Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Soviet Posters: Each absence is joy for the enemy...

Poster by Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1920

Maximilian Voloshin: A Machine

As there is no inventor,
Who by drafting a machine,
Had not imagined his creation
To ennoble humans,
There is no machine
That did not bring the world
The most misery
And the new kinds of enslavement!

While human hand had pushed the lever,
And waters
Spined the wheels of mill --
Their strenghts combined
Had not disturbed
The ancient balances of nature
But man
Had picked the keys to her eternal puzzles
And «captured» monsters were released.

Like spirit, that embodies itself
Into the woman's womb and builds the body,
The steam, the electricity and the gun powder
By getting hold of the human mind and its desires
Have built themselves the bodies made of iron
According to their utmost nature:
Blast furnaces and caldrons,
Dynamo-stations, motors and turbines

Like poor student of magician
Who freed the elements by spell
But could not manage the calamities
They've caused and drowned
With his house and his village, --
The same way a man cannot contain
The fury of machine:
The levers bend the elbows,
The wheels are moving madly,
The belts are sliding, the factories ingulf with fire,
And, shaking in the endless spasm,
Their wombs of steel are spawning like fish eggs
The multiplicity of monotonious useless objects:
The collars, automobiles and phonographs
In millions and millions, filling up
The villages, the regions and countries
And the entire world
Creating new empires, taking over markets,
And there is no way to stop their fury
Or to restrain the pack of rowdy slaves.

Machine has won over a man:
It needed slave to take away its sweat,
To comfort its insides with pure oil,
To feed it coal and take away its excrements,
And then it started asking for itself
The swarming bungle of musles and of wills
Brought up in hungry discipline,
And greedy rude who cheapened his spirit
For joys of mediocrity and comforts.

Machine has taught a man to think appropriately
And logically discuss the findings
It visually proved to him
That there is no spirit: only substance
That man is nothing but a machine himself
That starry cosmos is merely a mechanism
To manufacture time, that thought
Is just a simple product of the brain digestion,
That mere sustenance defines the spirit,
That genius is a degeneration,
That culture means increase in number
Of the consumer needs,
That the ideal is general well being
And stomach satisfaction
That there is One Universal Worldly Stomach
And there is no other Gods besides it.

Fulfillment of all the culture dreams:
The poles dron and the antennas ring
And the electric currents direct
Into the space dome sounds and words,
The lightning spreads
The laws and orders
Of the police, of government and stock exchange,
But not a single thought of human being
Would ever pass through these sophisticated wires.
The rotary press machines spawn
Day and night the printed pages,
Newspapers manufacture truth
One truth for all each hour of day:
But not a single line is printed of a human, --
The very ancient, hidden fire.
The grain is flowing into the shipholds and the barns,
The ports and markets are crammed with delicacies,
With hot fresh meals the restaraunts are breathing, --
But not a single crust is there for the hungry,
For the unnumerated slaves.
In ocean depths steel fishes prowl
The heavy ships explode the abyss of seas
Propellers sing
In heights above the clouds
The earth and waters, air and the fire,
All rise against the human.
And in the towns where the slaves are closed
The doors of theaters and museums are open
The squares are bubbling
The orators are throwing into the crowds slogans
About the hate
Between the classes,
About social heaven and of freedom,
About the happy friendship of the nations
And petty beggar with a mutilated soul
And overtensioned brain is celebrating
The triumph of the culture,
Thought and labour.

Translated from Russian by Natasha Levitan

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Leo Tolstoy: Documentary Footage from 1909 and 1910.

Osip Mandelstam: Tristia

It's so my own and so familiar. What should
I do with this God-given flesh and blood?

For joys so quiet as to live and breathe,
Who will receive my gratitude for these?

I'm both the gardener and flower one,
In this world's dungeons I am not alone.

On the glass of the eternal one can see
The traces of my breath and of the warmth of me.

Henceforth it bears a pattern which is mine
Even to me unknown from recent times.

Let it be drained, the turmoil of the day -
The lovely pattern won't be crossed away.


She has not taken her first sigh -
She is the word and music both -
And thus of all that lives and grows
A timeless and unbroken tie.

Placidly breathe the breasts of sea
The day is bright, as if gone mad,
The sea foam's pallid lilacs stand
In vase of lapis lazuli.

O, would my lips accept the lure
Of muteness prime, now so remote,
Reminding of a crystal notes
That are innately truly pure.

Be foam, O Venus, stay as mists,
And words to music do return
And heart, at heart's own shame do burn,
Fused with the core of what exists!

x x x

An inexpressible sorrow
Two giant pupils opened wide,
A vase of flowers rose beside
And into air her crystals threw

The room was filled three meters deep
With dreaminess - hello sweet balm!
That such a liliputian realm
Could have consumed so much of sleep.

A bit of wine a bit of cake -
A bit of sunny May despite -
And thinnest fingers snowy white,
Alive at last, have stretched awake.

x x x

A snow hive cleaner than the air,
Crystal more see-through than the glass
A turquoise veil adorned with brass
Carelessly tossed upon a chair.

A cloth made drunk of her own glow
Caressed by tenderness of light
Experienced the summer bright
As though it were the winter snow.

And if through diamonds made of ice
Frosts of eternities were streaming
Here is the flutter of the dreaming
Fast-living blue-eyed dragonflies.

x x x

Blackened wind weaves patterns hollow
Under barely breathing leaves
And a trembling little swallow
In dark skies a circle weaves.

Quietly argue in the heart
Dear, dying, mine despite,
An impending dusk apart
Of an ebbing ray of light.

And above the woods of dusk
Has arisen copper moon;
Why so little song, I ask,
And such silence in the lone?

x x x

Why is the soul so lyrical
And so few are the names I love
And the ready rhythm but a miracle
Like Aquillon from above?

He will raise clouds of dust in a hurry
He will leaf through the paper stack
And he will not come back -- or maybe
As another he will come back?

Winds of Orpheus are embracing -
You will leave for the sea and sky -
And, the world not created praising,
I forgot the superfluous "I".

In a make-believe grove I have wandered
And into an azure cave delved..
Am I really real, I ponder,
And death will claim my true self?

x x x

Perhaps you not need me not this minute,
Night; from sea foams of the world -
A shell without a pearl within it -
Upon your shores I have been hurled.

With mists the ocean you embellish
And wordlessly you sing as well;
But you will love, and you will cherish
The pretense of a useless shell.

On ocean sands you lie next to her
In misty haze you dress her well
And with tight roping you tie to her
An oversized and brazen bell.

And then the seashell, fragile, empty,
A lonely heart that beats in vain,
You fill with sea foam's whispers plenty,
With fog with wind and with light rain.

x x x

Oh your image, haunting me yet blurred,
In the fog I could not touch or feel.
"Goodness me" by error slipped the word
Unawares, yet heeding its appeal.

Name of god, like a large bird, so intensely,
Took a flight right out of my chest.
Straight ahead the fog is steaming densely
And behind me, cage's emptiness.

x x x

White light falls in cold measure
In damp forest on summer day
In my heart I am slowly carrying
Sadness, like bird colored gray.

What to do with a bird that is wounded?
She went silent, then died as well.
From a fogged-over belltower
Someone has stolen the bell.

And here stands the silent
Muted and orphaned height
Like a tower white and empty
In foggy and quiet night.

Morning abysmally tender
Semi-awake, semi-dream,
Foggy ringing of thoughts,
Oblivion like a scream.

© Copyright Osip Mandelstam
© Copyright english translation by Ilya Shambat (
Date: 14 Aug 2001

Origin: "Kamen. Tristia"

Monday, 26 November 2012

Is “Anna Karenina” A Love Story?

A few weeks ago, on an appropriately snowy Wednesday, my wife and I went to see the new film version of “Anna Karenina.” It was the movie’s New York première, and, before it started, Joe Wright, the director, a dark-haired Englishman in a gray suit, stood up to say a few words. He introduced Keira Knightley, who plays Anna, along with the actors who play Kitty and Levin, Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson. Wright spoke earnestly, like a proud older brother, of having worked with Knightley since “Pride and Prejudice,” when she was only “an ingenue.” Meanwhile, he said, his new movie, “Anna Karenina,” was about love, and about all the ways in which love makes us human. Wright and his actors slipped out a side door, and the movie began. Wright’s “Anna Karenina” isn’t a straight-forward adaptation of the novel, but a fanciful, expressionistic reinterpretation of it, with a knowing, self-conscious screenplay by Tom Stoppard. The sets are inventive and metafictional. Knightley plays Anna with an edgy sensuality; Vronsky’s steeplechase is vivid and terrifying; the Levin and Kitty story is sweet, patient, and even spiritual. Still—if you know and love the novel, something about the movie just doesn’t feel right. The problem, I think, is that it’s too romantic. The film, as Wright promised, is all about love, but Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” isn’t a love story. If anything, “Anna Karenina” is a warning against the myth and cult of love.

When I first started reading “Anna Karenina,” ten years ago—I’m obsessed with the book, and have read it seven times since then—I, too, thought of it as a love story. I was twenty-three, and thinking of getting married; to me, it was obvious that the novel was about love, good and bad, wise and unwise. I read the novel as you might read any novel about marriage and adultery. You think about the protagonists and their choices; you root for happy endings. When they come, you applaud, and feel they’re well-deserved; when they don’t, you try to figure out what the lovers did wrong. But this love-story idea of love isn’t really native to “Anna Karenina.” Tolstoy, when he wrote the novel, was thinking about love in a different way: as a kind of fate, or curse, or judgment, and as a vector by which the universe distributes happiness and unhappiness, unfairly and apparently at random. Those thoughts aren’t very romantic, but they are Tolstoyan. When he turned to “Anna Karenina,” Tolstoy didn’t simply leave behind the themes of “War and Peace.” Instead, he found a way of thinking about many of same issues that had always interested him—fate, chance, our powerlessness against circumstances and our determination to change them—in a different context. In 1873, when Tolstoy began writing “Anna Karenina,” he was in the midst of planning a historical novel about Peter the Great. Starting in 1870, he had shut himself up in his study at Yasnaya Polyana, reading and making notes, while his wife and their enormous brood of children tried to keep quiet outside. Peter the Great turned out to be too epic a subject even for Tolstoy. (“I am in a very bad mood,” he wrote to a friend. “Making no headway. The project I have chosen is incredibly difficult. There is no end to the preliminary research, the outline is swelling out of all proportion and I feel my strength ebbing away.”) Tolstoy needed a more manageable subject. Then he discovered something: another way into his concerns that wasn’t overblown and historical, but personal, intimate, and sad. In his biography of Tolstoy, Henri Troyat explains the novel’s origins this way: Suddenly he had an illumination. He remembered an occurrence that had deeply affected him the previous year. A neighbor and friend of his, Bibikov, the snipe hunter, lived with a woman named Anna Stepanovna Pirogova, a tall, full-blown woman with a broad face and an easy-going nature, who had become his mistress. But he had been neglecting her of late for his children’s German governess. He had even made up his mind to marry the blond Frÿulein. Learning of his treachery, Anna Stepanovna’s jealousy burst all bounds; she ran away, carrying a bundle of clothes, and wandered about the countryside for three days, crazed with grief. Then she threw herself under a freight train at the Yasenki station. Before she died, she sent a note to Bibikov: “You are my murderer. Be happy, if an assassin can be happy. If you like you can see my corpse on the rails at Yasenki.” That was January 4, 1872. The following day Tolstoy had gone to the station as a spectator, while the autopsy was being performed in the presence of a police inspector. Standing in a corner of the shed, he had observed every detail of the woman’s body lying on the table, bloody and mutilated, with its skull crushed. How shameless, he thought, and yet how chaste. A dreadful lesson was brought home to him by that white, naked flesh, those dead breasts, those inert thighs that had felt and given pleasure. He tried to imagine the existence of this poor woman who had given all for love, only to meet with such a trite, ugly death.

I suppose that there’s a love story here, but what really interested Tolstoy wasn’t love, per se, but its extreme consequences. As Tolstoy began writing “Anna Karenina,” he introduced other characters and other stories, including the love story of Kitty and Levin. But at its core—without the balm of Kitty and Levin’s romance—“Anna Karenina” remains troubled by what happened to Anna Stepanovna. This makes it different from other love stories—in them, love is a positive good. If you have it, you’re glad, and if you don’t have it, you’re not. (Think of Lizzie Bennett and Charlotte Lucas, in “Pride and Prejudice.”) In “Anna Karenina,” love can be a curse as well as a blessing. It’s an elemental force in human affairs, like genius, or anger, or strength, or wealth. Sometimes it’s good, but sometimes it's awful, cruel, even dangerous. It’s wonderful that Levin and Kitty fall in love with one another—but Anna would have been better off if she had never fallen in love with Vronsky. This view of love sounds fine, in theory, but in practice it can be hard to accept, because it runs against the mythology of love, which sees star-crossed lovers as more romantic, more in love, than the rest of us. That mythology urges us to see Anna’s death as a noble sacrifice: She gave up everything, we want to say, for a chance at love. It’s a seductive, but crazy, way to think. The fact of the matter is that nothing good came of the romance between Anna and Vronsky, and everyone would have been better off if it had never happened. Their affair was a cataclysm for Anna, obviously, but also for Vronsky, for Karenin, and for Seryozha, their son. In teaching the novel, I’ve seen students try to wriggle out of this conclusion; most of them do it by posing counterfactuals. Some argue that Anna didn’t have to commit suicide; the suicide was the mistake, the thinking goes, not the love affair. And you can also question the inevitability of Anna’s circumstances. Anna spirals into suicide, you might argue, for many historically contingent reasons: laws that are biased against women, religious prohibitions against divorce, a system of courtship that pushes girls to marry too young, and so on. It turned out badly, you might argue, but that wasn’t Anna’s fault—if things had been different, she and Vronsky could have been happy. And yet the point is that things weren’t different for Anna. The laws were unfair, but they were still laws. As my Jewish grandmother says: “What is, is.” “Anna Karenina” is preceded by an unsettling, unattributed epigraph quote: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” That’s the sentiment, to some extent, behind Anna’s suicide. But it’s also, from Tolstoy’s point of view, a statement of fact about the universe. It doesn’t budge. What is, is. If Anna isn’t the novel’s heroine—if she isn’t a martyr to Love—then what is she? Deciding what to think of Anna is one of the central challenges of “Anna Karenina.” Some readers, perhaps because they feel betrayed by Anna, end up questioning her character, or her judgment, or her motives. Unable to see her as good, they end up seeing her as bad. Keira Knightley, in an interview taped at the New York première, seems to feel this way: “As far as the story of ‘Anna Karenina,’” she says, “most people, in most adaptations—and I haven’t seen all of them—have taken Anna to be the heroine, and to be the innocent, a sort of saintly creature who is wronged, by the world, by her husband, by society, by everything. I didn’t necessarily think that when I read the book, the last time. I think you could also say that about Anna. But I think she is also the anti-hero.” Knightley ends up playing Anna as just a little wicked. (Some people will feel that there is too much lust, and not enough love, in her relationship with Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Vronsky.) Ultimately, though, “anti-hero” might be too strong a term for Anna. Tolstoy, as the critic Gary Saul Morson has argued, is sensitive to the fact that much of the evil in the world results not from malice, but from ignorance. Anna does bad things, but often only because she underestimates just how bad the consequences of those things will be. Anna doesn’t plan to fall in love with Vronsky, as such—she's not a cougar on the prowl—and one of the reasons for her later unhappiness is that, in sleeping with him, she has disappointed herself. In the novel’s (and the film’s) first episode, Anna travels to Moscow to act as a peacemaker between her brother Stiva and his wife Dolly, on whom he has cheated. Leaving, she can’t wait to get back to her family in St. Petersburg: “Thank God,” she thinks, “tomorrow I’ll see Seryozha and Alexei Alexandrovich, and my good and usual life will go on as before.”

More here.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

People of the Russian Empire

People of the Russian Empire: You are going to see a big collection of photo postcards featuring people and mode of life in the Russian Empire of the end of the nineteenth – beginning of the twentieth centuries. So what was the Russian type?   … Read more...

Friday, 23 November 2012

Russian literature without borders

The presentation of the Russkaya Premiya Award - a literary contest that supports Russian-speaking writers and poets living abroad – will take place at the International Book Fair in the Austrian capital Vienna on November 23rd . The presentation of the book of the laureate of the Russkaya Premiya Award 2011 Darya Vilke will also take place there.

The new novel of the 36-year-old writer living in Austria is titled “Mezhsezoniye”. Commenting on the book in an interview with the Voice of Russia, the head of the Vienna contest Tatyana Voskovskaya said:
"What we have here is the situation when one leaves his (her) historical land but is not closely linked with his (her) new homeland yet. That is why I think that the word chosen for the title is very good because in this case it means that the given person still feels off-season and unsettled. It is a very serious and interesting work."
Darya Vilke has been living in emigration since 2000. She lives in Vienna and teaches Russian at the Slavic Studies Faculty at the Vienna University. The plot of her novel is the following: a Moscow family that has a fear of instability of the life in Russia of 1990 moves to Vienna where it is doing its utmost in order to adapt to the life in Austria – with variable success. The emigrants face the indifference of the Vienna officials, and their relations with Vienna, which is undoubtedly a very beautiful city are sufficiently difficult. The main character of Vilke’s novel feels alone there.
The psychological depth reached by the author and the beauty of Vilke’s literary style caused admiration among the members of the jury of the Russkaya Premiya Award contest, aimed at the preservation and development of the Russian language. Thus, the award went to Darya Vilke from Austria. Meanwhile, in 2005, when the idea to institute such a prize came into being, it was planned that support would be offered only to the Russian-language writers from the CIS countries. The founder of this contest Sergei Chuprinin says:
"At its initial stage this was a grant rather than a prize given to people who despite the fact that they find themselves in difficult conditions remain committed to the Russian language and are working hard to promote Russian literature abroad . To write in Russian in Ashgabat or in Dushanbe is very difficult now."
Difficult because the Russian language is being ousted from the use as well as from the school programmes. And this is a great loss, first of all, for the national culture, a member of the jury, writer German Sadulayev.
"With the loss of the Russian language, no boom in the national literature is visible today. The Russian literature as a locomotive pulled national language literatures, giving them a boost."

Konstantin Korovin

File:Korovin arkhangelsk.JPG
Arkhangelsk Port on the Dvina. 1894

Konstantin Alekseyevich Korovin is one of the most vivid representatives of Russian impressionism. Among the artists who made themselves known in the 1880s and marked a new stage in the development of Russian painting – such as Levitan, Nesterov, Serov and Vrubel – quite a special place belongs to Konstantin Korovin.

Konstantin Alekseyevich Korovin was born on November, 23rd, 1861 in Moscow. His parents were of the merchant class and the family was rather well-to-do. By the way, this family gave to the world and another artist - Sergey Korovin – Konstantin’s brother.

At the age of 14 years Konstantin entered the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpturing and Architecture to study at the faculty of architecture. But after two years of studies he chose painting instead and transferred to the corresponding faculty. Korovin went to Petersburg to continue his education in the Academy of Arts. However, quite soon the young artist got disappointed in the academy’s methods and after three months quitted.

Korovin was on friendly terms with the famous artist Serov. Together they traveled across the Russian North in 1888 and 1894.

In the 1900s the artist actively worked on designs of costumes and scenery for stage to performances in the Bolshoi Theater and Mariinsky Theater. During the World War I Konstantin Korovin worked as a camouflage consultant at headquarters of the Russian army. From 1901 Konstantin was the teacher of the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. After the October Revolution in Russia Korovin was actively engaged in the issues of preservation of art monuments, organized auctions and exhibitions in favor of released political prisoners, and went on his collaboration with the theater. But in 1923, having followed Lunacharsky's advice he left for France. On the whole, French impressionists had a strong impact on his art, which is evident in his is city landscapes.

This is how Konstantin Alekseyevich Korovin defined the basic quality of his creativity on his 50th anniversary: "My major and the only ever-pursued purpose in art was beauty, esthetic influence on the viewer, the fascination of colors and shapes. No lecturing, no moral tendency to anybody ever”.

When in emigration Korovin brightly manifested his literary talents as well – he wrote short stories and memoirs. His sketches-memoirs about Russia, its nature and people, about his teachers and friends were printed in Russian newspapers of Paris for about a decade.

Korovin never managed to feel at home living in France. He loved Paris with the love of a guest and greatly missed his homeland.

The artist died in Paris on September, 11th, 1939 and was laid to rest at the Biyankursky Cemetery. In March, 1950, with the assets collected by Russian Parisians, the remains of Konstantin Korovin and his wife were transferred to Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois Russian Cemetery.

The memory of the great artist is kept alive in his works, which are displayed in great number in Russian museums.

The artist’s former summer residence in Gurzuf (Ukraine) is one of the premises of K.A.Korovin Art Centre. Throughout 1910-1917 Korovin lived there for a long time and painted lots of splendid canvasses glorifying the beauty of Crimea and Gurzuf.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Moscow Before the Revolution

Moscow Before the Revolution: Streets of old pre-revolutionary Moscow were so much different from what its citizens and city guests can see today. A nice collection of old black and white photographs of the Russian capital can be seen below. This is a shoe … Read more...

Valentin Serov - Biography

Valentin Serov, Self-portrait, 1880s
Artist and art critic Alexandre Benois said that Valentin Serov had reflected entire Russian reality and its history in his creations. Valery Bryusov, one of the well-known Silver age poets perfectly described the brilliant gift of Serov: “The artist stepped into the realm of painting as his own kingdom. Very few of outstanding painters were awarded such steadfast and many-sided attention yet in their lifetime: lots of writers, artists, composers, actors and even members of the imperial family have become not only characters of his epochal works, but also authors of memoirs about the artist, where he is shown as the exemplar of honesty, simplicity and modest unselfishness in everything”.

Valentin Alexandrovich Serov was born in Saint Petersburg, into the family of the famous Russian composer and musical critic Alexander Serov. He studied in a grammar school for three years only and then in 1878 settled in Moscow, in the house of the outstanding artist Ilya Repin, who became his teacher. Two years later Repin sent the teenager to Petersburg to study in the Academy of Arts under the well-known art teacher P.Chistyakov. In 1985 Serov left the Academy of Arts.

Valentin Serov entered the artistic field as a developed master already. His two works shown at an exhibition in 1888 – “The Girl with Peaches” (a portrait of V.S.Mamontova) (1887) and “Sunlit Girl” (a portrait of M. Ya.Simonovich)" (1888) - made a triumph and were appreciated as a new word in art. Both of them are still considered to be pearls of Russian painting.

It was Valentin Serov, with his inborn keenness on the processes occurring in the field of painting at the turn of the 19th century, who was destined to become a link between e classical painting of the 19th century and innovations of the Silver Age.

From 1897 to 1909 Valentin Serov taught in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. He brought up an entire galaxy of future innovators: Nikolai Sapunov, Ilya Mashkov, Pyotr Kuznetsov, Nikolay Krymov, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Serge Sudeikin, and others.

The creativity of Valentin Serov was diverse and extensive, and he proved to be a true master in all his works. The scope of his possibilities was wide - from unique techniques of coal drawing (a portrait of opera singer Fyodor Shalyapin, 1995), to the miniature images in graphitic pencil (sketches of Vasily Kachalov, 1908 and Tamara Karsavina, 1909. From 1895 till his death he worked on an enormous series (more than 150 graphic sheets) of illustrations to Ivan Krylov’s fables. Only once having tried his wings at painting a theatre playbill, he created an original masterpiece for the famous ballet company Russian Seasons– a picture with the image of dancing Anna Pavlova. He created brilliant scenery for staging his father’s opera Judith (1907) in the Mariinsky Theater, and ballet Scheherazade (1911) set to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s music for the Russian Seasons in Paris.

In his works Valentin Serov addressed historical themes (for example, painting Peter I, 1907) and antique mythology (painting Odyssey and Nausicaa and Abduction of Europe, both 1910). The artist was an unsurpassed portraitist of his time and left an extensive portrait gallery, which embodied people of different age, sex and condition.

Valentin Serov died of a heart attack in Moscow on 22 November 1911. He was laid down to rest at the Donskoye Cemetery in Moscow. Later his remains were transferred to the Novodevichy Cemetery.


Lomonosov: An Evening Reflection Upon God's Grandeur Prompted by the Great Northern Lights

The day conceals its brilliant face,
And dark night covers up the fields,
Black shadows creep upon the hills,
Light's rays recede from us.
Before us gapes a well of stars -
Stars infinite, well fathomless.

A grain of sand in ocean swells,
A tiny glint in endless ice,
Fine ash caught in a mighty gale,
A feather in a raging fire,
So I am lost in this abyss,
Oppressed by thoughts profound.

The mouths of wise men call to us:
"A multitude of worlds dwell there,
Among them burning suns untold,
And peoples, and the wheel of time:
There, all of nature's strength
Exists God's glory to proclaim"

But where, O nature, is your law?
Dawn breaks from out of northern lands!
Is this the home of our sun's throne?
Or are the icy oceans burning?
Behold, cold fire envelops us!
Behold, now day has entered night.

O thou, whose lively gaze can see
Into the book of law eternal,
For whom the smallest part of things
Reveals the code in all of nature,
Thou comprehendeth planets' course,
Now tell us what disturbs our souls?

Why do these bright rays sparkle in the night?
Why does fine flame assault the land?
Without a thundercloud can lightning
Rise from the earth up toward the heavens?
How can it be that frozen steam
Gives birth to fire from winter's depths?

There, oily darkness battles water,
Or rays of sunlight sparkle bright,
Bend toward us through the thickened air;
Or do the peaks of stout hills glow,
Or have the sea winds ceased their song,
And smooth waves struck the space.

Regarding what lies right before us
Thine answer's full of doubts
O, tell us, how enormous is the world?
What lies beyond the smallest stars?
Are thou aware of all creation's end?
Tell us, how great is our Creator?


Mikhailo Vasilevich Lomonosov

Vasily Grossman: The Road: Short Fiction and Essays

In 1961 Vasily Grossman wrote to the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev asking for "freedom for my book". The book in question was Life and Fate, Grossman's breathtaking epic – his Soviet War and Peace – and it had been "arrested" by the KGB. Grossman had fallen foul of a toxic combination of Stalin's postwar anti "cosmopolitan" (for cosmopolitan read Jewish) campaigns, power struggles within the writers' union (Sholokov called the novel "spittle in the face of the Russian people") and the hard fist of Stalinist censorship that, despite the Khrushchev thaw, lived on. Grossman's plea fell on deaf ears. Mikhail Suslov, the Communist party's chief ideologue, said that Life and Fate would not be let out for at least 200 years.

Suslov was wrong: although Grossman did not live to witness it, a smuggled copy of the novel was published in Switzerland in 1980. This magnificent exploration of the wartime struggle of freedom against tyranny, translated into English by Robert Chandler who, along with Antony Beevor, has done so much to keep Grossman's work alive in the English language, stands as equal to anything in the great canon of Russian literature.

Now Robert and Elizabeth Chandler have brought us The Road, a collection of Grossman's short stories and articles. The pieces, with introductions that give context to Grossman's life, range from stories written in the 1930s, through his wartime journalism, to the fiction of his last years, where the recurrence of the phrase "life and fate" echoes the loss of his arrested masterpiece. Taken together, the collection is a treasure trove that lends the reader an insider's understanding of what it was like to live through the Soviet era, at the same time as it introduces us to Grossman's enduring preoccupation with the wonder and terror of humanity...

The Guardian

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Boris Strugatsky: Russia mourns death of sci-fi writer

Vladimir Putin and Russia's liberal opposition who accuse him of growing authoritarianism have came together to mourn the death of Boris Strugatsky, a science fiction author famous for novels critical of the totalitarian Soviet system.

Strugatsky died in St Petersburg on Monday, aged 79, his foundation said. Media reports said he had been hospitalised with an illness.
Strugatsky, along with his brother Arkady, who died in 1991, wrote many novels and short stories critical of Soviet authoritarianism. When they began writing in the 1950s they were able to evade censors by placing subtle criticism in the context of distant planets and universes. That changed as time went on and they faced state censorship.
Among their most celebrated works are Roadside Picnic – the basis for director Andrei Tarkovsky's film Stalker – and Hard to be a God – the story of a man who visits another planet and grows horrified with its government's cruel methods of stifling human development and freedom.
Boris Strugatsky had been critical of Putin and the authoritarian system he has built since coming to power in 2000. In his last interview, given in September 2011, he accused Putin of attempting to return Russia to the turn of the 20th century.
Asked what he did not like about modern Russia, Strugatsky answered: "That nationalisation is continuing everywhere. That the press is completely under the control of the authorities. That bureaucratic power is always getting stronger."
Strugatsky signed open letters compiled by Russian intellectuals urging Putin to release the jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the punk band Pussy Riot.
Nonetheless, Putin issued his condolences, calling Strugatsky "one of the brightest, most talented and popular writers of the time.
"The books that he wrote in creative collaboration with Arkady Strugatsky are an entire epoch in the history of Russian literature, in the history of our country. Even today, they are at the highest levels of modernity."
Dmitry Medvedev, the prime minister, wrote on Twitter that Strugatsky was "a great writer and thinker. An irreplaceable loss to Russian and world literature."
The Strugatskys' writings received a fresh wind of popularity in Russia earlier this year, as the growing opposition to Putin drew parallels between the dark worlds the authors depicted and modern Russia.
Dmitry Bykov, a popular poet, critic and opposition activist, wrote: "He was an absolute, pure genius. With his departure, everything has become darker and more airless."
"Successive generations of Russian intellectuals were raised on the Strugatskys," said Muireann Maguire, a fellow at Oxford University. "Their books can be read with a certain pair of spectacles on as political commentaries on Soviet society or indeed any repressive society."

Aleksey Remizov

Aleksey Remizov was born into a family of Moscow merchants. As a student he was arrested by mistake for resistance to the police during a protest march and was exiled to the north of Russia. After his return from exile in 1905 he settled in St. Petersburg and started active literary activity. In the years of revolution and the following Military communism Remizov remained in Petrograd (Petersburg), though politically he was inclined against Bolsheviks, while tending to socialist revolutionary circles.

In summer 1921 Remizov left Russia, going to Germany for medical treatment; the writer believed it would be “temporary” and yet, he was not destined to come back. In November 1923 driven by economic crisis, Remizov moved from Berlin to Paris, where he spent the rest of his life.

In the end of his life the writer got Soviet citizenship yet never returned to Russia and was buried at Sainte Genevieve des Bois Cemetery in France.

Remizov is mainly famous for his intricate fairy tales (the collections Posolon(1907) and Dokuka i balagurie (1914) and symbolist novels and stories, such as The Pond (1905), The Clock (1908), The Indefatigable Cymbal (1910), The Sacrifice(1911), Sisters of the Cross (1910), and The Fifth Pestilence (1912). When in emigration Remizov mainly wrote fictionalized memoirs; the most well-known of them isWhirlwind Russia (1927). He is also the author of several dramas, including Tragedy of Judas, Prince of Iscariot.


Monday, 19 November 2012

Chebureki: Perfect Meat Pasties

Chebureki: Perfect Meat Pasties: Chebureki or meat pasties do not leave indifferent anyone. They are good in any weather and especially in cold days. The main ingredient you need to make chebureki is lamb, and the fatter it is the better. This is it, … Read more...

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev : Silentium!

Be silent, hide yourself, conceal
Your feelings and your dreams.
And let them rise and set
In your soul's depths
As soundless as the stars at night.
Admire them - and yet stay silent.
How can a heart reveal itself?
How can another fathom you?
All that sustains you comprehend?
A thought once spoken is a lie.
Digging disturbs the spring.
Partake of it-and yet stay silent.
Learn how to live within yourself -
There is within your soul a world entire
Of enigmatic, magic thoughts.
Ambient noise will muffle them,
And daylight's rays will scatter them,-
Heed their melody - and yet stay silent!

Andrei Platonov: Russia's greatest 20th-century prose stylist?

Andrei Platonov  1899 –1951

An anti-Stalinist author who died in obscurity in 1951 may be the greatest Russian writer of the last century, his English translator Robert Chandler explains to Daniel Kalder

Stalin called him scum. Sholokhov, Gorky, Pasternak, and Bulgakov all thought he was the bee's knees. But when Andrei Platonov died in poverty, misery and obscurity in 1951, no one would have predicted that within half a century he would be a contender for the title as Russia's greatest 20th-century prose stylist. Indeed, his English translator Robert Chandler thinks Platonov's novel The Foundation Pit is so astonishingly good he translated it twice. Set against a backdrop of industrialisation and collectivisation, The Foundation Pit is fantastical yet realistic, funny yet tragic, profoundly moving and yet disturbing. Daniel Kalder caught up with Chandler to talk about why more people should be reading Platonov.

Why did you translate Platonov's Foundation Pit twice?

No other work of literature means so much to me. I translated it together with Geoffrey Smith in 1994 for the Harvill Press, and again in 2009, together with my wife Elizabeth and the American scholar Olga Meerson, for NYRB Classics. There were two reasons for retranslating it. First, the original text was never published in Platonov's lifetime, and the first posthumous publications – on which our Harvill translation was based – were severely bowdlerised. One crucial three-page passage, for example, is entirely missing.

Second, Platonov is hard to translate: in the early 1990s we were working in the dark. During the last 15 years, however, I have regularly attended Platonov seminars and conferences in Moscow and Petersburg. One indication of how deeply many Russian writers and critics admire him is the extent of their generosity to his translators; I now have a long list of people I can turn to for help. Above all, I have the good fortune to have my wife, who shares my love of Platonov, and the brilliant American scholar, Olga Meerson, as my closest collaborators. Olga was brought up in the Soviet Union; she has a fine ear, knows a great deal about Russian Orthodoxy, and has written an excellent book on Platonov. She has deepened my understanding of almost every sentence.

You've argued that Russians will eventually come to recognise Platonov as their greatest prose writer. Given that he's up against titans such as Gogol, Tolstoy and Chekhov this is quite a claim.

Well, it probably sounds less startling to Russians than it does to English and Americans. I've met a huge number of Russian writers and critics who look on Platonov as their greatest prose writer of the last century. In my personal judgment, it was confirmed for me during the last stages of my work on Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida, an anthology of short stories I compiled for Penguin Classics. I worked on this for several years, did most of the translations myself and revised them many times. I read through the proofs with enjoyment – I was still happy with the choices I had made – but there were only two writers whom I was still able to read with real wonder: Pushkin and Platonov. Even at this late stage I was still able to find new and surprising perceptions in Pushkin's The Queen of Spades and Platonov's The Return. This didn't happen with any other writers.

Readers who encounter Platonov for the first time are often struck by his surreality: in the Foundation Pit, for example, a bear staggers through a village denouncing kulaks [supposedly wealthy peasants]. But you've said that almost everything he writes is drawn from reality.

Platonov's stories work on many levels. When I first read his account of the kulaks being sent off down the river on a raft, I thought of it simply as weird. Then I realised that it's one of many examples of Platonov's way of literally realising a metaphor or political cliché; the official directive is to "liquidate" the peasants – and this unfamiliar word is interpreted as meaning that they must be got rid of by means of water. ...

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Unknown Kazakhstan

Unknown Kazakhstan: You are about to see a collection of photos from the exhibition held in Almaty which is called “Unknown Kazakhstan”. Some photographers made a trip around the country to take unique photographs. Some of them are presented below. This is … Read more...

Friday, 16 November 2012

Anatoly Lunacharsky On Literature and Art 1932 - Alexander Blok

Every writer speaks for one class or another.

This does not mean that every writer is the spokesman for his own particular class, the adequate and unadulterated expression of the whole plentitude of its content – its traditions, culture and interests. The classes themselves have each, as one might say, their own social biography. They go through various stages and may be at any given moment at their conception, nearing their prime or on the decline. The biography of a class may even comprise several such peaks and declines. Class background is not always the same for corresponding classes from one country (society) to another. In one country a class may express itself more markedly than in another. However, if a class be taken at some specific epoch, it is possible to find among those who may be accounted its spokesmen (usually, of course, more than one, even many different people) some whose work is indeed more or less adequate to express its essence – who seem to have grown out of the very heart of the class in question, whereas others appear rather on its periphery, where they are more subject to the influence of other classes.

It is essential to take into account all those shifts and modifications in that subsoil of class which – in social time and social space – is the breeding-ground of ideology, and at all costs to avoid the pitfalls of oversimplified Marxism or, more exactly, anti-Marxism, which automatically considers class as an indivisible and unchangeable formation and which, for this reason, has difficulty in defining the true social essence of this or that ideology (in relation, for instance, to the works of any particular artist). In this way, a whole series of such artists can be assigned to the same generalised class category and the differences between them are no longer seen as having their origin in social causes. This approach leads either to such differences being ignored or to their being explained by transient and socially fortuitous elements.

Blok is a spokesman of the nobility (the dvoryanstvo). He should be regarded as a scion of the line of the nobility’s ideologists and his place is – to extend the metaphor – at the end of that line. With certain reservations he may be considered the last great artist of the Russian nobility.

In so far as his place is at the end of the line of the nobility’s historical development, Blok reflects the nadir of its disintegration. Profoundly infected by the traditions of the nobility, he is, at the same time, a bearer of anti-bodies. He is charged with hatred for his milieu and for his class. In so far as he finds these in a state of enfeeblement, of disintegration, and is himself a product of such disintegration, Blok is debarred from seeking salvation in the (seemingly) hard core of reactionary bureaucrats and firmly entrenched landed gentry.

One of the characteristic features of the decline of the nobility was, incidentally, that its more or less progressive representatives tended to break away from this central core.

In Russian literature we find a whole series of authors belonging to the nobility who are consciously or half-consciously defending their culture against the most terrible immediate foe of their class – against the bourgeoisie, against capitalism. Nonetheless it is no longer possible for these defenders of aristocratic culture openly to champion the “Black-Hundred” [1] platform of the nobility as a class. On the contrary, they are well aware that this kind of aristocratic traditionalism is the most vulnerable joint in the armour of their class. Morally, they shun this hard core of their own class as though it were a black, dirty smear on its face. To this moral revulsion is added a frequently vague but nevertheless anxious premonition that such mechanical, violent, “Black-Hundred” methods of self-defence are doomed to defeat, and that the more ruthless the defence, the more ruthlessly will it be defeated.

In essence, all the nobility’s Narodism was rooted in the desire to defend their culture from the advances of capitalism and from those inevitable results of the development of capitalism, which the representatives of the nobility at least partially foresaw. To this end, they sought to bring into play not so much the attitudes of the landowners as those of the peasantry, which were complementary to them.

Truth and justice, as the peasant understood them, were in many ways akin to the ideals of his master and came to be adopted by the latter as if they had been his own. The landlord hid behind the peasant, tucking his estate away behind the village, and, from this point of departure, proceeded to work out his own “peasant” ideology according to the promptings of his own class-consciousness. Bakunin, for instance, interpreted the peasant in a spirit of elemental romanticism; Herzen stressed his inborn affinity with certain home-grown germs of socialism; Tolstoi approached him from a lofty moral angle in an exceptionally disinterested religious spirit, and so forth.

Blok came upon the scene to find his own class in a state of extreme disintegration (its central core dominated by Pobedonostsev or post-Pobedonostsev [2] attitudes). The bourgeoisie, on the other hand, were at the height of their power and vigour, although, at the same time, uneasily aware of mortality in face of the unexpectedly rapid, tidal advance of their antipode – the proletariat.

More here.

N. A. Berdyaev: In Defense of A. Blok

The article about A. Blok, by a Petrograd priest, already since dead, cannot be called a crude theological judgement of the poet. It was written not in the seminary style. The author was a man cultured and refined. In this article there is a great religious truth not only about Blok, but perhaps also about all the Russian poetry of the beginning of the XXth Century. But in this judgement of Blok moreover there is a great injustice and lack of pity. A genuine poet has a different path of justification, than does the ascetic and the spiritually enraptured. The article about Blok essentially and from a religious point of view posits the question of the very existence of both the poet and poetry. It may seem, that almost all the poetry of the world, even the without doubt greatest, is situated in a condition of “prelest’-bewitchment”, that there was not granted it a clear and pure contemplation of God and the world of intelligible entities, their contemplation almost always having been muddled by a cosmic allure. If an exception be made for Dante, then it is not because of Beatrice, but because of the Inferno, into which he dispatched so many. This is a very great and tortuous problem that involves poetry: it relates but to a small degree to the Logos, it relates rather to the Cosmos. Within the poetry of Blok, lyric verse has found itself a most pure and perfect expression. The Russian poetic renaissance of the beginning XXth Century contained within it the death-bearing hell and into it entered elements of an ontological dissoluteness (I tend to say ontological, and not moral). But about Blok there ought to be a completely special discussion. A. Blok was one of the greatest of lyric poets. When I happened to converse with Blok, I was always struck by an inarticulate aspect underlying his talk and thought. It was almost always impossible to understand him. His verses I do understand, but I could not understand what he said while speaking. For a proper understanding one had to be situated in the same condition, in which he happened to be situated at that instant. The Logos was completely absent in his words. Blok did not know any other sort of path of surmounting and enlightening his emotional chaos, besides the lyrical poetry. Within his conversational speech there did not as yet transpire that beautiful surmounting of chaos, which was wrought in his verses, and therefore his conversation was bereft of connection, of sense, of form, and it was all in some sort of shreds of the still tormenting emotional experiences. Blok could not transform the cosmic-soul chaos either intellectually, through thought and knowledge, or religiously, through faith, or mystically, through contemplation of the Divine light, or morally through moral distinction and evaluation; he transformed it exclusively through lyrical poetry. And this was an hopeless lyricism. It has always seemed to me, that Blok was altogether lacking in a mental sense, he is the most non-intellectual of Russian poets. This does not mean, that Blok had a mind quite poor and of low quality, as occurs with stupid people, no, he simply was outside of intellectuality and not wont to judgement from the point of view of intellectual categories. For the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, which sees in the intellect the most noble part of man, conjoining him with authentic being, Blok would have been an enigma. He was perhaps of an higher mind, but the mind in him was nowise akin and was foreign to the principle of the Logos, he dwelt exclusively within the Cosmos, within the soul of the world. And his particular soul was completely defenseless, nothing in it was held back, it was completely vulnerable. He was very distinct from Pushkin and Tiutchev, both who had extraordinary minds and who knew other paths of ascent besides the lyrical. Blok was very distinct also from the other poets of the beginning XXth Century, from Vyacheslav Ivanov for example, who possesses not a poetic genius the equal of Blok's, but whose creativity is an event of mind, of refined intellectuality. The tragic and suffering fate of Blok is the fate of a defenseless and bared lyrical soul, which was capable of opposing the dark cosmic waves only by poetry. But also about it he says:

"For others thou be both Muse, and wonder.
For me -- thou be torment and hell".

© 2002 by translator Fr. S. Janos