The Slave Soul of Russia: Moral Masochism and the Cult of Suffering / Edition 1

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Why, asks Daniel Rancour-Laferriere in this controversial book, has Russia been a country of suffering? Russian history, religion, folklore, and literature are rife with suffering. The plight of Anna Karenina, the submissiveness of serfs in the 16th and 17th centuries, ancient religious tracts emphasizing humility as the mother of virtues, the trauma of the Bolshevik revolution, the current economic upheavals wracking the country— these are only a few of the symptoms of what The Slave Soul of Russia identifies as a veritable cult of suffering that has been centuries in the making.

Bringing to light dozens of examples of self-defeating activities and behaviors that have become an integral component of the Russian psyche, Rancour-Laferriere convincingly illustrates how masochism has become a fact of everyday life in Russia. Until now, much attention has been paid to the psychology of Russia's leaders and their impact on the country's condition. Here, for the first time, is a compelling portrait of the Russian people's psychology.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
”A provocative exploration of moral masochism as an undercurrent in the tragic history of the Russian people. Rancour-Laferriere's study should be read by all those interested in the nature of Russian nationalism and the myths surrounding Russian national character.”

-Joanna Hubbs,author of Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture

”[Rancour-Laferriere] sees in Russian masochism one of the attractions and beauties of Russian culture. Sure to raise eyebrows, if not hackles.”

-Library Journal

"A vast, provocative study . . . psychologically illuminating."

-Times Literary Supplement

Library Journal
Rancour-Laferrire (Russian, Univ. of California, Davis) was inspired by the late Soviet writer V.S. Grossman's belief in Russia's slave soul to investigate the propensity of his countrymen to wallow in self-defeating servility. "Nearly one thousand footnotes later" in his words, he feels that Grossman was correct. In several spheres of Russian culture, Rancour-Laferriere documents "the widespread occurrence of moral masochism" among Russians. Some familiar agents pass his analysis: infant swaddling, the (holy) fool, the communal bathhouse, Russian collectivism, and strong, long-suffering women. By the book's end, he has come to see in Russian masochism one of the attractions and beauties of Russian culture. This work is sure to raise eyebrows, if not hackles. For Russian studies collections.-Robert Johnston, McMaster Univ., Hamilton, Ontario
Rancour-Laferriere (Russian, U. of California, Davis) discusses the theme of suffering in Russian history, religion, folklore, and literature, and brings to light examples of self-defeating behaviors that have become an integral part of the Russian psyche. He look at folktales of the fool and his mother, gender issues in Russian masochism, the masochism of Russian bathhouse rituals, masochism and the collective, and the post-Soviet antimasochistic trend. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814774823
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/1996
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 344
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Rancour-Laferriere is Professor of Russian at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of many books, including The Slave Soul of Russia and Self-Analysis in Literary Study, both available from NYU Press.

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction 1
Masochism and the Slave Image 6
What Is Russia? 15
2 Some Historical Highlights 18
Religious Masochism 18
Early Observers of Russian Masochism 28
The Slavophiles 37
Masochistic Tendencies among the Russian Intelligentsia 42
Masochism and Antimasochism 50
Recent Developments 60
3 Two Key Words in the Vocabulary of Russian Masochism 66
Smirenie 66
Sud'ba 69
4 Masochism in Russian Literature 78
Selected Masochistic Characters 78
Dmitrii Karamazov 84
Tat'iana Larina 86
Vasilii Grossman's Thousand-Year-Old Slave 89
5 Ontogeny and the Cultural Context 93
Clinical Developments since Freud 94
Is Masochism Gendered? 102
The Masochist's Questionable Self and Unquestionable Other 106
Normalcy and Cultural Variation 112
The Swaddling Hypothesis Revisited 116
6 The Russian Fool and His Mother 122
A Surplus of Fools 122
Ivan the Fool 127
The Fool and His Mother 129
7 Is the Slave Soul of Russia a Gendered Object? 134
Patriarchy Conceals Matrifocality 137
Ambivalence toward Mothers 140
Suffering Women 144
Suffering from Equality 159
The Double Burden and Masochism 163
The Male Ego and the Male Organ 168
The Guilt Factor 174
Late Soviet and Post-Soviet Developments 177
8 Born in a Bania: The Masochism of Russian Bathhouse Rituals 181
Cleansing Body and Soul 182
Digression on Russian Birches 184
The Bania-Mother 189
The Prenuptial Bath 193
9 Masochism and the Collective 202
What It Means to Be a Zero 202
Sticking One's Neck Out in the Collective 206
A Post-Soviet Antimasochistic Trend? 210
Some Theoretical Considerations 211
Submission to the "Will" of the Commune in Tsarist Russia 215
Aleksei Losev: Masochism and Matriotism 225
Berdiaev's Prison Ecstasy 227
A Blok Poem: Suffering Begins at the Breast 230
Dostoevsky's Maternal Collective 234
10 Conclusion 245
Notes 249
Bibliography 291
Index 319
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