Sunday, 29 September 2013

For the great poet Marina Tsvetaeva, “every verse was a child of love”

When Marina Tsvetaeva’s mother gave birth to a girl – instead of the boy she had so fervently wanted – she consoled herself with the thought, “At least she’ll be a musician.”
And with that lack of fanfare, Tsvetaeva was born in Moscow on September 26th, 1892. She learned to play the piano according to her mother’s wishes, but eventually the notes slipped off the score and her fingers began to compose incandescent poems.
She lived by and for poetry. “Between word and action, art and life, for her there was no comma, no hyphen; Tsvetaeva put the equals sign between the two,” wrote Nobel-winning poet and author Joseph Brodsky. It was through her daily writing, on a table free of papers, accompanied by a cup of tea and a cigarette, that Tsvetaeva translated the sounds of a unique world, be it in the form of poems, essays, plays, prose or the hundreds of letters that seduced those who read or received them.
Like her soulmate Anna Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva wrote about love in all its intensity, and her poems could be raw and confessional, about love known and unknowable: ”But my river, with your river/My hand, with your hand never/May meet, my joy, while ever/ Dawn and dusk are apart,”
It would be the fire that would continuously feed her life: writing. She loved her husband, Sergei Efron, and, in a possessive way, her children Ariadna, Irina and Georgy. She was loyal to her family until the end of her days. However, Marina had lovers, men and women. There was no limit to her free spirit.
Efron wrote about this to a friend: “Marina is a creature of passions. (…) In culture, she idolizes heroes, in life, poets and lovers.” Some of these passions were terrestrial, other infatuations were intellectual, almost always more intense than real ones. Love and poems are the subjects of the moving, intimate correspondence she kept with her blood brothers in poetry,Boris Pasternak and Rainer Maria Rilke, in the summer of 1926. Most of her poems deal with the theme of love. In them, she undresses without blushing. “There are feelings so serious, so authentic, so great, that they fear neither shame nor rumors.”
In “The Poem of the Mountain” and “The Poem of the End” (1924), considered the most beautiful and important of her work, the poet loudly declares her love for Konstantin Rodzevich, one of her husband’s old comrades-in-arms and the person for whom she nearly ended her marriage.
The following is an excerpt of Elaine Feinstein’s translation of “Poem of the End”: “Understand: we have grown into one as we slept and now I can't jump because I can't let go your hand/and I won't be torn off as I press close to you: this bridge is no husband but a lover: a just slipping past/our support: for the river is fed with bodies! I bite in like a tick you must tear out my roots to be rid of me.” English-language readers owe Feinstein a debt of gratitude for introducing so many readers in English to Tsvetaeva’s lush, open voice.
“I hate my century because it is the century of organized masses, which are no longer a free element.” Marina Tsvetaeva lived in a strange, turbulent era, which she protested in vain. That strange world would hurt her deeply.
Thanks to the success of “Evening Album” (1912), her first book of self-published poems, she fell in with the cultural circles of Moscow, where all the artists and intellectuals followed some avant-garde movement. Tsvetaeva admired many of the contemporary poets of the time, especially Aleksandr Blok, Osip Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova, and Vladimir Mayakovsky, to whom she dedicated numerous poems. However, she chose not to identify herself with any literary movement. Tsvetaeva was an individualist, contrary to the group think that then existed in art and which, after the Russian Revolution in 1917, Lenin’s party tried to use to its advantage.
When Sergei Efron decided to fight the Bolsheviks in the ranks of the White Army, the revolution brutally changed the course of her life and caused similar upheaval for those close to her.
More here.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Shestov or the Purity of Despair

There was once a young woman by the name of Sorana Gurian. She emigrated to Paris in the 1950s from her native Rumania after adventures about which, she felt, the less said the better. In Paris her life of poverty as a refugee did not particularly disturb her. In fact of the group of students, young writers, and artists among whom she lived she was the first to make her way; a good publisher, Juillard, accepted her first and second novels. Then, all of a sudden (how could it have happened if not all of a sudden?), she discovered that she had breast cancer. An operation followed, then another. Although cases of recovery are rare, they do occur; after the second operation, her doctors were optimistic. Whether Sorana had complete confidence in them I do not know. In any case, one battle was won. Being a writer she had to write about what concerned her most, and she wrote a book about her illness—a battle report on her fight against despair. That book, Le Rйcit d'un combat, was published by Juillard in 1956. Her respite, however, lasted only a year or two.

I met Sorana shortly before her death; through mutual friends she had expressed a wish to meet me. When I visited her in her small student hotel on the Left Bank, she was spending most of the day in bed with a fever. We talked about many things, including writers. She showed me the books on her night table; they were books by Shestov in French translation. She spoke of them with that reticent ardor we reserve for what is most precious to us. 'Read Shestov, Milosz, read Shestov.' The name of Sorana Gurian will not be preserved in the chronicles of humanity. If I tell about her, it is because I cannot imagine a more proper introduction to a few reflections on Shestov.

Lev Shestov (pen name of Lev Isaakovich Schwarzman) was born in Kiev in 1866. Thus by the turn of the century he was already a mature man, the author of a doctoral dissertation in law, which failed to bring him the degree because it was considered too influenced by revolutionary Marxism, and of a book of literary criticism (on Shakespeare and his critic Brandes). His book Dobro v uchenii grafa Tolstogo i Nitsshe— filosofia i proponed' (The Good in the Teaching of Count Tolstoy and Nietzshe: Philosophy and Preaching) was published in 1900. In the same year he formed a lifelong friendship with Nikolai Berdyaev, one that was warm in spite of basic disagreements that often ended in their shouting angrily at one another. His friendship with Berdyaev and Sergei Bulgakov places Shestov in the ranks of those Russian thinkers who, about 1900, came to discover a metaphysical enigma behind the social problems which had preoccupied them in their early youth. Shes-tov's philosophy took shape in several books of essays and notes written before 1917. His collected works (1911) can be found in the larger American libraries. The fate of his writings in Russia after the revolution, and whether their meaning has been lost for new generations, is hard to assess. In any case Shestov expressed himself most fully, it seems to me, in his books published abroad after he left Russia in 1919 and settled in Paris, where he lived till his death in 1938. These are Vlast' klyuchei: Potestas Clavium (The Power of the Keys), 1923 and Na vesakh Iova (In Job's Balances), 1929; those volumes which first appeared in translation, Kierkegaard et la philosophie existentielle, 1938 (Russian edition, 1939), and Athиnes et Jйrusalem: un essai de philosophie religieuse, 1938 (Russian edition, 1951); lastly those posthumously published in book form, Tol'ko veroi: Sola Fide (By Faith Alone), 1966, and Umozreniпe i otkroveniпe: religioznaya filosofia Vladimira Solovyova i drugiпe stat'i (Speculation and Revelation: The Religious Philosophy of Vladimir Solovyov and Other Essays), 1964. [1]

Shestov has been translated into many languages. Yet in his lifetime he never attained the fame surrounding the name of his friend Berdyaev. He remained a writer for the few, and if by disciples we mean those who 'sit at the feet of the master,' he had only one, the French poet Benjamine Fondane, a Rumanian Jew later killed by the Nazis. But Shestov was an active force in European letters, and his influence reached deeper than one might surmise from the number of copies of his works sold. Though the quarrel about existentialism that raged in Paris after 1945 seems to us today somewhat stale, it had serious consequences. In The Myth of Sisyphus—a youthful and not very good book, but most typical of that period—Albert Camus considers Kierkegaard, Shestov, Heidegger, Jaspers, and Husserl to be the philosophers most important to the new 'man of the absurd.' For the moment it is enough to say that though Shestov has often been compared with Kierkegaard he discovered the Danish author only late in his life, and that his close personal friendship with Husserl consisted of philosophical opposition—which did not prevent him from calling Husserl his second master after Dostoevsky.

I am not going to pretend that I have 'read through' Shestov. If one is asked whether one has read Pascal, the answer should always be in the negative, no matter how many times one has looked at his pages. In the case of Shestov, however, there are obstacles other than density. His oeuvre is, as Camus defined it, of 'admirable monotony.' Shestov hammers at one theme again and again, and after a while we learn that it will emerge inevitably in every essay; we also know that when the theme emerges, his voice will change in tone and sustain with its usual sarcasm the inevitable conclusion. His voice when he enters an argument is that of a priest angry at the sight of holy vessels being desecrated. Convinced that he will not be applauded because his message seems bizarre to his contemporaries, he does nothing to diminish our resistance, which is provoked most of all by what Lйvy-Bruhl, in a polemic with him, called 'hogging the covers.' Shestov was often reproached for finding in Shakespeare, in Dostoevsky, and in Nietzsche much that is not there at all, and for too freely interpreting the opinions of his antagonists (numerous, for these included practically all the philosophers of the past three thousand years). He dismissed the reproach with a laugh: he was not such a genius, he would say, that he could create so many geniuses anew. Yet the reproach is not without validity.

He knew he was not understood; probably he did not want to be overly clear. But the difficulty in assimilating him is not caused by any deviousness on his part or by any levels of ironic meaning or aphoristic conciseness. He always develops a logical argument in well-balanced sentences which, especially in their original Russian, captivate the reader with their scornful vigor. Shestov is probably one of the most readable philosophic essayists of the century. The trouble lies in his opposition to those who separate the propositions of a given man from his personal tragedy—to those who, for instance, refuse to speak of Kierkegaard's sexual impotence or of Nietzsche's incurable disease. My guess is that Shestov, too, had his own drama, that of lacking the talent to become a poet, to approach the mystery of existence more directly than through mere concepts. And although he does not mix genres, or write "poetic prose," one feels that at a given moment he falls silent and leaves much unsaid because the border of the communicable has been crossed. That is why in self-defense he sometimes quotes Pascal: "Qu'on ne nous reproche donc plus le manque de clartй, puisque nous en faisons profession"—"Then let people not blame us any more for our lack of clarity, since we practice this deliberately."

To associate Shestov with a transitory phase of existentialism would be to diminish his stature. Few writers of any time could match his daring, even insolence, in raising the naughty child's questions which have always had the power to throw philosophers into a panic. For that reason such questions have been wrapped in highly professional technical terms and, once placed in a syntactic cocoon, neutralized. The social function of language is, after all, both to protect and to reveal. Perhaps Shestov exemplifies the advantages of Russia's "cultural time lag": no centuries of scholastic theology and philosophy in the past, no university philosophy to speak of—but on the other hand a lot of people philosophizing, and passionately at that, on their own. Shestov was a well-educated man, but he lacked the polite indoctrination one received at Western European universities; he simply did not care whether what he was saying about Plato or Spinoza was against the rules of the game—that is, indecent. It was precisely because of this freedom that his thought was a gift to people who found themselves in desperate situations and knew that syntactic cocoons were of no use any more. Sorana Gurian after all was an agnostic, largely beyond the pale of religious tradition, and not a philosopher in the technical sense of the word. Whom could she read? Thomas Aquinas? Hegel? Treatises in mathematical logic? Or, better still, should she have tried solving crossword puzzles?

What does a creature that calls itself "I" want for itself? It wants to be. Quite a demand! Early in life it begins to discover, however, that its demand is perhaps excessive. Objects behave in their own impassive manner and show a lack of concern for the central importance of "I." A wall is hard and hurts you if you bump against it, fire burns your fingers; if you drop a glass on the floor, it breaks into pieces. This is the preamble to a long education the gist of which is a respect for the durability of "the outside" as contrasted with the frailty of the "I." Moreover, what is "inside" gradually loses its unique character. Its urges, desires, passions appear to be no different from those of other members of the species. Without exaggeration we may say that the "I" also loses its body: in a mirror it sees a being that is born, grows up, is subject to the destructive action of time, and must die. If a doctor tells you that you are dying of a certain disease, then you are just another case; that is, chance is a statistical regularity. It is just your bad luck that you are among such-and-such a number of cases occurring every year. ...

Czeslaw Milosz - Shestov or the Purity of Despair

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Night Train for Naples: Gorky in Italy

In October 1906, Russian author Maxim Gorky arrived in Naples. He was returning to Europe from New York, where a drive he spearheaded to collect funds to further revolution in Czarist Russia had fizzled. One reason was because it had been discovered that the woman traveling with him, whom he passed off as his wife, was in fact his lover. After more or less spinning their wheels for about six months, the couple had left the United States and hoped to settle, at least temporarily, in southern Italy.
Gorky, who was born in 1868 in southern Russia, was already a famous novelist and playwright and had hobnobbed with Tolstoy and Chekhov. Gorky’s literary style and subject matter showed a knowledgeable sympathy for the plight of the Russian peasants and workers, an aptitude that transcended the traditional condescension and pity and which celebrated the humanity of the downtrodden, the possibilities of improvement in their condition, and the strength of their creativity to cope with their circumstances.
Having risen from the what he called the “lower depths,” Gorky, whom a contemporary critic labelled “an emissary from the anonymous Russian masses,” believed in the ability of the common man to ultimately shape his destiny and be an agent of positive change. He proclaimed in a famous line: “Man – it has a proud ring! …He even invented God.”
Gorky and his companion, actress Maria Andreyeva, arrived in Naples from New York on the German ship Princess Irene on October 26, 1906. First they stayed in the city for a few days before making further plans. Gorky’s preliminary idea was to remain in Italy two to three months before deciding where to settle, since he could not return to Russia, where he would likely be jailed, exiled to Siberia, or worse.
Naples had then a flourishing Russian student community and a smattering of Russian political exiles. Coming ashore, Gorky declared to journalists that he “came to Naples purposely to visit the city of love and Russian expatriates who study in your university.” In Naples, he stayed at the Grand Hotel Vesuvio, a luxury establishment on Via Caracciolo, visited the usual tourist sights, was feted both by fellow Russians and the Neapolitan intelligentsia, and was watched warily by the police, who did not want the Socialists to use him to create social strife.
Within days, Gorky had decided that he liked Italy and decided to go to Capri, where the balmy climate would be good for his health, and the still, country-like pace of life would be conducive to writing.
On November 4, he and Andreyeva moved to Capri on the ferryboat Mafalda and were received at the dock at Marina Grande by a multitude. They planned to stay for a few days at the luxurious Grand Hotel Quisisana while exploring, but after seeing Capri’s beauty, they first decided to stay until after Christmas and then to stay indefinitely.
Gorky was to live in Capri for more than seven years, until December 1913. He wrote:
Capri is a small bite of an island but exquisite. Here you see right away, in a day, so much beauty that you remain inebriated and cannot accomplish anything. The Gulf of Naples is more beautiful and deeper than love and women. In love you discover everything right away. Here I am not sure if is it possible to discover everything. In my brain, a happy devil is dancing the tarantella. In Capri I feel drunk without having touched wine…
On November 22 they left the hotel and moved to Villa Blaeseus (now Hotel Krupp), a modest but spacious house looking over Capri’s Marina Piccola and the rocky stacks rising dizzyingly against the sky from the vine blue sea, the Faraglioni.
Gorky remained at Villa Blaeseus until 1909, sponsoring a room of the house a revolutionary party school to teach Russian expatriates the theory and practices of revolutionary Socialism. It is likely that the Italian government did not object to Gorky’s stay in Capri since in the small island his activities were easier to control and the comings and goings of his visitors and guests could be observed much more easily than on the mainland. Many future figures of the Russian Revolution showed up in Capri as Gorky’s guests: the physicist and philosopher Alexander Bogdanov, Marxist theoretician Anatoly Lunacharsky, Marxist author Vladimir Bazarov, and Vladimir Lenin, who visited Gorky twice. Russian cultural figures also made frequent pilgrimages. Gorky’s guests included writer Ivan Bunin, writer Alexander Tikhonov, playwright Leonid Andreyev, and opera bass Fiodor Chaliapin.
In April 1907, Gorky traveled to London to attend the Congress of the Socialist Party. Some 300 delegates attended, including the old stalwarts and the new lions of the Left: Trotsky, Lenin, a young but not yet well-known Stalin, Bogdanov, Rose Luxemburg, Angelica Balabanoff, and many others. The group had meant to assemble in Copenhagen and had already traveled to that city a few at a time, so that they would not intrude on Danish sensibilities, but on the last minute the city fathers denied permission for the meeting, as the Czar was the nephew of the Danish king. The delegates then traveled to London where they held their congress, ironically, in a non-descript church in Whitechapel.
Lenin was elected chairman and tried to keep a tight rein on the proceedings but soon the sessions degenerated into a free-for-all. Gorky wrote later: “… My festive mood lasted only until the first meeting when they began wrangling about ‘the order of business.’ The fury of the disputes chilled my enthusiasm…”
Gorky saw Lenin, whom he had previously met in Russia, was welcomed warmly and they talked about Gorky’s book Mother. He described Lenin thus:
When we were introduced, he shook me heartily by the hand, and scrutinizing me with his keen eyes and speaking in the tone of an old acquaintance, he said jocularly: ‘So glad you’ve come, believe you’re fond of a scrap? There’s going to be a fine old scuffle here.’ I did not expect Lenin to be like that. Something was lacking in him. He rolled his r’s gutturally, and had a jaunty way of standing with his hands somehow poked up under his armpits. He was somehow too ordinary and did not give the impression of being a leader.
Lenin first visited Gorky in Capri on April 23, 1908, staying until April 30. The primary reason for the visit was to explore whether a theoretical quarrel brewing between Lenin and the teachers at Gorky’s Capri party school could be averted. Lenin did not want to go and had written to Gorky: “My going is useless and harmful. I cannot and will not have anything to do with people who have set out to preach a union of scientific socialism and religion. The days of copybook controversy have passed. There is nothing to argue about, and it’s silly to upset one’s nerves for nothing.” Eventually he went, telling Gorky that he would go, “on the condition that I do not speak about philosophy or religion.”
Getting ready for the trip to the south, Lenin had started to teach himself Italian. He traveled by train from Geneva, Switzerland, to Milan and hence down the peninsula through Florence. Being a Roman history buff since childhood, he stopped off in Rome for a few hours, enough for a walk from the rail station to the Capitoline Hill and the Forum, before boarding the night train for Naples.
More here.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Sergei Prokofiev - Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution

London Symphony Orchestra - Valery Gergiev
Live performance recorded at the Barbical Hall on 14th June 2007.

Plisetskaya - AVE MAYA - documentary film

Sergey Yesenin: Letter to Mother

Still around, old dear? How are you keeping?
I too am around. Hello to you!
May that magic twilight ever be streaming
Over your cottage as it used to do.
People write how sad you are, and anxious
For my sake, though you won't tell them so,
And that you in your old-fashioned jacket
Out onto the highroad often go.
That you often see in the blue shadows
Ever one dream, giving you no rest:
Someone in a drunken tavern scuffle
Sticks a bandit knife into my chest.
Don't go eating your heart out with worry,
It's just crazy nonsense and a lie.
I may drink hard, but I promise, mother,
I shall see you first before I die.
I love you as always and I'm yearning
In my thoughts for just one thing alone,
Soon to ease my heartache by returning
To our humble low-roofed country home.
I'll return when decked in white the branches
In our orchard are with spring aglow.
But no longer wake me up at sunrise,
As you used to do eight years ago.
Do not waken dreams no longer precious,
Hope never fulfilled do not excite.
It was my misfortune to experience
Loss and weariness too early in my life.
Don't teach me to pray. Please, mother!
There's no going back, try as you might.
You alone give me support and comfort,
You alone glow with a magic light.
So forget your cares, please. Don't be anxious
And for my sake, dear, don't worry so.
Out onto the road in your old-fashioned
Jacket, please do not so often go.

Leonid Andreyev: Lazarus

When Lazarus rose from the grave, after three days and nights in the mysterious thraldom of death, and returned alive to his home, it was a long time before any one noticed the evil peculiarities in him that were later to make his very name terrible. His friends and relatives were jubilant that he had come back to life. They surrounded him with tenderness, they were lavish of their eager attentions, spending the greatest care upon his food and drink and the new garments they made for him. They clad him gorgeously in the glowing colours of hope and laughter, and when, arrayed like a bridegroom, he sat at table with them again, ate again, and drank again, they wept fondly and summoned the neighbours to look upon the man miraculously raised from the dead.

The neighbours came and were moved with joy. Strangers arrived from distant cities and villages to worship the miracle. They burst into stormy exclamations, and buzzed around the house of Mary and Martha, like so many bees.

That which was new in Lazarus' face and gestures they explained naturally, as the traces of his severe illness and the shock he had passed through. It was evident that the disintegration of the body had been halted by a miraculous power, but that the restoration had not been complete; that death had left upon his face and body the effect of an artist's unfinished sketch seen through a thin glass. On his temples, under his eyes, and in the hollow of his cheek lay a thick, earthy blue. His fingers were blue, too, and under his nails, which had grown long in the grave, the blue had turned livid. Here and there on his lips and body, the skin, blistered in the grave, had burst open and left reddish glistening cracks, as if covered with a thin, glassy slime. And he had grown exceedingly stout. His body was horribly bloated and suggested the fetid, damp smell of putrefaction. But the cadaverous, heavy odour that clung to his burial garments and, as it seemed, to his very body, soon wore off, and after some time the blue of his hands and face softened, and the reddish cracks of his skin smoothed out, though they never disappeared completely. Such was the aspect of Lazarus in his second life. It looked natural only to those who had seen him buried.

Not merely Lazarus' face, but his very character, it seemed, had changed; though it astonished no one and did not attract the attention it deserved. Before his death Lazarus had been cheerful and careless, a lover of laughter and harmless jest. It was because of his good humour, pleasant and equable, his freedom from meanness and gloom, that he had been so beloved by the Master. Now he was grave and silent; neither he himself jested nor did he laugh at the jests of others; and the words he spoke occasionally were simple, ordinary and necessary words – words as much devoid of sense and depth as are the sounds with which an animal expresses pain and pleasure, thirst and hunger. Such words a man may speak all his life and no one would ever know the sorrows and joys that dwelt within him.

Thus it was that Lazarus sat at the festive table among his friends and relatives – his face the face of a corpse over which, for three days, death had reigned in darkness, his garments gorgeous and festive, glittering with gold, bloody-red and purple; his mien heavy and silent. He was horribly changed and strange, but as yet undiscovered. In high waves, now mild, now stormy, the festivities went on around him. Warm glances of love caressed his face, still cold with the touch of the grave; and a friend's warm hand patted his bluish, heavy hand. And the music played joyous tunes mingled of the sounds of the tympanum, the pipe, the zither and the dulcimer. It was as if bees were humming, locusts buzzing and birds singing over the happy home of Mary and Martha. ...

Ivan Turgenev, essay by Henry James (1903)

WHEN the mortal remains of Ivan Turgenev were about to be transported from Paris for interment in his own country, a short commemorative service was held at the Gare du Nord. Ernest Renan and Edmond About, standing beside the train in which his coffin had been placed, bade farewell in the name of the French people to the illustrious stranger who for so many years had been their honoured and grateful guest. M. Renan made a beautiful speech, and M. About a very clever one, and each of them characterised, with ingenuity, the genius and the moral nature of the most touching of writers, the most lovable of men. "Turgenev," said M. Renan, "received by the mysterious decree which marks out human vocations the gift which is noble beyond all others: he was born essentially impersonal." The passage is so eloquent that one must repeat the whole of it. "His conscience was not that of an individual to whom nature had been more or less generous: it was in some sort the conscience of a people. Before he was born he had lived for thousands of years; infinite successions of reveries had amassed themselves in the depths of his heart. No man has been as much as he the incarnation of a whole race: generations of ancestors, lost in the sleep of centuries, speechless, came through him to life and utterance."

I quote these lines for the pleasure of quoting them; for while I see what M. Renan means by calling Turgenev impersonal, it has been my wish to devote to his delightful memory a few pages written under the impression of contact and intercourse. He seems to us impersonal, because it is from his writings almost alone that we of English, French, and German speech have derived our notions--even yet, I fear, rather meagre and erroneous--of the Russian people. His genius for us is the Slav genius; his voice the voice of those vaguely-imagined multitudes whom we think of more and more to-day as waiting their turn, in the arena of civilisation, in the grey expanses of the North. There is much in his writings to encourage this view, and it is certain that he interpreted with wonderful vividness the temperament of his fellow-countrymen. Cosmopolite that he had become by the force of circumstances, his roots had never been loosened in his native soil. The ignorance with regard to Russia and the Russians which he found in abundance in the rest of Europe--and not least in the country he inhabited for ten years before his death--had indeed the effect, to a certain degree, to throw him back upon the deep feelings which so many of his companions were unable to share with him, the memories of his early years, the sense of wide Russian horizons, the joy and pride of his mother-tongue. In the collection of short pieces, so deeply interesting, written during the last few years of his life, and translated into German under the name of "Senilia," I find a passage--it is the last in the little book--which illustrates perfectly this reactionary impulse: "In days of doubt, in days of anxious thought on the destiny of my native land, thou alone art my support and my staff, O great powerful Russian tongue, truthful and free! If it were not for thee how should man not despair at the sight of what is going on at home? But it is inconceivable that such a language has not been given to a great people." This Muscovite, home-loving note pervades his productions, though it is between the lines, as it were, that we must listen for it. None the less does it remain true that he was not a simple conduit or mouthpiece; the inspiration was his own as well as the voice. He was an individual, in other words, of the most unmistakable kind, and those who had the happiness to know him have no difficulty to-day in thinking of him as an eminent, responsible figure. This pleasure, for the writer of these lines, was as great as the pleasure of reading the admirable tales into which he put such a world of life and feeling: it was perhaps even greater, for it was not only with the pen that nature had given Turgenev the power to express himself. He was the richest, the most delightful, of talkers, and his face, his person, his temper, the thoroughness with which he had been equipped for human intercourse, make in the memory of his friends an image which is completed, but not thrown into the shade, by his literary distinction. The whole image is tinted with sadness: partly because the element of melancholy in his nature was deep and constant--readers of his novels have no need to be told of that; and partly because, during the last years of his life, he had been condemned to suffer atrociously. Intolerable pain had been his portion for too many months before he died; his end was not a soft decline, but a deepening distress. But of brightness, of the faculty of enjoyment, he had also the large allowance usually made to first-rate men, and he was a singularly complete human being. The author of these pages had greatly admired his writings before having the fortune to make his acquaintance, and this privilege, when it presented itself, was highly illuminating. The man and the writer together occupied from that moment a very high place in his affection. Some time before knowing him I committed to print certain reflections which his tales had led me to make; and I may perhaps, therefore, without impropriety give them a supplement which shall have a more vivifying reference. It is almost irresistible to attempt to say, from one's own point of view, what manner of man he was. ...

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Maria Bochkareva - Russian Joan of Arc

In the archives of the Office of the Federal Security Service of the Omsk region remained Indictment Mary Leontyevna Botchkareva. 36 tattered leaves - the last point in the life "Russian Joan of Arc ... Meanwhile, during the lifetime of the glory of this amazing woman was so great that it could be envy of many stars of modern politics and show business. 

Reporters vied took her interview, Russia's magazines published enthusiastic articles about the "woman-hero". But, . alas, . after several years of all this splendor in the memory of compatriots have remained only contemptuous lines Mayakovsky's "fool bochkarevskih", . senselessly trying to defend the last residence of the Provisional Government on the night of the October Revolution ...,
. The real fate of Mary Botchkareva akin to adventure novels: the wife of a drunkard-worker, a friend of a gangster, "helpers" in a brothel
. And suddenly - a brave soldier, soldier, a noncommissioned officer and officer in the Russian army, one of the heroines of World War. A simple peasant girl, only to the end of life has taught the basics of literacy, happened in my lifetime to meet with the head of the Provisional Government п-.пг. Kerensky, the two supreme commander of the Russian army - A. A. Brusilov and L. G. Kornilov. "Russian Joan of Arc" officially accepted U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and the English King George V. 

Mary was born in July 1889 in a peasant family. In 1905, she married 23-year-old Athanasius Bochkareva. Married life almost immediately had no luck, and without regret Bochkareva parted with a drunken husband. Soon after Mary met her "a fatal love" in the face of a certain Yankel (Jacob) Buka, which is on the documents listed as a peasant, but in fact hunted robbery gang hunghutz. When Jacob finally arrested, Bochkareva decided to share the fate of the beloved and went after him on stage in Yakutsk. But in exile Jacob continued his earlier works - was buying stolen goods, and even participated in the attack on the mails. To Buka not sent even further (in the Kolyma), Maria agreed to cede harassment Yakut Governor. Unable to survive the betrayal, she tried to poison himself, and then told all Buka. Jacob barely tied in the governor's office: to kill the seducer, he did not have time. As a result, Jacob again condemned and banished to a secluded Yakut village Amga. Maria was here the only Russian woman. But the old relationship with her lover has not recovered ... 

August 1, 1914 Russia joined World War. The country embraced the patriotic sentiments. Maria decided to break with Yankel and go to a soldier in the army. In November 1914, in Tomsk, she turns to the commander of 25 th Reserve Battalion. He invites her to go to the front as a nurse, but Mary insists on its. Importunate petitioners give ironic advice - apply directly to the emperor. In the past eight rubles Bochkareva sends a telegram to his Majesty, and soon, much to our surprise, gets permission to Nicholas II. She enlisted in the hired soldiers. By an unwritten rule, the soldiers gave each other nicknames. Remembering the Bouquet, Mary asked to call himself "Yashka." 

"Yashka" fearlessly walked in bayonet attack, pulled the wounded from the battlefield, was wounded several times. "For outstanding courage, she received a George Cross and three medals. She was assigned the rank of junior and then senior non-commissioned officer. 

February Revolution turned the familiar to the world of Mary: the positions were rallies, began fraternization with the enemy. Due to an unexpected acquaintance with the Chairman of the Interim Committee of the State Duma M. V. Rodzianko, who came to the front to speak, Bochkareva in early May 1917 was in Petrograd. Here she is trying to implement a sudden and bold idea - to create special units from female volunteers, and together with them to continue to defend the Fatherland. Botchkareva initiative was approved by the Minister of War Alexander Kerensky and the Supreme Commander Alexei Brusilov. In their view, the "female factor" could have a positive moral influence on the decaying army. 

Botchkareva responded to the call more than two thousand women. By order of Kerensky's women soldiers identified a separate room at the Commerce Street, a detachment of ten experienced instructors to train their military ranks and the use of weapons. Originally expected, even that the first detachment of women volunteers for the front as nurses leave the wife Kerensky - Olga, who gave the commitment in case of need to stay all the time in the trenches. "
 .Maria has established strict discipline in the battalion: the rise at five, classes until ten at night, a short rest and a simple soldier's meal.

. "Intelligent person" soon began to complain that Bochkareva too rough and "beats the muzzle, like a real sergeant of the old regime". In addition, she forbid her to organize a battalion for all boards and committees and to appear there party agitators. Supporters of "democratic transition" has been accessed even by the commander of the Petrograd Military District, General P. A. Polovtsev, but in vain: "She (Bochkareva), fiercely and expressively waving his fist, said that disgruntled let cleaned out, that she wants to be part of a disciplined". Eventually, the battalion being formed all the same split - with Botchkareva remained about 300 women, while the rest formed an independent battalion of shock. Ironically, it is this part of the shock troopers who dropped Botchkareva "for the behavior of light", and became the basis of women's battalion, which is October 25, 1917 defended the Winter Palace. That their captured a rare picture that is stored in the collections of the State Museum of Political History of Russia.
. June 21, 1917 at St. Isaac's Square in a solemn ceremony of a new military unit for a white banner with the inscription "The first female military command the death of Maria Botchkareva"
. On the left flank of the detachment in a new form of warrant officer was agitatedMaria: "I thought that all eyes were fixed on me alone. Archbishop Veniamin of Petrograd and Archbishop of Ufa instruct our battalion died way Tikhvin. It happened, in front - the front! "Finally the battalion was a solemn march through the streets of Petrograd, where he was greeted by thousands of people. 
June 23 unusual military unit went to the front. Life is at once dispelled the romance. Initially, at the barracks of the battalion had even put the clock: an unbridled soldiery pestered "the women" with explicit proposals. Combat Battalion received the baptism in fierce fighting with the Germans in early July, the seventeenth year. In one report of the commander stated that "detachment Botchkareva behaved heroically in battle," set an example "of bravery, courage and peace". And even General Anton Denikin, is skeptical about such "surrogate army", admitted that the female battalion bravely went on the attack, "not supported by other parts of. In one battle Bochkareva concussion and was sent to Petrograd hospital. After recovery, she was ordered to the new Supreme Commander Kornilov to review women's battalions, which had nearly a dozen. Review Moscow Battalion showed their complete deactivation. Upset Mary returned to his unit, determined for itself "more women at the front not to take, because the women I have been disappointed."

More here.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Lenin's lieutenant - Inessa Armand

In 1910, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, aged 40, was living with his wife Nadya in exile in Paris, as the head of the Bolshevik group of Russian revolutionaries. The comrades would meet in a cafe in the Avenue d'Orléans , where they drank beer or grenadine and soda, and had the use of an upstairs room for lectures and discussions.
It was here that, in the autumn, they were joined by fellow revolutionary Inessa Armand. She was 36, auburn-haired and green-eyed, a member of Moscow's French community and on the run from the Russian police.
Lenin, the stormy petrel of the Social Democratic party, was facing more serious opposition than ever. His funds had been appropriated and his journal, Proletarii, closed down. Inessa Armand was fluent in four languages and had a talent for organisation. Lenin soon realised her value.
Working closely together for a common aim led in time to a love affair that was profound yet volatile. Sharing with him seven years of exile, she became his troubleshooting lieutenant. She was to help him recover his position and hone his Bolsheviks into a force that would acquire more power than the tsar, and would herself by 1919 become the most powerful woman in Moscow. Yet few people outside the small world of academic historians have heard of her, partly due to party control of Lenin's image.
The illegitimate daughter of a Parisian opera singer, Inessa had married Alexander Armand, the eldest son of a wealthy French-Russian textile family, at the age of 19. For nine years Inessa was a rich young wife, bearing Alexander four children. Then, at 28, she left him to live openly with Vladimir "Volodya" Armand, Alexander's 17-year-old brother, a university student and revolutionary.
Alexander, however, continued to maintain her and supervised the children when she was in jail or exile. When she bore Vladimir's son, Andre, in 1903, Alexander legitimised the boy. By the time Inessa Armand met Lenin, she had been imprisoned four times and had escaped from exile in Mezen, a small town on the edge of the Arctic circle. Within weeks of her escape, Volodya, who had TB, died in her arms in 1909.
The following year she joined Lenin's group. She set up a revolutionary school in Longjumeau, near Paris, where the love affair is thought to have started. She helped him rig a Social Democratic party conference in Prague, gaining by trickery a Bolshevik majority.
Nadya, his wife, offered to leave Lenin, but he asked her to stay. She agreed, but moved out of his bedroom. Nadya and Inessa were in fact friends who shared a deep faith in the revolutionary cause and in feminism. Nadya was devoted to Armand's children and even informally adopted the younger ones after Armand's death.
Inessa went back to Russia on Lenin's behalf to reorganise the St Petersburg party network, broken up by police raids. Despite her disguise as a Polish peasant, she was identified and jailed for six months.
Alexander obtained her release with a huge bail of 6,500 roubles, which, with his approval, she jumped before her trial in 1913, rejoining Lenin, who was then living near Cracow. It was there that her love affair with Lenin came to crisis.
It was Lenin who made the decision to end the affair, temporarily at least, in late 1913. This is clear from Armand's only surviving letter. "I could cope without your kisses if only I could see you...To talk with you sometimes would be such a joy and this could not cause pain to anyone. Why deprive me of that?"
More here.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: The Maid of Pskov

Tsar Ivan the Terrible - Alexei Tanovitski.
Olga - Ekaterina Shcherbachenko.

Lev Shestov - Biography

LEV SHESTOV (born Schwartzman) (13.02.1866, Kiev — 19.11.1938, Paris) — Russian philosopher of religious existentialism. He was born into the family of a rich Jewish manufacturer, and was educated at the Law School of Moscow University. His Ph.D. thesis on labour in Marx was suppressed by censorship. In 1895 he travelled to Europe. He married his wife Anna Berezovskaya in Rome the next year, and kept this marriage secret for a long time from his father. Shestov's first book Shakespeare and his critic Brandes was published in 1898. A number of articles and books on Russian writers Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Sologub, were published during the following years. In 1905 was published his most influential book Apotheosis of Groundlessness, inspired by Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. He was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1920. With his family he settled in Paris, where he taught at the Sorbonne until his death, where he lectured on Plato, Luther, Pascal and Spinoza. Shestov taught philosophy to Bataille, who was also a translator of his book Philosophy and Predication. He was familiar with Heidegger, Levi-Strauss, Scheler, and he also entertained long-standing philosophical friendships with Husserl and Buber. It is thanks to Shestov that Husserl came to be known in France.

Shestov considered philosophy to begin at the extreme margins of life. To philosophize, for Shestov, means to overcome a impossibility of Being. Therefore the overcoming of death, eternity and the trivial round are one of his main themes. 'This would truly be the summit of human audacity, this would truly be a 'mutiny,' a 'revolt' of the single human personality against the eternal laws of the all-unity of being!' (Speculation and Apocalypse). Philosophy should strive against common categories, conventionalism of truth and rationalism of cognition; therefore he chose faith rather than knowledge.

The key philosophical theme of Athenes et Jerusalem is a strict confrontation between knowledge and belief, between Western rationalism and Eastern faith; the former he associates with captivity and narrowness, the latter is the source of freedom and diversity. Thus he creates his religious existentialism as a philosophy of multiplicity and emancipation from knowledge, morality and rules of mind and action. Philosophy should understand the world, but not to know it and not to investigate it by reason. He shared Heidegger's aim of the destruction of metaphysics and for his own part he undertook his own attempt to overcome metaphysics with the help of a faith. Faith, according to Shestov, is an ultimate emancipation of a human being from the limitation of the eternal laws, general rationalization and social dogmas. Shestov's Job 'knows that the general is deaf and dumb — and that it is impossible to speak with it' (Speculation and Apocalypse). To be means to believe, but not to think. Thus he took Luther's thesis as a title of his book Sola fide. ... 
The Lev Shestov homepage, all his books in Russian and English

Nikolay Gumilev: The Word

In olden days, when above the new world
God inclined his face, then
The sun was halted with a word,
A word could destroy citites.

And the eagle would not flap its wings,
The terrified stars would cling to the moon,
If, like a pink flame,
The word floated in the heavens.

And for lowly life there were numbers,
Like domestic, yoked cattle,
Because an intelligent number expresses
Every shade of meaning.

The graying Patriarch, who bent
Good and evil to his will,
Dared not make use of sound, but drew
A number in the sand with his cane.

But we have forgotten the word alone
Is numinous among earthly struggles,
And in the Gospel According to John
It is said that the word is God.

We have chosen to limit it
To the meager limits of nature,
And, like bees in a deserted hive,
Dead words smell bad.

From ...

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Aram Khachaturian - Biography

The work that truly launched Khachaturian’s international reputation had a far from auspicious start. Composed in 1936, his Piano Concerto was an ambitious attempt to blend the trans-Caucasian folk music of his hometown, Tiflis (today the Georgian capital, and known as Tbilisi), with the dramatic virtuosity of a Liszt concerto.
For its first public outing the soloist was Lev Oborin, winner of the first Warsaw International Chopin Piano Competition of 1927. However, the performance was held on an open-air stage in Sokolniki, a Moscow ‘park of culture and leisure’. Oborin had to play on an upright, and Khachaturian’s ambitious orchestral score, including within its soulful slow movement a part for flexatone (a ‘singing’ percussive instrument also used by Arnold Schoenberg), was entrusted to an ad hoc group of musicians of varying skill, who had just one rehearsal before the performance on 12 July 1937.
During the performance, a strong wind blew away the spectacles of the conductor, Lev Steinberg, who continued as best he could, even though he could no longer see the score in front of him. All this was too much for the composer. After the performance Khachaturian was eventually found, as Oborin recalled, ‘deep inside the park, crying bitterly, with his arms around a birch tree’.
It was an experience that might have upset a more experienced composer. For Khachaturian, deliberately nurtured by the Soviet State as representative of the newly budding Armenian national style, and of whom much was expected, this first exposure outside the relatively safe confines of the Moscow Conservatory was both humiliating and traumatic, as became evident from his subsequent touchiness about how his music was to be performed.
Yet the Concerto’s premiere, despite all appearances, was officially deemed a success, and professional performances followed that autumn, both in Moscow (conducted by Alexander Gauk) and in Leningrad (by Yevgeny Mravinsky). Khachaturian was soon spoken of in the same breath as his distinguished colleagues Shostakovich and Prokofiev. He not only became a leading Soviet composer, but from 1939 held a key position in the Composer’s Union: as vice chairman of its organising committee – in effect the executive head – Khachaturian oversaw the setting up of a central music fund to commission and publish works by Soviet composers. He also personally organised the creation of rural ‘houses of rest and creativity’, such as Ivanovo, where composers could work in quiet surroundings. That he threw himself into this work with such energy and enthusiasm was perhaps his way of thanking the system that had so prodigiously recognised his talents.
Born to a humble Armenian family, Khachaturian had received no formal musical training in his youth, though he taught himself piano on a battered upright acquired by his parents; by the time Georgia fell to the Red Army, early in 1921, he was good enough to work as a pianist aboard a Bolshevik propaganda train running between Tiflis and the Armenian capital Yerevan; his job was to attract a crowd by playing popular songs and marches at every stop.
But it was almost entirely the unique opportunities afforded by Soviet rule that enabled Khachaturian to develop from a musically illiterate teenager to one of the world’s most popular composers of the last century. The new Soviet state was determined to demonstrate its beneficial effect on precisely those non-Russian ethnic groups which had been neglected under tsarist rule. One person to benefit from this policy was Khachaturian’s older brother, the theatre director Suren Khachaturov (he had removed the Armenian-style ending to his surname when he first moved to tsarist Moscow in 1910).
When Tiflis fell into Soviet hands, Suren obtained an official mandate to recruit promising young musicians and artists from his home town to be trained at his Armenian drama studio in Moscow. Khachaturian, seizing his opportunity to improve his education, joined Suren’s newly-recruited troupe aboard a freight train to Moscow. Within months of his arrival, his talent was recognised and he enrolled at the Gnessin Institute, a music college run by the formidable Yelena Gnessina. He initially studied cello, but when he hurt his hand, either through over-zealous practice or from hauling crates in a wine cellar (to earn necessary income while studying), he was persuaded to study composition instead with Gnessina’s brother, Mikhail Gnessin.
Gnessin was then involved in developing a Jewish folk style in music, and naturally encouraged his pupil to develop his ‘Armenian’ style from the trans-Caucasian folk and urban songs and dances he knew from childhood in Tiflis. Khachaturian’s earliest compositions – charming miniatures for piano, spiced with dissonances typical of Tiflis street musicians – also show his admiration of Ravel’s music.
More here.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Stolypin - Life of a Statesman (Documetary)

Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin served as Prime Minister and the leader of the third Duma, from 1906 to 1911. His tenure was marked by efforts to counter revolutionary groups and by the implementation of noteworthy agrarian reforms. Wikipedia

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Lost leaders: Leon Trotsky

Lev Davidovich Bronstein (Leon Trotsky) was born in Yanovka, Ukraine. Speaking about his upbringing, Trotsky later said: "We were not deprived, except of life's generosity and tenderness." He was shown no such tenderness by Stalin, who cemented his own rule by ousting Trotsky from the Soviet Union.
Trotsky joined the Social Democrats in 1896. He escaped exile in Siberia in 1902 and reached England using a passport under the name of his former jailer, Trotsky.
In London Trotsky met Lenin and other Russian revolutionaries who collaborated in the publication of Iskra (The Spark). He split from Lenin in 1903 to lead the Menshevik faction, fearing that Lenin's theories would produce a one man dictatorship.
During the failed 1905 revolution Trotsky propounded his theory of permanent revolution: revolution in one country must be followed by revolutions in others and eventually throughout the world. He was exiled again.
Trotsky returned to Russia in 1917 and joined the Bolsheviks in St Petersburg. Although temporarily arrested by Kerenski's provisional government, he played a major role in the October Revolution and led the Russian delegation at Brest-Litovsk in 1918.
He served in the Politburo from 1919-27 and was made Commissar for War during the Russian civil war. Under his leadership the Red Army grew from 800,000 to 3,000,000, and fought simultaneously on sixteen fronts.
Following the debilitation and eventual death of Lenin in 1924, Stalin and Trotsky were the leading figures to succeed him. Although Lenin had rejected Stalin as his successor, Stalin used his position of power within the party structure to strengthen his position.
A division broke in the Communist ranks and Trotsky's Left Opposition tried to mobilise the Moscow proletariat. His failure demonstrated that Trotsky was no longer a charismatic leader and his influence declined. Stalin removed him from the commissariat for war and Trotsky held relatively minor posts before Stalin ousted him from the party.
Trotsky's fall from power continued with his exile to Kazakhstan, and culminated with his expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1929. This move left Stalin as the sole and undisputable leader of the Soviet Union.
Trotsky was assassinated by a Soviet agent in 1940.