“Picturesque Japan” and “the Yellow Hazard”: on Perception of the Japanese Culture in Russian Symbolism (Fedor Sologub vs. Valery Bryusov)Tyryshkina Elena
The study deals with the mechanisms of perception of the Japanese culture in the works of Russian symbolists, Valery Bryusov and Fyodor Sologub. The Japanese culture came to Russia at the turn of the 20th century not directly but by mediation of the European culture; the visual code and the modeled image of Japan were formed as a paradise lost/found, as a country populated by the “artist folk” due to fusion of arts and crafts and to the idea of artistic skills acquired not as an elitist but mass phenomenon. This mythological model was built basing on the mechanism of substitution, when the Japanese culture was compared to the culture of ancient Greece, to the medieval and Renaissance art. In Russian symbolism, creating the image of Japan as new Hellas became the main principle, including transformation of the concept of Dionysism. In their works and in critique as well, Valery Bryusov and Fyodor Sologub included Japan into the framework of the symbolist myth. In this regard, materials from “Vesy” (the Scales) literary magazine, the “Contemporaneity” cycle of poems by Bryusov, letters, essays, and articles by Sologub, and a fragment from his novel “The Petty Demon” are considered. For Sologub, the concept of the “natural man” raised in the spirit of antiquity and the cult of the beautiful human body were dominant. His attitude was integral and did not change during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, which was a rare phenomenon in the society. The attitude of Bryusov was ambivalent, and the aesthetic and political realia generated a certain antithesis in his thinking: the nation of “sophisticated aesthetes” turned into a nation of barbarians threatening the European civilization. According to Bryusov, Russia had a messianic role, and it was destined to rescue Europe from the “yellow hazard”. In his understanding, Russia itself was like a new Roman Empire. It is evident that in the early 20th century the Japanese culture assimilated with the existing mythological models in the symbolist milieu, and the yearning for an ideal became embodied in the creation of an existent /non-existent topos of a miraculous country according to the images of the past cultures. The alien was perceived as the beautiful, to be soon replaced by the contraposition of the dangerous/demonic. This antithesis is archetypal. At that time in Russia, the Japanese studies were in the initial phase of knowledge, and comprehensive cultural dialogue, not implying ready-made answers and clichés, was unfathomable.