History, Utopia, and Nothingness: Rethinking Chaadaev

Workshop | April 20 | 3-4:30 p.m. | 270 Stephens Hall

 Kirill Chepurin, Senior Lecturer, National Research University Higher School of Economics; Alex Dubilet, Lecturer, Vanderbilt University

 Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ISEEES)

"We stand, as it were, outside of time. Everyone seems to have one foot in the air; no one has a fixed sphere of existence. There are no proper habits, no rules that govern anything. We move through time in such a singular manner that, as we advance, the past is lost to us forever." With their ruthless indictment of Russian history, and their radical displacement of the country’s territory, literally, into nothing, Pyotr Chaadaev's Philosophical Letters – the first of which was published in 1836 to a great uproar – permanently split Russian intelligentsia in two, ushered in a period of new intellectual intensity, and continued to haunt all subsequent debates about Russia's past and future, as well as its relationship to "the West." Focusing mainly on the Philosophical Letters and the later Apology of a Madman, this workshop will investigate the force of Chaadaev's text and re-articulate its theoretical resources and presuppositions. Chaadaev declared Russia a nonplace in both space and time, a singular nothing without history or topos, but what exactly is the immanent logic of this nothingness, this revolutionary life without habit or rule? Can, perhaps, this logic be construed as a method – and if so, what is at stake?

Kirill Chepurin is a Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley in the German department through June 2017. He is based at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, and the Humboldt University of Berlin, working on the idealist and romantic tradition, utopia, political theology, and contemporary continental thought. He has published, in Russian, a monograph on Hegel’s anthropology and a translation of Hegel’s lectures on the philosophy of spirit; in English, his work has appeared, among other places, in Crisis and Critique, Kant Yearbook, and Comparative and Continental Philosophy.

Alex Dubilet is a Lecturer in the Departments of English and Political Science at Vanderbilt University. His book, The Self-Emptying Subject: Kenosis and Immanence, Medieval to Modern, is forthcoming from Fordham University Press. He works across the fields of contemporary continental philosophy, philosophy of religion, history of Christian mysticism, political theology, and political theory. He is a co-translator (with Jessie Hock) of François Laruelle’s General Theory of Victims (Polity Press, 2015) and A Biography of Ordinary Man: Of Authorities and Minorities (Polity Press, Forthcoming). He received his PhD in Rhetoric from UC Berkeley.