CEMS Faculty Lecture: Kirill Ospovat: The Kunstkammer of Terror: Western Science and Russia’s Political Anatomy around 1700

Oct. 25, 4pm

Kirill Ospovat: The Kunstkammer of Terror: Western Science and Russia’s Political Anatomy around 1700
The lecture will explore political contexts and symbolic implications of monstrosity which underlay the founding of the Kunstkamera and Academy of Sciences by Russia’s reforming monarch Peter the Great (1682-1725), and — more generally — his introduction of Western-type medical knowledge. Adopting a Foucauldian “archeological” approach to sovereign administration, I will illuminate the fundamental, if forgotten symbolic links between medical practices, the contemplation of physical deformity, and spectacular royal violence which marked the Petrine reign. This alignment of medicine with sovereign violence as technologies of rule culminated during the trial of Peter’s son and heir, Alexei. Accused of conspiracy and treason, he was tortured and secretly killed by the tsar himself, while his “accomplices” were publicly executed. At this very moment, Peter issued a public decree ordering to collect the bodies of deformed children from all over the country for his Kunstkammer, and giving a theological and natural explanations of deformity.  I will analyze various discourses surrounding Alexei’s trial and the Kunstkammer as evidence of the fundamental concepts of human nature which underlay both medical and political imagination.

Dr. Kirill Ospovat (Assistant Professor of Russian, Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic) received his Doctorate from Russian State University and his research focus is Russian literature of the imperial period; Realism; literature, politics, and science; Russia and Germany; early modern Europe. His publications include:

Terror and Pity: Aleksandr Sumarokov and the Theater of Power in Elizabethan Russia (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2016).

 “Realism as Technique: Mimesis, Allegory, and the Melancholic Gaze in Gogol’s Old-World Landowners”, forthcoming in: Yaraslava Ananka, Magdalena Marszałek (Hg.): Potemkinsche Dörfer der Idylle: Imaginationen und Imitationen des Ruralen. Bielefeld: transcript 2018.

“Kumir na bronzovom kone: barokko, chrezvychainoe polozhenie i estetika revoliutsii”, in: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie 149 (2018), p. 49-73.

The Evil Empire? Reading Putin’s Russia (Fall 2018)

“Mikhail Lomonosov Writes to his Patron: Professional Ethos, Literary Rhetoric and Social Ambition”,  Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, Vol. 59 (2011), № 2. 240-266.