The publishing house “New Literary Review” published Mikhail Velizhev’s book “The Chaadaev Case” – the story of how the author of “Philosophical Letters”, who said he was sick, determined the content of public discussion in Russia for a long time. Tells Alexei Mokrousov.
In the last issue for 1836, the fashion and news newspaper Molva described the moral satirical novel Crazy, or the Yellow House “. The newspaper was a supplement to the Telescope magazine; together they were closed after Teleskop printed the first Philosophical Letter by Pyotr Yakovlevich Chaadaev. dandy. After reading Chaadaev’s article, Emperor Nicholas I was so amazed that he did not believe that such a thing was said in his right mind; he declared Chaadaev insane and put him under house arrest with regular medical examinations and a ban on writing anything. huge, for other passages they would not have been patted on the head even after 1836. Another would probably not have missed Siberia for this: “We live in one present in its closest limits, without past and future, in the midst of dead stagnation.”
On the one hand , so much has been written about the fate of Chaadaev and his “Letters” that it is even scary to start the book of Mikhail Velizhev. But the story is captivating – the author sees in the scandal around the letter not just a censorship eructation of a police state, the reaction of a ruler who is afraid of revolutions and riots, but a complex interweaving of ideology and language, shows how the tops created a system of permits and prohibitions in the hope of avoiding catastrophic consequences for themselves.
Velizhev, a professional philologist and professor at the Higher School, a follower of Carlo Ginzburg and the microhistorical method, divided the bright factual material — a huge amount of work has been done in the archives — into two parts and 11 chapters. The first part is devoted to political ideas and languages, the context of the emergence of the Philosophical Letters, the relationship of Russian intellectuals with French culture and Catholicism. The second is about the ideology and institutions of power, in particular, about the microcontext of the emperor’s decision on punishments. The editor of the “Telescope” got it in full. Literary critic, later the famous ethnographer Nikolai Nadezhdin was exiled to Ust-Sysolsk, now Syktyvkar, then to Vologda; after his return, he edited the Journal of the Ministry of the Interior. The censor, a well-known orientalist, the rector of Moscow University, Alexei Boldyrev, was treated worse: he was deprived of both his posts and his rector’s pension (colleagues of letters and scientists were appointed censors in a Jesuit way; at one time, Sergei Aksakov censored the Telescope).
And the unemployed Chaadaev was left at home; being declared insane did not ruin his reputation, although not everyone approved of his behavior. The thinker claimed that he was out of his mind when writing the article and allegedly did not know about the preparation of the publication: the defense for a snob is rather strange, if not indecent. He reluctantly, but agreed with the decision of Nicholas to consider him mentally ill – those were exempted from punishment since the time of Alexander I, they were waiting for the Medical Board. The decree of 1801 “On not bringing to justice people who are mentally damaged and who committed murder in this state” was specified in the “Code of Criminal Laws” (1832): if experts establish the insanity of offenders, then “there is neither trial nor law against them.” There were no clear criteria for illness, many were declared crazy, from a French professor from Kazan who sought protection from an unfair dismissal to General Dmitriev-Mamonov, who lived in seclusion in the Moscow region. The latter was charged with a “strange way of life” and actions “completely contrary to the hostel.” As a result, he really went crazy. Others were imprisoned in an insane asylum “for spreading empty and indecent rumors”, for writing poetry, and for an even more unexpected reason for their everyday life – “for drunkenness and rampage.”
, the fate of Chaadaev would have turned out differently if a letter had appeared in the press shortly after its creation in 1829. And the times are softer, and the context is more obvious – Velizhev, following Alexander Ospovat and Vera MilChina, believes that the polemical goal of the letter was patriotic rhetoric generated by the Russian-Turkish war. Seven years later, Count Uvarov spread his wings over the country with his straight as an aspen stake, the formula “Orthodoxy, autocracy, nationality.” The possibility of discussing it by society and polemics on this score was virtually excluded, as well as public doubts about the fate of the historical Russian nation and the dogmas of Orthodoxy. Moreover, discussions in the language proposed by Chaadaev differed too much from the archaic language of Metropolitan Philaret, whose “style impressed Nikolai primarily with its opacity.” Velizhev himself, in terms of style, is quite transparent, but at the same time distinctly aphoristic: “The authority of ideas about power, the people and Christianity was guaranteed by the highest arbiter, outside of human understanding (whether it be God or “objective” historical laws). It was at this point that the line of demarcation between the criminal and the madman passed: the criminal violated earthly laws, and the insane violated divine ones. and not appear at all, if Chaadaev and Nadezhdin had succeeded in a career in the public service, which they dreamed of, but could not achieve. Velizhev devotes a separate chapter to the social strategies of intellectuals in Nikolaev Russia, and ends the book with a plot almost for a soap opera – about the tragic-romantic relationship between Nadezhdin and his student Elizaveta Sukhovo-Kobylina, who later became a famous writer with the pseudonym Evgenia Tur. The author of the book believes that the matrimonial collision influenced the publication of the Letters, perhaps the most controversial of all the ideas he expressed. Personal life determines social life, but to what extent? It’s good that the series “Intellectual History”, where the book was published, suggests debatability: times now, of course, are not Nikolaev, so you can talk about everything – right?
Mikhail Velizhev. Chaadaevsky case. Ideology, rhetoric and state power in Nikolaev Russia. M., New Literary Review, 2022