Another quote from Dobrenko’s “The Literature of the Zhdanov Era: Mentality, Mythology, Lexicon” (see yesterday’s post):

In this way [by the crushing of individuality in the late Stalin era], the beachhead of self-consciousness had been shrunk to a small bit. But this small bit was not too cozy (like a chilly apartment with rented furniture); hence the desire to brighten it, fill it with light, joy, cheerfulness, optimism. This injunction became fixed in the titles. Not being able to stop to consider these works, I give only the titles — a sampling of a vast wave: Light over the Earth, Light over the Fields, Light over Lipsk, The Sun of Altai, the Earth in Bloom, Happiness (Pavlenko), Happiness (Baialinov), The Azure Lights, The Azure Fields, Youth Is with Us, Song over the Waters, Life’s Summits, The Happy Day, Winged People, The Future Begins, The Star of Happiness, Our Youth, The Rise, Youth, Always Ahead, The Stars Never Pale, The Road to Happiness, The Dawn, Toward the Dawn, The Moscow Dawns, The Sun That Never Sets, In the Happy Path. There is an amazing amount of a kind of feeling of spring, breadth, spaciousness (“a spring wind blows over my country”). The small bit is narrow, yet “broad is my beloved country” [a famous song of the Stalin era]; the person is a function, yet “with every passing day it is a greater joy to live.” Here they are, passing before one’s eyes: The Spring Winds, Spring-time, The Spring Streams, Spring, Spring on the Oder, The Big [Spring] Flood, What Airiness, The Wind of the Century, The Sea Breeze, The Wind from the South. And where there are winds and the spring, there are also roads: The Road to Frontiers, The Road Within, The Road to the Ocean, Roads That We Choose, Roads. Spaces also define the optics: The Great Fate, Great Kin, The Great Ore, The Great Family, The Great Art, The Great Day. Even someone who has never touched any of the books mentioned must sense a certain kind of disposition and understand that everything here is not accidental. These titles have a semantics of their own.

It makes me tired and depressed just reading that list of determinedly upbeat titles.

(Another note on translation: a few sentences later, the Russian word фабула ‘plot’ is simply transliterated as “fabula.” I have no idea what the English-speaking reader is supposed to make of that.)

Addendum. I’ve just found (here) a quote from the Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz (translated by Agha Shahid Ali) that admirably sums up this particular aspect of totalitarian art:

See our leaders polish their manner clean of our suffering:
Indeed, we must confess only to bliss.


  1. rootlesscosmo says

    In 1948–whether before or after he was attacked in the “anti-Formalism” campaign I’m not sure–Shostakovich set a cycle of traditional Yiddish verses. (Interestingly, he directed their Russian translator to retain the scansion of the originals so that they could be sung either in Russian or Yiddish without distorting the declamation.) To the eight traditional texts three were added, much in the vein Dobrenko’s quote describes; nevertheless, the cycle was not performed until 1955, and the Yiddish texts were first published in 1978 in Israel, by the émigré scholar Joachim Braun. Here’s a sample (the full texts–Cyrillic, Cyrillic-Latin transliteration, and Yiddish (Romanized)–can be found at this wonderful site:
    Ikh hob mayn man genumen unter hant
    Ikh hob mayn man genumen unter hant,
    ikh shem zikh gor nit vos ikh bin shoyn alt.
    Gekumen in teater zaynen mir,
    un in parter zitst er ebn mir, a gvir!
    Gezesn zaynen mir bis shpet ba nakht,
    un ot azoy ba mir hob ikh getrakht:
    Oy, Sore, shusterke,
    velkh nakhes hob ikh do gehat
    af mayne alte yor, oy!
    Un ale zoln visn fun mayn glik
    vos mir gegebn hot di soviet vlast!
    Di zin mayne ale inzhenerrn zaynen zey!
    Di zun aleyn shaynt af unz hel azoy! Oy!
    Я мужа смело под руку взяла,
    Пусть я стара, и стар мой кавалер.
    Его с собой в театр повела,
    И взяли два билета мы в партер.
    До поздней ночи с мужем сидя там,
    Всё предавались радостным мечтам, –
    Какими благами окружена
    Еврейского сапожника жена.
    И всей стране хочу поведать я,
    Про радостный и светлый жребий мой:
    Врачами, наши стали сыновья –
    Звезда горит над нашей головой!

  2. Surprisingly, there is an English Wikipedia article: Fabula and syuzhet

  3. [Back in 2011 Sashura added the following comment, meant for this thread, to the preceding one because this one was closed; for the historical record, I’ll place it here.]

    Roads That We Choose

    I see that Nothing Accidental II is closed for comments. Without arguing with the general point made, I’d like to note that that particular title comes from O.Henry’s short story Roads We Take from the 1910 Wirligigs collection.

    The title itself and the key phrase in the story – ‘Bolivar cannot take double’ (Боливар не вынесет двоих) is still in wide use (Putin quoted it recently), thanks to the immensely popular 1963 film by Leonid Gayday (includes three O.Henry novellas, there is a separate Russian wiki article on ‘Roads We Take’ with a portrait of Bolivar, ‘the most famous Russian horse’). The ‘Roads’ video is here.

    The phrase is said by one S.Dodson.

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