"The Republic of Z: Putin’s Hyperreal War"
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Nathan Goldstone, PhD Candidate, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Harvard University.
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Panagiotis Roilos, Faculty Associate. George Seferis Professor of Modern Greek Studies, Department of the Classics; Professor of Comparative Literature, Department of Comparative Literature, Harvard University.
Dimitrios Yatromanolakis, Associate Professor, Department of Classics, Department of Anthropology, and the Humanities Center, The Johns Hopkins University.
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This past spring, as Western commentators first struggled to explain Russia’s newest military invasion of Ukraine, much was made of Putin’s false sense of history. However, it cannot merely be said that (as one Washington Post article has it) Putin “gets the history wrong.” Rather, his revisionist arguments are in keeping with the weakening of historicity by which Fredric Jameson defines postmodern cultural logic. In Putin’s use, history loses all sense of linearity; instead, it becomes a storehouse of models and images that, when produced and rearranged, simulate a glorified past, one allegedly lost but in fact imagined.
In the present paper, I outline several instances in which Putin has wielded this storehouse to enact or reflect his ideal conception of the Russian state, one knitted from various historical and mythological fabrics. I then compare his actions and arguments theorizations of “hyperreality,” most notably Jean Baudrillard’s essay “The Precession of Simulacra.” Putin’s mission in Ukraine can be said to be restorative or historically oriented only insofar as the past relates to this ideal conception. A more accurate description of his purpose is the replacement of Russia with a hyperreal iteration of itself, that is, an ideal simulacrum that does not restore any single past, but rather encompasses all national myths beyond their origins in time or space. This, in turn, has revealed certain limitations of Baudrillard’s and others’ theorizations, particularly in relation to the potential of hyperreal constructions in an authoritarian context.