to mention European fiction, whose best writers admitted that Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were their teachers. And in the work of Ionesco, the influence of Chekhov is obvious, as well as in the theater of the absurd in general. Western poststructuralism grew out of Russian formalism. This is known to everyone who has already entered into humanities.

Q I would like to devote the final question to the plans of the laboratory. You now have 9 employees, including two deputy heads - Ph.D. E.V. Beschetnova, Doctor of Philosophy O.A. Zhukov, two chief research fellow- doctors of sciences A.A. Kara-Murza and M.S. Kiseleva), and three research assistants (graduate students and undergraduates). Will the laboratory expand by inviting promising students or eminent experts? Or is the current composition final and maximally covers the entire problem field of laboratory research?

Prof. Kantor, This is the easiest question. Of course, the work of the laboratory was at the very beginning, but very large Western scientists came to us with reports (from the USA and Germany), and we are planning a big conference on April 27-28, "Russia, a hundred years after the 1917 Revolution: Causes and Consequences", which is attended not only by major domestic and Western scientists, but also by our research assistants (https://reid.hse.ru/conf).
We would like to expand, first of all, at the expense of the young. Under the terms of our grant, research assistants can only be Master students and graduate students. But, of course, subject to their indisputable interest in Russian philosophy in its dialogue with European thought, which they will show in their student works. So it all depends on the energy of young researchers. As for eminent experts, it is still difficult to say. The laboratory supervisor is a German scientist Leonid Lux. While our team is working, to increase it due to the eminent I do not see the point. Let the young become famous.

The interview was prepared by a third-year student of the Philosophy Bachelor program Ksenia Zherebtsova