Here goes my selection of noteworthy quotes from the book about moral masochism of Russians.
on historical facts:
"From the late sixteenth century, they—that is, the vast majority of the rural Russian population—were bound from cradle to grave as serfs to their masters (or to the state directly), and they were not released from this form of involuntary servitude until 1861."
"Real slaves existed in Russia well into our own century. There has been much variation over time and geographic location, of course, in the extent to which Russians have been enslaved. Technically, Russia has had both slavery (until 1723, then renewed in the Soviet period as forced labor) and serfdom (until 1861). Some scholars see little difference between true slavery and serfdom as it existed in Russia after the mid-eighteenth century."
on the praised 'smirenie', acceptance of suffering
"Thus does the spirit of iniquity descend from stage to stage down to the foundations of this unhappy society, which subsists only by violence—a violence so great, that it forces the slave to falsify himself by thanking his tyrant; and this is what they here call public order; in other words, a gloomy tranquility, a fearful peace, for it resembles that of the tomb. The Russians, however, are proud of this calm. So long as a man has not made up his mind to go on all fours, he must necessarily pride himself in something, were it only to preserve his right to the title of a human creature."
"But a peasant proverb admonishes: “Self-abasement (excessive smirenie) is worse than pride” (“Unichizhenie [izlishnee smirenie] pache gordosti”). The apparent logical anomaly indicates that a reactive psychological process of some kind is taking place. Custine, too, noticed this: “Conforming to this social devotion, he [the typical Russian peasant] lives without joy, but not without pride; for pride is the moral element essential to the life of the intelligent being. It takes every kind of form, even the form of humility,—that religious modesty discovered by Christians.”13 The French word which Custine uses here is “humilité,”14 which in context seems to be a reasonable translation of smirenie. The process is familiar to psychoanalysis. Otto Fenichel speaks of the “pride in suffering” and “ascetic pride” which accompany certain masochistic practices.15 The extreme form is what Charles Sarnoff calls “masochistic braggadocio.”"
on the development and manifestation of masochism:
"The problem of course is that the infant’s main moments of interactive delight and liveliness with his mother are dependent upon and perhaps become associated with an immediately preceding unpleasurable feeling. A more ideal learning paradigm could hardly be devised for acquiring the basis of masochism: pain as the condition and prerequisite for pleasure."
"According to Edmund Bergler, the future masochist initially masters the painful aspects of the pre-Oedipal situation by “sugarcoating” them, that is, by reversing their real significance: “No one frustrated me against my wishes; I frustrated myself because I like it.” Again, the shift of control is away from an outside agent to the asserting self."
"I am the greatest sufferer of the world.” This is also a somewhat exhibitionistic (Reik would say “demonstrative”) idea. The masochist is always posturing. Psychoanalysts have noted the theatricality of masochism, the masochist’s need for a “public” of some sort. It is unusual for a masochistic act to take place without a witness, at least an imaginary witness."
"Masochistic behavior is often accompanied by feelings of self-righteousness or self-pity. “Poor me,” the patient seems to say, “I am always getting mistreated.” Yet the patient somehow always manages to end up in a situation that results in suffering. The patient wallows in suffering, even while complaining constantly about it."
a good point to note when talking suffering/masochism/victimisation:
"In any case, I am quite aware that victims are not necessarily responsible for their victimization. Iosif Stalin, for example, is at least partially responsible for the terrible things that befell the Soviet people (including his second wife), as I have argued elsewhere. One may legitimately study how some victims (abused women, slavish Russians, etc.) allow themselves to be victimized without denying that (1) sadists and other victimizers do exist, and (2) some victims play no welcoming role whatsoever in their victimization, that is, some victims are not masochists at all."
"Masochism may help one endure low status, but tolerating low social status does not necessarily mean one is masochistic, or masochistic all of the time."
comparing to Western countries:
"In most Western countries, for example, the average middle-class masochist has to exercise some ingenuity, short of hiring a domi-natrix, stepping out onto a busy freeway, or committing a crime outright, in order to find punishment. In Russia, on the other hand, you don’t have to be very provocative at all. There’s always a line to stand in, a restaurant to refuse you admission, a bureaucrat to abuse you, an icon to bow before, a sin to repent for, a bathhouse to beat yourself in, an informer to report on you, an official who demands a bribe, and so on."
"Hedrick Smith points to the masochistic essence of this attitude toward the collective: “The Russians are long-suffering people who can bear the pain of their misery, so long as they see that others are sharing it. The collective jealousy can be fierce against those who rise above the crowd.”"
"If in America misery loves company, in Russia misery often requires company. In effect: “If I am going to live poorly, let them live poorly too.”19 Any attempt to improve oneself will meet with resistance. To quote a saying that was widely applied in late Soviet Russia: “Sobaka na sene” (“A dog [lying] on the hay”). Even if a dog has no use for hay, it will not let anyone else get at it."
"Semenova-Tian-Shanskaia goes on to observe that, after taking a beating, a peasant wife was more likely to be concerned about whether the object the husband had used to beat her was broken than about the condition of her own body."
Quotes from: The Slave Soul of Russia: Moral Masochism and the Cult of Suffering (Daniel Rancour-Laferriere)
Now a few words about my impressions.
All in all, the book was interesting to read, I've learnt some facts I didn't even know about tsarist Russia. Some things rang true, others seemed to me a bit of a stretch. I'd feel more confident judging this work if I had an extensive knowledge of how things were in other cultures.
Because the subjugation of women seemed to have been a universal pattern, not necessarily to the extent of routine and even encouraged wife-beating, but ...
...but then I remember vaguely from that short(-ened by me because i wasn't always attending) course in culturology that the Chinese liked to practice foot-binding on their females, that almost sounds worse than beating. And how depressing it is to be even thinking of choosing among the worst.
And just from simple googling i find proverbs about beating wives from other cultures, unfortunately, Ukrainian as well. Then of course, it's not enough to find a proverb, you'd have to know how common it was, because if it had a short life and was resurrected by the titanical efforts of some historian/culturologist, it can't serve as much of a reflection of peoples charachter.
Banya (bath house) depicted as little short of a torture chamber really surprised me. I mean, I know it rather is for me, if I stay there longer than 3-5 minutes but some people do enjoy it and not in a masochistic pleasure through pain manner, they're just happy to experience extreme tempertures just like some people like extra spicy food that to me tastes just like fire burning through my tongue. Ok, that may be masochism though, I don't know :) Or an oral fixation, according to psychoanalysis, or both why not)) I'm not so keen on traditional psychoanalysis though so I'm not even quoting the numerous analogies the author makes in his book. That being said, I don't see why some masochist wouldn't also like bath houses, ordering a more 'inspired' beating ;) And in any case, who wouldn't prefer a well-cleaned, freshly-spanked masochist to a normal guy who forgot when he last took a shower? :D :D
What did sound sensible to me is that Russian is the collectivist, paternalistic kind of a society. That loving a tsar and praising obedience is there, even today.
That there's a cult of motherhood, glorification of an image of mother's suffering, sacrificing for her children. But is it exclusively Russian or rather a spin put on womens virtual enslavement in many other societies?
With regards to 'pelenki', the practice of tight wrapping of the infant in fabric so that it can't move at all and looks like a little mummy, it does seem probable to me that such experiences can leave a trace in a person's charachter. I mean, it's horrible, and there's still a guide for that on the net, observe:
The author mentioned how in Soviet period, women were 'liberated', in a way, namely, they didn't have to stay home with kids any more, they - hurray - could also go and work just like their husbands. But that never translated into the equal sharing of housework or childcare, it only meant for a woman that she now had to both work and cook and clean and be the most involved of the parents in her childrens life: "In Russia domestic labor such as cleaning and cooking is semiotically loaded. It signifies femininity and low status. It is therefore a threat to masculinity and to male authority within the family." - that did ring true. Not so much any more, this perception is slowly dying, but even I could see a trace of it in my family and in movies on TV.
Anyway, not going to continue spoiling the read for anyone interested any further. I'm just happy I didn't live in those times, even though my own don't seem exactly cheerful right at this moment, but hey, at least I'm not barefoot and pregnant living with some abusive drunk.
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