Konstantin Bogdanov. Master's Heels, the Memory of Serfdom and the Theory of Memes

The history of serfdom or, to be more exact, the history of slavery in Russia, no matter how well-known and studied it seems, in Russian historiography can serve as an example of construction and conflict existing between official techniques of «politicization of memory» (G. Hartman) and non-official discourses of its social actualization. Among the literary motifs of the second half of the 19th century «reminding» of the suppressed sides of serfdom, the motif of serf girls compelled to «scratch the heels» of their masters was extremely widespread. Today, such a motif or, as it could be named not too long ago a «precedential text» of Russian literary tradition, could find its analogy in the notion of meme – a unit of cultural information able to replicate ideas and images justifying «anthropomorphization» or even «somatization» of social representations as «collective memory».

 The variations of cultural contexts which accompany the aforementioned motif demonstrate that terminologically controversial theory of memes is not in this particular case epistemologically sufficient and, at the same time, allows you to ponder over the question, which ideological factors contribute to content and emotional demand for «non-official» reminders of historical traumas. The author’s hypothetical answer consists in the indication of latent contraposition of «official» narrative about ideological reasons for serfdom in Russia (ensuring  conscription, fiscal needs of the state, budget deficit liquidation, historical and metaphysical teleology etc.) and non-official «somatic» «collective memory» of serf-owners’ physical and, in particular, sexual violence. The 2011 celebrations of the anniversary of the 1861 Reform show that the existing dissonance between the official and non-official images of serf-ownership and serfdom are in force until now hindering the evaluation of the historical past in which the peculiarities of «land ownership» for a long time predetermined the subsequent understanding of human rights  in the dichotomy of personality and state.