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March 27, 2014
  • Languagehat reads a writer entirely unknown to me: Iakov Butkov (1820 or 1821-1856): “by no means great literature, but it’s enjoyable reading and is clearly the product of the resentful, somewhat paranoid, hanging-on-by-his-fingernails scrivener described in the [memoirs of Dostoevskii’s friend Aleksandr Miliukov].”
  • On Crimea: Alexander Anichkin on English words and phrases connected with Crimea, especially the Crimean War of 1854-1855, like Inkerman. And “Potemkin village,” which I had forgotten had anything to do with Crimea.
  • Also kind of on Crimea: Eliot Borenstein has an interesting post on the irony of Aleksandr Prokhanov complaining about the anti-Semitism of pro-Maidan Ukrainians. I was going to write “Russian nationalist Aleksandr Prokhanov,” but that doesn’t begin to describe him; I know him as a frequent guest on Echo of Moscow radio, where I’d say he pushes nostalgia for (secular and nominally internationalist) Soviet greatness and belief in the superiority of the Russian people and Russian Orthodox Church to their incompatible extremes. As Borenstein says, Prokhanov’s “mainstream acceptance began over a decade ago, when his novel Mister Hexogen (the mutant literary offspring of The Da Vinci Code, Phillip K. Dick, and Mein Kampf) won the National Bestseller award.” From Prokhanov’s point of view, the ironic thing is that “Jewish organizations—both European and our own Russian ones—they support this Maidan.  What are they doing?  Don’t they understand that they’re hastening a second Holocaust with their own hands?” Read the whole thing, including reflections on a generalized fear in much Russian discourse of a minority suddenly taking power over the majority.
  • If you want more on Prokhanov and Mister Hexogen, check out Marina Aptekman’s “Kabbalah, Judeo-Masonic Myth, and Post-Soviet Literary Discourse: From Political Tool to Virtual Parody” (The Russian Review, 2006).
  • I highly recommend Sarah J. Young’s discussion of Nanci Adler’s Keeping Faith with the Party: Communist Believers Return from the Gulag (2012). There’s a lot on the advantages and limitations of the “communism as twentieth-century religion” framework. Young wants to take “loyalist narratives” that present the Gulag as a good thing together with the dissident Gulag narratives we are familiar with and see them all as one complex “camp writing tradition.” She uses Trifonov’s Disappearance to show how the middle-aged victims of the purges in the 1930s — the ones who were true believers — could put their experience in the context of their own ruthlessness during the Russian Civil War and keep their faith in the common goal alive. There’s a brief but fascinating reference to examples Adler gives of “cases of communists who lost faith much later, even though it had survived the Gulag.”
  • And I look forward to exploring The Calvert Journal, “a guide to creative Russia,” a website with lots of pictures that I learned about from LH.
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