Blog Post

What Happened to Russia's New Hi-Tech City of the Sun: A Quick Postscript

Good news. My post about the new hi-tech city planned near Moscow and provisionally christened Solntsegrad, the City of the Sun, requires an update. According to recent newspaper articles (and even Russian Wikipedia), this new and special hi-tech city is to be called Innograd, literally OtherCity. It is worth pausing to unpack this name, because, like names of humans, names of new cities allow one to catch a glimpse of the culture's "deep structure," or its "unconscious," in a manner of speaking.

Both parts of the compound word come from an archaic vocabulary, which endows the name with a somewhat elevated tone. The compound itself has an apparent and venerable pedigree: as in Tsargrad for Constantinopol or in Petrograd. What is special about the first part of the compound is that it is derived from a rather rare adjective, innoi (other), in contemporary Russian. It appears in such terms as "ino-gorodnii," i.e., not a resident in this city, literally, belonging to an-Other city, and, most important, in a modified form in a word for a dissident, inako-mysliashchii, literally the other-or different-thinking one.

All of this "othering" brings to mind Georg Simmel, with his "Stranger" (Exkurs über den Fremden) and the marvelous formulation: the modern "stranger" is the one who comes yesterday and stays tomorrow. A more recent association is with The Jewish Century by Yuri Slezkine, who, like Simmel, sees in the modern stranger—and the modern Jew—an ideal type of the citizen of universal cosmopolitan modernity. Tongue-in-cheek, then, we can translate Russia's  future Innograd, i.e., the Innograd of Russia's future, as Strangerbourg or Otherville. Some other possible compounds come to mind...

What is important, though, is that the choice of this particular vocabulary suggests a turn from a utopian way of thinking, characterized by fanciful Russian messianism and chiliastic self-aggrandizement, to a type of thinking that is profoundly modern: toward both a universal strangeness and, given the archaic Slavic word forms (inno- and grad), respect for Russia's past and healthy Russian nationalism. Needless to say, this is hardly enough to get Russia out of its deep crisis, but in its small way, it bodes well, and we should wish President Dmitry Medvedev fair winds for his efforts to launch Russia on what he called its "third and non-violent modernization" (http://www.kremlin.ru/news/5413).

Gregory Freidin's picture
Professor Emeritus, Stanford University

Gregory Freidin has written and taught extensively on Russian culture, literature, politics and society. His long-standing project on the Russian Jewish writer Isaac Babel includes a series of essays, the Norton Critical Edition of Babel's writings, letters, reminiscences and critical reception Isaac Babel's Selected Writings, W.W. Norton, 2009); a collection of essays on Babel's works and days, The Enigma of Isaac Babel, Stanford UP, 2009); his own critical biography of the writer, A Jew on Horseback: The Worlds of Isaac Babel, is forthcoming.  Freidin’s first critical biography, Coat of Many Colors (1987), a study of the life and oeuvre of the poet Osip Mandelstam, was reissued in paperback in 2010.  In 2004, Freidin organized an International Isaac Babel Conference and Workshop at Stanford, producing the U.S. premiere of Isaac Babel's play "Maria" (directed by Carl Weber) and curating an exhibition on Babel at the Hoover Libraries and Archives. These Babel-related events have received a permanent lease on life in “Babel in California,” by Elif Batuman, the events’ participant observer, who opens with it her critically acclaimed collection Possessed (FSG, 2010). Freidin's interest in contemporary Russian politics and culture found its venue in the US and Russian Press, as well as in the major conference held at Stanford University in 1998 - Russia at the End of the Twentieth Century - that brought together scholars, journalists, editors, and government officials from Russia and the US, including the Undersecretary of State Strobe Talbott, with who he translated the second volume of Nikita Khrushchev's memoirs Khrushchev Remembers: The Last Testament (1974). The First Russian edition of The Federalist Papers came out in Freidin's translation and with his introduction in 1990.

Freidin grew up in Moscow and emigrated to the US in 1971. He attended Brandeis University in 1972 and University of California at Berkeley in 1972-78 (M.A. and Ph.D.). Freidin career at Sanford spans 1985-2014. Professor Emeritus, he now resides in Berkeley, California, where he continues his writings and research. A contributor to Arcade, Freidin maintains a personal blog on culture and politics The Noise of Time.