Reviews

This article by literary historian H. Ram, to whom we already owe The Imperial Sublime: A Russian Poetics of Empire (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003), is devoted to the major work that is Az i Ia.  Already in the 1970s, the Kazakh Russophone poet Olzhas Suleimenov tried to rehabilitate Turkic nationalism in the Soviet Union.  His book Az i Ia, with a print run of 60,000 copies in 1975, unleashed a heated debate.  The book was vehemently criticised by Russian nationalist newspapers, which accused the author of hostility toward Russians, of Turkic nationalism, and of being pro-Zionist.  Remaining in a semi-dissident position until Perestroika, Az i Ia provided a refutation of the official view of Turkic peoples’ place in history.  One of its aims was to denounce Soviet Orientalism, and, more generally, Russian historiography, much of which, Suleimenov argues, is based on a denial of the antiquity of those peoples.  Az i Ia was the first attempt at an “inverted” Eurasianism.  Instead of aiming to demonstrate Russia’s mastery over its own fate and its openness toward the East, it argued that Russia became culturally part of the steppe:  In order to survive it had had no historical choice but to become more Turkic.  In the 1970s, supporters and opponents perceived this book as a work of historiography, even though Suleimenov’s adversaries questioned its scientific worth.  Here H. Ram proposes an interpretation of the book as a work of literature, suggesting that the confusion between genres—poetry, history, and linguistics—was intentional:  Suleimenov needed Az i Ia as a metaphor to allow him to elaborate a new science of language and a new science of poetry.  Indeed, it seems that Suleimenov was strongly influenced by linguist Nikolai Marr (1864–1934) and poet Velimir Khlebnikov (1885–1922).  As such, an aesthetic reading of this prima facie historical work appears completely justified, as H. Ram brilliantly demonstrates.

Marlène Laruelle, Woodrow Wilson Centre, Washington, DC
CER: I-6.3.D-609