Shelf Space


I was wondering. Does our system have an ideology?

[Simon Kordonsky:] No, I spent a few years reading what no one else reads: science fiction and fantasy, mysticism, that sort of thing. You can deduce the real “ideology” by reading these sources.

Simon Kordonsky
Simon Kordonsky

So there is Perkhel [?], a guy from Chelyabinsk who wrote a trilogy about how Russia has lost a war and the European part of the country has been completely occupied. A resistance to the invaders has been organized in Chelyabinsk, and the resistance does everything to destroy them. That is one type of literature.

The second type is science fiction, where you find a certain Russian future. Again, this future has an imperial, estates-based structure, which is fighting against foreign invaders.

This is a huge body of literature, thousands of titles. A worldview is broadcast in these books. People buy them. Walk into any bookstore in the regions and that is the only literature there is.

I have this one practical lesson I teach. Our campus is near the bookstore Biblio-Globus [in downtown Moscow]. My students and I take tape measures and we go measure worldviews. This store is indicative. We take measurements: how many meters of shelf space are taken up by “history.” Some book by [Alexander] Bushkov is on the shelf, and there are no references in it, meaning it is not history, but quasi-history. Mythologized history makes up ninety percent of the historical literature [for sale].

Cover of Alexander Buskhov, The Russia That Wasn’t, 3: Mirages and Ghosts (2004)

Then we measure the medicine section. It’s only one and a half meters long. Medicine per se takes up ten to twenty centimeters. The rest is taken up by books on self-treatment, herbal medicine, and cosmetics.

And we measure politics. On the first floor there is an entire “Miscellaneous” section. Once, [ROSSPEN’s] History of Stalinism took up a whole shelf there. Now that space is filled with works by quasi-politicians and philosophers. It is completely strange kitsch.

And where would you find sociology? In the “Esoterica” section!


Simon Kordonsky heads the Laboratory for Local Administration at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.  Images courtesy of and Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade ES for the heads-up

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