Peter Savitsky’s concept of rhythm
One of the founders of Eurasianism, Pyotr Savitsky, completed his earthly journey 55 years ago. His many ideas still need further development, as does classical Eurasianism in general.
Peter Nikolayevich Savitsky’s works, from letters and poems to scientific publications, make frequent use of the concept of rhythm. The idea of applying rhythm to history is obviously not accidental, especially when one considers the etymology and meaning of the word.
In late antique and medieval philosophy the idea of rhythm is developed primarily in the theory of music and poetry. However, as seen in Augustine’s treatise “On Music”, the concept of rhythm is applicable to all types of art, aesthetics in general, conducting a thread to Plato’s ideas about the beautiful. However, Plato himself, even philosophy as the highest of the arts referred to mucic arts, which included poetry, dance, fine arts, theatre and rhetoric. Even wisdom was understood as “the most beautiful and greatest consonance” or symphony.
Augustine borrows the phrase Musica est scientia bene modulandi from Varron – note the last verb – modular, derived from the word modus, i.e. measure. Thus, modulation according to Augustine refers to movement and is a kind of experience or knowledge (peritia) of a properly organized process of movement. In sum, it is the knowledge of free movement, which is done for the sake of the beauty of the movement itself. And in the sixth book he speaks of eternal unchangeable numbers and the place and role of art on the path to higher ideals.
Augustine writes that “all existence from the gross material objects to the higher spheres of the spirit is permeated by numbers… Earthly objects in the cycle of time are linked to celestial bodies and united in a single cosmic melody. Many things may seem disordered and disordered to us, but as we cannot view the whole from our own stretch of time, so it seems to us that the harmony is out of tune. In fact the eternal beauty and orderliness of the universe is beyond perception and comprehension”.
It must be explained that in ancient Greek the word rhythm was related to the word number – ρυθμός and αριθμός respectively. Rhyme as a consonance in the ending of several words, used in versification, also has the same origin. And in Latin, number and rhyme are denoted by one word, numerus.
There is no doubt that Savitsky knew Ancient Greek and Latin, since they were part of the classical grammar school curriculum in the Russian Empire. It is more difficult to determine when exactly interest in rhythm, rhyme, and number emerged as expressions of a particular concept. Considering Peter Nikolayevich’s interest in church architecture, which he displayed from his childhood, here, too, one can find reasons for his constant reference to rhythm.
Already in the first collection of the Eurasians “Exodus to the East. Premonitions and Accomplishments. Approval of the Eurasianists” (1921), in the article “Turn to the East” one can feel an aesthetic impulse – P. N. Savitsky speaks about the plastic world, which is open to the human will to make the possible real.
And in the article “Migration of Culture” (same collection) one can see the attempt to work out a certain model that would fix the periods of cultural and geographical movements – “our scheme aims to establish a cultural and climatic fait nouveaux of each of the considered epochs”. This newly discovered circumstance, according to Savitsky, is invariably the spread of culture.
Vasily Nikitin’s review of George Vernadsky’s book with commentary by Savitsky, titled ‘Rhythms of Eurasia’, published in the 1927 edition of the Eurasian Chronicle, has such a phrase as “a chord of Mongolian-Russian rhythmics”.
In the publication of P.N.Savitsky of a later period, already after the Klamar schism, in the article “Rhythms of the Mongolian Century” (1937) it is stated that “it is worth taking a closer look at the individual historical shape of time segments that compose it… Some segments of time are filled exclusively with signs of prosperity, while others, on the contrary, are indicative of decline. The ‘wave-like’ movement of the historical curve is expressed in the alternation of periods of one and the other type. The term conjuncture is used when comparing events in Lithuania and Rus’. Savitsky’s task is to draw attention to the importance and fruitfulness of studying the rhythm of historical life and to offer some techniques and methods for such a study.
The work itself is outlined as preliminary, tentative in nature. Savitsky calls for cooperation and the creation of a number of studies to recreate a complete “picture-system” of Russian, and not only Russian history.
Here we see a certain analogy with the French historical school of “Annales”, founded by Marc Bloch and Lucien Fevre. Fernand Braudel much later used a similar concept to trace the dynamics of historical cycles of different systems and their overlaps. He also introduced the terms “long time span” and “geohistory” into science, although it was Savitsky who provided the initial impetus for such interpretations.
Finally, let us consider the most recent work, which is expressed in poetic form.
On 28 November 1956, in a letter to Gumilev, he appended eight poems to his text, three of which relate directly to the issue at hand.
A SUCCESSION OF UPS AND DEPRESSIONS
(The path of the people’s ascent).
You climb a steep path,
Through ups and depressions,
But each moment is different and different,
Different in quality and weight.
And in the rhythms of the century
The beating of a fiery heart,
And in every breath the spirit of a builder
of the builder and martyr.
The people’s complicated way!
The law of struggles and achievements!
We see it, we see it – the chest breathes
And we feel its pulse beat.
Ring the golden strings,
With the heart’s trembling spaces,
“Read the tempestuous rhythms
Of irreducible constancy.
And in the tempest’s storm the dimensionality blows
of the wing that bears us all.
And the clear regularity
Of order, rhythm and number.
NUMBER AND MEASURE
The deeper the mind has penetrated
Into the promised limits,
The more inspired I became
The more the spirit of number and measure
Number and measure! The secret meaning
Of the starry abyss of the universe,
And the arranging thought,
And a willful direction.
For in the rhythms, slender and simple, Nature lives and moves.
Nature lives and moves.
They make nations and peoples grow, mature and strengthen.
And nations and peoples grow and mature.
A law of time.
A life-giving idea.
We watch the measured waves,
In awe of the mystery.
In correspondence with Lev Nikolayevich Gumilev Savitsky also repeatedly draws attention to the theme of historical rhythms. On December 8, 1956 he wrote: “Your “theses” are written very clearly, they allow us to feel the “periodic rhythmics” of the history of the 1st Turkic Kaganate. I even tried to outline it approximately:
1. The great “Turkic forty years”: 540s – 580s. A great number of “lifting” signs are from the field of military, political and diplomatic history proper. Some criteria mentioned in my articles from the Old Russian history are also applicable.
2. The 1st “Turkic deflection” of the 580s.
3. 2nd “take-off” lasting till 603.
4. The “Dividing” depression – the disintegration of the Kaganate, the subordination of the Eastern Türkic Kaganate to China…
But here, you have your cards in your hands! You should “name” these “ups” and “downs” and trace their rhythm to at least the 630s…
Unions, agreements, of course, have their own – and great – importance. But the decisive factor, it seems to me, is the internal, self-legitimate, ‘rhythmic’ development of peoples (‘rhythmic’ – in the sense of the ‘periodic rhythmic’ of their history)”.
And here is the letter of May 9, 1958:
“I very, very much ask you in these works not to forget the question of rhythmics, of the pulse of history. It seems to me that tracing this rhythm, this pulse of pre-capitalist formations is another task of historical science. I know that in the history of the nomadic world it is not always easy to establish “ups” and “downs”. But we can do a lot here as well (we already talked about this once in connection with the history of the first Türkic Kaganate).
Judging by L.N.Gumilyov’s works, he heeded Savitsky’s advice and prescribed those rhythms in detail in his works.
In addition to Brodel, the theme of rhythms was picked up by French sociologist Henri Lefebvre, who developed the methodology of rhythm analysis in detail.
Lefebvre identifies two kinds of rhythms: cyclical rhythms, which include simple intervals of repetition, and alternating (or linear) rhythms. An example of a cyclical rhythm is day moving into night and vice versa; a linear rhythm would be the flow of information from a television. Additionally, rhythms can be nested one into the other; for example, the transmission of local news at intervals throughout the day and throughout the week, is an example of a nested rhythm. Lefebvre argues that rhythms exist in the intersection of place, time and are related to the release of energy.
Rhythm itself according to Lefebvre is “localised time” and “temporised place”, which may well relate to the historical stages of states, economic, social and political agendas.
According to Lefebvre, there are four kinds of rhythm:
– Arrhythmia – conflict or dissonance between or among two or more rhythms, those that could occur (biologically) in a sick person;
– Polyrhythmia – the co-existence of two or more rhythms without conflict or dissonance that suggest arrhythmia;
– Eurythmy – constructive interaction between or among two or more rhythms, those that occur in healthy beings;
– Iso-rhythmia – the rarest association between rhythms, involving the equivalence of repetition, measure and frequency.
As we can see, our compatriot’s original ideas have been applied to Western science, which, in general, is typical of Western society, constantly borrowing or even plagiarising other people’s designs and concepts.
To some extent, this also applies to P.N. Savitsky’s conception of Russian studies, although in the Cold War era this trend was called Sovietology in the West. Nowadays, such studies are openly referred to as Eurasian studies, although most Western authors seek either to discredit Eurasianism or to interpret it in a way that benefits them. Such insinuations should stimulate Russian science to respond adequately and continue developing the ideas of classical Eurasianism.
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