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Meta-syn-chresis: the politics of re-ordering and the politics of dis-ordering

Alexander Astrov - Meta-syn-chresis: between “special” and “holy” in Russia’s discussion of its war against Ukraine
Wednesday, October 11, 2023, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

Abstract /

Initially, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine was defined by Putin as a “special military operation.” As this “special operation” dragged on for over a year, some media sources started referring to it as a “holy military operation.” At first, this may appear to be a playful use of language since, in both cases, the Russian abbreviation would be the same: SVO. However, there is more to it than a play on words. At stake is contestation over what semiotician Yuri Lotman and philosopher Aleksandr Pyatigorsky defined as a “cultural code” implicitly present in significant “texts” that make up a “culture,” including political culture. In this talk, I explicate and generalise this contestation as a process of meta-syn-chresis - a combination of relations exemplified in rhetoric by metaphor, metonymy (synecdoche) and catachresis. Then, following the work of Ernesto Laclau on the rhetoricity of social organisation, I show this process to be at work in the writings of Marina Tsvetaeva, in the recent political interventions by Viktor Orbán, and in the Russian discourse leading up to the current war.