Showing posts from October, 2013

Conceptualism in Literature

The principles of conceptualism were manifested in Russian literature as well. The stereotypes that the Soviet ideology constantly “bombarded” consciousness of people with were revealed in conceptualists’ poetry, which was made emphatically detached, insensible, and mechanized. M. Epstein, the researcher of postmodernism in Russia, considers the creativity of conceptualist poets as one of the two main poles of modern poetry: “Time breaks up into extremes to reach its potential … In poetry of every era there is struggle of convention vs certainty, play vs gravity, reflection vs integrity… In the 1970s the same opposition giving dynamics and intensity to poetry, was finding new forms: metarealism vs conceptualism.

… Distinctions between new poets are defined by how much ideas and realities are blended in their creativity. …. Metareality is the limit of their unity, whereas concept is the edge of their contraposition… They carry out two necessary and complementary tasks: peel habitual, fa…

Brodsky Criticizes His Contemporaries From Beyond the Grave

A previously unheard interview with Nobel-prize-winning Soviet poet Joseph Brodsky has been published on the web portal, The interview took place in Vienna in 1972, shortly after Brodsky's departure from the Soviet Union, and was the first comprehensive literary interview Brodsky gave in the West.

"Of course, he is a very bad poet and an even worse person," Brodsky says of Yevgeny Yevtushenko. This pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the half-hour interview, in which he speaks cuttingly and at great length about many of his contemporaries in the world of Soviet culture. He then turned the spotlight on himself and agreed that he could be called a Soviet poet, while saying that he had "a strong aversion to all labels apart from simply 'Russian.'"

Following his denunciation in 1963, Brodsky suffered persecution at the hands of the Soviet authorities and was charged with ''social parasitism,'' for which he was sentenced to five…

Thousands volunteer for Leo Tolstoy digitisation

A project to digitise the entire works of Leo Tolstoy – named All of Tolstoy in One Click – making them available for tablets and smartphones, turned out to be lighter work than expected for the Tolstoy Museum in Moscow, when thousands of readers from all over the world responded to a call for volunteers. The full set of Tolstoy's works includes the 90-volume standard collection, plus rare stories, novels, diaries and letters held by the museum and the family estate, Yasnaya Polyana, in Tula. "Of course we realised there are some novels on the internet," Fyokla Tolstaya, Tolstoy's great-great-granddaughter told The New Yorker. "But most [writings] are not. We in the museum decided this is not good. The museum wants to be more open to people, particularly young people, to help Tolstoy's heritage. We decided to make it really easy to use – compatible with iPad, e-reader, Kindle." ABBYY FineReader provided the technology, but the cost of proofreading the text…

Aleksey Brusilov - Biography

Most noted for his development of new offensive tactics, Aleksey Brusilov is considered one of the most outstanding fighting commanders of World War I. An authoritative general of Tsarist Russia, Brusilov joined the Soviet government, raising doubt among historians as to whether he is to be considered a patriot or a traitor.

Aleksey Brusilov was born in Tiflis into a family of military men. His father, a lieutenant general of the Russian army, died of tuberculosis when little Aleksey was only six years old. His mother died soon afterwards. The boy, together with his two brothers, was brought up by his uncle, a military engineer.

In 1867 Aleksey Brusilov passed his exams and was accepted into the Page Corps, the most privileged military establishment in Imperial Russia. Upon graduation in 1872, Brusilov began his service in the 15th Tver dragoon regiment.

The first test for Brusilov as an officer was the Russo-Turkish war (1877-1878), where his dragoon regiment fought as an advance guard.…

Marina Tsvetaeva: It is not fated that, in this world,

It is not fated that, in this world,
The strong join the strong.
Thus, Siegfried parted from Brunhild,
A sword stroke instead of a marriage.In the allied brotherly hatred
--Like buffalos!--rock challenging rock.
Unknown, he left the marriage bed,
And, unknown, she slept.

Apart; even in a marriage bed,
Apart; even with joined fists,
Apart; in the two-pronged language
Too late and apart; this--our marriage!

But there's a more ancient offense than
That: lionlike, crushing the Amazon,
The son of Thetis parted from
Ares's daughter: Achilles

From Penthesilea.
O recall her look
From the ground--the look of a fallen
Rider! no longer down from her Olympus;
Up from the slush, yet still looking down at him!

His only jealousy now is this:
To seize her alive from the dark.
It is not fated that the strong join the strong . . .

--This is how you and I part.

July 3, 1924

Translated from Russian by Nina Kossman

Goncharova Stays Between East and West

Looking back at the famous names of 20th century art, individuals like Kandinsky, Picasso and Franz Marc all spring to mind. While Natalia Goncharova may not be as well recognized, over the course of her career she mingled with many of the big-name artists of the Western European avant-garde.

Goncharova, who died in 1962, left behind a body of work that acts like a sampler platter for the artistic movements that dominated the first half of the last century. The full range of the artist is now on display at the State Tretyakov Gallery on Krymsky Val, where "Natalia Goncharova, Between East and West" has gathered together about 400 of the artist's works from museums throughout the world and showcases her paintings with an impressive level of breadth.

Goncharova's life and work can be divided into fairly distinct periods, as is done in the Tretyakov exhibit. Born in 1881 in Russia, she was one of the founding members of the Der Blaue Reiter group in Munich, which included…

Done with Tolstoy

"In Crime and Punishment, there is a sentence that goes like this: ‘It was a very simple matter and there was nothing complicated about it.’” Richard Pevear lets the words hang in the air, along with a note of faint bafflement. From his Paris apartment, one half of the world’s only celebrity translation team is recollecting some of the knotty, cross-lingual jumbles that he has spent his working life trying to untangle. “I came running to Larissa”—Larissa Volokhonsky, Pevear’s wife of thirty years and collaborator on twenty-one works of Russian-to-English translation—“and said, ‘Can that be? Is that what he said?’ And she checked and said yes. ‘It was a very simple matter and there was nothing complicated about  it.’” Reassured, if still skeptical, he jotted it down and moved on to Dostoyevsky’s next syntax-warping creation. The inconspicuous passage would resurface before long, though. The translation was published and, Richard recalls, “one very eminent reviewer . . said, ‘They oc…

V. V. Khlebnikov :Invocation of laughter

O, laugh, laughers!
O, laugh out, laughers!
You who laugh with laughs, you who laugh it up laughishly
O, laugh out laugheringly
O, belaughable laughterhood - the laughter of laughering laughers!
O, unlaugh it outlaughingly, belaughering laughists!
Laughily, laughily,
Uplaugh, enlaugh, laughlings, laughlings
Laughlets, laughlets.
O, laugh, laughers!
O, laugh out, laughers!


"Day of the Oprichnik": The fascinating world of Soviet science fiction

During its 70-year lifetime, the Soviet Union was the perfect Other for Westerners: a colossal enigma, alternately dystopian and utopian, onto which we could project all our fears, hopes and dreams; a funhouse mirror in which our own culture was reflected in amusingly warped fashion; an outré parallel continuum from which bizarre messages trickled out at irregular intervals, bearing cryptic hints of off-kilter wonders, quotidian strangeness and kludgy tech. The Iron Curtain was no mere metaphor, but rather an imposing information barrier like the force field around Coventry, Robert Heinlein's land of dissidents, rogue ideologues, criminals and nonconformists.

In this ancient era, science fiction readers and writers had some vague notion that the speculative literature of the Soviet Union represented a bracingly alternate family of narratives, a non-Anglo, non-Euro, non-North American, non-Latin American tradition of proleptic storytelling that sprang from an alien lineage of fabuli…

William Lyon Phelps: Chekhov

ANTON PAVLOVICH CHEKHOV, like Pushkin, Lermontov, Bielinski, and Garshin, died young, and although he wrote a goodly number of plays and stories which gave him a high reputation in Russia, he did not live to enjoy international fame. This is partly owing to the nature of his work, but more perhaps to the total eclipse of other contemporary writers by Gorki. There are signs now that his delicate and unpretentious art will outlast the sensational flare of the other's reputation. Gorki himself has generously tried to help in the perpetuation of Chekhov's name, by publishing a volume of personal reminiscences of his dead friend.

Like Gogol and Artsybashev, Chekhov was a man of the South, being born at Taganrog, a seaport on a gulf of the Black Sea, near the mouth of the river Don. The date of his birth is the 17 January 1860. His father was a clever serf, who, by good business foresight, bought his freedom early in life. Although the father never had much education himself, he gave…

View from the Kremlin

Mostly red, certainly a fortress with many secrets, and the heart (in a less than cordial sense of the word) of Russia, the Kremlin has a function, an architecture and a history unlike any place on earth. As with many important books, the reader will wonder why nothing like Catherine Merridale's work (ignoring a sensational account or two, and tourists' coffee-table volumes) has been written before. Secrecy is part of the reason: it affects even archaeologists trying to uncover the endless buried strata beneath today's monstrous complex. There is a particular difficulty in writing about an establishment that has proved so protean and that has, in its 500-year history, undergone so many destructions and resurrections and fulfilled so many different functions, religious, political and symbolic.

The Kremlin has always been best understood by outsiders. Russian poets had to come from as far away as St Petersburg in order to appreciate the full monstrosity of what to Muscovites …

Without savage joy - Alexander Herzen

Alexander Herzen, leading light of the Russian intelligentsia in the 1840s, lived in exile in London during the 1850s and early 1860s. There, he opened the first uncensored press in the Russian language, including two journals, The Polar Star and The Bell. Gathering news from informants in Russia, he published what could not be printed under conditions of tight censorship. In reward for this vital service, he was attacked from all sides. Secret police agents were commanded to seize all copies and ferret out the networks that smuggled them into Russia. Senior officials in St Petersburg devoured The Bell for its factual content, while denouncing Herzen as an incendiary. Moscow liberals, principally members of Herzen’s own generation, including former friends, reluctantly concurred, accusing him of endangering security in Russia and of preaching revolution. Revolutionaries, principally members of a younger generation, including many who were also in exile, sneered at Herzen for being too…

Boris Pasternak: Sparrow Hills

My kisses pour over your breast—as from a pitcher! Not forever will the keys of summer turn. Not every night will we stamp our feet to the low bellow of accordions, and raise the dust off the floor. I've heard of old age—such blighted forecasts! When no wave will strive to reach the stars. They insist—to deaf ears—there is no face in the meadows, no heart in the rivers, no god in the groves. Put your soul into motion, stretch it like a sail! The world's midday dazzles—where are your eyes? Look up—thoughts boil in the white spume of woodpeckers, fir cones, clouds, pine needles, heat. The rails for city trolleys end right here. Further on, pines hold sermons. Further on, pines stop. Furthermore, it's Sunday—snapping of branches, romping of clearings, sliding on the grass.

Sergei Rachmaninoff: Ave Maria


Maxim Gorky: Pushkin: An Appraisal

So long as Pushkin followed the beaten path of romanticism, so long as he emulated Byron, Batiushkov, Zhukovsky and the French bards, society, cognizant of his singular talent, appreciative of the music of his new verse, applauded him. But the moment he rose to his feet and spoke out in accents purely Russian and earthy, the moment he introduced folk motifs into literature, depicted life realistically, simply and candidly, society turned against him, adopting a sneering and hostile attitude, sensing in him a relentless judge, a dispassionate observer of Russian banality, ignorance and servility.

It was said of him that he permitted himself to be flogged in order to gain exile to Odessa instead of Siberia. In Odessa, his talent despised, Pushkin was persecuted, and treated like an exiled petty government official; exasperated, he would flaunt his 'rank and democratic pride of intellect, and six centuries of patrician ancestry.'

In his immediate family the poet was regarded with c…

Russian Authors Face Long Odds for Nobel

Russian literature is a serious business. The books are heavy, the beards are long and the descriptions of women's upper lip hair are detailed. Russian authors from the 18th century onwards are read in classrooms from Tokyo to Buenos Aires and have been lauded the world over.

Writers of more contemporary times, however, may not have been quite as lucky as their 19th- or 20th-century forefathers, however. The Nobel Prize for literature, traditionally awarded in the month of October, is expected to be announced Thursday. While the academy is known for its secrecy, it is very unlikely that the annals of Russian literature will welcome another Nobel laureate this year.

The Swedish Academy, which has been criticized for not awarding talents like James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov, is almost impossible to read. The Nobel committee does not release the shortlist until 50 years after the prize is awarded and literary critics have been wrong far more than they have been right in predicting the…

Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 5 in E minor (Valery Gergiev)

Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 5 in E minor op. 64
Orchestra: Orchestra of Mariinsky Theatre
Conductor: Valery Gergiev

Viktor Erofeyev: From Russian Beauty to a French knight

Viktor Erofeyev, who in recent weeks turned 67, has long been a citizen of the world. This elegant intellectual has written for The New Yorker and The New York Times, and he was the anchor of the program "Apocripha" (Erofeyev himself defined its format as “Platonic dialogues”) about literature and life on Russian television. He is the editor of the acclaimed collection, “The Penguin Book of New Russian Writing.” The Knight of the Legion of Honor is not the first major foreign award for Erofeyev – in 2006, the writer was awarded the Order of Arts and Letters of France. He has many connections with European culture – and he is no stranger to controversy, the spice of literary life. His father was a diplomat and a personal translator of Stalin (the writer’s father, Vladimir Erofeyev, translated from French for the Soviet leader, and later was assistant director-general at UNESCO for five years), Viktor spent a good part of his childhood in Paris. The essay that brought Erofeyev his…

The Tyrant as Editor - Joseph Stalin

Joseph Djugashvili was a student in a theological seminary when he came across the writings of Vladimir Lenin and decided to become a Bolshevik revolutionary. Thereafter, in addition to blowing things up, robbing banks, and organizing strikes, he became an editor, working at two papers in Baku and then as editor of the first Bolshevik daily,Pravda. Lenin admired Djugashvili's editing; Djugashvili admired Lenin, and rejected 47 articles he submitted to Pravda. 

Djugashvili (later Stalin) was a ruthless person, and a serious editor. The Soviet historian Mikhail Gefter has written about coming across a manuscript on the German statesman Otto von Bismarck edited by Stalin's own hand. The marked-up copy dated from 1940, when the Soviet Union was allied with Nazi Germany. Knowing that Stalin had been responsible for so much death and suffering, Gefter searched "for traces of those horrible things in the book." He found none. What he saw instead was "reasonable editing,…

Leonid Andreyev: My memoirs

Those were indeed terrible days and nights when, crushed by the walls, not getting an answer to any of my questions, I paced my cell endlessly and hurled, one after another into the dark abyss, all the great valuables with which life has endowed us: friendship, love, reason and justice.
In some justification I can mention the fact that, during those first and most painful years, a series of events occurred which reflected themselves rather painfully upon my psychic nature. Thus, I learned with the deepest indignation that the girl, whose name I shall not mention and who was to become my wife, married another man. She was one of the few who believed in my innocence. At the last parting, she swore to remain faithful to me till death and that she would rather die than betray her love for me. Yet it was only one year after that she married a man I knew: a man who possessed certain good qualities, but who was far from sensible.
I did not want to understand that such a marriage w…

An Astral Novel: A. Bely's Novel Peterburg

Peterburg no longer exists. The life of this city was a bureaucratic life predominantly, and its end was a bureaucratic end. What has arisen is the unfamiliar and to our ears still strange sounding Petrograd. There has ended not only an old word and in its place arisen a new word, there has ended an entire historical period, and we find ourselves entering upon a new and unknown period. There was something strange and terrible in the rise of Peterburg, in its fate, in its relationship to the whole of enormous Russia, in its being torn off from the life of the people, something at once both powerfully enervating and phantasmic. By the magic volition of Peter, Peterburg rose up from out of nothing, from the marshy mists. Pushkin gave us a feel of the life of this Peterburg in his 'Bronze Horseman'. Peterburg no longer exists. The life of this city was a bureaucratic life predominantly, and its end was a bureaucratic end. What has arisen is the unfamiliar and to our ears still str…

What do Tolstoy, Chekhov and Akhmatova have in common?

From the very first Nobel Prize in 1901, epic quarrels have erupted and rarely subsided over which great author or poet was truly worthy of the Nobel Prize in Literature. In his will, Alfred Nobel founded a distinct award for the author “who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” But how that has been interpreted over the past century or so has been the subject of articles, research papers and books. It’s hard to imagine now that in that first year, Leo Tolstoy was not even among the 25 nominees. The first Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the little-known French lyric poet and lyricist Sully Prudhomme, sparking indignation in European writing circles. Swedish authors and artists even penned a letter to Tolstoy expressing their objections to the decision of the Nobel Committee. Later, however, he was nominated four years in a row, but the committee and the secretary of the Swedish Academy, Carl David af Wirsén, could not b…

Anatol Lunacharsky: Essay on Gorky

FORTY years in the literary career of a great writer will always cover a large area on the ever-growing map of world culture. It is only at a distance that such a mountain range can be evaluated as a whole.

The results and full significance of Maxim Gorky's work as concerns our epoch and Russian and world culture as a whole, and his relative place on the great map of human achievement will only become clear at a future date. All the more so since the mountain range that is Gorky has not yet been completed, and we hope to see him grow most wonderfully and gigantically for many years to come.

And yet, forty years is a long time. When a person who has worked for forty years looks back from the vantage point to which life has brought him he sees a long and winding river whose source appears as remote as ancient history, while the ribbon itself acquires an integral significance which such a person wants to discover and establish for himself, and sometimes for others as well.

It was approx…