Radoslava Ilcheva

“Handsome is, handsome does”,
Or External appearance in the Cultural Antithesis East – West



For centuries on Russia have perceived the Europeans mainly through their external appearance. Through out all Middle Ages the foreign clothing has been a serious and even a prime obstacle (together with the language) in the act of the communication between different ethnos, it has been a theme not so much of taunt and mockery, as an object of a total and furious denying. It provokes an undisguised hostility and models to a considerable extent the negative Russian notions of the West. Put in the paradigm of the confessional incompatibility between Orthodoxy and the “Latin heresy” of a westerner turns out to be a signal for a higher danger from a cultural invasion. Since it’s a sign for a belonging to a world opposite to Holly Rus’ both “by horizontal and by vertical”: the devil in Old Russian texts at times is dressed as a Polish, at others as a German.

In this context the saying “Handsome is, handsome does” implicitly reveals the reception of Self. The obsession of clothing and respectively of external appearance has been so strong, that for centuries has ignored the personal dualities of Other. With the development of the trade and diplomatic relations with its European neighbors, these tendencies do not weakened, but sharpened and reach their climax at the boundary between Old and New time (end of XVII – beginning of XVIII century.). On this crisis and dramatic period for the traditional Russian mentality the external appearance of the westerner acquires impressive dimensions by its conflict, which reflects in some way even the present days.


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