poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

May 28, 2011

Odds & Ends: Diary of a High-Functioning Madman Edition

I fired, well, broke up with, well, kindly cancelled all future appointments with my therapist because she wanted to keep returning to the past, while I wanted to concentrate on the here and now, on my own maladaptive behavior, which I can change, not that of my parents, which I can’t. I don’t need to pay a shrink to know the mother and the father are to blame. The Oompa Loompas taught me that. I just need someone to say, “You’re lovely and bright and insightful and I just adore you but you need to practice doing x, y and z. Let me show you how.” I don’t know what’s so hard about that. What’s so hard about that? Why are professionals morosely obsessed with my failed, deceased mother? Heal thy fucking self indeed, sickos.

So shock horror that when I finally get around to writing a new Odds & Ends I immediately start thinking about past topics. OMG psychotherapy has wrecked my brain forever! Well, at least I’m digging up shit I actually like from my past, not my damned childhood. And I do it only in the interest of keeping readers, since these recurring themes are, uh, what my blog is about. People do not come here for optimism or football. Sure, some of the material I cover is disturbing, but frankly it’s therapeutic in its own way to talk about alienized children in Stalinist UFOs or literary criticism. No one ever talks about those things. Maybe they should. Because apparently talking about things solves all our problems. However, I am writing, not talking, and you are not charging $150/hr to read it. Which I’m sure violates a fundamental law of the therapeutic process rendering it DOA. So I’ll wallow, but with lowered expectations.

HIGH-FUNCTIONING

I. If you liked Lost in Translation, then you might enjoy:

Guardian: Translations lost in Booker International prize judging.

Yeah, there’s gotta be a foreigner who writes better than Philip Roth. If only because I’ll be forced to shoot myself in the brains if there isn’t. And I don’t want to make a mess. One day I’ll tell you how Philip Roth traumatized me.

Well, it’s over, and Philip Roth has won the Man Booker International prize for 2011. I was delighted about that. The judges have read with great zest and pleasure – surveying, in Dr. Johnson’s phrase, “from China to Peru” – a vast amount of fiction by contemporary writers. It would have been great to find, and to reward, a writer in translation, preferably one little known to Anglophone readers. But we have an “International” Prize here, which surely means that it is open to anyone – who either writes in English or is available in English translation.

[…]

“…one never knows what other people are fucking talking about… We were supposed to speak the same language but did we fuck…I forgot if I was talking, who I was talking to. I came in and out of perception like I was on dope.”

This piece of applied Wittgenstein suggests that shared perception is the problem. Is there any? Or are all languages private ones? Thus we encounter constantly, every day, the problem of translation. Not just from one language to another, but within the same tongue: from adult to child, man to woman, white to black, English to American, historical to contemporary. “Oh man, you don’t know where I’m coming from,” people used to say. All tongues are foreign tongues?

Not quite – if you ask the way to The Hermitage it helps to understand Russian. It helps even more if you wish to get the most out of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. But the great majority of us – and this is my second point – have grown up reading these authors, and dozens of others in translation, with enormous profit and respect. I prefer reading Dostoyevsky to reading George Eliot, any day. I may miss the nuances of the language, not to mention its funniness, but I still get the extraordinary emotional power, the memorable characters, the play of ideas, the thump of the narrative. I remember Crime and Punishment pretty accurately, though I have not read it for 30 years, but can hardly recall anything of The Mill on the Floss.

Unless you have the original language you cannot say with any precision how well an author writes. Yes, sometimes you can guess. I am told that Juan Goytisolo is very well translated, and Wang Anyi often is not. We encountered a number of writers who we rather suspected were of top quality, but whose work was dreadfully translated, often by local cooperatives, university presses or cack-handed professors (often American). I remember one translation of a Chinese novelist in which the father and mother of a family were called “Mom” and “Dad.” In another, a dreadfully sadistic guard at a prison is described as “really mean.”
What’s one to do?

He’s on to something; “Chto Delat’?” has far more punch, right?

Or was that not rhetorical? Uhm, hire judges who read a language besides English? Just a suggestion…

II. If you liked Daniel Kalder, then you might enjoy:

Transmissionsfromalonestar: Parallel Lives: Russian Literature At Home And Abroad.

The dude who wrote about the Vissarionites and BFE central Asia is now living in Texas? Why does that make perfect sense? Anyway, this was on his blog. And it just segued so elegantly…

For most of the 20th century for instance, there were two parallel Russian literatures. Since the USSR practiced censorship, most people in the West believed that only Solzhenitsyn and other anti-soviet authors could be worth reading, and even relatively obscure dissidents could secure book deals. Authors of the soviet establishment however, who enjoyed print runs in the millions at home, were barely read outside the Eastern bloc, even though the Moscow-based Progress publishing house tirelessly churned out translations for the Western market.

Some authors managed to straddle this East/West divide: Mikhail Sholokhov for instance. But he achieved fame when there were still large numbers of intellectuals favorably inclined to the USSR in the West. After Stalin’s depredations became undeniable, it wasn’t so easy for a soviet author to secure a wide readership in America or Europe. Indeed one of the most famous of all soviet novels, Ilf and Petrov’s The Twelve Chairs, is practically unknown in the West. It doesn’t help that The Twelve Chairs is a comedy either: Westerners like their Russian authors bearded and serious.

Since 1991, the situation has changed again. Dissident writers once banned in Russia are now widely read at home and forgotten in the West. Vasily Aksyonov, for years a professor at Georgetown University, couldn’t even find an American publisher for his last few novels. Eduard Limonov, the notorious leader of the National Bolshevik party now deemed illegal in Russia, hasn’t been published in English since 1990.

However it’s not just contemporary writers who suffer from this distorting effect. Even the classics are subject to it.

All educated readers in Britain and America know the names of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, even if they haven’t read them. Chekhov is almost regarded as an English writer, at least in terms of the influence he has had on the short story.

Step back a little farther in time, however, and things become murkier. It’s easy to get your hands on Gogol’s Dead Souls and Petersburg Tales but as for Taras Bulba, Dikanka or even some of his plays, well, not so much. And of course, most obscure of all is Alexander Pushkin. People might know the name, but hardly anyone has read him.

By pure coincidence Scowspi and Doom are on my facebook page at this very moment lamenting the former’s failure to read Taras Bulba. I myself have not, and, like Kalder’s unwashed masses, I am also not a huge Pushkin fan. Ok the one about the demons and the storm in the carriage, that was great stuff. But enough to base a national identity on? When you have Dostoevsky? Really? REALLY?

III. If you liked Russian Film 101, then you might enjoy:

MosFilm archives! On YouTube! Bezplatno!

IV. If you liked Top Thinkers, then you might enjoy:

Sincerity and Authenticity by Lionel Trilling.

It’s a book. I found it in the free books room at the library (yes). I really know nothing about Lionel Trilling, but from the moment I began to read it I felt guilt and shame for the pure exhilaration of it. I don’t often use the term, “intellectually masturbatory,” but I can think of no other purpose for this book to exist. I love it!

One reviewer called it “Self-help for the literary/philosophical set.” Do you know I am viscerally sickened by self-help books? I’m one of the few Chicagoans who believes the end of the Oprah Winfrey show is actually a step forward for civilization. I expect no help from this book, just mad validation of my disturbing lifestyle. Which, to think of it, is the same thing Oprah provided her audience, so I guess the reviewer isn’t so far off.

It’s full of great quotes. Actually, if there is some textual connective tissue for these quotes, I’m missing it. But they’re great quotes!

“Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!” ~Hawthorne.

“Of all ridiculous characters the one which the world pardons least is the one who is ridiculous because he is virtuous.”~Rousseau

“But then of course it came to be understood that the bias of psychoanalysis, so far from being Dionysian, is wholly in the service of the Apollonian principle, seeking to strengthen the “honest soul” in the selfhood which is characterized by purposiveness and a clear-eyed recognition of limits. The adverse judgment increasingly passed upon psychoanalysis […] not only expresses an antagonism to its normative assumptions and to the social conformity which is believed to inhere in its doctrine, but is also an affirmation of the unconditioned nature of the self, of its claim to an autonomy so complete that all systematic predications about it are either offensively reductive, or gratuitously prescriptive, or irrelevant.” ~Trilling.

PREACH IT, BROTHER!

MADNESS

I. If you liked PTSD, then you might enjoy:

ABC: Big Changes for the Psychiatrist’s ‘Bible’.

It’s bad enough they’re practicing psychiatry, but they have a Bible too? Sin, pathology, tomayto, tomahto. Anyway, it’s nice to see them realize something I have been shouting in their faces for decades. Probably the shouting didn’t help. BTW, did you know the Catholics have decided suicide is not a sin? And the APA has decided it’s not limited to the clinically depressed.

APA leaders also emphasized the two new suicide risk assessment scales planned for DSM-V, one for adolescents and one for adults.

Dr. David Shaffer, of Columbia University, told reporters on the press call that suicide nearly always occurs in the context of some psychiatric disorder, but not always depression.

The new risk assessment tools focus on risk factors such as impulsive behavior, heavy drinking, and chronic severe pain and illness.

In DSM-IV, suicidal ideation is treated as a symptom of major depression and certain other disorders.

Every diagnosis until this year has gone like this: suicide attempt -> professional Dx of “Depression” -> someone asking me why I wanted to kill myself. In that order. Always. Then they go on to be confused as to why I have low self esteem. Because if you slit your wrists, you are depressed, and if you are depressed, you have low self-esteem, and this is the bizarre logic practiced by people who have devoted their lives to studying the human MIND. “Actually I don’t have a sense of low self-worth. I’m just sick of suffering. I just don’t want to live in a cruel world.” “It’s common for victims of abuse to have low self-esteem.” “If I had low self-esteem, would I be here trying to correct your assumptions about me?” “You are so smart. Why would you want to kill yourself? You must be sick.”

II. If you liked Stalin’s space monkeys, then you might enjoy:

Gawker: Roswell ‘UFO’ Was Nothing More than Stalin’s Nazi Space Ship Full of Monsters

Sin, pathology, tomayto, tomahto, monsters, children… The thing is, I totally believe it. Except for the Nazi part. For a country so gung ho on giving itself credit for saving the planet during WWII, we seem to have absolutely no concept of how the Soviet Union, er, did not like the Nazis. Which is not to say someone like Stalin would not be capable of ordering human experimentation to turn children into aliens with the aim of scaring the pants off Americans. Just that the Nazi bit seems a creative flourish to drive home the fact that turning children into aliens is, like, really evil. Which frankly implies that Stalin was evil sure but not Nazi evil. Just sayin.

As one of America’s foremost news sources for crazy internet people, we feel it is important to keep you informed on the very latest news regarding the real story behind mysterious government alien autopsy site “Area 51,” the Nevada military base where they keep that UFO that crashed in Roswell in 1947. And now, the most recent theory on the crash, from respected (really!) journalist Annie Jacobsen’s new book:

Joseph Stalin recruited Nazi scientist Josef Mengele to conduct human experiments to produce “grotesque, child-size aviators” and put them on a Russian spacecraft that was sent flying over the U.S. to “spark public hysteria,” and then the U.S. government covered it all up.

This has been a completely accurate transcription of The Latest Theory on Area 51. If you have more up-to-date theories, put them in the comments at once.

This is a such a great story that, like Santa, even if it is not true, we should still accept it out of honor for the capacity of human imagination. This story was on Nightline. Which I am addicted to because it’s lurid shock news without the politics. And they show it right before bed. Anyway. Their main concern was that the book also reports that Americans were doing human experimentation at Area 51. Why is this so difficult to accept? We have the money, the science, the ambition and the arrogance, and more of it than the even the Soviet Union. We created the bomb. Does anyone look at Washington and find the great voice of conscience that would prevent us from creating an abomination to retain our superpower status and, well, just because we can? Right? What I love most about this story is that it illustrates perfectly what I have been saying on this blog for ages: Americans and Russians are far more similar than anyone is still willing to admit.

Vova agrees.

III. If you liked, well, anything I’ve written about Putin, then you might enjoy:

Outdoor Life: One-on-One With Vladimir Putin.

Because I will never have enough excuses to post this:

OL: Do you think the Russian people are more open-minded about sports such as hunting and fishing, or have Americans just become hypersensitive?

VP: I think this question should rather be addressed to a professional psychoanalyst. I am not ready to assess transformations in Americans’ sensitivity and, more than that, I do not think it would be right to ascribe certain characteristics to representatives of one or another ethnic group.

The area where a person lives, the prevailing social and economic conditions and cultural traditions surely leave an imprint on his or her personality but, still, I have met quite a few Americans who could easily be taken for Russians if they did not speak English. In general, we have a rather similar mentality. In any case, we are not snobs. My “popularity,” as you call it, with American outdoors enthusiasts is just another proof of that similarity of our views and perceptions.

You say that you cannot imagine the U.S. President even allowing himself to be photographed while hunting, or with his shirt off. But I can because I remember pictures of Theodore Roosevelt taken not just with a hunting rifle or a fishing rod in his hands, but with a lion he killed. And indeed, as recently as last summer, President Barack Obama was bathing in the Pacific Ocean in front of TV and photo cameras, and he was not wearing a tie, to put it mildly. Does this look like politically incorrect behavior? Not to me, and my ethnic origin has nothing to do with that.

It is certainly very important, particularly for the Head of State, to carry oneself in such a way as not to offend or humiliate people’s feelings, in word or deed; however, the society is so rich in various—sometimes mutually exclusive—customs, hobbies and forms of self-expression that it is merely impossible to measure one’s actions against each of them every now and then.

We cannot reduce everything to absurdity, but we should not show off in this context, displaying ostentatious commitment to the so-called “standards of decency.” We need to identify and maintain essential, basic things.

I would like to say a few words on political correctness on the whole, and on tolerance, representing the crucial values of modern civilization; on the topics that have no direct bearing either to hunting or fishing, but belong to basic moral and ethical foundations of our existence.

I have observed more than once that in some countries, including the United States, people who call themselves Christians feel shy, resentful or afraid of showing their commitment to Christian traditions and rituals in public. In fact, they do nothing that could offend other confessions—provided, of course, that they treat those confessions with genuine respect and consider them to be of equal value with the Christian faith; all the more so since ethical values that lie at the basis of all religions of the world are essentially the same.

Here the feeling of superiority is unacceptable, even destructive, and we all see it very well. I rank strict observance of political correctness principles in religious matters among those very essential foundations of human behavior.

And you should listen to what Putin says about religion because when he’s not playing nature boy or running countries or singing for charity, he’s an angel. Oh don’t take my word for it!

Via Novaya Gazeta:

billboards around Piter:

AGT doesn’t see the resemblance, but as someone who has spent countless hours staring at pictures of the Russian PM, I think I am perhaps more qualified to judge. Mark your calendars, kids! For the first and perhaps only time, I am squarely with Novaya Gazeta on this one.

Speaking of madness, I mean religion:

Because so many of you have inquired, I cannot end this edition without addressing the question on all of your minds.

No. I did not start the female cult who worship Putin as saint and savior. But don”t let that stop you from joining.

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely weekend!

December 16, 2009

Odds & Ends: These are a few of my favorite things Edition

Contents: Kurkov, Kremlin comics and Applebaum’s antics, Democracy and Capitalism and Swiss minarets. Overweight hedgehogs and Barack bitching, These are a few of my favorite things…

“Now get a good night’s sleep, children. For tomorrow we must hike across the Alps to Switzerland, where we will be safe from the Nazis … I mean … the Muslims.”

POLITICS.

1. You may stop holding your breath now. Of course I cannot allow the Swiss vote banning minarets to pass unmentioned here, a site borne of Swiss oppression. Everyone and their mother was blogging about it. (“Today, we are all Swiss jihadists!”) But I don’t like to contribute to the noise level or take part in op-ed epidemics. It only perpetuates the phenomenon of knee-jerk reaction + moral authority + Internet connection that has come to replace the profession once known as journalism. It discourages reflection and sobriety. That said, there was some memorable commentary in the days following the referendum. My favorite was from Crooked Timber:

One can only suppose that, having waited until 1971 to give women the vote in Federal elections, and in some parts of the country until 1990 in Cantonal elections, the Swiss are now making up for lost time making good on their commitment to feminism.

And now that my wait is over, I am not here to simply indulge in Schadenfreude for the fallen Swiss. Or to give a lecture on why the banning of minarets is perverse. Or to present another exhibit in my case against this fair (no, really) nation. Or to even wonder aloud with a hint of nefarious intent, “What kind of country, do you imagine, would remain neutral during the Holocaust, but take a firm stand against Islamic symbolism?” No. Rather than lavishing the Swiss or the Muslims with attention, I suggest this story has a much more profound implication that transcends issues of nationality or religion or Europe’s race problem.

The implication is that DEMOCRACY can be totalitarian. Sure, we can blame a majority of Swiss for being xenophobic. Baaad xenophobic Swiss. Whatever. Sometime the majority are assholes. Or in the case of my country, dangerously undereducated. The result is George W. Bush and Swiss minaret bans. Maybe democracy is still the best of all of our terrible ideas, but shouldn’t we be asking, “Why?” Is it because our personal opinions or “values” based on fear, ignorance, greed or any of our most base instincts are more precious than the equal application of rights to all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, etc.? Is Joe Blow down the street a better steward of our rights than those whose job it actually is to protect them? Do we champion this institution because it recognizes and empowers The People, or because it it recognizes and empowers … ourselves?

Do people even think about these things when they’re mewing about democracy and authoritarianism?

2. Wait, I’m not done with Switzerland! Remember Anne Applebaum and her indignation at the Swiss authorities who had the sick nerve to jail a man who drugged and sodomized a young girl and then fled the police? Taking together all the words in that previous sentence, you would be left to assume that darling Anne must harbor some kind of irrational hatred of the Swiss. (Or an irrational affinity for rapists…) But no! (Must be the latter….) Who should come to the defense of the Swiss minaret ban but the woman who came to the defense fo Roman Polanski?! I see a pattern here. Mark Ames’ new opus, “Anne Applebaum is a dingbat,” tries to explain the WaPo column in which she states:

This decision has been interpreted across Europe, and particularly in the United States, as evidence of Swiss bigotry and rising religious intolerance. But it was not — or at least not entirely. More important, it was evidence of fear, though not fear of “foreigners” or “outsiders” as such. […]

There is, therefore, nothing especially Swiss, or especially isolationist, about the recent referendum result. A similar question, put in a similar way, might well have led to a similar result anywhere in Europe. The growth of the “far right” parties in the recent past is almost always connected to fear of Islamist extremism.

Ames comes back with:

First of all, why’d she leave out the word “racist” or “bigoted”? The criticism wasn’t that the Swiss are Swiss, or that they’re isolationist–it’s that they’re Nazi fucks whose gilded streets are paved with Jews’ gold teeth and African blood diamonds.

Applebaum argues that the Swiss aren’t really Swiss, they’re just regular Europeans. Because all the other European countries would do the exact same thing–so long as we’re talking about a highly qualified conditional reality in which a similar (though not the same) question, put in a similar (though not the same, so now it’s twice-removed from sameness) way– run it through the modal verb tense “might well have led to” … and voila! All Swiss are Socrates!

If that makes no fucking sense whatsoever, then ask yourself the real question here: why the fuck is Anne Applebaum trying to cover for far-right European racists?

Answer: because her husband, Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski, is one of ‘em.

In fact, Sikorski is the perfect Archie Bunker to Anne Applebaum’s dingbat. Just consider this knee-slapper Sikorski told last November shortly after the election of President Obama:

“Have you heard that Obama may have a Polish connection? His grandfather ate a Polish missionary.”

You get it? Because Obama is black. And blacks, according to Polish bigots, are cannibals. Seriously, it’s funnier in the original Polish, you had to be there–it kills ‘em in Krakow every time–bowls ‘em over in Gdansk.

Wow, the Swiss and Applebaum all in one package. Santa came early! In fact, Swiss Applebaum sounds like the kind of delicious holiday treat I might find at a local European bakery. But lo, what do I find in the stocking hung by the chimney with care?

True story: Anne’s car blew up and she got secret service protection because maybe the Kremlin was trying to off her or something but really her car just malfunctioned and she kept slamming on the accelerator and blew it up!

3. Wait, I’m not done with Democracy! Or rather, Russia’s non-Democracy. Or rather, its general eeeevilness. First, I feel I should weigh in on the death of Mr. Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer who perished in prison awaiting trial for tax evasion. Acc’d. the Wall Street Journal’s “Murder by Natural Causes”:

This week Vladimir Putin’s regime proved an even colder and darker place than what a Russian winter alone can offer.
Ethicists may debate when not preventing a death becomes murder. But one doesn’t need a Ph.D. to conclude that the death of Sergei Magnitsky was just that—a state sanctioned murder. […]

Hermitage chief William Browder describes his late attorney as “a healthy 37-year-old professional” when he entered the jail. But being completely cut off from his family, and the physical pressures he endured while in custody, proved too much. Magnitsky made numerous official complaints of his treatment, including a 40-page report to the general prosecutor describing squalid conditions, treatment bordering on torture, and the onset of gallbladder stones, pancreatitis, and a severe digestive ailment. […]

With this new milestone, Moscow consummates the marriage of brutality and revisionism. Contemporary Russia is almost comically weak when viewed from the West, which once feared Moscow would destroy the world. But that doesn’t mitigate the merger of Stalinism with Putinism, nor the tragedy that means for the Russian people.

While denying ANYONE medical care is deplorable, I wonder why it is “murder” when Russia does it and, er, the free market at work when America does it. What’s up with that shit? And if the WSJ is correct … America is a Stalinist country. Just sayin’. And BTW, Dima axed a slew of prison officials in response to the Magnitsky death. Why can’t Barack axe a slew of insurance providers who take the same decision to deny medical treatment to those who need it? Oh yeah, democracy…

It seems I’m not the only one who quibbles with the equation of Stalinism to Putinism. Human rights activists in modern Russia are quick to differentiate between the Communist era and the current regime, citing that the latter is … more dangerous:

Former Soviet dissidents criticized the condition of human rights in Russia under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, saying their work is more dangerous than in the final decades of the communist regime. […]

While Russians today enjoy many more freedoms, there were “much fewer” killings of dissidents during the communist era, said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, 82, who was forced to emigrate to the U.S. in the 1970s because of her anti-Soviet views.

Kovalyov, Alexeyeva and Oleg Orlov, head of the Memorial human rights group, will receive the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought later this week in Strasbourg. Estemirova was a member of Memorial, which documents Soviet-era repression and human rights violations.

Get yer irony on.

While “comically weak” was not among the list of explanations University of California Berkeley undergraduates provided for their negative associations about Russia, the WSJ’s colorful language is certainly illustrative of the PR crisis facing the country these days. Clearly they just need to re-brand themselves. “Multicultural Russia.” ”Eco Russia.” “Resilient Russia.” I’ve earnestly been making this point for a while (no one listens to me!), though I was thinking about it mostly in terms of policy initiatives and less in terms of … branding. When Americans wrap crap in a pretty package, it is branding. When Russians do it it is called a “Potemkin Village.” Apparently some lies are better than others. Hell, even when Russia does make an effort to do something genuinely democratic all anyone talks about it how obnoxiously stage-managed it all is. As if the entire Western political system is not rapidly becoming nothing more than a high-budget made for TV production. Though perhaps it would help if Putin’s set design team were a bit less inspired by the dystopian aesthetic of Zamiatin’s We, “… shining all sky-blue crystal regularity through the glass …”

Unless that’s what he’s going for, of course.

CULTURE.

1. If you are not new to this blog, you are well aware of my low threshold of intolerance for irresponsible journalism. I’m also forever fascinated with the phenomenon in which Western cultural institutions become some kind of absurd parable of the Emperor’s New Clothes when they get into the hands of our Russian friends. I mean, it’s just genius how that happens. Anyway, the following story caught my attention the way Reeses Dark candy bars have: two of my favorite things, combined to serve absolutely no benefit to society:

From AFP: British tabloids inspire Russia’s school for scandal:

As students scribble in notebooks, a lecturer draws on a flipchart in what might look like any regular night class — except these are budding reporters picking up tips from the editor of Russia’s most muck-raking tabloid.

The editor of the weekly Zhizn, Aram Gabrelyanov, has opened a tabloid journalism school at the newspaper’s Moscow office, offering classes taught by staff reporters and jobs for the best students.[…]

“Unfortunately no one likes tabloid journalism in Russia. It’s customary to say it’s ugly and unethical,” he said. “I completely disagree. There are two types of journalism: interesting and not interesting.”[…]

How quickly they learn and mimic our bad behavior, like impressionable young children…

“I’d really love to work here,” said one student, Maria Tokmakova, who studies advertising by day. “I think it’s yellow press, but it’s what people need.”

Another student, Ali Shartuni, agreed. “It’s the most progressive (paper) here. It’s like a Western country’s way of working,” he said.

Nevertheless, the criticism most frequently levelled at Zhizn is that it fawns to the Kremlin.

Gabrelyanov makes no secret of the fact that any negative coverage of the country’s rulers is banned.

“My direct order to my journalists, I don’t hide this, is that we don’t write anything about President (Dmitry) Medvedev and (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin,” Gabrelyanov, referring to Russia’s ruling tandem.

“We don’t write and we won’t dig. First because there’s no point and secondly because it’s not needed for the foundations of the state.”

Impressive. Combining the absence of social value encouraged by the Capitalist School with the absence of independence encouraged by the Communist School. What monster has this coupling managed to spawn, I wonder? On the other hand, I’d probably do worse to get a meeting with Surkov.

Gabrelyanov said he consults regularly with a man seen as the Kremlin’s gray cardinal, deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, whom he described as “the cleverest man I know,” as well as Kremlin media advisor Alexei Gromov.

But he denied acting on Kremlin orders. “Of course (Surkov) doesn’t phone me. Why would he phone me to say publish this or that? That’s small stuff,” Gabrelyanov said.

Alexei Simonov, the president of the Glasnost Defence Foundation, a media freedom group, said Gabrelyanov’s school would teach journalists to impose limits on their reporting.

“I think that Zhizn is one of those newspapers that shouldn’t teach journalists,” Simonov said. “There’s nothing good about this.”

No. There isn’t. And that’s why people like it.

2. Possibly the only people in America who care about poetry anymore are uptight feminists and cowboys.

What? I say that as an uptight feminist.

You know, after that “Who are Russia’s Top Thinkers” nonsense, I’ve begun reading a lot of Pelevin, who came highly recommended in the comments. I’m really enjoying it very much! (“Yellow Arrow” and “Buddha’s Little Finger” so far.) However, I always keep my eyes peeled for more Kurkov. Someone at SRB linked to this little piece in which Andrey waxes poetic on Ukrainian fads, including an explanation of the popularity fo Radio Chanson:

Whenever I get in a taxi, I immediately seem to fall into a world of romanticised crime. In virtually every car the radio is tuned to ‘Radio Chanson’. Its playlists are extensive but homogenous: almost all the songs – most in Russian – concern the tragic and romantic lives of their criminal ‘heroes’, macho Russian types who drink port and vodka – men who value the faithfulness of the women waiting for their release from prison and their ‘real’ male friendships above all.

Why on earth is this music popular? When the Soviet Union collapsed the ensuing democratisation legalised a huge stratum of criminal and ‘gutter’ culture. The songs of the street used to be direct attacks on oYcial patriotic music. That official music is now long buried. In the void, these songs caught on, floated to the surface of social taste and became a lucrative engine of showbusiness. Much of this genre’s repertoire became hits with the middle-aged and older generations in the post-Soviet era.

Listeners’ fondness for these songs is easy to account for. In a country where millions of people have spent time in jails and camps, people identify more easily with prisoners than with, say, security guards or policemen. The persistent distrust of authority has eroded any faith in the criminal justice system. Almost everyone can consider himself hard done by, and this sense of unfairness is the real subject of most of these songs. Hence the rise of a new Russian macho type who, unlike his Western equivalents, is not clean-shaven and wears no perfume but instead smells of sweat. He has a keen sense of justice and is not afraid to defend his honour with his fists. The criminal ballad is a male cult of justice that can express itself in the coarsest tones.

I only mention it because a while back a commenter here mentioned that Radio Chanson was on in every cab he got into too. I respect Kurkov’s cultural insight, but wonder if there isn’t a more obvious explanation. One that involves financial incentive. … Hey, that branding thing just might work if the Kremlin can buy off the cabbies of New York City! Brilliant. Those kids should hire me.

3. Oh the Dom Khudozhnikov…. Or House of Artists for you anglophiles. There are not words to describe the tender place in my heart reserved for this institution. I’m all sentimental about it. There was a kind of bar in the basement where you could get real Turkish coffee, with a casual art galleries above. Gorky Park across the street, Parisian-style art fair along the river embankment, the Graveyard of Dead Monuments around the back. Steps from both home and a Shokoladnitsa. A gem. A true gem.

On the other hand, the building itself is not much to look at. So I’m a bit conflicted about this:

From the NYT: Moscow Cultural Landmark Is Seen as Threatened:

Artists and preservationists are in uproar because Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin has signed a decree that critics say would allow developers to demolish a Soviet-era cultural landmark, the Central House of Artists.

The property houses. among other things, the 20th-century works of the Tretyakov Gallery, including paintings by Malevich and Kandinsky as well as Soviet Socialist Realists. Covering 23 valuable hectares, or about 57 acres, along the Moscow River and opposite Gorky Park, it has long been in the sights of Yelena Baturina, a billionaire real estate developer and the wife of Mayor Yuri M. Luzhkov.

Last year, Ms. Baturina unveiled a design commissioned from Norman Foster. It resembles a disco ball sliced into sections like an orange and is known by that name, apelsin, in Russian.[…]

Ms. Baturina presented her apelsin project as a multipurpose complex that would include a hotel, retail space, restaurants and space for a museum.

Officials of the Tretyakov Gallery and the Confederation of Artists’ Unions, which owns the other 40 percent of the building, and leases the land under it from the Moscow City authorities, expressed shock at her announcement. Several months later, after meetings with government officials, they voiced support, saying they would get much-needed state-of-the art spaces, to be built next to the existing structure, which would then be demolished.

Supporters of the Central House have signed petitions, held protests, and packed hearings advertised by Moscow city officials as a forum to take public opinion into account.

Mr. Bychkov, the director of the Central House of Artists, also owns a company called Expo-Park that rents space in the building for popular events. He said in an e-mail message that he would fight on, using a new tactic.

Experience “has shown that it’s senseless to organize campaigns within Russia,” he wrote. “We would like to involve the international art community. This won’t be a political discussion, but an ethical, professional and artistic one.”

The architectural premise sounds cool. I mean, it is an ugly building in its current form. I specifically remember being perplexed that the place set aside as the “Home of the Artists” was so very unremarkable. Someone informed me that “Communism made everything ugly.” But a hotel and shops? And Ms. Baturina? Gah! I’m not a member of the international art community, but would like to know where I can sign up for this cause.

Speaking of exhibits, this month in Moscow will be held an exhibition of reprints of famous drawings of nudes, scribbled upon by Joseph Stalin.

From English Russia (look, it’s been reported in a lot of other places too – it’s real): “Gay” notes of Stalin on the celebs reproductions:

The leader “completed” 19 pictures of such artists as Repin, Ivanov, Surikov, Rubinstein, Serov and others with some notes and drawings made in a red, blue and grey pencil. Thus, on one of them, the generalissimo crossed out the genitals of a nude personage with a red pencil that he usually used to write the names of those who should have been shot. On another one, with a female nude, he wrote something obscene in the Georgian language. On the third – the male nude was “dressed” by Stalin in underpants. On the fourth – next to a nude ancient hero he inscribed: “One thoughtful idiot is worse than 10 enemies. I. Stalin”… On the fifth – in a blue pencil – he wrote: “Is he afraid of the sun? Coward!!! I. Stalin” and the nude itself was crossed out in bold. There is also a picture where Stalin drew underpants on each nude person and inscribed: “Do not sit on the stones with your bare ass! Enter Komsomol and the workers’ faculty! Give out trunks to the fellow! I. Stalin.”

Yes, this is the man who saved civilization from the Nazis. Some have suggested his scribbling doth protest too much and signifies a latent homosexuality. Who cares at this point? The man clearly had major psychological issues, and I don’t think being trapped in the closet was chief among them.

Click here for pictures!

3. Staying on topic, it seems Russia is looking to get rid of its pride. Gay Pride that is.

From Russia Blog: Moscow Outsourcing Gays to Berlin (Kyiv Might Be Better Option):

In a strange twist of history, Moscow has asked Berlin to host Moscow Pride in order to avoid Neo-Nazis (and grandmas) that might want to harm defenseless Satanists. The Commissioner for Human Rights in Moscow, Alexander Muzykantsk, outlined his proposal:

“In recent years, Berlin became de facto the world capital of sexual minorities. Because there are friendly relations between the mayors of Moscow and Berlin, why not an agreement in which the representatives of sexual minorities in Moscow will hold their parade in Berlin with the support of the city?”

Russia Blog cites a Soviet Realist monument featuring a rainbow and handsome, buff male comrades holding hands as reason to relocate the parade to Kiev. Because Kiev is sooo welcoming to sexual minorities, right…

You must by now be pondering the prevalence of latent homoerotica in Soviet aesthetics. Maybe you are thinking, “Aha! So all of this posturing about Russia being a culturally Christian, heterosexual country, about homosexuality being an evil imported by the West along with jeans and Pepsi, it is a sham! Homosexuality was alive and well (ok, not well…) even during the time of Stalin!” Pardon my eloquence, but, “Duh.” In fact, Tolya has translated an article which dates it back to the 16th Century. I suspect even that is embarrassingly naive…

ODDS, ENDS.

~ The Saddam Channel, airing “mostly a montage of flattering, still images of Saddam” Hussein, has begun broadcasting throughout the Arab world.

~ “Russian scientist who trains seals to carry out military missions has complained that Russia is losing the race against the United States to arm sea mammals.”

Psst. Use octopuses.

~ Watch a fat hedgehog swim around a bathtub.

You know you want to.

~ Obama complains that he “gives nicer stuff” than he gets, pointing to an obnoxiously fine piece of jewelry the First Lady has some nerve wearing on TV in this economy.

Actually, this gives me hope. First of all, I can totally relate. Which is not something I’ve ever been able to say about a President. Secondly, it means he has the capacity for bitchiness & honesty (to which I can also relate). I just wish he’d aim these skillz at the health insurance industry, and not his wife.

~ Deep Thoughts, by Dmitry Rogozin.

He’s filling in for Jack Handy now:

“Internet is a funny thing. Man becomes girl, young guy becomes veteran, liberal becomes Nazi. At the same time everyone is rude to everyone.”

“Their touching care about HR in Russia causes me to feel like when you talk to someone who hasn’t washed their socks for quite a while.”

“Today in Antwerp fine-art gallery saw picture by A.Kabanel “Cleopatra testing poison on prisoners”. It’s genius!”

Good to know where he stands on testing poison on prisoners.

~ Totally stood up by M. Sarkozy, Vova breaks out his trademark sarcasm, remarking, “I wish you could have friends who don’t turn their back on you when you take a more modest job.” Poor Vova…

But wait, are congratulations in order? I can’t say, but if they are, I’d like to see Liudmila go all Elin Nordegren on his ass.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ok, that’s all for now.

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely holiday season!

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