Actual Identity

The performances of the Russian, St.-Petersburg based, musical group Otava Yo, whose self-explanation is accessible here, much impress me. We live in an age where actual identity, that of the living person, finds itself in opposition to identity politics, which obliterates the living person for the sake of a wicked abstraction. Otava roots itself in the soulful tradition of Russian and (I believe) Ukrainian folksong. The old Cossack ditty, Oy Dusiya, Oy Marusiya, in lezhginka rhythm, taps into the richness of an authentic ethnic tradition. The moment in the video when the young woman sees herself in the mirror in traditional costume is particularly moving. Whoever directed the video directed it well. From the folk-costumes to the reference, through several historical layers of recorded music, to the lore of song, and to the fashioning of folk-instruments, the visuals tell a story of the debt to ancestry. Those who repudiate tradition condemn themselves to a shallow plagiarism of the prevailing correct opinion, while those who embrace the patrimony find themselves endowed with originality and creativity. Otava Yo’s women fetch me especially. They seem unembarrassed in being beautiful, which they are extraordinarily – and they pay tribute to feminine beauty in a powerful way, not least in their ritual hauteur. If anyone could explain the samovar subplot, I would welcome enlightenment.

And then there is the Slovakian group Hrdza. Their video is not as subtle as Otava Yo’s, but the same theme — seeking meaning in rootedness in order to salvage one’s life from modern, purely functional routine – is present. The marriage theme is also present. See below. —

19 thoughts on “Actual Identity

    • I would go further: Identity politics operates with a series of shallow stereotypes, which it seeks to impose on individuals, obliterating the actual person so as to add an item to an abstract and inhuman category.

  1. Pingback: Actual Identity | Reaction Times

  2. @Tina: Your comment was presented to me in my email queue earlier this morning and I thought that I had approved it. But it hasn’t appeared. Perhaps, in my foggy, just-out-of-bed state of mind, I did something other than approve it. If so, I offer you my profuse apologies. I would be happy were you to resubmit it. Your words were pithy and well-thought-out.

  3. Hi Prof. Bertonneau,
    Surely. 🙂 Coincidentally, I first saw this video a couple months ago… music isn’t a big category for me so I don’t know why it showed up, but this & the band’s other work are delightful. The same recommendation engine that put that on my YouTube page also gave me this amazing song: “The HU: Yuve Yuve Yu ” Completely different, but the same reaching back for the kernel of genuine identity.

    It was the landscapes in Otava’s humorous videos that especially captivated me, and led to watching Bald and Bankrupt’s visits to Belarus and the people living in the Chernobyl zone. The daily life of genuine culture is unexplainable and uncapturable because it is seen by he who lives it. A couple weeks ago, our neighbor showed up out of the blue to teach me how he plants tomatoes. We don’t socialize or know each other really, but we wave coming and going… we witness each other’s yard work. If I had to try to explain how and why we came to have such good neighbors, I could not do it. Not sure that I’m making sense here, but: they have lived here always, we have not. It is their genuine identity that causes them to pay what you describe as the “debt to ancestry”. And, something in our own that is very gradually enabling us to assume a part of that debt.

    • There is a paradox in identity. It must be lived, and as soon as one starts thinking about it, it begins to die. Identity is like a tomato vine: It must be rooted in steady soil that it might come to fruition. I like very much your observation that accepting the gift of tradition means acknowledging a debt that might well be un-repayable.

      • Yes, exactly. It’s the call of sameness. For children to grow up with grandparents in their lives is a great legacy… to grow up sharing the songs and recipes and daily life habits that grandparents shared with their own grandparents is human wealth. Shelling peas, making soup, dancing at weddings once in a while, but sitting together in the evening every evening, that’s what makes culture, and what blesses those who engage in it. True religion lifts that sameness, that plainness, and accords it a kind of holiness.

        The horror of the Left is that they want to push people away from those roots – for their own entertainment. They have no identity of their own, they rejected it when they rejected Eden. They think culture is quaint and clever and they find it interesting, like Marie Antoinette playing shepherdess with her colleagues; but instead they are destroying whole peoples by making them transient because transient people will get out of their way when they want some new entertainment from the next undiscovered culture they want to watch for a while. As you put it in your original post, they steal “the living person for the sake of a wicked abstraction”.

  4. I have recently been entranced by a number of you tube videos depicting Russian dancers, starting with this one Кабардинка в Москве which leads to many others. The Democrats seem to think we should hate these people! How lucky Russians are after so much tragedy in their history that they are still proud and unashamed of who they are. I love these people. I do not want to be their enemy. Instead I envy them as we seem to have lost so much in our own culture.

  5. There is a small Russian emigre community in my town. I have had the privilege of socializing with the Russians for some years. The Russian notion of friendship is overwhelming. I have seen the Kabardinskaya Moskva videos. I like them as much as I like the Otava Yo videos. Check out the concerts of the Pyatnitskaya Choir and the Osipov Balalaika Orchestra on YouTube. These are people who, honoring their fathers and mothers, are who they are. When, after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the dissolution of the USSR, the Bush-regime failed to re-establish civilized relations with Russia, it was a great error of political relations. The liberals used to love Russia when it was communist. Now that it is not, and as they rapidly approximate communism in their ideals, they hate Russia. That is why I hate them. Yes, I am a hater.

    • Fair play to you. And you come across to me as hating not the liberals themselves but the errors they for which they have fallen.

  6. What exactly is your role in this, Mr. Bertonneau? My role in what? Aren’t you doing the same thing you criticise, trying to turn the art of these people into a political tool you can use for yourself? No — I am not.

    With all due respect, it is preciselly [sic] the act of criticism that makes it so difficult for an authentic expression of identity to arise easily from the lived engagement with the created order, you know. A criticism is a judgment. One of the fundamental judgments is the one that decides between what is good or excellent and what is bad or deficient. I judge Otava Yo to be good and excellent.

    Are you familiar with the work of David Foster Wallace? No.

    Are you not familiar with my essay Identity, the Future of a Paradox, here at The Orthosphere?

    • My “role” in what? I like to share with others what appeals to me. I like to understand why what appeals to me, appeals to me. It is as simple as that. I hope that Otava Yo brings pleasure to you equal to or greater than the pleasure that the group’s performances have brought to me. (And that would be a great deal of pleasure.) Let us delight in what is truly good, both morally and artistically.

      • You are right, I guess I got ahead of myself. There are some special considerations there, but hardly can any sensible person object to beauty and there is no reason to drag anything else into this.

        Let’s hope this is a beggining of a trend. I have to say that I cannot help myself, but be hopeful, since lately, I keep encountering beautiful and deep stuff being produced.

        These two songs might be my favourites:

        Joy 🙂

  7. Pingback: Cantandum in Ezkhaton 05/26/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores

  8. “We live in an age where actual identity, that of the living person, finds itself in opposition to identity politics” – perfectly expressed.

    Unity in Diversity vs. Disunity in Identity Politics:

    Our foundational value systems are mainly derived from our culture and a strong part of our identity resides in our value systems. What you stand for determines to a large extent who you are. If you lose a part of your identity, because you have lost parts of your value system, you are likely to experience an identity crisis.

    Insecurity could result from an identity crisis which could lead to a defensive attitude and a tendency to see others as a threat – or as adversaries – instead of seeing them as equals. Confidence within oneself is needed to view others as your equals, even if they are different from you. Having a lack of confidence and a defensive attitude could reduce one’s ability to enter a neutral state in order to understand other cultures better.

    In order to experience a sense of personal identity, a basic need of all human beings, identity is thus found in group contexts instead of within the individual’s own personal Self (which would require dedicated personal development and well-clarified values) or within their own traditional cultural contexts.

    Identity found in group settings is insecure by its nature and tends to automatically revert to the in-group versus out-group dynamic, meaning everyone becomes the adversaries of everyone else. Although one may have expected that the weakening of cultural identity would have increased cultural relativity, which in turn would have reduced ethnocentrism, it apparently has had the opposite effect.

    Ethnocentrism does not disappear when genuine cultural diversity is weakened, it just shifts to identity politics…

    I have explored this subject by looking at a case study in an essay on my blog – I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

    Best wishes,

    • You have eloquently outlined the dialectic of multiculturalism. I will take a look at your website.


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