A Russian correspondent wrote me to say: “as a reader of your blog I see that you are interested in Russian formalistic prose. Here are two novels by Iliazd available for free download.” [N.b.: Russian only; Parizhachi has not been translated as of 2018.] He had excellent insight into my interests; some time back I was interested enough in Ilia Zdanevich, known as Iliazd (Ильязд), to write most of that Wikipedia article, and I draw your attention to this passage:

In 1923 he began his novel Parizhachi, about four couples who agree to dine together in the Bois de Boulogne; in the course of two and a half hours (each chapter has an exact time for a title, from 11.51 to 14.09) they all manage to betray each other, and the novel itself breaks all manner of orthographic, punctuational, and compositional rules. He continued working on this “hyperformalist” novel (which he described as an opis’, or “inventory”) until 1926, but it was not published until 1994. His second novel, Voskhishchenie (“Rapture”), was published in a small edition in 1930 and was ignored at the time. Set in a mythical Georgia among mountaineers, on the surface a crime novel, it is actually a fictionalized history of the Russian avant-garde, full of allusions to world literature; it could be said to anticipate magic realism. The language of the novel is innovative and poetic, and the Slavist Milivoje Jovanović called it “undoubtedly the summit toward which the Russian avant-garde was striving.”

Don’t those novels sound interesting? Well, those are the very novels you can download from the link in the first sentence. They’re both quite short, and I look forward to enjoying them in the not too distant future.

(Incidentally, today I created a Wikipedia article for the long-forgotten historical novelist Grigory Danilevsky; if anybody knows how to add the image from the Russian page on him, I wouldn’t object if you did so.)


  1. One Avram has already added the image.
    Sounds like the Russkies were en avant du avant-garde. At least they had stakes in that game even if this was not noticed in the West until later. Or did some people take notice, but it was lost on the wider reading public ?
    Decades ago I read a strange 19th (18th ??) Polish novel of a magic realist kind, stories churning within stories. I can’t remember the title. All I remember is that it was recommended to me by an Israeli and his wife, with whom I was briefly acquainted in Bonn. They were the only Jews I encountered in Germany, and knew to be such, for at least 20 years.

  2. Grumbly, the Russians were avant the avant-garde in just about every art form: literature, dance, music, art… I’m a bit surprised that this isn’t widely known. But then the curtain of socialist realism came crashing down, the fabulous art was hidden away, the strange literature went into drawers, the stage was closed to “modern dance” and “experimental” theater, and all that was left were hardy, noble peasants and workers.
    This looks very interesting, Hat. Thanks!

  3. I’m a bit surprised that this isn’t widely known.
    nudge, as I am, Russian avant-garde in art and music/dance is well known, less in literature – thanks, every new opportunity is welcome.
    curtain of socialist realism came crashing down
    it’s not as simple as that, soc realism had a strong positive, even protective side to it, that is what’s really not widely known.

  4. Decades ago I read a strange 19th (18th ??) Polish novel of a magic realist kind, stories churning within stories. I can’t remember the title.
    That would be The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, by Jan Potocki; part of it was published in 1805, the rest after the author’s suicide in 1815. I’ve only read the start of the novel, but the movie (directed by Wojciech Has, 1965) is amazing, and I recommend it to anyone interested in weird nested ghost stories. According to Wikipedia, “Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Luis Buñuel, David Lynch, Lars von Trier, Harvey Keitel and Jerry Garcia have at various times described The Saragossa Manuscript as their favorite film.”

  5. marie-lucie says

    Apparently the novel was first written in French, translated into Polish, and some lost sections of the French manuscript were again back-translated into Polish. In any case, it sounds like a great book.

  6. John Emerson says

    Potocki himself was pretty interesting, per the wiki. A number of books by and about him are on Amazon, mostly in French.
    There’s a self-help author with the same name. Beware!

  7. Thank you, hat! This looks like some great reading. BTW can anybody discern who did the two portraits on the page with the downloads? It’s so interesting, the only thing that looks the same in both portraits are the nose and lips…

  8. marie-lucie says

    They look like portraits of the author at different ages.

  9. that’s true, marie-lucie. the thinning hair, the broader face…
    a general question: is Parizhachi (or any Iliazd) available in translation? I just sent the link to a friend of mine, a writer, but she doesn’t speak Russian, and I didn’t find any refs to an English translation in a quick Google… is she doomed to remain uninitiated?

  10. As far as I know, it’s untranslated. It barely existed in Russian, coming out in a tiny edition at a time when people had other concerns.

  11. who did the two portraits on the page with the downloads?
    The one on the left is signed R[obert] Delaunay.

  12. Berkeley Slavonic Specialities do a facsimilie of Il’azd’s “lidantIU fAram” from 1923. for $8 or it’s online at http://sdrc.lib.uiowa.edu/dada/Ledantu/index.htm
    Looks like he calmed down a bit later.
    The second portrait is by Georgio de Kiriko (Джорджио де Кирико) 1927 according to the book.

  13. marie-lucie says


  14. John Emerson says

    “Джордж” is to me a counterintuitive way to spell “George”. Phonemic, yes, but un-American.
    Genghis Khan had a descendant named “George”, and Onggut Turk who converted from Nestorian to Catholic Christianity.

  15. some lost sections of the French manuscript were again back-translated into Polish
    back-translated *from* Polish
    Potocki himself was pretty interesting, per the wiki
    Rather Catholic and À rebours, meseems. In any case he attracted interest and speculation of that tendency:

    There are also several versions of the circumstances of his death; the best-known story is that he shot himself in the head with a silver bullet — fashioned from the strawberry-shaped knob of a sugar bowl given to him by his mother — which he first had blessed by his castle priest. One version of Potocki’s suicide suggests that he gradually filed the knob off the lid, a little every morning.

    There haven’t been that many Protestant décadents, have there ? But that may be a contradiction in terms. Perhaps, as a rule, Protestants get exposed in sordid bourgeois escapades, whereas Catholics prefer to expose themselves in unnatural circumstances. This is currently a hot topic in the Irish Church.

  16. For sordid bourgeois escapades in Ireland, I give you Mrs. Robinson.

  17. marie-lucie says

    back-translated *from* Polish
    Yes, of course, Grumbly, my mistake.

  18. Genghis Khan has some 16 million descendants alive today; probably lots of them are named George.
    Ursula Le Guin has a hero named George Orr, pronounced Jor Jor by the Aliens.

  19. John Emerson says

    Still mostly in Central Asia, though, Muslims or Buddhists. There were many Christian Muslims, and it was his grandson or great-grandson who converted.

  20. For sordid bourgeois escapades in Ireland, I give you Mrs. Robinson.
    Do you mean Mary Robinson?

  21. soc realism had a strong positive, even protective side to it,
    Sashura, what do you mean by this? I don’t see anything positive in Soviet art or architecture after about 1930 (the 1931 Palace of the Soviets competition, to be precise).

  22. You have to keep up with current scandal, AJP: this Mrs. Robinson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tB7BwCCRnK0&feature=youtube_gdata

  23. At 0:30 the AP reporter says that Queen Elizabeth had a “romantic” relationship with a nineteen-year-old man. Well, that’s nice, but I haven’t seen it mentioned elsewhere.

  24. John Emerson says

    “Many Christian Mongols”

  25. thanks, MMcM and keith 100!

  26. I don’t see anything positive in Soviet art or architecture
    it’s a complicated argument which also has to be long to make sense. I lectured on the subject in Wales to a surprised, but interested audience. Socrealism, as an aesthetic system, demanded adherence to communist vision of the world, not directly, which is very important to understand, but as an expression of the highest degree of humanism. So, if party dogma were not immediately discernible in a work of art, one could argue that humanism was there, and wasn’t party in favour of humanistic values? This often worked.
    As a state funded arts organisation, socrealism provided unequalled access to high quality artistic education and training, preserved craftmanship, high technical standards and provided means of existence for artists (and writers) – enough for them to be independent of market pressures. Please note: I am not saying there wasn’t an oppressive side to socrealism, there was.
    You are asking for examples. In fine art, look at
    Deyneka’s work after 1930. He blended avant-gade and realism. Zhilinsky is close to Lowry. Nissky’s landscapes are very good.

  27. Thanks, that’s an interesting line of argument. It’s too easy to assume “Soviet = bad”; obviously an entire seventy-year period was a lot more complicated than that.

  28. Thanks, Sashura, that’s interesting. The first two seem pretty good (not sure about Nissky, from what I could get up)–except when you think of Suprematism and what could have come out of Russia in the years after 1930.

  29. At 0:30 the AP reporter says that Queen Elizabeth had a “romantic” relationship with a nineteen-year-old man.
    The reporter was half-asleep already, or just remembered “a very prominent older woman”.

  30. John Emerson says

    I would be interested in what read had to say about the Mongol version of Soviet culture (During the Soviet era Mongolia was autonomous but heavily influenced by the USSR.)
    Different peoples have different memories of Communist rule. The E. European satellite nations seem uniformly hostile, but some of the others, not.

  31. well, i was born in the socialist country so from the beginning i knew only that, soc reality, it was just what it was and felt like normal, with transition things opened up and we started learning new and old ways, and how the world is so much richer culturally and materially
    but all soviet revelations of what went wrong were of course very shocking and i think that that people became so cynical lately is that the system fell and it revealed its false side and one just doubts everything then whether it is true or false and it’s not easy to find new moral orientirs

  32. As a state funded arts organisation, socrealism provided unequalled access to high quality artistic education and training, preserved craftmanship, high technical standards and provided means of existence for artists (and writers) – enough for them to be independent of market pressures.
    Although the west rejected craftsmanship as a goal of art, rejected state funding on the whole and in the postwar years made market pressure almost the raison d’être of visual art, you must admit that some of the resulting work–abstract expressionism, minimalism, surrealism, conceptual art; much of it influenced by Russian art from the period 1910-1930–has been pretty strong.

  33. The reporter was half-asleep already
    No, it’s Crown stirring up pronoun trouble.

  34. Of course ir is Crown stirring up trouble, but pronoun trouble?

  35. I agree with m-l.

  36. I agree with m-l.

  37. This is the only english language book that covers Socialist Realism painting in any depth that I’m aware of. Its not bad, despite a few howlers. Most books give it short shrift, so its difficult to get a fair idea without seeing a range of reproductions. I like quite a lot of it. And that’s from someone who thinks Malevich’s black square is fantastic.
    (hold your breath for the price!)

  38. That’s good to know about. The price is nuts, even using bookfinder, though.

  39. The announcer used the pronoun “she” in a way that Crown affected to misinterpret as referring to The Queen. This is not pronoun trouble in the original Bugs/Daffy sense, but I use the term loosely.

  40. Sashura, perhaps you’ve not explained your position clearly, but I can’t agree with what you’ve written. There was great diversity in painting (among other arts), particularly in the 1930s, but soon art that didn’t fit the socialist realist canon were simply not shown. By the late Soviet period, this was the situation: If you had technical talent and could stomach doing realistic art, you got accepted in a school and then an art union. You got a monthly salary, had to do a few commissioned works a year (like a landscape for a worker’s club), and had access to art supplies. If you were lucky, you might even have a decent studio to work in. That was fine for artists who wanted to work in that canon.
    But if you didn’t? All you could do was paint on your own and stack the canvases against the wall. Maybe you could show them to friends in your studio. Later, in the 70s and 80s, you could show them at an informal apartment exhibition, and possibly sell them for a pittance to foreigners. But what about sculptors, architects, writers, composers, playwrights, musicians? Some works went around in samizdat, but any art form that needed a performance or scale simply stayed in the drawer or as a sketch.
    And anyone who couldn’t stomach the canon and was not a member of an artist union had NO access to materials or supplies. Furthermore, not working was a crime, so they had to have some kind of job and do their art on the side.
    Only one or two canvases of the great works of the Russian avant-garde, expropriated from private collections, were shown in museums. Many were destroyed. A few were saved and hidden. I recall sitting at the table in the home of one of the most famous collectors in the 70s, surrounded by singed paintings by Popova he had literally pulled out of the fire. And of course there was virtually no information about foreign contemporary art. I also recall spending hours with artists, who would peer at 2×2 inch reproductions of Pollack paintings and ask me to describe what it was like to see them, full-sized, in a gallery or museum.
    As a result of all this, the arts didn’t develop naturally. If you were an artist, you couldn’t go to galleries or museums, see what other people were doing and be influenced by it. They couldn’t look at/read/experience works from their own traditions or see/read/experience what their contemporaries were doing in other countries. Some of what is called non-conformist art was quite wonderful, but now some of it is dated. The art of rebellion is not always very interesting outside the context of oppression. Besides, little of the non-conformist art is still in Russia. Almost all of it was sold abroad or taken abroad when the artists emigrated. Museums are buying it back, and some artists are bringing it back, but artists today can’t really see the full history of their own tradition.
    And the final result of this unnatural development of the arts is this: there is, I would argue, absolutely nothing in the post-Soviet period that is great art. There are some good and interesting novels, paintings, films, performance art, and dance. And perhaps some fabulous rock ‘n roll. But nothing is great. They are still catching up, still assimilating what was done over the last century.
    (sorry this is so long)

  41. The cynic in me doesn’t see much difference in mab’s description of soviet art production and western art production. It boils down to this – if your work doesn’t fit in, it will not be comissioned or sold. If the “fit” was determined by the state or the taste of a moneyed clique, it makes no difference to the artist – they’ll still starve if they can’t sell their product.
    And until Camilla Gray’s work of the early 60’s, the west didn’t have a clue about Russian/Soviet art of the pre-30’s

  42. Mab, I am not sure I can see what is it that you disagree with. As I said, my argument looks at socrealism from an angle not usually applied to it.
    What you’ve written is all true except the last point about post-Soviet period not producing anything great and you saying that it is about ‘catching up’ – I’d say it is stepping back. But, look, ballet is performed, theatres are full, cinema is made, artists paint, books are are written and published… Let’s wait and see, it takes a generation or two to sort the great from the good.
    What you’ve written is all true, but it’s not against my argument.

  43. Yeah, I was going to say that Sashura wasn’t disagreeing with what you say—he wasn’t claiming that the forcible imposition of socialist realism was a good thing—but rather pointing out that just because the imposition of socialist realism was bad doesn’t mean that socialist realism itself can be dismissed in toto. Some good things came out of it, I take him to be saying.

  44. @ Sashura: I disagree with the notion of socialist realism as protective. I think the system was extraordinarily destructive.
    @ Keith. Here’s the difference. If you are a Western artist, you can do what you want, look at what you want. No one bothers you. If you don’t want to do commercial crap, or if you are a passionate expressionist when the art world is only buying conceptualism, you’re going to be poor.
    But in the Soviet period, you couldn’t look at what you wanted, and to a great extent you couldn’t paint what you wanted. If you did paint what you wanted, you couldn’t legally sell it. That was speculation, and against the law. If you sold it for $, that was speculation and a currency violation, and seriously against the law. Both could land you in the camps for several years. If you painted, say, religious motifs, that could get you sent to the mental assylum for several years, where you were injected with all kinds of nasty anti-psychotics that left you drooling, with shaking hands, splitting headaches and an inability to concentrate (not to mention remember anything). Or you might get stripped of your union membership and have to get a job with no or limited access to paper, paint, canvas, etc. Or your parents might be punished in some way. The price was much higher than poverty.

  45. I don’t think anything good came out of the system of imposed socialist realism. I don’t think you can separate out the “good stuff,” like good technical schooling or a monthly salary for people who liked to paint conventional still lifes or landscapes. Good art schools can exist without it, and plenty of painters work for Hallmark. And that’s not to say that there weren’t some great paintings done in the Soviet period. But guys in suits told you what subjects you could paint and what style you could paint in. And it was largely not negotiable.

  46. John Emerson says

    Just to stir the pot, it is not true that as a general rule censorship makes good art impossible. Examples include Inquisition Spain, Austria-Hungary, and Czarist Russia.
    Inefficient and corrupt censorship probably is better than effective censorship. One of the censors who read Cervantes’ book seemed like sort of a fan. Even in 19th century France Baudelaire, Flaubert, and Zola were prosecuted.
    The great ages of art don’t strike me as having been very diverse in terms of the freedom of the artist. Madonnas, kings, heroes, rich men, famous battles.

  47. mab, Fair enough. Do you know of any statitical or analytical studies on this? I’ve not come across anything myself as there’s very little done on any Soviet work after 1930 (or at least that’s been available to me). I’m aware of the sorts of punishments you’ve mentioned in regards to writers, probably as they got more coverage in the west.

  48. To follow through on John Emerson’s point – its only in the last 100/150 years or so that any concept of art for arts sake (i.e. doing what you want and starving while your doing it) has been around. Most, if not all, great art before then was commissioned. And if anyone knows diferent, names would be nice.
    Also, there’s a theory I’ve come across (I can’t remember whose) that effectively blames Socialist Realism and its structures and attendant woes on the revolutionary artists themselves back to the Wanderers. Their belief in the possibility of changing mankind through art was taken whole heartedly onboard by the Soviet system. Same thing for writers too.

  49. It’s always hard for me to judge what “most folks” know, since I have been been involved in this for decades. You might check Wiki under non-conformist art and Bulldozer Exhibition. The latter was a big skandal. There is also a book called The Ransom of Russian Art by John McPhee which tells the story of Norton Dodge, the biggest collector of non-conformist art, with lots of stories about the artists.
    Yes, I do see that most artists did commissions for most of history, and I do rather agree that “inefficient and corrupt” censorship was manageable. But… but… well, as you can tell, I’m a bit sensitive about this. There has been a movement in Russia and abroad to requalify the Soviet period. Now it’s “the same thing by a different name,” or “barely any different.” Parisian department stores have whole departments of Soviet-inspired kitsch. It’s all so chic now. But it really wasn’t the same thing by a different name. It really wasn’t.
    That is not to say that people were robots, or that the system was a killing machine, or that there weren’t honest, decent people doing what they loved, or that people didn’t have fun, fall in love, have babies and coo over their grandchildren. Or even that there was nothing good. A friend of mine who spent several years in prison and most horribly in a mental institution for passing around Solzhenitsyn in samizdat — that is, someone who has the right to gripe — and I often laugh sheepishly when one of us says “It’s not like the old days when… bribes worked/people were afraid of breaking the law/fresh beer was the best in the world/you could catch a moonlighting cab for 3 rubles –” Whatever. There are some benefits to a police state. But it was terrible for creative people.

  50. mab, I have the same sensitivity about this stuff as you, and I have been known to go off rather harshly on people who equate the Soviet system with whatever aspect of Western society annoys them. But I’m pretty sure Sashura isn’t guilty of that sort of vicious nonsense. He’s just trying to keep the baby from being thrown out with the bathwater.

  51. I was just apologizing for going off on a rant. I live in a place where Lenin never existed; Stalin was a great leader, though troubled; people parade with red communist flags decorated with icons; and when I tell young people about making Beatles records out of old x-ray film, they ask: But why didn’t you just buy the album in a store? Where people say “Your newspapers lie just like ours do,” but they’ve never even seen the New York Times. And where I spend a lot of time on blogs explaining that state-controlled television is not the same thing as Fox News. (Although both, when one is in the right mood, are good for a laugh.)

  52. Not to split hairs, Keith, but 200 years would be closer than 150 (i.e. 1810 rather than 1860). And the name I’ll mention is… Goya.
    I agree with mab. It’s an easy target and so people aren’t inclined to attack it however, I don’t find Socialist Realist painting very interesting, I confess. Compared to, say, Diego Riviera’s murals or Edward Hopper’s realism much of the work seems ineptly composed and drawn and not well painted. I don’t buy Sashura’s argument that Soviet artists were able to learn technique, art’s not like a medieval craft guild with a body of unchanging laws. Postwar figurative art in the West–Chuck Close, David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud (and that’s not even mentioning photography, where much of the real action was)– shows something of what Socialist Realism was ignoring both conceptually and in technique. The main point, though, is that it was done at the expense of abstraction and conceptualism.
    And the idea of people on a monthly income, painting landscapes for the state is creepy–poor William Morris must have turned in his grave.
    As for Soviet architecture after 1930, it’s just awful: vulgar, dismal, incompetently designed and badly built–but then you might say the same to a lesser degree about much non-Russian architecture.
    There’s an article in the Guardian about Moscow’s disappearing buildings; the author says Melnikov’s house will probably catch fire pretty soon. That’s depressing.

  53. Oh, and no discussion of Soviet art would be complete without mentioning Ilya Kabakov, because despite everything in his way he really did manage to become a great artist.

  54. I like Kabakov, too. And I like Komar and Melamid, although I’m not sure what people will think of them 100 years from now. However, their canvas “I saw Stalin once in childhood” () might last; it’s a wonderful blend of child-like adoration and adult parody as well as Soviet socialist realism and American pop art.
    Again, sorry Sashura if I’ve misunderstood what you mean. I didn’t intend to lump you in with the “it’s all the same” bunch. It’s just that I live in the “it’s all the same” world, so I fly off the handle.
    PS I’d love it if someone could send me to a site where I can learn how to do links so neatly like you all do. You know, you just write Here in bold and you click on it to go there.

  55. Hm. Link not there at all. Let me try again

  56. I’d love it if someone could send me to a site where I can learn how to do links so neatly like you all do. You know, you just write Here in bold and you click on it to go there.
    Here‘s a reference list of HTML tags (the things that create italics, links, etc.; scroll down to “Text Formatting” for the most basic ones), and here‘s the page on basic links (in brief, <a href=”URL”>Link</a> produces Link, using http://example.com as the sample URL).
    [N.b.: Those of you who have had comments rejected for “questionable content” can take schadenfreude in the fact that I had to delete an entry in my MT-Blacklist in order to post the above comment.]

  57. Mab, before I announce that I’m falling in love with you, here’s an easy way to do links:
    – click on View>Character Encoding and copy/paste html coding of the following:
    – keep it as a file somewhere easily accessible (desktop? sidebar?)
    – then copy/paste it into your comment and paste the link’s url onto the bit inside the quotes.

  58. mab,
    Thanks for the John McPhee reference, I’ll try and read it some day. Searching for it on my library’s site has identified 3 other books on contemporary russian art (well 1995 at latest), I’ll give them a shot.
    (which is about 1/3 of their entire collection on russian art)
    I definitely don’t deny the Soviet period its uniqueness. Apologies if my comment suggested that.

  59. Again, sorry Sashura if I’ve misunderstood what you mean.
    please don’t be sorry, it is a complicated argument – it needs a historical distance to take it in, for me as well. I was inspired to work on it by Venedict Yerofeev’s ferocious hatred of Kozlovsky’s (or was it Bernes?) singing, first, and then by seeing a photo of Chukovksy and Pasternak sitting together at the first congress or Soviet writers listening to Gorky’s report – with a whimsical expression on their faces.
    and, Hat, thanks for seeing exactly what I mean – ‘the baby and the water’.

  60. John Emerson says

    In music some of these same issues come up. I like Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky movie a lot, above all Prokofiev’s music for it, whihc has been independently recorded and is, as far as I’m concerned, the best movie music ever. And I also like Orff’s Carmina Burana, though not as much because it drags in places. But Nevsky was explicitly Soviet war propaganda, and Orff’s relationship to the Nazis is unclear but doesn’t show him in a good light.
    So anyway, after listening to the two of them one after the other, I decided to invade Poland.

  61. Mab, an even easier way to do links is with the text editor used to write a blog; if you have a free blog you have a free text editor.

  62. Thanks, all. Will follow the links and try to learn this. Although I’m still pondering the phrase “if you have a free blog…” So you folks all have many filled blogs but scrounge around to find a free one, like digging out an extra apron in the kitchen?
    Sad, so sad, how I have fallen behind in the march of technology…

  63. So you folks all have many filled blogs but scrounge around to find a free one
    All blogs have editors in them. A blog like Languagehat costs money for hosting, but blogs from Blogger and Livejournal and WordPress are free. So if you have any blog, free or paid, you have a text editor (with icons to make italics and paragraphs and links quickly), but if you have a free blog, the editor is free too. You just write the text, make the inks with the icon, then copy and paste to the comments.

  64. Komar & Melamid made an interesting jump from Socialist Realism to conceptual art; they had a great period in the 1980s. A woman I know who was raised in East Germany in the 40s & 50s said she grew up thinking of Stalin as this very benign figure like Santa Claus.

  65. Thanks, Nij; now I see what you mean. Will put my mind to it!
    Yes, Mr Crown, I think the 80s were K and M’s greatest period. And you’re right about the child’s view of Stalin. K and M say that in their nostalgia series they were trying to combine that childhood feeling with their adult understanding. So that series is more complicated than simple parody. There is also an exuberance that characterized that period — you know, when the change was coming, but no one had to deal with the reality of it.
    BTW, I’m going to go out with my camera and take shots of some of the most awful “restorations” of old buildings and new architecture in Moscow for you. It will make you puke. (Won’t that be a treat?)

  66. mab, if you start a blog I (and I’m sure others here) will read it religiously, and it will give you a place to post those pictures. As Nij says, it’s easy and doesn’t need to cost a penny. I started LH on Blogspot (a free hosting site for Blogger), and I was as ignorant of HTML and all other aspects of bloggery as could be—I only started it because my stepson and a couple other people kept nagging me. It’s fun (and will only eat up those parts of your life you don’t actually need for eating and sleeping)!

  67. Yes, please do it mab. We all need a good puke. I for one would read your blog religiously. Maybe you’ll take a picture of the ten-foot icicle.

  68. going back to the original subject of this post – Zdanevich. With all the hype around The Last Station I reread the flight chapters in Shklovsky’s biography of Tolstoy, which I highly recommend. But in Shklovsky’s memoir ‘Once there lived’ (“Жили-были”) I also stumbled upon a passage describing Zdanevich in 1914 at a meeting on futurism organised by Chukovsky in Petersburg:
    ‘…and on top of that enters Ilya Zdanevich, stocky, small, short-legged, in shabby trousers and with a picture painted on his cheek. The police officer in a well-fitting uniform, glowing in the sympathy of the public, was politely trying to usher Zdanevich out, but he, refusing to wipe off the offending painting, made a speech, arguing that ladies, too, put colours on their cheeks, while he, Zdanevich, treats this colouring academically and introduces new methods in decoration.’
    (“…а тут еще пришел Илья Зданевич, – крепкий, маленький, коротконогий, в обтрепанных брюках и с рисунком на щеке. Полицейский приcтав в хорошо сидящем мундире, наслаждаясь сочувствием публики, вежливо выводил Зданевича, но тот, не стерев крамольное изображение, выступил, доказывая, что накладывают же краску дамы на щеки, а он, Зданевич считает ту раскраску академической и вводит новые методы украшения.”)

  69. There is also an exuberance that characterized that period — you know, when the change was coming, but no one had to deal with the reality of it.
    I didn’t know about the exuberance. It’s not just in hindsight that people knew a change was coming?
    And of course you can always put anything up on my site, if you don’t want to do your own.

  70. I wore a spoon in my lapel for my college yearbook picture; I was seriously under the influence of the Futurists (and had written my senior thesis on the Formalists). I wanted to paint a flower on my cheek, but I thought my parents would freak.
    Thanks for the blog urgings. I will probably do this by the fall in connection with something I can’t talk about yet because I’ve turned into a superstitious Russian person. (One does not speak of things that haven’t happened yet; it jinxes it, you see.) Anyway, I’ll definitely take some puke-inducing pictures.
    Yes, Mr Crown, it was a wonderful time in many ways. The economic situation was getting more dire, but each day there was a new crack in the system and you could do something, or say something, or watch something that would have been impossible a week before. Demonstrations were a lark. People were traveling abroad. People brought back VCRs and there was a booming business in badly dubbed foreign films on tape. Everyone was watching A Clockwork Orange or the Congress of People’s Deputies, where there was real debate. A cooperative shop or cafe opened where you could find delicious food (even if it cost half a month’s Russian salary). There was something called the Glasnost Booth on the square by the three major train stations, and anyone could go in and say what they want,to be immediately broadcast on TV. It felt like an entirely new world every day.

  71. You can certainly have more than one blog, too. (I have one for my students and a nonpublic one for testing stuff.) I prefer wordpress.com because it’s easy for people with no computer experience. The only disadvantage I see to WordPress is that it’s blocked in some countries–Turkey used to block it (I don’t know if they still do), and I’m pretty sure China blocks it too. At least you know your blog won’t be deleted or censored if you want to write something unpopular with someone in power.

  72. Mab, that was from, what, 1989 until 1993?

  73. I’d say it began slowly in 1986 or so, when it was clear Gorbachev wasn’t just talking, but meant business. And it grew until until the first coup. (Actually, I’d say it was like a piece of music, with the top notes of public exuberance dancing along while the bass notes of the state were building up to their own frenzied conclusion of tanks.) Then it was grim. The USSR had de facto ceased to exist, but not de jure. The whole fall of 1991 was surrealistic. We beat the bad guys! We didn’t let them turn back the clock! Virtually every republic had declared independence… but the USSR still existed. Gorbachev was still president. No one could really do anything. The economic situation was really terrible — and by that I mean really, really empty stores. Sometimes you couldn’t even find bread.
    And then, when the USSR was dissolved and everyone could do something — the hard work of creating a country out of a bankrupt mess began. (Clang of symbols.)

  74. Thanks, Mab. This is a hell of a lot more interesting than it was reading the newspapers. Oughtn’t you to write a book? Oh, perhaps you have and it’s bad luck to mention it, never mind.

  75. Different peoples have different memories of Communist rule. The E. European satellite nations seem uniformly hostile
    The Ukraine being only the most obvious exception.
    The “different”, conflicting, and shifting “memories” of the Soviet era are muddied by ethnic conflicts that long pre-date Bolshevism, as well as by partially successful (in whatever terms) Russification and disappointment with the hypocritical, mendacious, and callously ‘triumphalist’ West. In addition, being preyed on by their own ethnic elites probably disposes many people in eastern Europe to a complicated, not-wholly-pejorative remembering of the Soviet period.
    But I think mab makes the most salient point:
    in the Soviet period, you couldn’t look at what you wanted, and to a great extent you couldn’t paint what you wanted. […] The price [of a state-policed art and intellect ‘market’] was much higher than poverty.
    It’s easy – for people like me, and maybe most of you – angrily to denounce the deformations of creativity that come about in marketplaces where we are, well, licensed to make such denunciations. And we should rail against confusing many choices with real choices, and against commercial shit being confused with quality on the pseudo-democratic, pseudo-consensual grounds of popularity or profit.
    But I don’t think we should let rational, if excitedly vigorous and sometimes too-self-congratulatory, self-criticism blind us to what’s worth defending in the complex of cultures that won the Cold War – especially to the point of forgetting, even by way of glamorizing, Stalinism.

  76. John Emerson says

    The Ukraine was not a satellite nation, but part of the USSR.

  77. One of my daunting dreams is to write about the 1990s, which are astonishingly misunderstood, misremembered, and manipulated. To that end I have boxes of clippings and, my pride, a box of tapes of every Sunday night edition of the news show Itogi (which, one day, I must transfer to digital storage before my ancient multi-system VCR gives up the ghost). But whenever I think about it, my blood runs cold. So intimidating!
    deadgod, thanks. Very well said.
    I would also add that the need to blame someone is one case where we can understand Russians and the former republics and the Eastern bloc. Remember when Obama said something like “We’re all guilty for the economic mess”? I thought: I’m not. I didn’t invest in hedge funds. I didn’t buy things I didn’t need on credit. I didn’t buy a two-room shack in Pasadena for $900K and flip it for $1.5mln and think this could go on forever, with half a million dollars in profit every time. But yes, I am responsible, too. I didn’t pay attention when the banking laws were changed. I didn’t write my senators. I didn’t give enough money to my party of choice, or participate in their meetings.
    Here, too, it’s really hard for people to accept their responsibility for their past and present. It’s much easier to blame someone — which is what all the non-Russian states are doing (and Russia is to blame). But the Russians don’t want to blame themselves, for the same reasons I don’t want to blame myself for Bush or for getting to “too big to fail”. I’m sure someone on this list can tell me I’m wrong, or over-simplifying, but… I used to moan and point fingers at the US and the West for the horrible rubbing-their-nose-in-it after WWII in Germany and Japan. But now I’m not so sure. Now I think it’s necessary. You know, if we hadn’t spent so many decades forced to pour ashes over our head about segregation and racial discrimination – forced by ourselves in the US – we probably wouldn’t have made progress ending it. Russia never did this. There were a few years of revelations about the Soviet period, and then it all turned into finger-pointing at the West, particularly the US (for destroying a Great Country) and recreating the image of a prosperous and influential state. Unfortunately, some in the West have joined the choir.

  78. One of my daunting dreams is to write about the 1990s, which are astonishingly misunderstood, misremembered, and manipulated. … But whenever I think about it, my blood runs cold. So intimidating!
    May I suggest that you pick a particular person, moment, or story that appeals to you and just start writing about that? You may find yourself eventually writing the whole thing without even realizing it, and even if you wind up with a smaller chunk, it may be just as valuable, since you know the subject intimately and will be placing it in context. But whatever you do, don’t think about writing the whole history of the decade, because it’s too much to bite off.

  79. That sounds like a good idea. Not that I know what I’m talking about, but Language does.

  80. That sounds like a good idea. Not that I know what I’m talking about, but Language does.

  81. Yes, Hat, I think that’s the way to do it. Have you ever read John Berendt’s book called The City of Falling Angels? It’s “about” the fire in the Venice opera theater, but really a story about Venice. It’s a very good way of telling a story. Otherwise you either get 1) a boring textbook or 2) one of those journalist books (sorry to offend) where each chapter covers a different piece of the “mosaic” of a complex country, and you end up with a lot of information and no idea how the whole thing fits together.
    But, meanwhile, I’m still moving back into my apartment after almost of year of remodelling. I need to kill more boxes.

  82. John Emerson says

    “Slobovia is a land of paradox…..”
    One of my many unfulfilled goals was to write a travel book beginning “Slobovia is entirely lacking in paradox. As you travel place to place, each new thing you see meshes neatly with what you’d seen before. You could live here a hundred years and end up concluding that you’d gotten the place about right the very first day you stepped off the plane.”

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