Almira Ousmanova Former Senior Fellow

Almira Ousmanova

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Research Project

The project is dedicated to the exploration of the relationship between visual imagery and »historical imaginary« of the Soviet culture. The research is focused on the Soviet cinema of the 1920- 1960s from the standpoint of current debates on the Soviet culture and the modes of its conceptualization. The theoretical issues concerning the interpretation of visual images for the purposes of a sociological or historical research are to be given a special attention (in this sense Soviet cinema is to be taken also as a ‘case’ study for the reflection on methodology of the analysis of visual representations). »The Soviet« is being understood here both as an aesthetic category (that relates to the specific visual style and artistic conventions, which are recognizable as a »canon« of representation which is inherent to Soviet visual culture) as well as an anthropological concept (which refers to a certain way of life, culturally specific values, semiotic systems, rituals and various everyday practices of the Soviet period).
The first part of my book will be focused on the investigation of the methodological issues. Visual media have considerably changed our idea of history and brought into existence new cultural models of the mnemonic. Images play an important part in the mechanisms of transmission (or repression) of collective memory, influencing how we think about the past and create the commonality and continuity of experience. However, visual text (be it film, advertising or photography) is not a mere reflection of social reality: its relationship with what can be called ‘reality” is much more complicated than we used to think (particularly, when we deal with the so called cinematic »realism«). It would be more accurate to say, that films express »particular versions of social imagination« (Norman Denzin), for they encapsulate »the sensitivity, aspirations and dreams of societies in particular historical and sociological situations«.
Visual representations actively participate in structuring lived experience and making it intelligible: what is not yet fully exposed or rationalized, can be, however, articulated and “transcribed” through cinematic narrative. In other words, cinema participates in a historical semiosis, capturing and visualizing that what might resist to linguistic description. It depicts ideals, needs, unconscious desires, dreams, patriotic feelings, hidden xenophobia or social pessimism, which is then projected into the realms of the social; it allows us to access the historical imaginary of a given society, to get to know what it thinks of itself or, more precisely, how it imagines itself.
The second part of my research will be focused on the analysis of Soviet ‘historical imaginary’, on the exploration of the dialectics of ‘visible and invisible’ in the everyday culture vis-à-vis ideological discourse(s), on the examination of the specific ‘topoi of vision’ inherent to the Soviet culture at different stages of its history, and the role of visual media in the formation of social and cultural identity of Soviet men and women. Since visual representations oscillate between official and unofficial political and social spheres, they are concealing as much as ‘making visible’ various social problems and are capable to articulate those topics which may have been silenced in verbal texts. According to Michelle Lagny, cinema registers multiple social and cultural changes that can be understood only much later: it ‘reflects’ in as much as it constructs mental habits, cultural stereotypes and society’s attitude toward certain taboo topics (such as sexuality, crime, drugs, etc.), as well as reacting sensitively in response to political and ideological transformations.