What Happened to Russia's New Hi-Tech City of the Sun: A Quick Postscript
May 8, 2010

Good news. My post about the new hi-tech city planned near Moscow and provisionally christened Solntsegrad, the City of the Sun, requires an update. According to recent newspaper articles (and even Russian Wikipedia), this new and special hi-tech city is to be called Innograd, literally OtherCity. It is worth pausing to unpack this name, because, like names of humans, names of new cities allow one to catch a glimpse of the culture's "deep structure," or its "unconscious," in a manner of speaking.

Both parts of the compound word come from an archaic vocabulary, which endows the name with a somewhat elevated tone. The compound itself has an apparent and venerable pedigree: as in Tsargrad for Constantinopol or in Petrograd. What is special about the first part of the compound is that it is derived from a rather rare adjective, innoi (other), in contemporary Russian. It appears in such terms as "ino-gorodnii," i.e., not a resident in this city, literally, belonging to an-Other city, and, most important, in a modified form in a word for a dissident, inako-mysliashchii, literally the other-or different-thinking one.

All of this "othering" brings to mind Georg Simmel, with his "Stranger" (Exkurs über den Fremden) and the marvelous formulation: the modern "stranger" is the one who comes yesterday and stays tomorrow. A more recent association is with The Jewish Century by Yuri Slezkine, who, like Simmel, sees in the modern stranger—and the modern Jew—an ideal type of the citizen of universal cosmopolitan modernity. Tongue-in-cheek, then, we can translate Russia's future Innograd, i.e., the Innograd of Russia's future, as Strangerbourg or Otherville. Some other possible compounds come to mind...

What is important, though, is that the choice of this particular vocabulary suggests a turn from a utopian way of thinking, characterized by fanciful Russian messianism and chiliastic self-aggrandizement, to a type of thinking that is profoundly modern: toward both a universal strangeness and, given the archaic Slavic word forms (inno- and grad), respect for Russia's past and healthy Russian nationalism. Needless to say, this is hardly enough to get Russia out of its deep crisis, but in its small way, it bodes well, and we should wish President Dmitry Medvedev fair winds for his efforts to launch Russia on what he called its "third and non-violent modernization" (

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