Odd Man Karakozov

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On April 4, 1866, just as Alexander II stepped out of Saint Petersburg's Summer Garden and onto the boulevard, a young man named Dmitry Karakozov pulled out a pistol and shot at the tsar. He missed, but his "unheard-of act" changed the course of Russian history—and gave birth to the revolutionary political violence known as terrorism.

Based on clues pulled out of the pockets of Karakozov's peasant disguise, investigators concluded that there had been a conspiracy so extensive as to have sprawled across the entirety of the Russian empire and the European continent. Karakozov was said to have been a member of "The Organization," a socialist network at the center of which sat a secret cell of suicide-assassins: "Hell." It is still unclear how much of this "conspiracy" theory was actually true, but of the thirty-six defendants who stood accused during what was Russia's first modern political trial, all but a few were exiled to Siberia, and Karakozov himself was publicly hanged on September 3, 1866. Because Karakozov was decidedly strange, sick, and suicidal, his failed act of political violence has long been relegated to a footnote of Russian history.

In The Odd Man Karakozov, however, Claudia Verhoeven argues that it is precisely this neglected, exceptional case that sheds a new light on the origins of terrorism. The book not only demonstrates how the idea of terrorism first emerged from the reception of Karakozov's attack, but also, importantly, what was really at stake in this novel form of political violence, namely, the birth of a new, modern political subject. Along the way, in characterizing Karakozov's as an essentially modernist crime, Verhoeven traces how his act profoundly impacted Russian culture, including such touchstones as Repin's art and Dostoevsky's literature.

By looking at the history that produced Karakozov and, in turn, the history that Karakozov produced, Verhoeven shows terrorism as a phenomenon inextricably linked to the foundations of the modern world: capitalism, enlightened law and scientific reason, ideology, technology, new media, and above all, people's participation in politics and in the making of history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The Odd Man Karakozov is a subtle, challenging, and imaginative work. It deserves to be widely read not just by students of modern Russian history but by all those interested in modern political violence and its interpenetration with forms of subjectivity, art, and mass culture."—Daniel Beer, Slavic Review

"Verhoeven argues that modern terrorism began in nineteenth-century Russia . . . on April 4, 1866, [when] Dmitry Karakozov attempted to assassinate Czar Alexander II . . . . Verhoeven's thesis is comprehensive and thought provoking. She places the attempted assassination within the political context of social changes in Russia and other parts of Europe. She achieves this goal, incorporating the roles of Russian law, technological change, the emerging and competing media, and the advent of modernity. It is an outstanding analysis."—Jonathan R. White, The Historian (Vol. 73, No. 2)

"Verhoeven's powers of observation are formidable, her insights startlingly original, and her narrative masterfully staged on the level of the scene, the sentence, and the word."—Lynn Patyk, Russian Review

"Verhoeven's careful inspection of Karakozov's failed assassination of Alexander II reads like an extremely well-researched detective story."—Lonny Harrison, Slavic and East European Journal

"The Odd Man Karakozov is concerned with the stories we tell each other to explain (away?) the rending of the political fabric. It is about what comes to be considered legitimate evidence and what does not, and about how concepts are formed to give meaning to narratives of the past."—Lewis H. Siegelbaum, London Review of Books

"Claudia Verhoeven is a masterful thinker, and The Odd Man Karakozov is a beautifully written, provocative, and important book that will be widely read. Verhoeven demonstrates that Karakozov's attempt on the life of Alexander II inaugurated a new form of modern terrorist political violence—the murder of a crowned ruler, conceived as a form of action and communication intended to catalyze further revolutionary upheaval and the overthrow of the state."—Kevin M. F. Platt, University of Pennyslvania

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801446528
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 3/12/2009
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Claudia Verhoeven is Assistant Professor of History at Cornell University.

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Table of Contents

Note on Transliteration, Translation, Dates, and Dramatis Personae

1. From the Files of the Karakozov Case: The Virtual Birth of Terrorism
2. The Real Rakhmetov: The Image of the Revolutionary after Karakozov
3. "A Life for the Tsar": Tsaricide in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
4. Raskolnikov, Karakozov, and the Etiology of a “New Word”
5. Armiak; or “So Many Things in an Overcoat!”
6. “Factual Propaganda,” an Autopsy; or, the Morbid Origins of April 4, 1866
7. The Head of the Tsaricide
Conclusion: The Point of April 4, 1866

A. Dramatis Personae
B. Individuals Involved in the Investigation and Trials
C. The Karakozov Case, 1866–Present: Sources and Historiography

List of Abbreviations

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This is postmodernist account of the "Karakozov affair": the first, 1866 attempt on the life of the Alexander II, the Liberator.

    The author correctly identifies the connection
    between the birth of the terrorism and "modernity" meaning the power of public opinion and the media as the major forces shaping society.

    Like all postmodernist accounts it suffers from a total lack of humanistic empathy or even an understanding of politics as a meaningful human endeavor. For Claudia Verhoeven, Karakozov's intent to kill one of the ablest Russian autocrats in order to foment a bloody civil war, or so he thought, seems as much of a form of self-expression as eating breakfast or writing a poem. Consequently, Verhoeven engages in "interpretations" of Karakozov's behavior where there is nothing to be interpreted. He, as his cousin and the main intellectual influence-- Ishutin--was an obvious schizophrenic. The name of the Organization's inner circle, "the Hell" suggests that this was more of a macabre cult than a political conspiracy with rational goals.
    Complete review of the "Odd Man Karakozov" as well as other reviews by A. Bliokh can be viewed at oldpossumsbookreview.blogspot.com

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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