Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation (In-Formation)
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Winner of the 2015 Enlightener Award (Prosvetitel), Russia's most prestigious award for the best non-fiction book of the year. For the revised and expanded Russian edition of this book.
Nominee, Alexander Piatigorsky Book Prize (Russia), 2015-2016
Nominee, Eurasian Book Prize (Russia), 2015
Nominee, Association of Russian Book Publishers (ASKI) Book Prize, 2015
"Alexei Yurchak's Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More immediately seduced me by its very title with a profound philosophical implication that eternity is a historical category--things can be eternal for some time. The same spirit of paradox runs through the entire book--it renders in wonderful details the gradual disintegration of the Soviet system from within its ideological and cultural space, making visible all the hypocrisy and misery of this process. I consider Yurchak's book by far the best work about the late epoch of the Soviet Union--it is not just history, but a pleasure to read, a true work of art." (Slavoj Zizek, author of In Defense of Lost Causes)
If there is a prize for best title of the year, this book surely deserves it. Alexei Yurchak . . . has written an interesting and provocative book about the way young Soviet Russians talked in the Brezhnev period and what they meant by what they said. (Sheila Fitzpatrick, London Review of Books)
Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More is an important book. . . . Everything Was Forever provides fresh paradigms that pack a hefty explanatory punch both with regard to its immediate subject matter and beyond. Its publication means that discussions of Soviet life, culture, and literature that rely on the old, rigid binarisms are going to seem instantly dated. . . . [T]his study is a must-read. (Harriet Murav Current Anthropology )
Amidst these prolix transformations in Russian language and civilization, Yurchak's contribution has come in the form of a deep listening. (Bruce Grant Slavic Review )
The strength of Yurchak's study is in its methodological-analytical grasp of the seemingly contradictory nature of everyday existence. . . . Yurchak provides an elegant methodological tool to explore the complex, intersecting and often paradoxical nature of social change. (Luahona Ganguly International Journal of Communication )
"In this remarkable book, Alexei Yurchak asks: How can we account for the paradox that Soviet people both experienced their system as immutable and yet were unsurprised by its end? In answering this question, he develops a brilliant, entirely novel theory of the nature of Soviet socialism and the reasons for its collapse. The book is must reading for anyone interested in this most momentous change of contemporary history, as well as in the place of language in social transformation. A tour de force!"―Katherine M. Verdery, author of What Was Socialism, and What Comes Next?
"Alexei Yurchak brilliantly debunks several widely held misconceptions about the lived experience of late socialism in Soviet Russia, and does so through a compelling dossier of materials, all creatively conceived, organized, and analyzed. The writing is fluid, accessible, interesting, and beautifully structured and styled."―Nancy Ries, Colgate University, author of Russian Talk: Culture and Conversation during Perestroika
"This ambitious book admirably combines a new theoretical approach with detailed ethnographic materials. Written in a clear and engaging style, it is both thorough and precise, and provides a new and convincing insight that will definitely be central to all serious discussions of Soviet-type systems for years to come―namely, that the shift in Soviet life from a semantic to a pragmatic model of ideological discourse served to undermine the ideological system."―Caroline Humphrey, University of Cambridge, author of The Unmaking of Soviet Life
"This book makes an important contribution not only to anthropological studies of the former Soviet Union but to the broader discussion about Soviet power, ethics, and public space. Yurchak provides a subtle alternative to traditions of debate in Sovietology that counterposed an analysis of totalitarian accounts of Soviet power to the 'revisionists' of the 1970s who saw a much more dynamic space of social maneuverings. What is more, he persuasively shows a level of commitment to Soviet ideals that has rarely been appreciated in scholarship. Indeed, he makes the important point that many Russians actually have memories of being much more critical of the Soviet Union than they actually were when it existed."―Stephen Collier, New School University
- Publisher : Princeton University Press (October 23, 2005)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0691121176
- ISBN-13 : 978-0691121178
- Item Weight : 1.06 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.14 x 0.77 x 9.21 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #210,190 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Although I'm not an specific expert in Russian/Soviet History, I have taught courses in or related to it several times during my career (at the undergraduate level), I be
The theoretical vehicle for Yurchak's investigation is the divergence between the performative rather than the constative dimensions of the "authoritative discourse" of the late Soviet regime. One might say that his basic thesis is that, for most Soviet people, the attitude toward the authorities was "They pretend to make statements that corresponded to reality, and we pretend to believe them." Yurchak rightly observes that one can neither interpret the decision to vote in favor of an official resolution or to display a pro-government slogan at a rally as being an unambiguous statement of regime support, nor assume that these actions were directly coerced. People were expected to perform these rituals, but they developed "a complexly differentiating relationship to the ideological meanings, norms, and values" of the Soviet state. "Depending on the context, they might reject a certain meaning, norm or value, be apathetic about another, continue actively subscribing to a third, creatively reinterpret a fourth, and so on." (28-29)
The result was that, as the discourse of the late Soviet period ossified into completely formalist incantations (a process that Yurchak demonstrates was increasingly routinized from the 1950s onwards), Soviet citizens participated in these more for ritualistic reasons than because of fervent belief, which in turn allowed citizens to fill their lives with other sources of identity and meaning. Soviet citizens would go to cafes and talk about music and literature, join a rock band or art collective, take silly jobs that required little effort and thus left room for them to pursue their "interests." The very drabness of the standardizations of Soviet life therefore created new sorts of (admittedly constrained) spaces within which people could define themselves and their (inter)subjective meanings. All of which is to say that the book consists of a dramatic refutation of the "totalitarianism" thesis, demonstrating that despite the totalitarian ambitions of the regime, citizens were continually able to carve out zones of autonomy and identification that transcended the ambitions of the Authoritative discourse.
Top reviews from other countries
Unlike accounts we're more used to, this book shies away from the traditional binaries of freedom v slavery, indoctrination v independent thought etc. Instead, it relishes in the paradoxes of the times and presents a more nuanced view of how Soviet citizens became steeped in ideological rhetoric, rituals and semiotics - and how all of this was "performed" at every level of society.
Most crucially, it answers the question: if everyone believed the USSR was eternal, why was no one surprised when it failed?
If the comparisons the film establishes between the final years of soviet communism and contemporary capitalism seemed compelling enough at the time, after reading this book they feel superficial.