Saturday, 27 April 2013

Nicholas II - The last Emperor of Russia

Nicholas II was the last Emperor of Russia.

Born 6 May 1868, Nicholas was the oldest son of Tsar Alexander III and his wife Maria Feodorovna. His parents took particular trouble over his education. Nicholas was taught by outstanding Russian academics at home, he knew several languages and had a wide knowledge of history, and he also quickly grasped military science. His father personally guided his education, which was strictly based on religion. Nicholas ascended the throne at age 26 after the unexpected death of his father in 1894. Although a well educated man, he felt unprepared for the hard task as the ruler of the Russian empire, he was not properly prepared to officiate as a monarch and was not fully introduced to top affairs of the state. Nicholas's reign was marked by tragedy from the very beginning. A national celebration to honor the formal coronation of the new tsar turned into a disaster. Overcrowding resulted in a stampede and hundreds of people were crushed to death.

Shortly after the death of his father, Nicholas married the German Princess Alix of Hesse who, after taking the Orthodox faith took the name of Alexandra Feodorovna. Their union was a rare one among royal families in that they married “for love” and Nicholas was a devoted husband throughout their life together. Alexandra bared him five children: Olga, Tatyana, Maria, Anastasia and Aleksey, the only male heir to the throne. Aleksey was diagnosed with a life threatening illness, hemophilia. In 1905 a so called 'holy man' named Grigory Rasputin was presented at the palace. He was the only one who was mysteriously able to help ease their son’s pain. Despite Rasputin's well documented stories of drinking and womanizing, Alexandra absolutely believed that Rasputin was sent to the royal family by God and soon he exerted a powerful influence over the tsar and tsarina advising them on state matters.

Nicholas was a confirmed autocrat, much like his father. In a speech made in January 1895 he said: “Let them (the people) know that I, devoting all my efforts to the prosperity of the nation, will preserve the principles of autocracy as firmly and unswervingly as my late father of imperishable memory.” But Nicholas did not inherit the strong will of his father and mostly continued the work his predecessors had started which brought rapid economical and trade growth. Devoted to his wife he was influenced by Alexandra, who shared his views on government and country and truly believed that autocracy was for the good of Russia and must be preserved at all costs.

In 1904, Nicholas took his country into war with Japan. Russia's embarrassing defeat ruined the monarchy's prestige among all sectors of society, the nobility and the peasants, leading to a revolution in 1905 and to an event that became known as Bloody Sunday. Unarmed crowds demanding radical constitutional and social reforms were shot down by the tsar's army near his palace. This set off more riots and strikes throughout Russia. To ease the wave of opposition and regain support Nicholas created a parliament, the State Duma, Russia's first nationally elected representative assembly to give the people a voice.

However, unrest continued and in 1914 Nicholas felt obligated to prevent a German invasion of Europe and took Russia into World War One. He personally took command of the army and left Alexandra in charge. The Russian army suffered heavy loses and was defeated, resulting in a political crisis. Soaring prices and food shortages strained relations between the government and the common people, who had come to hate the ongoing war and blamed Nicholas for it. In 1917 a strike movement against the tsar broke out and even spread to the army. Abandoned by his generals Nicholas was eventually forced to abdicate, and all the power was transferred to the Provisional Government. ...

Olga Spessivtseva - Biography and Giselle's Mad Scene

The story of Olga Spessivtseva is the saddest I have known. Although she was born into a prosperous family, her father's death imposed financial hardships on the family, and Olga was sent to an orphanage. At the age of ten she became a student at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg. Here she found the order and discipline that she needed in her life. A shy, withdrawn child, Olga dedicated her existence to ballet. She graduated in 1913 and became a soloist in the ballet company in1916.

Although she did not support Serge Diaghilev's ideas about dance, in 1916 she agreed to replace Tamara Karsavina on the American tour of The Ballets Russes. When she returned to Russia in 1918, she was promoted to Prima Ballerina. Here she had her chance to dance Giselle for the first time. For many, Spessivtseva was the perfect Giselle, her flawless dancing and air of vulnerability eclipsing even the interpretation of Pavlova.

Spessivtseva's fragile health and the deprivations of the Russian Revolution contributed to her contracting tuberculosis circa 1919. By 1921 she had regained her strength, and rejoined the Ballets Russes in London to dance Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Princess. The ballet was a financial failure, but when Spessivtseva returned to her homeland, she danced Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty and was a great success.

In 1924 she left Russia for the last time and became the star of the Paris Opera Ballet. She had problems with the management and left in 1927 to briefly dance again for the Ballets Russes. Afterward she returned to the Paris Opera, where she danced Salomé and created a role in Serge Lifar's Creatures of Prometheus.

The invitation to dance Odette in the second act of Swan Lake at Covent Garden induced Spessivtseva to return to Diaghilev's company in 1929. He also promised Spessivtseva he would revive Giselle for her. Diaghilev's death shattered her. She did get a chance in 1932 to dance Giselle again in the Camargo Soviet production at the Savoy Theatre. This heralded the revival of native classical ballet in England.

Spessivtseva's fanatical perfectionism often caused her trouble and cancellations of contracts. In 1934 she toured Australia, again eclipsing memories of Pavlova. Spessivtseva gave her farewell performance in Buenos Aires in 1937. The coming war in Europe brought her to America to live. Here she became an advisor to a new company -- Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre).

In 1940 she had a mental breakdown and was committed to a mental hospital in New Jersey. The hospital knew nothing of her past. For some time she was believed dead by many of her colleagues. Anton Dolin, Dale Fern and Felia Doubrovska managed to have her moved to the Tolstoy Farm in Valley Cottage, NY, where she died in 1991.

Of her Giselle it was said, "She danced not for herself, not for an audience, but for Dance itself." ...

Friday, 26 April 2013

Grigory Sokolov: Schubert Sonata D 664

Grigory Sokolov (born April 18, 1950 in Leningrad) In the 40 years since the 16-year-old Grigory Sokolov was awarded first prize at the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1966, the world has been blessed with what one American critic recently called "a kind of pianism, musicianship and artistry one thought had vanished forever". Championed at a young age by Emil Gilels and a prominent figure on the Russian music scene since his early teens, Sokolov has gained an almost mythical status amongst music-lovers and pianophiles throughout the world. He is considered by many today to be the world's greatest living pianist. Ever since his first major piano recital in Leningrad at the age of 12, Sokolov has amazed everyone again and again with the enormous breadth of his repertoire and his huge, almost physical musical strength. Using little pedal, and thus superior finger-work, he draws from the concert grand an immense variety of sounds; he has an unlimited palette of colours, a spontaneous imagination and a magical control of line. His interpretations are poetic and highly individual, and his rhythmic freedom and elasticity of phrase are perhaps unequalled among pianists today. 

Those who are used to his art are most particularly attracted by the naturalness of his performing manner, which is part of his artistic credo. His playing betrays no influence from past masters, his style and approach are entirely his own, and are completely unique. Whatever Grigory Sokolov performs, be it a Pavane of William Byrd, a Bach Fantasia, Chopin Mazurka or a Prelude of Ravel, it suddenly sounds completely new. Even a familiar Beethoven Sonata can be rediscovered as a new piece. But all this magic has its earthly roots: Sokolov knows more about a Steinway than many piano technicians, and before he sits down to play a strange instrument, he first examines its inner mechanics, taking it to pieces. He is used to studying for many hours every day, and even on the day of a concert, practices on stage for hours, "getting to know" the piano. That he prefers his CDs to be recorded live is not surprising, since he likes to capture the sacred moments of a real, live concert and avoid the sterile atmosphere of a studio.

More here.

Gothic tales from Russia haunt the imagination

Obsession, possession, insanity, incest and horror wander through the pages of “Red Spectres,” an erratically brilliant collection of Gothic short stories from 20th-century Russia. In the opening tale, a woman’s reflection in a mirror “seized me by both hands and wrenched me towards her,” plunging the unhinged narrator into a terrifying world of shadows. These stories do the same to their readers, haunting the imagination on many different levels.
Valery Bryusov’s pre-revolutionary gem “In the Mirror” (1903) shows that the genre was not only a response to the nightmarish phantoms of Soviet life. But most of the other stories here were written the 1920s and use images of supernatural or psychological disturbance to reflect the contemporary world. Only two of them have appeared in English before.
In her conscientious introduction, Muireann Maguire explores historical and literary contexts and observes that Gothic stories often appear at times of cultural upheaval: “Russia by the mid-1920s had endured two revolutions…and a shattering civil war…” But – as responses to living in a time of frightening change – these tales also “transcend the specificities of the Soviet era.”
The mysteries of madness and mortality, a “dread and fascination with technology,” ghosts, grotesques and monsters are all generic features, their shades and tentacles reaching back to Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and beyond, and forward into contemporary horror. With a population of flame-haired Siamese twins, zombie fetuses or mad scientists, these stories explore life and death, town and country, crossing continents in the turn of a page, visiting a factory in Heidelberg or death row in Sing-Sing. One recurrent and suitably gothic setting is Venice, “great city of masks, ghostly mirrors, silent doges…”
More here.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Sergei Mikhailovich Lyapunov: Symphony No. 1 Op. 12 I. Andantino

Symphony No. 1 by Sergei Lyapunov. 
Conducted by Vassily Sinaisky with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

Sergei Mikhailovich Liapunov - Composer

As a pianist who champions the works of lesser-known composers, I have discovered several composers over the years whose works are not only of high quality both pianistically and compositionally, but that cause audiences to respond with gratification and surprise. Two such composers, Alkan and Medtner, have enjoyed the patronage of first-rate pianists, and good representation in recordings (though there is room for many more). Sergei Liapunov (also spelled Lyapunov), however, has not had as much attention devoted to his music as he deserves, in spite of a few fine recordings.

Sergei Mikhailovich Liapunov was born on 30 November 1859 in Yaroslavl, Russia, a town about 250 km northeast of Moscow. His father, Mikhail Vasilievich Liapunov (1820-1868) was a mathematician and astronomer who became the director of the Demidovsky Institute in Yaroslavl, while his mother, Sofya Alexandrovna (née Shipilov), an accomplished amateur pianist, did much to foster Sergei's interest in music. Sergei had two brothers, Alexander (1857-1918; photo), who became a famous and influential mathematician, and Boris (1862-1943), a philologist who was a member of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R.

After Mikhail's early death, the family moved to Nizhny-Novgorod, where Sergei was enrolled in a class of the Russian Musical Society. When his mother died in the late 1870s, the Liapunov sons were assisted by the Shipilov family, but for which the three brothers would have suffered severe financial disadvantages.

Nikolai Rubinstein (1835-1881) advised Sergei to move to Moscow to enter the Conservatory there, which he did in 1878, studying piano with Karl Klindworth (1830-1916), Paul Pabst (1834-1897), and V.I. Wilborg, and composition with Nikolai Hubert (1840-1888), Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), and Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915). While in Nizhny-Novgorod, Liapunov had already been attracted to the music of Mily Balakirev (1837-1910) and his cohorts Alexander Borodin (1833-1887), Modeste Mussorgsky (1839-1881), and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908). Now that he was in Moscow, where they were not well known, his leanings toward their style became evident in spite of his exposure to the more western-oriented works of Tchaikovsky and Sergei Taneyev prevalent at the Conservatory.

Liapunov turned down an offer to teach at the Moscow Conservatory in favor of moving to St. Petersburg to pursue his work and put himself under the influence of Mily Balakirev, which he did in 1884. It is a more or less received opinion that Balakirev completely controlled Liapunov's musical development, as he had done at first with the other members of the Moguchaya Kuchka ("The Mighty Handful"). (Rimsky-Korsakov, in his memoirs, describes Liapunov as being completely under Balakirev's sway.) I, however, do not totally agree with that assessment, as it is clear that Liapunov early on developed a melodic style entirely his own, and though he owes much to Balakirev's (sometimes despotic) influence, he was never completely overwhelmed by his teacher and mentor.

A major influence in Liapunov's work was his collaboration in 1893 with Balakirev and Anatol Liadov (1855-1914) in the collection of folksongs from northern Russia, particularly the provinces of Kostromsk, Vologodsk, and Vyatsk. Many of these folksongs found their way into his Russian folksong arrangements of Opp. 10 and 13, the Solemn Overture on Russian Themes, Op. 7 of 1896, as well as into other works throughout his career. Perhaps the most famous of the pieces that demonstrate this influence is the 10th of the Twelve Transcendental Etudes, Op. 11, Lezhginka, which must surely rank as Liapunov's "hit tune." ...

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

In the Lava Mountains

In the Lava Mountains: 0_b1aef_23c7fe45_XXLGoing to the mountains is fun, but going to the mountains is even more fun when it is a volcano, an active Russian volcano. Team of explorers went there and post beautiful images of a mesmerizing natural wonders. You can … Read more...

Monday, 22 April 2013

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Largest Exhibition of Mikhail Nesterov to be Opened in Moscow

Mikhail Nesterov - Portrait of Olga Nesterova

Mikhail Nesterov - Portrait of Olga Nesterova

On April 24 the Tretyakov Gallery in Krymsky Val opens the largest exhibition of the year dedicated to the outstanding artist Mikhail Nesterov (1862-1942).

His creations convey and reflect the most important features of national character and the nature of Russia. The contents and depth of Nesterov’s art is in accord with religious quest of the Russian literature and domestic philosophical thought at the turn of the 19th- 20th centuries.

Nesterov, Mikhail - 1906 Autumn

Nesterov, Mikhail - 1906 Autumn

About 300 works from 24 museums of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and 9 private collections will present a wide range of the artist’s creative interests: paintings on religious subjects, portraits, landscapes, and sketches of church frescoes.

Many works presented at the exhibition, are displayed for the first time after carrying out of most complicated restoration works.


Thursday, 18 April 2013

Leo Tolstoy and Father John: The rivalry of an age

The memoirs of Ivan Zakhar’in, playwright and author appearing under the pseudonym Yakunin, chronicle a curious conversation. It arose between Russian Emperor Alexander III and the Countess Alexandra Andreyevna Tolstaya, the renowned Alexandrine, first cousin once removed of Leo Tolstoy, lady-in-waiting and governess of the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna. 
At the imperial court, Alexandrine had acquired a reputation for her impeccable piety, philanthropic leanings, exceptional intellect and literary taste, and for her independence of character, that most distinctive trait of the Tolstovian line.
The Emperor was able to reach the lady-in-waiting’s chambers via a separate elevated glass gallery connecting the Winter Palace with the Hermitage. One day, he paid her a visit to discuss the possible publication of Leo Tolstoy’s “The Kreutzer Sonata,” which had been banned by the Church censors.
“I allowed myself to express my support for the idea, and told the Emperor that the whole of Russia had already read it or was in the process of doing so. Therefore, allowing publication would merely reduce the scope of those readers who so avidly sought out forbidden fruit,” she recounted.
Russian women often proved to be shrewder than the men. “The Kreutzer Sonata” was accepted for printing, but only as a part of a subsequent volume of the collected writings of Tolstoy. Even then, in 1891, these already attested to the writer’s huge appeal across the country.
“Tell me, who do you consider to be the most remarkable and popular persons in Russia?” the Emperor asked. “Knowing of your honesty, I am confident that you will tell me the truth. Do not of course think of mentioning me...”
Editor’s Note: Many readers know about Russians’ love for Leo Tolstoy during the reign of Alexander III—a rough-cut emperor who in his own way protected the literary and spiritual giant from exile. The people also genuinely loved John of Kronstadt, who lived a parallel life to the master of the modern novel. Millions believed in the priest, who was canonized, and revered him as a saint, even while he was still alive. Chekhov said that in every log house he visited in Sakhalin he had seen portraits of Father John hung next to the icons. Leo Tolstoy and St. John enjoyed the greatest rivalry of the age.
Pavel Basinky’s book “Saint versus Leo” was recently published in Russian by Elena Shubina Editorial of ACT publishing house.

More here.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Princess Yekaterina Romanovna Vorontsova-Dashkova, a writer, autobiographer, journalist

Born on March 17, 1743, Dashkova was the third daughter of Count Roman Vorontsov, a member of the Senate.

Unlike most European females during the eighteenth century, she received an exceptionally good education. She studied mathematics at the University of Moscow and enjoyed the literary works of Montesquieu, Boileau, Voltaire, and Helveticus. In her youth, she became connected to the Russian court and became one of the leaders of the party that supported Grand Duchess Catherine (later Catherine II, the Great). Dashkova was a very close friend of Russian Empress Catherine the Great as well as a major figure of the Russian Enlightenment of the eighteenth century.

Unfortunately, once Catherine had her throne, she cooled her friendship with Dashkova, though the latter remained loyal to her sovereign. The estrangement made Dashkova uncomfortable enough to request that the Empress allow her to travel abroad. Permission was granted, and Dashkova departed on an extended tour of Europe. As a widow it was acceptable for her to travel. She was received well at foreign courts, and her literary and scientific reputation paved the way to many prominent European salons and connections. While in Paris she became good friends with Diderot and Voltaire.

In 1782 Dashkova returned to Russia and found herself once again in Catherine's favor. Shortly after her return, the Empress appointed Dashkova to the position of director at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts and Sciences, and two years later she was named the first president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which was founded by Catherine at Dashkova's suggestion. Dashkova was the first woman in the world to head a national academy of sciences.

The Memoirs of the Princess Daschkaw, written by herself were published in 1840 in London in two volumes and remain in print today because they provide a birds-eye view of the life and times of Catherine's Russia.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Oligarchs and Graphomaniacs

In the Soviet Union, literary prizes were awarded in the Kremlin, the proceedings broadcast on the national television channel. Writers could be honored with the Lenin Prize, the State Prize of the USSR or the Award of the Komsomol. The editor of a major literary journal could be a member of the Supreme Soviet, with a rank equivalent to that of a field marshal. Literature, like the other arts, was either official or unofficial. Official literature was written by unionized writers, approved by the government and published by state presses. Unofficial literature could not be published and could not receive awards; it could, however, carry a lengthy prison sentence. Writers were important people.

When the Soviet Union dissolved, the government lost its monopoly on literary prizes, among other commodities. Russia's first independent arts award, the Triumph Prize, was sponsored by the newly minted oligarch Boris Berezovsky (who, after a decade-long exile in London, died in an apparent suicide in March). The first prize ceremony was held in 1992, at Moscow's Bolshoi Theater. At a time when it was hard to get food, let alone books or magazines, the ceremony was a lavish event, with a bountiful buffet and a hefty prize purse. The artists invited were glad for a good meal.
During the corrupt, chaotic process of privatization, a handful of businessmen acquired lucrative state enterprises at cut-rate prices, becoming multimillionaires overnight. To the people, they were thieves, and the oligarchs found it necessary to rebrand themselves. They did so, in part, by drawing on pre-revolutionary models of art patronage. In the later nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, industrialists like Savva Mamontov (who opened his own private opera and was said to possess "a sort of electric current that ignited other people's energies") and Pavel Tretyakov (whose art collection became one of Russia's best museums) had supported artists who left a lasting mark on world culture. These patrons were called "Maecenases": wealthy, powerful men motivated by a passion for art and the desire to bring glory to their country. They were filthy rich, but they were also the good guys.
And so, starting in the 1990s, Russia's oligarchs made like Maecenases, collecting art, supporting the theater and sponsoring literary prizes. Many also donated large sums to charity—usually to crowd-pleasing causes like orphans, pensioners, veterans and medical aid. They came to be called "philanthropists," although, like philanthropists elsewhere, they were motivated largely by self-interest. Businessmen often concentrated their charity work in their hometowns or in the places where their businesses were located; for those running for office, this had the convenient side effect of winning votes. Others scored political points for providing social benefits that were no longer the government's responsibility, taking some of the sting out of the demise of the Soviet welfare state. Putin's government has made it clear that it supports this practice; some observers say that government-approved philanthropy constitutes an unofficial tax.
Most Russian philanthropists steered 
clear of explicitly political causes. One exception was Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who became the richest man in Russia thanks to his acquisition, during privatization, of the oil company Yukos. His 2003 arrest for fraud and tax evasion was widely attributed to his economic and political challenges to the government—especially his attempt to sell Yukos—but he also supported opposition parties and human rights groups. Khodorkovsky is now Putin's official nemesis. The proceedings against him have been the defining show trials of the Putin administration; only the Pussy Riot affair, in which three young women were prosecuted for a protest performance in a Moscow church (two are currently incarcerated), has received as much attention. 
More here.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Balakirev: Islamey

Played by Cziffra.

Ivan Bunin: Russian Spring

IN the valley the birches are bored.
On the meadows, fog billows and weighs.
Sodden, with horse-dung floored,
The highroad blackens in haze.

Rich on the steppe’s sleepy air, 5
The odor of freshly-baked bread.
Bent to their packs, slowly fare
Two beggars to look for a bed.

Round puddles gleam in the streets.
The fumes of the ovens stun. 10
Thawing, the bleak earthen seats
Smolder and steam in the sun.

By the corn-bin, dragging his chain,
The sheep-dog yawns on the sill.
Walls smoke with the charcoal stain. 15
The steppe is foggy and still.

The carefree cock will perform
Day-long for the sap-stirred earth.
In the fields it is drowsy and warm.
In the heart—indolent mirth. 20

Friday, 12 April 2013

Star Man, Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, Soviet pilot and cosmonaut was the first human to journey into outer space, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

George Orwell: Review of 'WE' by E. I. Zamyatin

Several years after hearing of its existence, I have at last got my hands on a copy of Zamyatin's We, which is one of the literary curiosities of this book-burning age. Looking it up in Gleb Struve's Twenty-Five Years of Soviet Russian Literature, I find its history to have been this:

Zamyatin, who died in Paris in 1937, was a Russian novelist and critic who published a number of books both before and after the Revolution. We was written about 1923, and though it is not about Russia and has no direct connection with contemporary politics--it is a fantasy dealing with the twenty-sixth century AD--it was refused publication on the ground that it was ideololgically undesirable. A copy of the manuscript found its way out of the country, and the book has appeared in English, French and Czech translations, but never in Russian. The English translation was published in the United States, and I have never been able to procure a copy: but copies of the French translation (the title is Nous Autres) do exist, and I have at last succeeded in borrowing one. So far as I can judge it is not a book of the first order, but it is certainly an unusual one, and it is astonishing that no English publisher has been enterprising enought to reissue it.

The first thing anyone would notice about We is the fact--never pointed out, I believe--that Aldous Huxley's Brave New World must be partly derived from it. Both books deal with the rebellion of the primitive human spirit against a rationalised, mechanised, painless world, and both stories are supposed to take place about six hundred years hence. The atmosphere of the two books is similar, and it is roughly speaking the same kind of society that is being described though Huxley's book shows less political awareness and is more influenced by recent biological and psychological theories.

In the twenty-sixth century, in Zamyatin's vision of it, the inhabitants of Utopia have so completely lost their individuality as to be known only by numbers. They live in glass houses (this was written before television was invented), which enables the political police, known as the “Guardians”, to supervise them more easily. They all wear identical uniforms, and a human being is commonly referred to either as “a number” or “a unif” (uniform). They live on synthetic food, and their usual recreation is to march in fours while the anthem of the Single State is played through loudspeakers. At stated intervals they are allowed for one hour (known as “the sex hour”) to lower the curtains round their glass apartments. There is, of course, no marriage, though sex life does not appear to be completely promiscuous. For purposes of love-making everyone has a sort of ration book of pink tickets, and the partner with whom he spends one of his allotted sex hours signs the counterfoil. The Single State is ruled over by a personage known as The Benefactor, who is annually re-elected by the entire population, the vote being always unanimous. The guiding principle of the State is that happiness and freedom are imcompatible. In the Garden of Eden man was happy, but in his folly he demanded freedom and was driven out into the wilderness. Now the Single State has restored his happiness by removing his freedom.

So far the resemblance with Brave New World is striking. But though Zamyatin's book is less well put together--it has a rather weak and episodic plot which is too complex to summarise--it has a political point which the other lacks. In Huxley's book the problem of “human nature” is in a sense solved, because it assumes that by pre-natal treatment, drugs and hypnotic suggestion the human organism can be specialised in any way that is desired. A first-rate scientific worker is as easily produced as an Epsilon semi-moron, and in either case the vestiges of primitive instincts, such as maternal feeling or the desire for liberty, are easily dealt with. At the same time no clear reason is given why society should be stratified in the elaborate way it is described. The aim is not economic exploitation, but the desire to bully and dominate does not seem to be a motive either. There is no power hunger, no sadism, no hardness of any kind. Those at the top have no strong motive for staying at the top, and though everyone is happy in a vacuous way, life has become so pointless that it is difficult to believe that such a society could endure.

Zamyatin's book is on the whole more relevant to our own situation. In spite of education and the vigilance of the Guardians, many of the ancient human instincts are still there. The teller of the story, D-503, who, though a gifted engineer, is a poor conventional creature, a sort of Utopian Billy Brown of London Town, is constantly horrified by the atavistic* impulses which seize upon him. He falls in love (this is a crime, of course) with a certain I-330 who is a member of an underground resistance movement and succeeds for a while in leading him into rebellion. When the rebellion breaks out it appears that the enemies of The Benefactor are in fact fairly numerous, and these people, apart from plotting the overthrow of the State, even indulge, at the moment when their curtains are down, in such vices as smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. D-503 is ultimately saved from the consequences of his own folly. The authorities announce that they have discovered the cause of the recent disorders: it is that some human beings suffer from a disease called imagination. The nerve-centre responsible for imagination has now been located, and the disease can be cured by X-ray treatment. D-503 undergoes the operation, after which it is easy for him to do what he has known all along that he ought to do--that is, betray his confederates to the police. With complete equanimity he watches I-330 tortured by means of compressed air under a glass bell:

She looked at me, her hands clasping the arms of the chair, until her eyes were completely shut. They took her out, brought her to herself by means of an electric shock, and put her under the bell again. This operation was repeated three times, and not a word issued from her lips. The others who had been brought along with her showed themselves more honest. Many of them confessed after one application. Tomorrow they will all be sent to the Machine of The Benefactor.

The Machine of The Benefactor is the guillotine. There are many executions in Zamyatin's Utopia. They take place publicly, in the presence of The Benefactor, and are accompanied by triumphal odes recited by the official poets. The guillotine, of course, is not the old crude instrument but a much improved model which literally liquidates its victim, reducing him in an instant to a puff of smoke and a pool of clear water. The execution is, in fact, a human sacrifice, and the scene describing it is given deliberately the colour of the sinister slave civilisations of the ancient world. It is this intuitive grasp of the irrational side of totalitarianism--human sacrifice, cruelty as an end in itself, the worship of a Leader who is credited with divine attributes--that makes Zamyatin's book superior to Huxley's.

It is easy to see why the book was refused publication. The following conversation (I abridge it slightly) beteen D-503 and I-330 would have been quite enough to set the blue pencils working:

“Do you realise that what you are suggesting is revolution?”

“Of course, it's revolution. Why not?”

“Because there can't be a revolution. Our revolution was the last and there can never be another. Everybody knows that.”

“My dear, you're a mathematician: tell me, which is the last number?”

“But that's absurd. Numbers are infinite. There can't be a last one.”

“Then why do you talk about the last revolution?”

There are other similar passages. It may well be, however, that Zamyatin did not intend the Soviet regime to be the special target of his satire. Writing at about the time of Lenin's death, he cannot have had the Stalin dictatorship in mind, and conditions in Russia in 1923 were not such that anyone would revolt against them on the ground that life was becoming too safe and comfortable. What Zamyatin seems to be aiming at is not any particular country but the implied aims of industrial civilisation. I have not read any of his other books, but I learn from Gleb Struve that he had spent several years in England and had written some blistering satires on English life. It is evident from We that he had a strong leaning towards primitivism. Imprisoned by the Czarist Government in 1906, and then imprisoned by the Bolsheviks in 1922 in the same corridor of the same prison, he had cause to dislike the political regimes he had lived under, but his book is not simply the expression of a grievance. It is in effect a study of the Machine, the genie that man has thoughtlessly let out of its bottle and cannot put back again. This is a book to look out for when an English version appears.


George Orwell: Review of 'WE' by E. I. Zamyatin


The city of Odessa was founded by a decree of the Empress Catherine the Great in 1794. From 1819 to 1858 Odessa was a free port. During the Soviet period it was the most important port of trade in the Soviet Union and a Soviet naval base.

Lot of interesting photos from Odesa here.

Ivan Krylov (1769 – 1844)

Ivan Andreevich Krylov was a Russian poet, fabulist, translator and writer. He is the author of more than 200 fables.

Krylov was born in Moscow into the family of a poor army captain. He did not receive an exceptional education, but his parents paid great attention to his upbringing, and with time, he became one of the most learned people of his era. When he was six, his father resigned from the army and the family moved to Tver. There, the young fabulist impressed the local landlord Nikolay Lvov with his poetry and the landlord allowed him to study together with his children.

Krylov’s father was assigned to work for a local county court, although it was just a formality, as he almost never appeared in the office and didn’t receive any salary. In 1778 his father died, leaving a chest filled with books as Ivan’s inheritance. Krylov’s mother tried to get a pension, but was turned down and the family ended up in poverty.

Five years later Krylov moved to St. Petersburg to work as a regional secretary, and soon brought his mother and younger brother Lev to the capital. Despite his work, literature was his main occupation at the time. This did not change when his mother died and he was left to take care for his brother alone. At the time, Krylov wrote mainly for the theater. He created the librettos for the comic operas “The Coffee Box” (“Kofeynitsa”) and “The Rabid Family” (“Beshenaya semya”), the tragedies “Cleopatra” and “Philomela” and the comedy “The Composer at the Entrance” (“Sochinitel v prikhozhey”). These works brought neither money nor fame to the young author, but they helped him make a place for himself in the St. Petersburg literary circles. He was patronized by the famous playwright Yakov Knyazhnin, but Krylov broke their ties because of his own pride. After that, he wrote the comedy “The Pranksters,” whose lead characters hinted at Knyazhnin and his wife. “The Pranksters” was a more mature work, but the staging of it was prohibited and Krylov had his relations spoiled not only with the Knyazhnins, but also with the theater directorate, upon whom the fate of any dramatic work depended.

Starting from the end of the 1780s, Krylov’s main work was in the field of journalism. In January 1789, he began publishing a monthly satiric magazine called “The Spirit Mail” (“Pochta dukhov”), which derided noblemen’s vices and bureaucracy. However, eight months later the magazine closed down because it had too few subscribers. The following year Krylov left journalism and decided to dedicate himself fully to literature. He became the owner of a publishing house and together with his friend, the writer Klushin, he started to publish a new magazine, “The Viewer” (“Zritel”), which became more popular than the previous one. A year later, it was renamed the “St. Petersburg Mercury,” but at the end of the year, it ceased publication. Krylov left St. Petersburg for several years. There is no accurate information about his life during this period. In 1797 Krylov appeared at Prince Golitsyn’s estate, where he worked as the prince’s secretary and his children’s teacher.

Two years later Krylov wrote the play “Trumf or Podshchipa” for a home performance at the Golitsyns. The pièce ridiculed Emperor Pavel I Romanov and the irony of the play was so pointed that it was only published in 1871. After the Emperor’s death, prince Golitsyn was appointed Governor General of Riga, and Krylov worked as his secretary for two more years before resigning in 1803. The only thing that is known about next two years of his life is that it was the time he started writing fables. Upon arriving in Moscow in 1806, he showed the famous poet and fabulist Ivan Dmitriev his translation of two Jean de La Fontaine fables, “The Oak and the Cane” and “The Picky Bride.” In 1806 Krylov published three fables, before returning to dramaturgy.

In 1807 he wrote three plays that gained major popularity and success on the stage, “The Fashion Shop” (“Modnaya lavka”), “A Lesson For the Daughters” (“Urok dochkam”) and “Ilya the Bogatyr.” The former two were especially successful, as each of them in its own way laughed at the nobility’s attraction to French language, fashion and manners. The plays were staged multiple times, and “The Fashion Shop” was even staged at the royal court. Despite his theatrical success, Krylov quit playwriting and started to devote more and more time to fables. ...

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

When Dickens met Dostoevsky

Late in 2011, Michiko Kakutani opened her New York Times review of Claire Tomalin’s biography of Charles Dickens with “a remarkable account” she had found in its pages. In London for a few days in 1862, Fyodor Dostoevsky had dropped in on Dickens’s editorial offices and found the writer in an expansive mood. In a letter written by Dostoevsky to an old friend sixteen years later, the writer of so many great confession scenes depicted Dickens baring his creative soul:

 “All the good simple people in his novels, Little Nell, even the holy simpletons like Barnaby Rudge, are what he wanted to have been, and his villains were what he was (or rather, what he found in himself), his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity toward those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those whom he ought to love, being used up in what he wrote. There were two people in him, he told me: one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite. From the one who feels the opposite I make my evil characters, from the one who feels as a man ought to feel I try to live my life. ‘Only two people?’ I asked.”

I have been teaching courses on Dostoevsky for over two decades, but I had never come across any mention of this encounter. Although Dostoevsky is known to have visited London for a week in 1862, neither his published letters nor any of the numerous biographies contain any hint of such a meeting. Dostoevsky would have been a virtual unknown to Dickens. It isn’t clear why Dickens would have opened up to his Russian colleague in this manner, and even if he had wanted to, in what language would the two men have conversed? (It could only have been French, which should lead one to wonder about the eloquence of a remembered remark filtered through two foreign tongues.) Moreover, Dostoevsky was a prickly, often rude interlocutor. He and Turgenev hated each other. He never even met Tolstoy. Would he have sought Dickens out? Would he then have been silent about the encounter for so many years, when it would have provided such wonderful fodder for his polemical journalism?

Several American professors of Russian literature wrote to the New York Times in protest, and eventually a half-hearted online retraction was made, informing readers that the authenticity of the encounter had been called into question, but in the meantime a second review of Tomalin’s biography had appeared in the Times, citing the same passage. Now it was the novelist David Gates gushing that he would trade a pile of Dickens biographies for footage of that tête-à-tête. While agreeing with Tomalin’s characterization of this quotation as “Dickens’s most profound statement about his inner life”, he found its content less astonishing than she: “it’s only amazing because it’s the image-conscious Dickens himself coming out and saying what anybody familiar with his work and his life has always intuited”.

Shortly thereafter, the Times website appended to the online version of Gates’s review the same cautionary note that had already been attached to Kakutani’s. But on January 15, 2012, the paper’s “Sunday Observer” section published yet a third article on Dickens that quoted from Dostoevsky’s letter. (The same online disclaimer was soon appended to this piece as well.) The newspaper’s collective unconscious was unable to give the story up. It demands retelling, and by now Dickens and Dostoevsky can be found meeting all over the web. Their conversation appeals to our fancy while, as Gates realized, comforting us with a reaffirmation of what we already know. Moreover, this reassuring familiarity applies not only to Dickens, but also to Dostoevsky. The man who asks “Only two?” is a writer who already knows what Mikhail Bakhtin would eventually write about him, who is presciently aware of his late-twentieth-century canonization as the inventor of literary polyphony.

More here.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Tauride (Tavrichesky) Palace

Tauride (Tavrichesky) Palace on Shpalernaya Ulitsa in St Petersburg, Russia
Tauride (Tavrichesky) Palace on Shpalernaya Ulitsa

Tavricheskiy - or "Tauride" - Palace is one of the largest and most impressive palaces in St. Petersburg, located in the north-east of the historic centre, next to the Tavricheskiy Garden(formerly the grounds of the palace). Nowadays, the palace is home to the Interparliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and is not open for sightseeing. However, since February 2010, halls of Tavricheskiy Palace are being used to host Potemkin Evenings, concerts of 18th century music performed on authentic instruments by some of the best local ensembles.

The Tavricheskiy Palace was built between 1783 and 1789 by Ivan Starov, one of the leading court architects of the period, for Prince Grigory Potemkin, the close confidant and former lover of Catherine the Great. The palace was built and named in honour of his key role in the annexation of the Crimea, for which he was awarded the title "Prince of Tauris" in reference to the Ancient Greek name for the region. Starov designed the palace in strict Palladian style, and its simple facades were in sharp contrast to the richly decorated interiors and the lavish lifestyle led by Potemkin when in St. Petersburg, as he threw a series of increasingly grand and expensive parties in an effort to shore up his waning influence.

The palace was designed to face the Neva River across its extensive parkland, but in 1860 the city's first water-tower was built between the river and the palace, somewhat spoiling its majestic views.

After Potemkin's death in 1791, Tavricheskiy Palace was bought by the crown. Catherine's son, Paul I, loathed the lifestyle of his mother's court so much that he had the palace turned into stables for the horses of the Imperial Guard, and some of the original interiors were lost. The palace remained in the Imperial family until 1906, when it became the seat of the Imperial State Duma, Russia's first parliament. In 1917 it was briefly home to the Provisional Government and the Petersburg Soviet. In the Soviet Union, the palace was used the All-Union Agricultural Communist University and then the Higher Party School, a college of further education for top-level Communist bureaucrats.

Anna Netrebko - Glinka - A Life For The Tsar (Ivan Susanin)

The Hermitage and Catherine the Great Collector

Catherine the Great's grandiose plans to build in St. Petersburg a gallery to rival the best in Europe were initially met with undisguised skepticism by her friend and adviser Diderot. Only with the additional aid of prints of major works, suggested the French philosopher and Encyclopedist, could the Russians hope to cover the full gamut of Western painting, "since those who do not possess the original of a book are obliged to read it in translation."

But Catherine, who once described herself as not so much a lover of art as "a glutton" for it, was not to be diverted from this ambition any more than from the other multiple schemes this German-born princess brought to fruition during her 17 years as grand duchess and empress in waiting, and 34 years as the absolute ruler of her adopted homeland.

The upshot was the Hermitage, which by the time of Catherine's death in 1796 had well over 2,500 canvases, many of superlative quality, and tens of thousands of other works, from sculptures, tapestries, coins and medals to cameos, enamels, silver and porcelain.


Catherine came to power as the result of a coup in 1762 staged by army regiments. Her deposed husband, Peter III, who had treated her badly and threatened to divorce her, was afterward strangled by her army supporters during a dinner. They were led by the Orlov brothers, one of whom was her lover. Peter and a good number of Catherine's ministers, generals and advisers, many of whom shared her bed at one time or another, appear among the portraits.

Catherine secured a phenomenal range of old masters — only modestly represented in this exhibition by half a dozen or so canvases by Titian, Veronese, Palma il Vecchio, Rubens, Jordaens and Poussin — thanks to her agents' success in obtaining large existing collections, notably those of Frederick II (who had run into financial difficulties), Heinrich von Bruehl ("the Saxon Richlieu"), the French banker Pierre Crozat and the English prime minister Sir Robert Walpole.

This was often in the face of local opposition in the countries from which the works were to be exported, which Catherine overcame with that same unwavering determination, shrewd choice of advisers (Diderot's intervention, for example, was decisive in the removal of the Crozat collection from France), and lavish expenditure that allowed her to expand Russia's borders considerably during her reign.

More here

Kornei Chukovsky: Mayakovsky and Nekrasov (1952)

Nekrasov devoted all his powerful talent to the service of contemporaneity. "Contemporaneity" was one of his favorite words. The vast majority of his verses were topical reactions to burning questions of his day.

On this plane it is interesting to compare Nekrasov with a poet of our own era, Vladimir Mayakovsky, who, like Nekrasov, gave all his "resounding strength" to the service of contemporaneity. This is one of the most important links uniting the critical realism of Nekrasov with the socialist realism of Mayakovsky.

It is Mayakovsky's unremitting concern for the future which brings him so close to his great 19th-century predecessor. Nekrasov had no other heir who looked from the present out into the future with such passion, such avid curiosity. However, for the "peasant democrat" of the 60s only the very distant future could present itself in a rosy light whereas the immediate future loomed before his imagination in the gloomiest and most agonizing images ("My poor child! Do not look ahead!" "Fate had prepared for him... consumption, exile grim"). For Mayakovsky, the poet of the Soviet era, it was an indisputable, totally unassailable certainty that the nearest Soviet tomorrow would be rich in joys hitherto unknown to man.

Glory I sing
To my land
as it is
But glory threefold--
To my land as it shall be.

His poem Good! has, with some cause, been called prophetic. The same epithet could be applied to most of his other verses. In each case he was reaching out militantly towards the future and the "comrades of later generations" were invisibly present in almost everything that he wrote.

"As the living to the living"--that was how Mayakovsky spoke to the generations who were to succeed him, and were it not for this organic link with posterity he would never have become the favorite poet of the Soviet people who, from the first days of October, infected him with the high enthusiasm of their fight for the future, for this was the first people in the world to make constant thought of the happiness of their near and far descendants the guiding principle of all their labors and endeavor. It fell to Mayakovsky's lot to express his nationwide, Soviet enthusiasm.

Yet even as we remember this we should not forget that, in those distant years, in the forties and fifties of the preceding century, when Nicholas I's government considered the very thought of any future transformation of life subversive, when the ruling classes, persecuting every thing that was new, set out to teach the people that everything was planned ahead for the next thousand years and would remain unchanged until the World's End, there appeared a people's tribune, gifted with a vivid feeling for the future, unwearying in cultivating this feeling in his readers. This feeling he imbibed from the moods of the frustrated peasantry, who were just beginning to awake to their revolutionary struggle.

Mayakovsky was more fortunate than Nekrasov: his faith in a joyful tomorrow was conditioned by all the qualities and achievements of the new order, whereas Nekrasov's faith was founded solely on his hope in the miracle-working powers of the people. He was constantly aware of these powers and it is they which suggest the image of Russia:

.. .In her broad breast
There wells a living and unsullied flood--
A people's strength as yet untapped....

... He prophesied confidently of that same era which Mayakovsky had the good fortune to behold in his own life.

The common factors between Mayakovsky's and Nekrasov's poetry have not gone unnoticed by the critics. Victor Pertsov, for instance, in his monography Mayakovsky: Life and Work, emphasises the harmony between the lines from Cloud in Trousers:

We will redye Mondays and Tuesdays
With our blood-making them holidays!

and the famous verses Poet and Citizen:

Forward to face the guns for country, glory,
For all that you hold dear, revere as good....
Forward to pay the final debt of honor,
You will not die in vain; the cause will prosper
Whose roots are nurtured with free-flowing blood....

Pertsov writes that Mayakovsky's poem bears a generic resemblance to Nekrasov's in so far as it is "a direct apostrophe to the persecuted and deprived," and by its fidelity to "the ideas and civic traditions of the great Russian literature."

Indeed, strong civic feeling is characteristic of both poets. Mayakovsky, like Nekrasov, was totally absorbed in contemporary events. Like Nekrasov, he was unfailingly moved by "the heat and burden of the day." Even his insights into the future were, like Nekrasov's, conditioned by the demands of the moment. After, in 1917, he had cried out, apostrophising the revolution: "Be then glorified fourfold, oh, Blessed One," he was faced with the challenge of weeding out from the "Blessed" present remnants of the hateful past. Hence his gallery of satiric images. Nekrasov, in his time, had drawn up a similar gallery (liberals, wealthy peasants, bureaucrats, bankers, stock-brokers, etc.) in spite of the fact that at that time the growth of the new was still barely perceptible and the old order appeared still so powerful and menacing that sometimes it seemed as though it would abide forever. When Mayakovsky wrote of himself:

I, a sewageman,
a water-carrier
By the revolution called up and mobilized,
Went to the front,
straight from the refined rosariums
Of poetry,
a hard-to-please Madam-and worldly-wise,

it is unlikely that he fully realized that every line might be applied to his great predecessor. Nekrasov also felt himself to have been "mobilized and called up" from his youth, from the time of Belin sky; the proof of this is in his work and he himself confirms it when he compares his service to the people to a soldiers' at the front:

But I have served them well--my own heart tells me so....
For though not every soldier harms the foe
All must go to the wars! And fate decides who wins....

When Mayakovsky says that he has left "the refined rosariums of poetry," we cannot but remember that Nekrasov traveled precisely the same road and often contrasted himself with the "sweet singers" who were the product of refined, privileged culture. Mayakovsky's attacks on aesthetic, symbolist lyrical poetry, cultivated in the hot-house conditions of just such a privileged circle of readers, echo, often in the most minute details, the attacks made by Nekrasov, the democratic peasant's poet of the sixties, on the "sweet-stringed" poetry of the drawing-room romance, written to flatter the taste of sheltered aesthetes. In the heat of his polemics against the defenders of "pure art" Nekrasov, to emphasise his contempt for their aesthetic canons and tastes, called his own verse "dour," "clumsy," "halting." Mayakovsky said the same thing--and for the same reasons--about his own verse in his fight against the decadent poetry of "the old world":

Not for romance or ballads
or such stuff it is
That we've cast anchor here--
Our verse and rhymes may sound somewhat roughish
To the well-polished ear. ...

An extract from Kornei Chukovsky's 1952 work Nekrasov's Craftsmanship, providing an analysis of the thematic and stylistic similarities in the poetry of Nikolai Nekrasov and Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Vasily Rozanov - Biography

Vassily Vassilievich ROZANOV (20. 04. 1856, Vetluga — 23. 01. 1919, Sergiev Posad Monastery) — is one of the most original, important and yet under-studied turn-of-the-century Russian thinkers. Born into the family of a middle-ranking clerk, he was only five years old when his father died. He was brought up by his mother, nee Shishkina, who had a strong impact on Rozanov's personality. Rozanov's preoccupation with issues of gender and sexuality can be considered to be a result of his mother's extraordinary (for the time) second marriage to a man some fifteen years her junior. In his later years Rozanov considered this age difference to have mystical significance. When he was young, he duplicated the pattern established by his mother in his own personal life. As a student at Moscow University he married a woman who was twenty-four years older than him. This woman was Appolinaria Suslova, the former mistress of Fedor Dostoevsky and one of the first emancipated and sexually liberated women of the generation of the 1860s. She was as sadistic to young Rozanov as she was to Dostoevsky. Although Rozanov and Suslova stopped living together in 1887, she refused to give him a divorce — a state which lasted until her death in 1918. This well calculated strategy cast a dark shadow over Rozanov's personal life; he had to marry his second wife, Varvara Butiagina, in secret, and this marriage, deemed illicit under Church Laws, caused his pious wife a lot of suffering. Their marriage, which lasted until Rozanov's death, caused further inconvenience for the new Rozanov family as their much loved children were considered illegitimate by the Russian Orthodox church. Rozanov's rebellion against the Christian church and the asceticism of Christianity can be seen to have originated in these aspects of his personal life.

In 1882 Rozanov graduated from Moscow University with a degree in history and philology and he started teaching at schools in various Russian provincial towns. His first work was a voluminous tract 'On Understanding' (1886), written in the tradition of academic writing. The work was not a success, and in later years Rozanov commented that had this work been a success he would have become just an ordinary 'philosopher'. Rozanov valued involvement in every day realia and disliked any form of abstract thinking or activities divorced from the physical and emotional needs of human beings. Rozanov's philosophical tract had few readers, but the influential literary critic Nikolay Strakhov noticed this work and reviewed it favorably. It was Strakhov who helped Rozanov to leave the provinces, after finding him a job in the capital city of St. Petersburg. Once he was liberated from the constraints of his provincial existence and the boredom of his teaching job in a school in Elets Rozanov found his true and unique voice and style. This new voice had nothing in common with the impersonal academic narrative of his philosophical opus — rather it was orientated towards more intimate and subjective conversations based on personal human experience. Zinaida Gippius, one of the major Silver Age personalities, in later years described Rozanov's style as a mode of narrative which is impossible to re-narrate. Rozanov's language and technique were the expression of his mind and body imbued with all the subjectivity of experience, and it is probably this subjectivity which made the otherwise very eloquent Gippius feel inadequate in the role of interpreter of Rozanov's prose. Gippius was well aware of the fact that, unlike her and Dmitry Merezhkovsky, who divided the world into the spheres of 'reality and realiora', or super reality, Rozanov drew no distinction between the two. While the Merezhkovskys had an urge to abandon their earthly bodies in their quest for the celestial incorporeality, Rozanov saw in this body the very embodiment of divine will and incarnation.

Although Rozanov was considered to be a highly idiosyncratic personality by his fellow philosophers and writers, he was nevertheless the typical representative of the Russian Silver Age culture. He was also a product of the European fin-de-siecle culture with its preoccupation with questions of human sexuality vis-a-vis biological science and metaphysics. Rozanov's preoccupation with issues relating to sex took place at a time that was characterized by Michel Foucault as rich in discourses on sexuality. Rozanov himself dubbed his own writing as a 'mission of sex', a term which can be interpreted as a polemical statement reflecting the passionate attitude which typified all intellectual activists of his time, whether they were revolutionaries, creative artists or truth seekers of various denominations.

As a man of deeds, Rozanov admired creative energy and despised passivity and inertia. When the Russian Empire came to an end in 1917, Rozanov blamed its collapse on the laziness of the Russian aristocracy and the ruling classes. He also accused Russia's most important cultural institution, nineteenth-century Russian literature, of fostering wrong ideals amongst the Russian people. In his last work, 'The Apocalypse of Our Times' (1918, 1919) he accused such writers as Ivan Goncharov and Ivan Turgenev of teaching Russian readers to limit their interests to the sphere of romantic and unrequited love, instead of giving practical advice and instruction as to how to be proactive, hard working and positive. He equally attacked writers of the critical tradition, such as Nikolai Gogol and the revolutionary democrat Nikolai Chernyshevsky, for teaching Russians how to ridicule and destroy Government and society while neglecting to instruct on how to rebuild and improve society. This work was one of the last expressions of Rozanov's belief in the importance of being involved in everyday life, a belief linked to his love of things physical and corporeal. Rozanov did not privilege the life of the spirit over the life of the body, and in his work systematically destroyed such hierarchies as imposed by the Christian church and Christian thinkers. ...

ISFP Gallery of Russian Thinkers

Monday, 8 April 2013

The Fountain of Bakhchisaray (Ulanova-Zhdanov-Plisetskaya-Gusev, 1953)

Chusovoy – the beginning of Yermak trip

The history of the city begins with 1879, when near the railway station Chusovskaya a Russian-French joint-stock company there was laid a metallurgical factory. Since that time near the factory there are two-storied wooden “French houses” – memorials of the factory way of life. But long ago before the foundation of Chusovoy people lived in this region. These territories had seen a lot. Some findings say that even in the past times there were links, which connected this edge with the civilizations of the East. From here started his Siberia trip Yermak Timopheevich.

To acquaint with the cultural-historical legacy of the edge the ethnographic complex “The Museum of the River Chusovaya’s History” will help. In this museum under the open air are exported the displays, reproducing Russian olden times. From different parts of Prikamye here lordly country shop, theatre-museum of Russian wooden toys, children’s fair merry-go-round, bucket, mill, well were taken…

In the buildings you can see the things of Russian culture, clothes and instruments. The museum was organized not according to the rules of museum style. Here you can touch everything – paunchy two-bucket samovars, spinning-wheels, kerosene lamps. The spirit of real, native lives here freely among the old things. In the ethnographic park you can also order the excursion to the places famous for Yermak trip and visit the museum of Yermak trip.

Chusovoy also has sad pages in its history. Near it there was one of the latest political zones of severe regime – camp “Perm-36”, which appeared in Stalin’s times and where were kept the most “dangerous” dissident authors and spreaders of anticommunist literature, participants of remedial groups, religious, national and other organizations. In 1990s on its base the Memorial museum of history of the political repressions was organized. ...

Here lot of excellent photos from Chusovoi today.

Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli

St. Petersburgh, Russia
Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli (1700–1771) went to Russia in 1716 with his father, Italian sculptor Carlo Bartolomeo Rastrelli. Russia became his second homeland where he worked for over 40 years. Empress Elizabeth appointed him to the post of senior court architect in 1730. During 1748-1756 Rastrelli was in charge of the Tsarskoye Selo residence construction. Catherine II, then a Grand Duchess, witnessed the work and compared it with that of mythological Penelope; she wrote, “The house has been pulled down six times to the foundation and then built up again.” On 10 May 1752, Empress Elizabeth ordered to completely rebuild her residence, and on 30 July 1756 Rastrelli presented the brand-new 325-meter-long palace to the Empress, her dazed courtiers and stupefied foreign ambassadors. The sumptuous edifice with a semicircle of service buildings (circumferences) enclosing a courtyard became a unique example of the Russian Baroque style. Its brilliant azure walls, snow-white columns, gold sculpture, and glittering onion-shaped domes created a dazzling, fairyland setting. The lavish exterior was echoed by luxuriously decorated interiors, such as Rastrelli’s suite of state rooms – the Golden Enfilade – laid out in a straight line throughout the whole building. More than 100 kilograms of pure gold were used to gild the sophisticated stucco façade and interior carvings. The architect also designed such park pavilions as the Hermitage, Grotto, Monbijou and Coasting Hill.

Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Found in Translation

Translators are often invisible heroes.

Their influence on the texts we read is often unnoticed and little appreciated.

But a translator's personality, and their relationship with the author, inevitably leave a mark on the final result, even if we can't always feel it.

So, do some authors work with some translators better than others?

At the Slovo literary festival earlier this month, we met Hugh Aplin and Arch Tait, who are both translators of Russian literature into English.

Hugh Aplin is renowned for His translations of 19th and early 20th-Century Classics, like Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground  Or Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita .
But he says that the satirical writer Nikolai Gogol is closest to his temperament.
"I think it's a humour thing as far as he's concerned. And certainly I have been asked whether I would translate Dead Souls, because again somebody else thinks that my voice would perhaps fit.

"The problem there is, although I don't generally mind retranslating works, there is a very very good translation of Dead Souls, which is only about six or seven years old.
"So I'm rather loath to be compared with such good translation so soon after it was produced."

Arch Tait, the leading translator of contemporary Russian fiction and non-fiction, spoke of his emotional kinship with two bestselling authors.

"I think My All-Time favorite HAS to BE Lyudmila Ulitskaya. I Just Love the Tone That She HAS. I'm A lapsed Presbyterian, somewhere in My Past and Distant She HAS this strong Moral Voice That Comes always through.

Somebody said that the main character in all her novels is actually the narrator, or the implied narrator. And I don't have a problem with that, I love it, I think it's very nice. I loved translating 'Daniel Stein, Interpreter', which I hope is going to be a great success in the United States and in this country.

"And I'm looking forward, I hope in the future, to carry on translating her."

 " I Would Have to Have liked Victor Pelevin translated. I Love His Sense of humor, but hasn't That Happened. Nevertheless, he's been Very Successful in the West and deservedly so. GOT He's A Very Wicked Sense of humor, and I think he's a real sparkler. "

Does translating fiction from earlier periods in Russian history differ from translating contemporary works? And how do translators keep up with the rapidly changing Russian language?

More here.