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Download Solovyovo: The Story of Memory in a Russian Village (Woodrow Wilson Center Press) epub

by Margaret Paxson

In a small village beside a reed-lined lake in the Russian north, a cluster of farmers has lived for centuries―in the time of tsars and feudal landlords; Bolsheviks and civil wars; collectivization and socialism; perestroika and open markets. Solovyovo is about the place and power of social memory. Based on extensive anthropological fieldwork in that single village, it shows how villagers configure, transmit, and enact social memory through narrative genres, religious practice, social organization, commemoration, and the symbolism of space. Margaret Paxson relates present-day beliefs, rituals, and practices to the remembered traditions articulated by her informants. She brings to life the everyday social and agricultural routines of the villagers as well as holiday observances, religious practices, cosmology, beliefs and practices surrounding health and illness, the melding of Orthodox and communist traditions and their post-Soviet evolution, and the role of the yearly calendar in regulating village lives. The result is a compelling ethnography of a Russian village, the first of its kind in modern, North American anthropology.

Download Solovyovo: The Story of Memory in a Russian Village (Woodrow Wilson Center Press) epub
ISBN: 0253218012
ISBN13: 978-0253218018
Category: Other
Subcategory: Humanities
Author: Margaret Paxson
Language: English
Publisher: Indiana University Press (December 13, 2005)
Pages: 304 pages
ePUB size: 1242 kb
FB2 size: 1402 kb
Rating: 4.8
Votes: 456
Other Formats: lit mbr doc txt

Beautifully written and insightful.
This is a very scholarly work by an accomplished anthropologist. I am not sure the book completes a theme, although there is an attempt in the afterword to reconcile the vast amount of information gathered in the volume. Despite it's setting in a tiny Russian village in post-glasnost Russia, I never particularly thought of this as a Russian study so much as a study of collective memory and culture among a group of isolated people for whom change can be more easily measured. Although the detail might strike some as tedious, I had no deadline and found it to be full of fascinating observations. The author spent a total of 17 months in Solovoyo, staying several months at a time with an elderly farming couple. The couple took her in as a daughter, she shared in their lives and labor and became "one's own" (one of them.) Paxson documented the villagers' stories and explanations of cultural memory with academic fervor and unfailing respect. Also, being fluent in the Russian language, she was able to convey the complexities of meaning imbedded in words and their prefixes, suffixes and conjugations. The use of language is very important in the conveying of culture. I have studied Russian just enough to appreciate Paxson's understanding of the subtleties of that language.

In Solovoyo a spiritual world is intermingled with the physical. Words are treated as substance; they take up space, have physical effects. "Sometimes confrontation with the miracle world can happen by simply awakening weighty and dangerous words. Such words are snatched up and can result in calling into form that which had no form, causing a chain of events that can be dangerous and even deadly."

The description of illness is marked by the language of weight and weightiness. "Envy will destroy the soul... It's heavy. There is a heaviness that oppresses..." Healing involves a lightening of the weight.

The theme of the powerful and danger-fraught crossing of thresholds is explored --marriage, the space at the edge of the village and the beginning of the forest, birth, returning to the church, the lifting of oppression.

The scientization of healing during the Soviet era did not totally eliminate the power of the healing sorcerer from previous centuries. In fact, it was her observation of the partial, but strong survival of healing through sorcery that first interested Paxson in the study of collective memory in the Russian village. Her host was the village healer, and she observed a steady stream of visitors seeking relief from physical and psychological maladies. This included family squabbles, chronic ailments, and cows who would not give milk. The healer often advised people to seek the advice of a medical doctor --which involved long bus trips into larger towns and stays in inadequate hospitals--but he also dispensed remedies which might appear to be laughably primitive, but which also invoked the healing energies of the afflicted. The villagers' theories about disease and luck appear as the accumulation of hundreds of years of experience, and sometimes not very much in conflict with modern medical theories, as for instance the ideas about early trauma being the source of chronic physical and psychological ailments--a theory which is coming into it's own again in western medicine.

Another theme studied is the calendar, by what powers -political and natural--it is shaped, the morphing of holidays to the purposes of political powers, the resistance to change on the part of the dominated. These are not new themes in the study of cultures, but they are explored to the point of tedium in Ms Paxson's work. Only if you find these details interesting will you be able to stick with the volume. I did find it that interesting.
The author lived among eleven denizens of a village in north Russia. This cultural anthropological work is of use to both the scholar and layman. Mores and folkways are eloquently discussed. Did the American Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Russia have similar experiences?