Showing posts from May, 2014

Solzhenitsyn’s foresight on Ukraine proves eerily prescient

The great writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn predicted the current situation in Ukraine almost half a century ago. A number of his writings from the Soviet period, including The Gulag Archipelago, contain ruminations on the issue of nationalism and the seeds for potential future ethnic unrest on Ukrainian territory.
Source: Russia Beyond the Headlines -

The great writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn predicted the current situation in Ukraine almost half a century ago. Writing on the issue of nationalism in his masterpiece The Gulag Archipelago, the Nobel laureate wrote: "With Ukraine, things will get extremely painful." Even back in Soviet times he prophetically did not rule out that Ukraine might break away, although with the qualification that "a referendum may be required for each region", given the way lands that had never historically belonged to Ukraine were lumped togethe…

Crimea in Russian literature

Alexander Pushkin was among the first to discover Crimea, albeit unwillingly. He was exiled from St. Petersburg to the south for his poems about freedom. However, Pushkin was either too incorrigible or the Crimean air was too heady, because his exile turned into rehabilitation. “Resurrected feelings, clear mind,” he wrote in the poem “Tavrida” (the Greek name for Crimea). Pushkin’s discoveries in Crimea included the poetry of Ovid. He learned that his Roman counterpart was also exiled to Crimea at the behest of a despotic emperor. In his Crimean poems, Pushkin compares his asceticism with the fate of the ancient poet.
Source: Russia Beyond the Headlines - Voloshin, poet, artist, and organizer of the creative commune, was also inspired by this breathtakingly beautiful peninsula. Voloshin personified a certain simplicity and naturalness in Russian bohemia. He also owned a house in Kokte…

Osip Mandelstam: Black Earth

Hallowed and black, it’s all under nurture,
all horse’s shoulder, all air and care,
all of it crumbling, one huge choir –
my land and liberty’s clods of damp turf. The black turns blue while they plough at dawn
in the home of unarmed labour, and a thousand
rumoured hills have succumbed to the foreshare:
something in the circle is not quite round. All the same, it’s a blunder, an axe-butt, this earth
you can’t beg from however you bang on its leg.
Like a rotting pan-pipe, the ear is alert,
it tills ground for next spring, like a morning clarinet. How well that rich layer lies on the ploughshare,
how well the steppe sits on a crankshaft in April!
So I greet you, black earth: be steadfast, sharp-eyed…
the black-river silence concealed within labour. April 1935

Mayakovsky’s rhythmical roar

In the last section of his autobiographical work, Safe Conduct, written shortly after Vladimir Mayakovsky’s suicide in 1930, Boris Pasternak recalls the extraordinary power of the man and poet in his youth: “whenever Mayakovsky appeared it seemed miraculous . . . . He was gigantic”. The anarchic futurist genius was soon to be displaced by the “drummer of the Revolution”, a poet harnessing his gifts to the cause, and Pasternak began to turn away. But Mayakovsky’s revolution was not exactly the Bolshevik revolution, and he did not easily find a place in the congealing orthodoxy of Soviet culture. It was only after his death that Stalin proclaimed him the poet laureate of the regime, adding that “indifference to his memory and his works is a crime”. Canonized in this way, it is not surprising that with the end of Soviet power Mayakovsky too was toppled, replaced by poets who had been less committed to the Revolution, including Pasternak himself. By 1993, the newspaperLiteraturnaya Gazeta

The Songs of Sergei Dovlatov

In a less punishing country than Russia, Sergei Dovlatov would have been a popular writer whose revolutionary approach to writing would have been obscured by the lightness of tone, brevity, and apparent simplicity of most of his work. The public would have loved him, but most critics would have been disdainful of the vulgarity of his characters’ language and the apparently autobiographical nature of most of his writing. But Dovlatov lived in the Soviet Union, where his fiction could not be published, so he was denied the popularity he deserved. As for the critics, he often drank with them, and they still found occasion to dismiss him. If Dovlatov lore is to be believed, one of them once praised a story he had been shown by saying, “I dislike this one less than the others.” Dovlatov was born in 1941 and grew up in Leningrad. By his mid-thirties he had succeeded in having a grand total of two short stories published in Soviet magazines. He worked for a series of obscure newspapers, writi…

Reasserting Russia’s literary status

Once upon a time it was the greatest literature in the world. When William Faulkner was asked to name the three best novels of all time, he cited the book Dostoevsky described as “flawless”: “Anna Karenina,Anna Karenina,Anna Karenina.”

In rankings of the world’s literary greats, Russia tends to figure more prominently than any other country. Anna KareninaWar and Peace, the stories of Anton Chekhov and Lolita (written in English and self-translated into Russian) are unfailingly on such lists, alongside Shakespeare, Proust, F Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, Flaubert and George Eliot. And that’s without even mentioning Gogol, Pushkin, Turgenev, Pasternak and, of course, Dostoevsky, the writer who did down-to-earth plain-speaking just as beautifully as Tolstoy did lofty spirituality. From Notes from the Underground: “I say let the world go to hell but I should always have my tea.”
Where, though, are today’s equivalents? The question is of more than academic significance. Last December, Vlad…