May 28, 2014
- Richard at Caravana de recuerdos is reading A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924 by Orlando Figes. In this post, Bertrand Russell writes “If you ask yourself how Dostoevsky’s characters should be governed, you will understand.” Gor’kii asks if the revolution only brought out “the exceptional cruelty of the Russian people” in this post on peasant sex and violence, which makes Russian peasants sound too unselfconscious to be human but too sadistic to be animals. The next post taught me that Gor’kii was at one time an icon painter and has an interesting debate on whether the peasants were “ripe for manipulation by the Bolsheviks” or (as Figes believes) could fill any post-revolutionary vacuum with their own “moral order or ideology.” (This fits with my pet idea that peasant ideas about gender roles were quickly dressed up in Bolshevik language and pushed out the remnants of 1860s free-love feminism.) Also read about why Figes starts in 1891 (a major famine and cholera outbreak), plus an appreciation of Figes’ Tacitean style.
- Via Alexei K., a U.S. court concludes that an allusion to the Man in Black from Pushkin’s “Mozart and Salieri” (Моцарт и Сальери, published 1831) was “too obscure (and too vague) to be defamatory.” The expert witness seems to have misunderstood who killed Mozart in the play, and Eugene Volokh highlights AK’s comment explaining matters.
- I think Languagehat is quoting Peter Hodgson with approval here: Dostoevskii “experimented with patently inadequate European forms, not so that he might hit upon a combination of techniques which would ‘mirror’ the familiar Nevsky Prospect but because he felt that Russian literature had yet to give form to the psychological and moral reality of his countrymen. In following Gogol’s lead and exploiting the native baroque traditions which resided in the subculture, Dostoevsky drew on a set of literary forms which were appropriate to the peculiarly unwestern aspects of Russian reality. At the same time, however, he manipulated their innately irreverent tendency as a weapon against the inappropriate European forms which had accrued to legitimate Russian prose during a century of Europeanization.” I’m curious how this is different from Belinskii’s call for “national character” (народность) in literature, which LH discussed with less approval here.
- Don’t miss Elena Gapova on Gogol’s “Viy” (Вий, 1835) and a recent movie version of it. I’m a little skeptical that the world “is becoming more visual than textual” when the younger generation communicates more in writing than by telephone, for the first time since their great-grandparents. If there was a time when people didn’t “watch more than they read,” I bet it was before television, if not before newsreels and early cinema; if you count the stagecraft of church services as visual, most Europeans for a thousand years have watched more than they read. This nitpicking aside, what Gapova has to say about Gogol and the way Russian literature is or isn’t sold to the world is well worth reading.