The Captive and the Gift
Cultural Histories of Sovereignty in Russia and the Caucasus
Culture and Society after Socialism
Published by: Cornell University Press
216 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 x 12.00 mm, 1 map, 9 halftones
- ISBN: 9780801475412
- Published: June 2009
The Caucasus region of Eurasia, wedged in between the Black and Caspian Seas, encompasses the modern territories of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, as well as the troubled republic of Chechnya in southern Russia. A site of invasion, conquest, and resistance since the onset of historical record, it has earned a reputation for fearsome violence and isolated mountain redoubts closed to outsiders. Over extended efforts to control the Caucasus area, Russians have long mythologized stories of their countrymen taken captive by bands of mountain brigands.
In The Captive and the Gift, the anthropologist Bruce Grant explores the long relationship between Russia and the Caucasus and the means by which sovereignty has been exercised in this contested area. Taking his lead from Aleksandr Pushkin's 1822 poem "Prisoner of the Caucasus," Grant explores the extraordinary resonances of the themes of violence, captivity, and empire in the Caucasus through mythology, poetry, short stories, ballet, opera, and film.
Grant argues that while the recurring Russian captivity narrative reflected a wide range of political positions, it most often and compellingly suggested a vision of Caucasus peoples as thankless, lawless subjects of empire who were unwilling to acknowledge and accept the gifts of civilization and protection extended by Russian leaders. Drawing on years of field and archival research, Grant moves beyond myth and mass culture to suggest how real-life Caucasus practices of exchange, by contrast, aimed to control and diminish rather than unleash and increase violence.
The result is a historical anthropology of sovereign forms that underscores how enduring popular narratives and close readings of ritual practices can shed light on the management of pluralism in long-fraught world areas.
1. Promethean Beginnings2. Histories of Encounter, Raidings, and Trade3. Noble Giving, Noble Taking4. Rites of Encounter: Brides, Brigands, and Fire Bringers5. Captive Russians6. Caucasian Reflections7. From Prometheus to the PresentGlossary
"The Captive and the Gift is one of a very few recent anthropological works that explores the gift as a form of state ideology. History, where the study of gift giving is a burgeoning field, has produced a considerable body of work on gift practices in state and empire building, interstate relations, and diplomacy. The main contribution of Grant's rich and innovative research on Russian and Soviet rule in the Caucasus is to shift the scale radically and discuss how empire 'works through altruism and not just force’ and, specifically, how the taking of lives, lands, and resources was narrated as forms of imperial giving."~Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov, Slavic Review
"Grant draws on several centuries of historical writing, literature, political commentary, and film to explore both Russian claims about the implications of their 'gift of empire' as well as efforts from the peoples of the Caucasus to contest this binding generosity. He even interviews contemporary academics and cultural figures in Moscow and Baku and shares experiences from life in a small Azerbaijani village."~Austin Jersild, Russian Review
"This is an important and groundbreaking book, and it is especially necessary at this time of ongoing tension between Russia and the Caucasus. Grant squarely challenges the dangerous and persistent stereotypes of the Caucasus as 'naturally' criminal, arguing that idioms and practices of violence between Russia and the Caucasus have developed over time in a mutually constituted relationship. He also forces us to question the destructive potential of gifts of noble self-sacrifice given to unwilling subjects, wherever they occur. As an interdisciplinary and open-ended work, it invites discussion and exploration, and it will be of interest to scholars across literature and the social sciences as well as to graduate students in the Slavic fields."~Anna C. Oldfield, Slavic and East European Journal