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From Saint to Patient : The Russian Holy Fool as a Figure for Political Usage

People living in this world carry a stigma ; to a certain extent, this stigma remains for a period of time and exists in a kind of constructed space. Social stigma often emerges in the situation when visual experience helps to translate the stigma in favour of the stigmatised. The eyes which observe are like a double-edged sword ; it can slash the stigmatised with its judgemental perception, or cut through judgements to perceive a sacred vision of the person. The visibility of a certain distinctiveness can be emphasized as a divine gift which is beyond our general understanding or as a taboo which should be avoided for the sake of social order. The holy fool in Russia bears a stigma which has been defined in various ways and has been explained as the condition when there is a necessity.

The aim of this article is to take the holy fool as a figure to examine the rule for distinction and to question the issue of ‘otherness’ in an atmosphere where every individual (bearing more or less a stigma) should have his/her right of survival. Abnormality may be a threat to the stability of system, but can be an alternative to new invention. Stigma happens in fluid and relative situations. In multinational Russia, an impulse to show emotional hostility to irrationality has been reduced to a certain level for the sake of adjusting one’s political act upon non-Russians and further of evoking one’s awareness of equality within the Empire. Regardless of linguistic identity, the changing conceptions of ‘otherness’ which are applied to the understanding of the non-Russians as ‘natural subjects’ under the juridical sense and/or allegorically medical fables, became an alternative reference to the holy fool whose murky utterances, incoherent phrases and seemly provocative acts may not be considered as the most ‘foreign elements in the “body politic” of the Russian Empire.

Ming-Hui HUANG is currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies at the University of Sheffield (the UK).

 
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