THE NOVEL IS A BOAT.

I have not actually read any books by Mikhail Shishkin yet, but I have his novel Взятие Измаила and am very much looking forward to it—everything I’ve heard about him makes me sound like my kind of writer. And I’m further confirmed in that opinion by this essay (translated by the superb Marian Schwartz) about what it’s like writing in Zurich rather than Moscow, what’s been happening to the Russian language (“When everyone lives by prison camp laws, the mission of language is a cold war between everyone and his neighbour”), and how Russian literature developed (“It was a colony of European culture on the Russian plain – if, by European colonisation, we mean the softening of manners and defending the rights of the weak before the mighty, and not the importation of Prussian gunners”); I’ll quote the last few paragraphs here, but the whole thing should be read:

The language of Russian literature is an ark. A rescue attempt. A hedgehog defense. An island of words where human dignity might be preserved. [...]
There is a legend about a prisoner sentenced to a life of solitary confinement. He spent years scratching out the image of a boat on the wall with the handle of a prison spoon. One day, they brought him his water, bread and gruel as usual, but the cell was empty and the wall was blank. He had climbed into the boat on the wall and sailed away.
The novel is a boat. Words must be revived in order for the boat to be genuine, so that I may climb aboard and sail out of this solitary life to a place where they love us and are waiting for us all. Save myself. And take all of my characters with me. And the reader too.


(Apologies for the bandwidth problem that kept the site inaccessible for a while; it’s those blasted spammers. InsiderHosting.com handled it with their usual efficiency, and I’m as happy with them as I was when I started using them a decade ago.)

Comments

  1. marie-lucie says:

    What a beautiful, surrealistic legend!

  2. what i dont understand about russians, not all of them of course, is this kind of thoughts, whatever is good is european, high culture, human dignity etc, as if like other cultures lack those qualities, and whatever native is held in contempt, shouldnt they be more like self-accepting, how russian literature can be the “island of europeanness”, when it’s authentic russian literature and traditions, sounds just off- putting, over-sentimental, or there is a word, pretty precise describing such sentiments, “rabolepie”, before everything european

  3. Europe is a concept, I think. Call it humanism, call it liberty, call it civic society.
    There is very little of servility (раболепие) in it.
    Do you remember the stir, when Prime-Minister Nakasone proclaimed Japan ‘member of the West.’

  4. i don’t know, maybe servility is too that, a strong word, but why instead of copying or trying to copy or just trying to belong to “Europe” to whatever it is felt so highly esteemed, just value more what is yours, your own, i would say be prideful with your own national pride and will be perhaps understood wrongly here
    for some reason russian national pride works like just one way, when it’s about to feel elevated over the minority ethnicities, but before Europe they get oh so like reduced and self-proclaim themselves as if like barbarous, or whatever this shishkin writer says
    i would feel such writers just as if like “pseudo”intellectual, there is only one distinction between all people, it’s being mean and being kind, which is being just, doesn’t matter what concept of dividing self and others is preferred, “Europe” or pan-mongolism or svyataya rus’

  5. When I read the piece, I didn’t understand it as an anti-Russian, pro-European diatribe. I read it as a comment on the nature of political society in Russia and how language embodies a struggle against it. I don’t think that criticising Russian politics and society for its weaknesses (assuming that what Shishkin says is true, which I’m not in a position to judge) should be taken in terms of ‘nativism’ or ‘nationalism’. If something is bad people should be free to identify it as such, without bringing in ideas of being ‘unpatriotic’. ‘My country right or wrong’ shouldn’t apply to Russia any more than it does to the U.S.

  6. When I read the piece, I didn’t understand it as an anti-Russian, pro-European diatribe.
    Of course it’s not, but read isn’t interested in Shishkin or what he’s saying, only in her own prejudices and preconceptions. The problem with that is that you never learn anything.

  7. that problem is that the world order is the order as it is, bigoted and european-centrist

  8. that problem is that the world order is the order as it is, bigoted and european-centrist
    I probably don’t totally disagree with that statement, but I’ve never been able to figure out why embracing a new kind of bigotry (whether it’s Russian chauvinism, Chinese irredentism, or Mongolian nationalism) is going to make things better.

  9. that’s why i said i don’t see any difference between worshipping “Europe”, “panmongolism” or whatever kind of chauvinism of course
    every country every culture has their own good and bad sides, just what i notice about the “eurocentric” russians is that for them all what is good in russian is for them of european extract, when i feel russian culture is great on their own, so is it that bad impermissible point of view?

  10. Trond Engen says:

    I think the problem may be with the implicit supposition that democracy, rule of law, respect for the individual and society as a mutual arrangement between equal parts are inherently European ideas, when rather, although they were given a new and modern form in Europe, due to Europe’s earlier economic development, they are basic human behavior (even if in conflict with other basic behavior) and found and used at the basic level of society all over the world. When development of democratic institutions is branded as embracing europeanness by its proponents, totalitarian forces and aggressive nationalists get an easy job arguing against colonialism while civic nationalism get squeezed.

  11. rest easy, i am not “totalitarian forces and aggressive nationalists”
    maybe that “they are basic human behavior” part of equation never gets played out ever that loudly
    surely European enlightenment gave a lot to the world, but still what it brought too were “colonies of European culture”, must be that epithet sounds to Mr. Shishkin very nicely if he likes to compare it to the Russian literature
    how that sounds to others, who are btw entitled to their opinions, if to be true to the European declared principles of democracy, is a different matter i guess, hope anybody disagreeing wouldn’t get labeled then instantly “totalitarian forces and aggressive nationalists” unable to learn anything

  12. J.W. Brewer says:

    The problem perhaps arises when one conflates “Europe” the actually-existing warts-and-all historical thing with “Europe” as an imagined/romanticized utopia believed in by one sort (i.e. the non-Slavophil sort) of Russian liberal/dissident/intelligentsy. They’re not the same thing, and Shishkin himself might acknowledge that the “Prussian gunners” are just as historically real/significant (and just as “European” at least from the POV of Russia) as the “softening of manners.”

  13. Of course he would. He is obviously not the sort of person who believes in imagined/romanticized utopias.

  14. I was more interested in his description of how something taken out of its cultural and social context loses much of its force or meaning. It reminds me of Japanese people who told me, ‘When we had Australian wine in Australia it was great, but when we had it on the plane coming back it just tasted ordinary’. It obviously wasn’t just the wine that was ‘great’, it was the whole experience — the climate, the surroundings, the unfamiliar and relaxing cultural milieu, the excitement of the holiday — that blended to make the wine taste special. I’m sure people can come up with similar examples of the same phenomenon in other countries.
    The same applies to language, I think. A book written in a foreign language to me, at least, has a rather different feeling read in the midst of that culture and read at leisure in the comfort of your own culture. In many (although probably not all) cases, being removed from the original cultural context loses the immediacy and atmosphere of the work. I can understand why Shishkin felt the urgency drain out of his work when he suddenly found himself in a totally different milieu.

  15. Trond Engen says:

    read: I didn’t label you “totalitarian forces”, I tried to restate your objection with the author’s words in a less belligerent-sounding way. In that I imagined you as grieving that modern institutions are not allowed to grow from native seeds, with national pride, thus making them more vulnerable to demagoguery.
    But that said, Shishkin’s point is that in Russia these ideals never ceased to be Western implants, “European colonies on Russian soil”, because a long, harsh history of despotism wiped out those basic, local institutions based on human decency and replaced them with “prison camp law”. It’s hard to make that point without making it.

  16. Isn’t it possible that airlines buy only crappy Australian wines?
    It’s logically possible to be both a chauvinist and an internationalist in a certain sense, and I think some people actually are: they hold that their culture is superior to all others, and think you ought to automatically believe the same about your culture, whatever it may be. The thing they cannot stand is “the idiot who praises in enthusiastic tone / All centuries but this, and every country but his own.”

  17. i objected to the comparison of the russian literature to a “colony of the European culture”, so do you think that is a true statement? when in my perception it’s something really authentic and great which maybe was able to grow into what it became despite all those despotic regimes, maybe even made possible because of their such unique curcumstances, so labeling it a colony of the european culture, a foreign implant sounds like belittling, why it’s so impossible to acknowledge that russian culture, russian literature, russian poetry, language itself are their own achievements
    about the idiot praising own culture, hope you dont say that to my face, hope not praising all the things european wouldn’t make me into the one automatically, what i am saying is there are good qualities in that blanket “european ” culture, maybe i admire french literature, ancient greek architecture, german engineering , whatever, okay that european culture, whoever admires and learns it, good for them, just it shouldnt be shoveled to feed everybody, doesnt matter what values chinese or european, why it should be absolutely necessary for all to be the same, all i am saying is cherish what is yours, culture, history, language, respect what others’ have to offer, but the choice is one’s own what to like what to learn, it’s possible to be a cultured and dishonest man, though surely there are many more cultured and decent people, so culture is a very relative thing when human decency is maybe universal and not of that as if like volatile chameleonic quality, and worshiping just superficial culture of “mild manners” instead of moral goodness is kinda like strange, hope, moral goodness is not considered inherently only european quality

  18. Trond Engen says:

    read: No need to be belligerent. I’m pretty sure I read you correctly. So did John. The “idiot” bit was from a poem, quoted as a parallel thought, and obviously wasn’t aimed at you.
    I don’t know if Shishkin’s description is right or wrong, but I’m quite certain that it’s true for him, and that makes it a valuable contribution. Also: He’s well aware that the great Russian literature couldn’t have been written outside of that special environment of despotism and deep social injustice, so it’s uniquely Russian. So much so that he himself lost it after moving to Switzerland.

  19. i just say what i think, i can just not write what i think in order to not be “belligerent”, is that what you want? i just dont then understand what makes a discussion, should it all be agreeing and pleasantry, where then the european democratic principles should work if not in the blog threads
    if Shishkin understood that he “lost” his gift of writing moving to Europe, his writing “a colony of the European culture” must be was a superficial thought for him too, all i said is what you said in your last paragraph, about uniquely Russian literature

  20. Trond Engen says:

    read: should it all be agreeing and pleasantry
    No, by all means, but it’s much easier if each of us try to understand what the other is saying and save the harsh tone for actual deep disagreement.

  21. “for actual deep disagreement”
    oh, so you were agreeing with me, sorry i was mislead with the “totalitarian forces” and “It’s logically possible to be both a chauvinist and an internationalist in a certain sense”
    all i say is it’s logically possible to be a self-respecting internationalist

  22. It’s a good essay, but I see read’s point. Humanism surely is a Western import in Russia – but the article reads as though this import is the sole point of light in an otherwise unredeemable dog-eat-dog cultural wasteland. I don’t know Russian culture too well, but I find it hard to believe there’s any human society where the picture is as bleak as that.

  23. It’s kind of pointless to pick apart the details of his take on Russian history, since any sweeping summary of such a huge subject is bound to be incomplete and misleading, and it’s especially useless to expect accurate historical analysis from a novelist. I thought his piece as a whole was amazingly thoughtful and humane.

  24. The ‘the idiot who praises in enthusiastic tone / All centuries but this, and every country but his own’ is a person who dislikes his own country and times. It’s not an ‘idiot praising own culture’. So even if this was said to read’s face, there is no need for her to take umbrage.

  25. i take umbrage at the word idiot already never mind it used poetically in the opposite meaning or to my face, cz the next logical step for me would surmise that it is used intentionally as some indirect veiled insult
    werent the words idiot and mongol used synonymously until not that recent past by the enlightened scientific men of the west, sadly i found the tradition well alive informally in the internet present, so hopefully noone will lecture me how that is so obsolete and how it’s so totally wrong to surmise etc. just dont please use the word at me however you are annoyed at my belligerent arguing
    i hope you understand i say this all this like frankly cz presume i am in the company of trusted friends, sadly sometimes that trust is pretty easy to shed and internet friends turn into people who shout the word at me just to keep me quiet, personal experience, so i know what i am saying, though it seems to me it’s unworthy to loose one’s cultured face using the word in the heat of the discussion just to win one’s point

  26. sadly sometimes that trust is pretty easy to shed and internet friends turn into people who shout the word at me just to keep me quiet, personal experience
    So why act belligerent?

  27. read, no one called you an idiot. No one was thinking of you when they used the word. You are obviously an intelligent person and you are often a pleasant presence here, but you have a strange blind spot that makes you seem paranoid at times. I wish you would get past it. Just try not to take offense so easily, OK?

  28. why act belligerent? why use the word belligerent? or bullshit or asshole or troll etc. what it adds to the duscission, any duscussion, using those words in a discussion i never could understand, just make your point but not dismiss anyone else’s pov as bullshit and that it is
    when it’s possible to get people angry just saying i am not convinced
    what you perceive as acting belligerent could be for me just arguing my point, saying dont act belligerent could be perceived by me as saying shut up
    i am just explaining, i am not angry or anything right now, hope you understand

  29. Well, why use the expression ‘to my face’? It’s very aggressive and accusing. You’ve used it at least twice in the last couple of days.
    I haven’t particularly noticed anyone using ‘asshole’ or ‘troll’ or ‘bullshit’ here, at least not towards you, so why go spilling those words on the page at LH?

  30. i used those words as similar sounding to belligerent
    see, just saying ” to my face” “not convinced” are perceived as aggressive, these perfectly neutral sounding words, imagine then how the actual insult words sound to the one they are addressed
    i see those words now and then in the threads, on LH too, thankfully pretty not often, but people say bragging like i say bullshit when i see one

  31. it’s possible to get people angry just saying i am not convinced
    The problem is not that you say you’re not convinced; it’s the fact that you quickly fly into accusatory rants that have nothing to do with the people who supposedly instigated them (that’s ‘belligerent’, by the way), refuse to be convinced about anything that you don’t want to believe, accept any kind of nonsense if you want to believe it, and get offended extraordinarily easily at imagined slights (It’s your own fevered mind that twists a line that happens to contain the word ‘idiot’ into an implication that people here are somehow making snide remarks about ‘mongolism’). That is what gets people angry.
    And I’m sorry, ‘to my face’ is fighting talk of an almost physical kind, it’s not ‘neutral sounding words’. Please don’t attack other people for verbal belligerence while pretending that your own words are not.

  32. well then there is nothing to talk about, if you dont see what i am saying

  33. I think the problem is more that you can’t see what other people are saying. That’s what leads to all the wrangling and accusations.

  34. i think the problem is your stating there is a problem with me, instead of arguing whatever it was discussed, but it seems all means are good just to subdue the opponent!
    cant i remain at my thinking, without being convinced by the truly truthful truth as you see it if i choose so, isnt that democracy or something?

  35. all means are good just to subdue the opponent
    I don’t think anyone is trying to subdue you. It’s more like what you said above, people want to quiet you down, because you get heated and irrational in a way that’s destructive of civilised discussion. Like accusing people of using any means to subdue you, for instance.
    cant i remain at my thinking, without being convinced by the truly truthful truth as you see it if i choose so
    That’s why it’s so frustrating to talk to you at times. Do you think that people like to patiently explain things to you, only to have their reasoning rejected because you’ve basically decided to ‘remain at your thinking’?

  36. oh now flaunt tha civilised word at me of course that is soo like expected

  37. Ok, change it to ‘reasonable discussion’ if you like. The point is that you take offence very quickly and then there’s no way of discussing things with you.

  38. okay, again you talk about my reactions though, so i get offended quickly then what about you people then too, whatever i say gets as “belligerent” reception, how about controlling your own emotions instead of pointing out to me mine?

  39. Trond Engen says:

    It’s not just that you get easily offended, it’s that you get offended about things that’s not meant the way you read it or even at you at all, and that’s hard to predict. Since most of us are trying to be civil to everyone and avoiding unnecessary offence, the inpredictability of your reactions makes it very difficult for us to interact with you, And that’s sad, because you often have useful things to say, like in this thread.

  40. i said if i get offended and that’s such an impermissible thing what about you all getting counter-offended by my getting offended and that’s being all justifiable and beyond reproach, shouldnt there be some kind of equality and balance to that too
    well, i have to work, so later, though i know i’ll be told i am various kinds of unreasonable, hope thus thread would discuss the topic it discussed not me

  41. this

  42. What a nice argument… And how typical, too. And on April 1st, of all days of the year.
    Read, you are quite right. There is a strain in Russian thought that is painfully, self-hatedly, Europe-centric, and, consequently, tends to not do justice to all things Eastern, especially in language – most of the discourse comes straight from the 19th century. It must sound especially offencive to Asians, alas. The reaction to this is of course the other extreme, but it tends to be, if anything, even more chauvinistic. This schizophrenic aspect is by now deep within and has become a part of being Russian. This is a staple of understanding Russian culture that has to be taken for granted when you try to appreciate that culture on its own terms, which people here were trying to do when talking about Shishkin.
    Why are all things liberal and all things rational felt to be “western” by Russian speakers? Does it have to be so? Russians will forever struggle with these questions. To me, they do not have answers at all, not beyond simple historical and technical ones. Liberalism is “western” to Russians just like the safety pin is English and the kiss is French.
    Зачем от гор и мимо башен
    Летит орел, тяжел и страшен
    На черный пень? – Спроси его.
    Зачем арапа своего
    Младая любит Дездемона,
    Как месяц любит ночи мглу?
    Затем что ветру, и орлу,
    И сердцу девы нет закона…

  43. *[disclaimer] half-baked, shooting from the hip.
    I don’t agree at all. How come then, that the ‘Westernisers’ are more acceptable of Eastern culture, have more respect for and interest in Eastern ideas, and ‘Slavophiles’ are just looking for a neo-imperialist pan-slavist ‘Eurasianism’?
    Pushkin blended the Tales of Alhambra into the Tale of Tsar Saltan, Dostoyevsky was more sympathetic to the Chechens than the Poles (Notes from the House of the Dead, discussed on LH some time ago), and he was a friend and great supporter of Chokan Valikhanov, the Kazah scholar, Tolstoy’s Hadji-Murat is still the best explanation of what is Chechnya, and Shishkin’s strange take on the Boxer’s Rebellion in ‘Pismovnik’ takes us back to what the Drang nach Osten has lead us to.
    Hardly Europe-centric, us Russians.

  44. Sashura, I was not saying that Russian culture can be summarized as Europe-centric (I hardly feel qualified for sweeping statements of that magnitude). I was saying that some component of it seems to be, and with a vengeance (one has to prove one’s being European). This is at times betrayed by the language, as Shishkin’s piece seems to exemplify. That the best thinkers were above those extremes is something I would agree with, but the extremes are forever with us, and there’s no “happy ever after”. Might be this is the thing that keeps it alive and vibrant through the centuries.

  45. thanks, Maxim! so i’m not the only one crazy here who says things out of my “fevered mind”, i didn’t say things to offend Russians in any way, i said maybe what i was saying to defend them even
    about “neo-imperialist pan-slavist ‘Eurasianism”
    how L.N. Gumilev or D.S. Mirsky about who LH wrote some time ago were neo-imperialists? so why acknowledging European influence is all good and welcomed, but acknowledging other possible influences suddenly becomes something neo-imperialist, nationalist, pan-slavist? is it that bad to be pan-slavist?
    about the greats, i and other many million people ordinary readers everywhere perceive them as the great Russian writers humanists, should have thought of them as Europeans in disguise then according to Mr. Shishkin, that would elevate them somehow even more in everybody’s eyes, right? though maybe they themselves would have been offended if were suggested they are if not Russian then European or whatever other classification gradation, instead of their own person i guess, no?

  46. read, having written what I wrote, I still think you are over-reacting a bit. You have a right to take offence, and to feel offended. And it is not over nothing. But it is not like Mr Shishkin is going to colonize the steppes in the name of European culture either, and he is not being “slavish”. He was writing about specific Russian sensibilities and was probably not thinking about possible readers in Asia at all. His language does, in my opinion, betray a bias. This bias is a fact of life, and a reflection of some historic realities that, for many Russians, made tyranny and superstition associated with Asia, and liberalism and enlightenment associated with Europe. This came to be because of some very real historical circumstances. It does reflect facts about Russian history and thought (though not all history and all thought, and the reflection is distorted). It does not, and is never meant to, describe any realities elsewhere. I firmly believe that what he wrote should not be understood in the context of identity politics, or interpreted as any “nationalist” discourse. Shishkin does not, in my opinion, write what he writes because he is “slavish” to European culture. He does that because the language that we sometimes use to describe aspects of Russian culture is biased for historical reasons.

  47. it’s good that you, for example, recognize the attitude Mr.Shishkin describes as a bias, shouldnt biases then at least tried to be overcome somehow, or should it remain a bias forever and explained as historically justified to persist
    whatever comes from europe is culture and whatever eastern is backwards, that the bias in the russian mind, so what i was saying is shouldn’t russians themselves be/feel themselves just themselves, there should be something perceived by them as something genuinely theirs, never mind what the eastern or western influences were or are, no?

  48. This translation has made me appreciate the strong feelings that the educated British public must harbor towards the word “toilet.”

  49. Read, I hope you realize we are talking of two very different things here. (1) The language some of us sometimes use to describe aspects of Russian life and culture _can_ sound offensive to Asians; this needs to be corrected, insomuch as we can find an inoffensive alternative to describe the same historical phenomenon, especially in forums with an international audience like this one; (2) your suggestion that Russians that use this language, as Shishkin apparently does, are not being authentic, true to themselves, do not feel sufficient national pride, etc.
    Would you agree that whatever my answer to (2) is, it can’t be offensive to Asians, biased or not? If you do not, don’t read what follows and let’s leave it at that, otherwise this will go on forever. If you agree that we are _just_ discussing specific Russian sensibilities in their historical context, let’s go on.
    With (2) we are stepping into what is now centuries of Russian debate on how the culture should go about the modernization that the society needs to stay competitive internationally and let its members leave what some think could be more dignified and happy lives; the ideas I find most useful in this context came to Russia in their modern Western form. I don’t feel guilty about acknowledging this, any more then I feel guilty about using any foreign word when I speak. Neither do I feel obliged to start looking for a more authentic formulation of the same thing. I generally think that identity perspective is misplaced here; I don’t feel obliged to search for a single consistent non-contradictory view and identify with it – on the contrary, I believe such search to be a dangerous delusion. Shishkin, to me, is just as much Russian as your best card-carrying slavophil. On the other hand, the debate is still alive and you would find a lot of people from the nationalist and traditionalist quarters that would sympathize with your attitude and provide you with a “true Russian” version of everything.

  50. maxim, I simply felt that read was sticking up for Russia’s right to be proud of its own cultural heritage as the source of its magnificent literature rather than treating it as a spinoff from Europe. I’d say it’s in some ways an anti-colonialist attitude in that it finds Shishkin’s ‘cultural cringe’ (this is an Australian term referring to an attitude of worshipping the culture of Britain/Europe and denigrating your own local culture) unwarranted.
    I find it interesting that read’s defence of Russia as having its own roots and culture that it can be proud of has locked into the old Westernising/Slavophile dichotomy. While one pole of that debate is worship of the West (which read is protesting against), the other pole seems to be identified (if I follow maxim’s comments properly) with an aggressive Slav nationalism that happens to be racist and anti-Asian. It didn’t strike me that read was claiming to be a Slavophile of this kind, and I find it interesting that the discussion has slid into that kind of dichotomy. Is there no strain of Russian thinking that transcends the Westernising/Slavophile dichotomy?
    To be honest, I find the use of the term ‘Asian’ in this way slightly uncomfortable. It’s used that way in Australia, too — there was a white paper about Australia’s relations with ‘Asia’ just last year, which might have been relevant back in the 1970s but not forty years later in 2012. Talking about ‘Asians’ has the slightly patronising effect of lumping a whole lot of different people together and saying that, for your own purposes, they are all the same, a big homogenous group that’s different from you. Perhaps not coincidentally, ‘Asia’ has traditionally looked down upon by Western colonialists.

  51. Is there no strain of Russian thinking that transcends the Westernising/Slavophile dichotomy?
    Sashura in his post above has answered this better than I could.
    What I was trying to say was just that I believe the split is meaningful of itself and is probably generating a lot of what is alive and vibrant in the culture, so no single strain, transcendent or not, tells the whole story.

  52. “(1) The language some of us sometimes use to describe aspects of Russian life and culture _can_ sound offensive to Asians”
    don’t you find it offensive for yourself Russians, it’s said after all about you, your people and by the most educated and progressive part, intelligentsia, with such contempt, never mind what Asians would think, most *Asians* outside Russia wouldnt find to read in Russian what is said about them in that offensive tone, and who would find would be appalled the same as I, I believe
    it could be curious to read what Russian speaking Asians in Russia think about this matter, i think they just choose to ignore that kind of rhetoric and embrace instead Eurasianism, but Mr.B is right, people saying about all of us lumped into “Asians” would cause perhaps my next “unprovoked” rant
    “I find it interesting that read’s defence of Russia as having its own roots and culture that it can be proud of has locked into the old Westernising/Slavophile dichotomy.”
    thank you, exactly, why they always talk as if they belong in only these two polar camps is curious, we for example also are between Russian and Chinese influences, but we never identify with either of them, maybe it’s like a failure of imagination on my behalf, and it’s not that much analogous, to compare the two, Europe/Asia influences on Russia to Russia/China in our case

  53. no, Slavophiles perhaps are not about Asian influence, but on the contrary, but maybe they are indeed about the authentic Russian culture, so there are three camps now, with Eurasianists, which of them are more or less tolerant or nationalistic i am not sure

  54. Alexei, nicely caught – about toilet.
    you probably know that the original phrase Putin used was “мочить в сортире” – [if they're hiding in the bog we'll ] ‘whack ‘em in the bog’ (or john, British bog, I think is closer). Shishkin probably used the sortir word. I’d like to see the essay in the original but couldn’t find it in the internets.
    While some Brits consider ‘toilet’ low-class (‘loo’ is the ‘proper’ word), ‘toilet’ doesn’t to me convey the horrors of ‘sortir.’ The word, French in etymology, refers to a small outside wooden shack over a hole in the ground.
    Funnily, OED defines ‘the bog’ as ‘informal, a bathroom.’

  55. How about ‘shithouse’?

  56. Or ‘latrine’?

  57. (in a small voice) On bad days here in Moscow, of which there are many lately, I rather agree with Shishkin.

  58. Rodger C says:

    “Outhouse” is the usual AmE, and its origin consorts well with the etymological meaning of “sortir.”

  59. One has to define ‘Europe’ and Europe-centrism before arguing this or that. To me, the Russian idea of Europe is a somewhat idealised concept of a fair and prosperous society. The critics of ‘Europe’ in Russia fault her for too much invividualism, too much consumerism and lack of spirituality. If this is associated with ‘Asia,’ then an ‘Asian’ can surely be proud to be associated with such an idea.
    When British opponents of ‘Europe’ argue for leaving her they have a different concept in their minds, a despotic unelected bureaucratic statist society rejecting diversity and the right of people to govern themselves.
    When Greeks, Spaniards and Cypriots march against ‘Europe,’ theirs is still another concept. And they identify Europe with ‘Germany,’ again an abstract Germany.
    Those in Turkey who favour joining ‘Europe’, they obviously have a different Europe in mind.
    When an Australian shop-keeper puts a sign in the window saying ‘Popular in Europe’ to attract customers, what ‘Europe-centric’ feelings do they have in mind?
    There is a Phoenician temple in Sidon which is thought to be for Astarte/Aphrodite but some claim it is, in fact, to Europe.
    So, what is Europe?

  60. Read:
    the BBC (World Service) have just run a big and sympathetic series on Mongolia. One person talking to the presenter says: ‘we’re not like our neighbours [read Russia and China], we have the rule of law.’
    Here’s the link to one of the episodes.

  61. J.W. Brewer says:

    I see that Shishkin himself does not currently live in Russia but in Zurich. Now, I certainly have nothing against Russian emigres, but since the only other Zurich-based one I can immediately think of was V.I. Lenin it reminds me that the history of attempting to improve Russia via the imposition of fancy modern ideas from the West (from the British Library, no less . . .) has in practice often been an unhappy one, since the factions within Russia devoted to benign Western ideas seem to be rather consistently outgunned by those devoted to malign ones. The Netherlands was as of the late 17th century probably one of the freest societies in existence, but that’s not the aspect of Dutch culture that the young Czar Peter decided he was going to try to import and impose . . . The idea that the Dutch weren’t prosperous because they were cleanshaven but because they didn’t have a government that interfered with their liberty on matters of facial grooming seems to have escaped him.

  62. Bakunin, the founder of both anarchism and panslavism, also hails from Zurich. And Karamzin, and a host of others. Zurich is the birthplace of modern Russian culture.

  63. marie-lucie says:

    Sashura: an Australian shop-keeper puts a sign in the window saying ‘Popular in Europe’ to attract customers
    When I was a teenager, many magazines carried ads for beauty products that claimed these products “had already been used for years” by American women, who were supposed to be in the vanguard of progress. When I came to North America I found that the same kind of products (sometimes the identical brands) “had already been used for years” by European women, who were supposed to be the epitome of Old World sophistication. Nowadays, in both continents, sophistication in these matters is very likely to be attributed to the women of Japan or Southeast Asia.

  64. the history of attempting to improve Russia via the imposition of fancy modern ideas from the West (from the British Library, no less . . .) has in practice often been an unhappy one, since the factions within Russia devoted to benign Western ideas seem to be rather consistently outgunned by those devoted to malign ones
    I think you are pushing this a bit too far. The “fancy modern ideas” are today (as ever!) rule of law, free and fair elections of officials, and the possibility of power changing hands.
    Shishkin caused a rather big flap a few weeks ago when he refused to accept an invitation to join the Russian delegation at the book expo in NYC. He wrote a very strong open letter, saying he didn’t want to represent Putin’s Russia. Even though in the piece Hat links to above he’s talking about Russia in general (and the Russian language in general), it’s really the Putin regime and what it’s done to Russia (and Russian!) that he is railing against.

  65. “we have the rule of law”
    yes, one wishes to believe so and our laws are pretty good written down, just there is a saying too “the laws are for three days”, but i think basically people really have this sense of honoring the state and the law, and the unwritten laws of being afraid to tarnish one’s name, ner khugarakhaar yas khugar- let the bone break than the name, the population is relatively small so everyone is known that’s why i guess
    just the traditional culture was changing with the political changes many times over the last century and there are too many who lost the older values with every turn of the wheel and haven’t adjusted to the newer reality quickly enough so it seems like that unlawfulness, crime is increasing but i think that is transient
    i remember my surprise in Japan when the criminals about which there were everyday tv news seemed like were almost always the middle aged 50-60 something people, maybe i thought the postwar generation “lost” after a major cataclysm

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