Anyone who has studied Soviet history or read Soviet literature is familiar with the idea of the kommunalka, the communal apartment, but I at least did not have a clear mental picture to go with the idea. Now, thanks to Studiolum’s latest post at Poemas del río Wang, I can practically smell them. Here’s his introductory explanation:
The коммунальная квартира, the communal flat was a fruit of the revolution of 1917, called to life by the new collective vision of the future shorn of private property on the one hand, and by the pressure of the huge masses of population flowing from the countryside to the cities during the artificially induced urbanization on the other. Between the first and the last years of the Soviet Union the proportion of 20:80% between urban and rural population turned almost exactly to the reverse, but the mass construction of housing estates – the so-called khrushchevki, or even khrushchoby, “Khrushchev-slums” – started only in the 1960s. As a solution of the urgent housing problem, the former large bourgeois flats were divided into several – five to ten – one-room apartments, each for one family, while hallways, kitchen, bathroom and telephone were shared among all the residents.
Alongside the evocative pictures, he has well-chosen quotes from novels and other literary sources; I’d particularly like to single out the second one, from Daniil Harms‘s “Myshin’s Victory” (Победа Мышина), a typically appalling and hilarious little story/anecdote from one of the greatest writers ever to die in a prison. Myshin’s “Не встану” (“I won’t get up”) is a good match for Bartleby’s “I would prefer not to,” but shorter and bitterer, as befits the time and place. You can hear the Russian text read here.
There’s no point making a whole post of this, because it becomes tedious rehashing the whole debate about postmodernism, but I was delighted to read Anatoly’s post describing at length how much effort he expended over the course of years to try and understand Deleuze, Kristeva, Paul de Man, and the rest of the usual suspects—reading books, taking courses, attending lectures, the whole bit. His reluctant conclusion: of all of them, only Derrida rose above the level of nonsense and obscurantism (белиберды и обскурантизма), and his ideas, while occasionally interesting, were not worth the effort it took to uncover and assimilate them. I had come to the same conclusion after far less time and effort, and I am glad to be reassured that it was not just a matter of laziness—even if I’d cracked my brains for years, I wouldn’t have broken through to a land of wonderful insights. (Yes, I know, he and I may both be too stodgy and/or limited to understand. I can live with that possibility.)