Issue 1

Issue 1 Introduction

We are proud to present Volume 1, Issue 1 of Universals and Contrasts, the journal of NYI, the New York-St. Petersburg Institute of Linguistics, Cognition and Culture.  NYI was founded in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2003 to promote interdisciplinary study of the human mind and human societies, and their interaction.  The Universals and Contrasts journal was launched in 2010 to provide a forum for NYI faculty and students representing a range of disciplines (and inter-disciplines) in the Humanities and Social Sciences to present their research.

Speaking Otherwise: Rita Dove’s Poetics of Speech and Silence

Even a cursory glance at the titles and opening lines of number of poems in Rita Dove’s collection entitled Museum will alert the reader to her preoccupation with the premises of speech and language (The Hill Has Something to Say: “but isn’t talking”; Catherine of Alexandria: “Deprived of learning and/ the chance to travel,/ no wonder sainthood/ came as a voice”; Catherine of Siena: “You walked the length of Italy/ to find someone to talk to.“; Shakespeare Say: “He drum the piano wood, crowing”; Anti-Father: “Contrary to/ tales you told us”; Flirtation: “After all, there’s no need/ to say anything”; Exeunt the Viols: “with their throb and yearn, their sad/ stomach of an alley cat. Listen:// even the ocean mourns the passage/ of voices so pure and penetrant...”) [1] . I wish to examine two of the poems contained in the volume, both of which illustrate the privilege that attends speech and the terrors that may haunt it. Both poems contemplate issues of embodiment and transfiguration, and the interlocking (and inextricable) notions of power and subjugation. Death is a governing motif in each of them. They also resemble one another in their incorporation of footnotes into the larger bodies of the poems, a move that anchors each of them in a specific historical and geographical context.

Slurring Words

Increasingly philosophers (and linguists) are turning their attention to the surprisingly little explored lexical category of slurs. These are expressions that target groups on the basis of race, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, immigrant status and sundry other demographics. In academic discussion, it’s easy to convince oneself (we confess on occasions we have) that particular uses of slurs are inoffensive. This discussion wouldn’t exist otherwise. As a safeguard against inurement, you should always ask how a targeted member, perhaps overhearing you, would react to your usage. You may find that what seems suitable is most definitely not. As many celebrities, including recently the radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, have learned, almost no speakers can opt to use a slur non-offensively.

Henry David Thoreau’s Politics of Standing Aloof

In the eulogy that Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered at Thoreau’s funeral in May 1862, Emerson notes that Thoreau once claimed to be able to look around the Walden environs and “tell by the plants what time of year it was within two days.” [1] This intimate familiarity with the cycles of local plants and animals reflects Thoreau’s deep knowledge of the local environment and the years of intensive study that produced it. Thoreau’s famed nature walks had made him an encyclopedia of environmental knowledge. But to Emerson, who had decided to focus on the social and political questions that preoccupied a nation on the brink of bloody Civil War, the implications of Thoreau’s career were as appalling as they were amazing. Thoreau was a serious person, but his life seemed somehow like the trivial tale of a village eccentric. As the society grappled with questions about human slavery and national union, what value did a life such as Thoreau’s have? How could it add to the common welfare? How could a life spent achieving intimacy with nature be more than simply self-in-dulgent and frivolous?

Who Speaks the Truth? Writers vs . Lawyers

In the study of Russian civil society before the Revolution, what a researcher discovers depends on whose viewpoint is accepted as most authoritative. For example, the judicial reforms implemented in the 1860s and the tsarist-era Dumas are historical facts, but their civic legacy has been evaluated in fundamentally different ways. If you look through the eyes of eloquent lawyers active in the courts, zemstvos, and the parliament, you see an incredible burst of energy for the public good and a passionate search for truth and justice during trials and at public meetings. If, however, you look through the lens of Russia’s most revered writers – a more common path for readers both inside Russia and abroad – what you see are study circles that accomplished nothing, salons that were a ‘vanity fair’, courtrooms where legal careerism triumphed over the common good, and a parliament whose ultimate accomplishment was the destruction of a thousand-year old civilization. Who speaks the truth?

Spacial Segregation in Contemporary Russian Cities

Social segregation has become one of the prominent topics in contemporary urban economics research in Russia due to the growing awareness of its potential negative impact on the urban population. Data on urban segregation are used to identify problems in the urban environment. Spatial segregation data reflects the allocation of urban citizens in the city space and the differences in levels of population density across various districts of the city [1].

Imperial Retrospect: Peter the Great’s Ideologists Look Back on Kyiv

This paper is part of a much larger project that examines the cohort of Ukrainian (or Ruthenian) clerical hierarchs who were trained at the Kyivan Academy and abroad n the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, but who went on to serve in the Muscovite Church. Collectively they constituted the backbone of diocesan administration in Russia during the first four decades of the eighteenth century as well as participating actively in important monastic institutions. Of greater relevance here is the impact that a handful of them had upon the formation of political ideology during Peter’s reign, especially once empire was officially declared in 1721. The two towering figures in this process, Stefan Iavorskii and Feofan Prokopovich are extremely well known and they continue to attract the attention of scholars. Although they came from somewhat different generations (Iavorskii was older), and over time developed a bitter rivalry, they each participated actively in presiding over the reconfiguration (what Ernst Zitser has termed the “transfiguration”) of notions of divine sanction, sovereignty, casesaropapism, succession, and the like. After the death of the last patriarch, Adrian, in 1702 each in succession emerged as the leader of the Russian Orthodox even though neither of them held the formal title as such.

Russian Heritage Cinema and the Polish Question

One of the crucial aspects of Russia’s cultural positioning has always been its relationship with its internal and external others. While critical literature examining representations of national and ethnic difference in Soviet and Russian cinema has grown significantly in recent years, the critics’ attention has been focused on ways in which Russian filmmakers have defined/redefined the country’s wartime enemies (Germans, Finns, Chechens) [1]. I look at two films that form the core of new Russian heritage cinema, Vladimir Khotinenko’s 1612 (2007) and Vladimir Bortko’s Taras Bul’ba (2009), in order to examine the contours of a new ideology that has sought to fill the cultural void that resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Both films recast Poland and the Poles as the main adversarial force against which a “true” Russian value system comes to life. It has to be noted that, while representative of a distinct cultural and ideological tendency that emerged in the first decade of the 21st century, the two heritage films do not monopolize Russian attitudes towards Poland during the same time. A whole range of attitudes towards otherness, including Polishness, has been present within contemporary Russian culture. In order to provide an indication of the varying approaches to cultural difference, I begin my analysis by looking at a picture that appears to represent the opposite end of the spectrum. The critically acclaimed Oxygen (Kislorod, 2009) directed by Ivan Vyrypaev will thereby provide a countercultural context for the highly commercialized, mainstream productions that are in the center of my analysis of the Russian heritage phenomenon.

Queer in Transition

In this paper we analyze a short film Queer (Croatia, 2007) as an example of growing visibility of queer narratives in the context of the building of new nation states in the former Yugoslavia. We ask what it means for such queer narratives to disrupt the flow of reproductive heteronormative ideology at a critical moment of political, economic, and historical transition born out of violent conflicts and wars. Can queer offer an effective counterpoint to new ideological formations that constitute the heterosexual subject as the only sanctioned way to perform legitimate (new nation state) citizenship?

My Scattered Souls

The Multiplicity of Being

in Amelia Rosselli’s English Poetry

O were I one in Three! Just like the Holy Ghost,

the Father and the Son, I’d reunite my scattered souls and string them in from all the seas abroad;

no longer climb upon perdition’s mast and wave a banner crying God, at last! [1]

“One in Three” is the opening poem in Amelia Rosselli’s October Eliza-bethans, a cycle written in English in 1956. The twenty-six year old Rosselli was just beginning her poetic career, which, over the next forty years, would manifest itself in English, Italian, and French. As the above poem calls for a Trinitarian merging of three divine forms into one, Rosselli would attempt to braid her native languages into a grammar of multi-plicity that reflects her struggle to combine the disparate facets of her life. Having grown up with four homelands (France, England, the United States, and Italy), three native languages (French, English, and Italian), and two religious heritages (Catholicism and Judaism), Rosselli stood at the origin of a multi-dimensional coordinate system. In her writing, she would attempt to reconcile, in addition to her linguistic and cultural identities, her socialist sentiments with her middle class background, her training as a musicologist with her study of poetics, and her identity as a woman poet with the male-dominated Italian tradition [2].

Variability in Idiom Meanings

In this article, idioms are viewed as a type of set expressions that carry covert meanings and mark them by creating evident contextual inconsistencies when understood literary. We will argue that such parameters as stability of the form (often described as syntactic ‘frozenness’), non-compositionality and loss of meaning among idiom constituents cannot be taken as distinctive characteristics in idiom definition as these criteria may not be applied to specific idiom usages, referred to as ‘idiom transformations’ in this article. We will discuss some of them, namely ‘idiom constituent substitution’, ‘idiom constituent drop’, ‘collocation of two idioms’, ‘rewording of idiom meaning’ which represent regular usage of idioms in the mass media context and should be described and analysed alongside with classical (not transformed) idioms. In most cases transformations are facilitated by the literal meanings of the idiom constituents, therefore the role of the literal meaning of the idiom string should not be underestimated. We proceed from the assumption that any idiom is prone to transformation induced by a voluntary intention of the author.

 

Birds of a Feather … Wire Together: Creativity in Poetry and Natural Language Use

The paper raises questions concerning conventional meanings and non-conventional meanings in everyday language and poetical language alike and examines the nature of creativity and humor in various linguis-tic and social contexts. More concretely, the paper investigates our ability to use and to switch between conventional and non-conventional mean-ings at ease in a variety of contexts. The paper argues for the importance of experience in meaning creation and the different conceptualization patterns for situations as opposed to contexts that range from linguistic to pragmatic to mental contexts. The paper will attempt to investigate how faithful we are to our experiences on the one hand and how ven-turing we are in experimentation on the other for conceptualizations re-flected in the acts of meaning creation. As a corollary, a dichotomy will be adopted according to which linguistic expressions may be evaluated by subjects and assigned the values “understandable” versus “beyond understandable or inconceivable” as opposed to “meaningful” versus “meaningless”, brought into correlation with conceptual and perceptual knowledge, respectively. Further, the paper will explore the fundamen-tal differences between the basic types of meaning extension known as mapping, mental space building and context building and will argue for the complementary function of these mental processes in our interpreta-tion processes.

At the same time, the paper is an attempt to show that human cog-nition, and specifically the processing of contextualized verbal mate-rial, makes use of diverse types of information. In terms of discourse, we are confronted with the fact that contexts determining our inter-pretations are far from being homogeneous entities: contexts can be perceived as representations of situations (based on physical proper-ties of events), as linguistic structure (greatly determined by morpho-syntactic and lexical structures) and as conceptual structure (realized by mental schemes and images or cognitive models). The paper ar-gues that the multitude of contexts leads to a seamless interaction between epistemology and ontology. The above assumption will be tested on different types of discourse.

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