poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

October 6, 2011

LQD: “Why the pessimism over Putin’s return?”

Fear not – I’m still paying attention to our Vova. While I’ve been making a pathetic effort to compose a response to the recent 2012 Russian election developments, those smart kids Katrina and Stephen have gone and written pretty much what I’ve been thinking, saving me much time and effort. As always, if anyone has a problem with my publishing this in total, they can get in touch. I’m erring on the side of widest distribution. Go buy a Wa Po after you read this or something.

Washington Post: “Why the pessimism over Putin’s return?” By Katrina vanden Heuvel and Stephen F. Cohen

We make no brief for Vladimir Putin as a democrat, but much of the U.S. commentary following the announcement that he will return to the Kremlin as president in 2012 is simplistic morality posing as political analysis.

A Sept. 28 New York Times editorial, for example, insisted that Putin, who “has made clear his disdain for democratic rights,” is casting out the “more liberal and Western-oriented” Dmitry Medvedev. According to a Sept. 26 Post editorial, “Vladimir Putin decided that he would like to be president again, and so he will be.”

But the complexities of Russian politics cannot be reduced to the whims of one man — however powerful he may be. As was clear from polemics in Russian newspapers before the Sept. 24 announcement, Putin’s return to the Kremlin is prompted in part by the preferences of Russia’s ruling class — top officials and the financial elite known as the oligarchy. As the leading pro-Medvedev advocate, Igor Yurgens, acknowledged, “influence groups” favoring Putin “turned out to be ­stronger.” In their eyes, and probably in Putin’s, the ever-tweeting Medvedev was never able to shed his image as an ineffectual political figure. In effect, Medvedev failed his four-year audition for a second term.

The Russian elite, including the Putin and Medvedev camps, seems to understand that the country’s economy urgently requires diversification away from its heavy dependence on oil and gas exports. The state must find other sources of revenue for its growing budget. As Putin warned recently, such reforms will require “bitter medicine,” including higher taxes on the business class, which has prospered grandly under a 13 percent flat tax while many Russians have fallen into poverty. The governing class, eyeing its own interests, wants the tougher and popular Putin to preside over these changes.

It may turn out, as some U.S. commentators have asserted, that Putin’s return is “bad news for the Russian people.” But opinion polls show that, after more than a decade of Putin’s leadership, a majority of Russians still do not associate him with the country’s “bad news.” The reason is clear to anyone who has followed Russia since the end of the Soviet Union: It was Putin who restored pensions, lifted wages and elevated living standards after the traumatic 1990s, when Boris Yeltsin’s policies impoverished the country.

And what about President Obama’s highly touted “reset”? The Russian expert at the Center for American Progress asserts that “Putin’s return next year will reverse all of these positive trends” and “is no good for the United States.” This may be so in the limited sense that the Obama administration unwisely based its reset primarily on Medvedev — while directing gratuitous insults at Putin, such as when Vice President Biden told groups of Russians during his visit to Moscow this year that Putin should not return to the presidency. But the larger assumption that Putin’s return will mean a further diminishing of Russia’s democratic prospects is based on the false premise that Yeltsin, like Medvedev today, was a liberal democrat.

But it was the U.S.-backed Yeltsin who used tanks in 1993 to destroy an elected parliament, thereby reversing the democratization of Russia that began under Mikhail Gorbachev, a reversal accelerated under Putin. And while Medvedev has spoken often in the idioms of Western-style liberalism, it was Medvedev who took personal credit for using military force against Georgia in 2008 and then increasing military spending so sharply that his widely admired finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, resigned last month. Moreover, if Putin is determined to pursue retrograde policies, why would he promise to appoint the “more liberal” Medvedev as prime minister — an office Putin empowered during the past four years?

Indeed, given the real alternatives, and not those that Americans might prefer, why the assumption that Putin’s return to the Kremlin will be bad for Western interests? For example, the New York Times reported Sept. 28 that Western bankers and corporations welcomed the announcement as “a net positive for foreign investors.” It’s also noteworthy that from 2000 to 2008, when Putin was president, he made more important concessions to Washington than Medvedev has during the past four years — giving the Bush administration critical support in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks; bowing to a new round of NATO expansion; swallowing the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; and agreeing to an expansion of Russian supply routes for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Those days of a yielding Putin, however, may be behind us. He said as early as 2002 that “the era of Russian geopolitical concessions [is] coming to an end.” What’s clear is that Putin’s future cooperation with Washington will depend on his understanding of Russia’s national interests and equally on Washington’s cooperation with Moscow, which, despite Obama’s heralded “reset,” has not yet involved any tangible American concessions.

Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor and publisher of the Nation and writes a weekly online column for The Post. Stephen F. Cohen is a professor of Russian studies at New York University and the author, most recently, of “Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives.”

What they said.

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!

March 21, 2011

War

Filed under: Politics: Russia,Politics: U.S. — poemless @ 3:24 PM
Tags: , ,

I am extremely angry about the war with Libya. Perhaps I am a peacenik and am simply opposed to all war, but I am also worried about the state of my own country and wondering how on earth we can afford this when we, ostensibly, cannot afford to pay for the education, healthcare, retirement and enlightenment of our own citizens. I can be a selfish person too. The bombing breaks my heart, makes me so sick that after turning on, and immediately off, the CREEPTASTIC American news this morning, I did yoga. I usually never am able to do yoga in the morning, but I needed some type of psychic shower after about 5 minutes of CBS. I felt that rage bubbling up inside me, the same rage I felt about the Iraq war, same helplessness and frustration and moral disgust. It is true, I am morally disgusted by just about everything these days. I don’t know how much more I can handle, so I am making an effort not to pay close attention to what is going on, which would normally be impossible for a news fiend like myself, but depression-induced apathy appears to be an asset at the moment.

However, I have found a few articles of note. Articles my regular readers have probably already seen a dozen times, so no breaking news here. Just gobs of interestingness.

Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy has been hammering out one gem after another:

I. How Obama turned on a dime toward war.

Or, why the FUCK is President Obama acting on the advice of his notoriously bone-headed Russia advisor and not that of Congress or the Department of Defense when choosing whether or not to bomb Libya?

“This is the greatest opportunity to realign our interests and our values,” a senior administration official said at the meeting, telling the experts this sentence came from Obama himself. The president was referring to the broader change going on in the Middle East and the need to rebalance U.S. foreign policy toward a greater focus on democracy and human rights.

But Obama’s stance in Libya differs significantly from his strategy regarding the other Arab revolutions. In Egypt and Tunisia, Obama chose to rebalance the American stance gradually backing away from support for President Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and allowing the popular movements to run their course. In Yemen and Bahrain, where the uprisings have turned violent, Obama has not even uttered a word in support of armed intervention – instead pressing those regimes to embrace reform on their own. But in deciding to attack Libya, Obama has charted an entirely new strategy, relying on U.S. hard power and the use of force to influence the outcome of Arab events.

“In the case of Libya, they just threw out their playbook,” said Steve Clemons, the foreign policy chief at the New America Foundation. “The fact that Obama pivoted on a dime shows that the White House is flying without a strategy and that we have a reactive presidency right now and not a strategic one.”

Inside the administration, senior officials were lined up on both sides. Pushing for military intervention was a group of NSC staffers including Samantha Power, NSC senior director for multilateral engagement; Gayle Smith, NSC senior director for global development; and Mike McFaul, NSC senior director for Russia.

I am beginning to wonder if every bad foreign policy decision made by Obama might be traced back to Mike. Or is it just coincidence?

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also said on Thursday that the justification for the use of force was based on humanitarian grounds, and referred to the principle known as Responsibility to Protect (R2P), “a new international security and human rights norm to address the international community’s failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

“Resolution 1973 affirms, clearly and unequivocally, the international community’s determination to fulfill its responsibility to protect civilians from violence perpetrated upon them by their own government,” he said.

Inside the NSC, Power, Smith, and McFaul have been trying to figure out how the administration could implement R2P and what doing so would require of the White House going forward. Donilon and McDonough are charged with keeping America’s core national interests more in mind. Obama ultimately sided with Clinton and those pushing R2P — over the objections of Donilon and Gates.

II. Inside the White House-Congress meeting on Libya (also by Rogin)

President Barack Obama hosted 18 senior lawmakers at the White House on Friday afternoon to “consult” with them about the new plan to intervene in Libya, exactly 90 minutes before Obama announced that plan to the world and one day after his administration successfully pushed for authorization of military force at the United Nations.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) complained on Thursday that the administration had not properly consulted Congress before deciding to support military intervention in Libya, and called for a formal declaration of war by Congress before military action is taken. Inside the White House meeting, several lawmakers had questions about the mission but only Lugar outwardly expressed clear opposition to the intervention, one lawmaker inside the meeting told The Cable. […]

Rogers, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, also told The Cable in an exclusive interview on Friday that the White House clearly emphasized the U.S. role would be limited.

“We are going to play a very supportive role. France and Great Britain and others are going to lead the way along with our Arab League allies; there may be four or five Arab countries participating,” he said.

Rogers said that the administration had been in contact with lawmakers and had kept him up to date, but the communications had been mostly one way.

“I wouldn’t call it consultation as much as laying it out,” he said.

Oh look, there is a Dick Lugar being sensible again. At this point if he ran for President I might even vote Republican. Not that I can see any discernible difference between the Democrats’ and Republicans’ foreign policy strategy. Or any strategy at all, to be honest.

This last article from the Moscow Times is in response to a question recently posed to me by an Inforum reader wanting to know why I liked that Prime Minister Putin fellow so damned much:

III. West in ‘Medieval Crusade’ in Libya, Putin Says

VOTKINSK, Udmurtia Republic – Prime Minister Vladimir Putin likened the call for armed intervention in Libya to the medieval crusades on Monday in the first major remarks from Russia since a Western coalition began airstrikes.

In some of his harshest criticism of the United States since President Barack Obama began a campaign to improve ties, Putin also compared the intervention to the George W. Bush-era invasion of Iraq and said it showed Russia is right to boost its military.

Putin, whose country opted not to block the UN resolution last week leading to the strikes, said that Moammar Gadhafi’s government was undemocratic but emphasized that did not justify military intervention.

“The resolution is defective and flawed. It allows everything,” Putin told workers at a ballistic missile factory in the city of Votkinsk. “It resembles medieval calls for crusades.”

Russia, a veto-wielding permanent UN Security Council member, abstained from the vote on Thursday in which the council authorized a no-fly zone over Libya and “all necessary measures” to protect civilians against Gadhafi’s forces.

“What troubles me is not the fact of military intervention itself — I am concerned by the ease with which decisions to use force are taken in international affairs,” Putin said. “This is becoming a persistent tendency in U.S. policy.

“During the Clinton era they bombed Belgrade, Bush sent forces into Afghanistan, then under an invented, false pretext they sent forces into Iraq, liquidated the entire Iraqi leadership — even children in Saddam Hussein’s family died.

“Now it is Libya’s turn, under the pretext of protecting the peaceful population,” Putin said. “But in bomb strikes it is precisely the civilian population that gets killed. Where is the logic and the conscience?” […]

“The Libyan regime does not meet any of the criteria of a democratic state but that does not mean that someone is allowed to interfere in internal political conflicts to defend one of the sides,” Putin said.

U.S.-Russian relations have improved in the past two years under Obama’s “reset,” capped by the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty that took effect last month.

During that period, Putin toned down the anti-Western rhetoric he often employed as president.

Apparently Dima and Vova are in quite a little row about this now… You might say he’s simply covering his ass in reference to Chechnya. You might be right. But in this case acting in his self interest and being bloody right as hell in his assessment of the situation do not appear to be mutually exclusive possibilities. Medvedev may be trying to be a team player with the West, but the world will always need people unafraid to call it like they see it, even if it means losing friends, or rather, realizing that foreign policy has nothing to do with being friends. This isn’t middle school, people.

January 25, 2011

Odds and Ends: Throwing links overboard from the ship of bookmarks Edition.

Contents: Mercurial Surkov; Lenin’s gravediggers; “Top Thinkers,” revisited; The American Spite-Bloc; leaked photos and much, much more!

It’s like a document dump, except I practice safe sex.

I. Featured.

Dugin’s deconstruction of Surkov (and Surkov’s decomposition of Lenin.)

Александр Дугин: “Деконструкция Владислава Суркова.”

I was so taken with this article that I added Aleksandr Dugin as a facebook friend (he’s just just added Pig Latin to his languages.) Inspired by two essays Surkov has recently published in art magazines, Dugin… That’s right – Slava’s new hobbie is art criticism! What’s next? Such a Renaissance man! Anyway, Dugin is less interested in Slava’s artworld bona fides than his stubborn unwillingness to take a final position on anything. Dugin suggests the “mercurial” Surkov is the epitome of Russian society itself:

Парадоксы высокопоставленного археомодерниста

В значительной степени, Сурков и есть проявление того, что можно назвать археомодерном. В нем есть стремление уйти от архаики, но не порвать с ней окончательно. Встать на сторону модерна, но не признавать тех внутренних директив и определенности тех катастрофических разрушений бессознательного, на которых основан модерн. Он не хочет рвать связи до конца, но и укреплять их не собирается. В личности Суркова, как в магическом кристалле, отражается специфика всего нашего социально-политического развития. Органические протеизм, гибкость, амбивалентность, вечная двусмысленность, перетекание одного в другое с блокированием и одного, и другого, вероятно, и являются секретом влияния Суркова и устойчивости его позиции. Но одновременно это и диагноз, который мы, в общем-то, можем легко поставить нашему обществу в целом.

Пока мы будем пребывать в протеическом археомодерне, где не доминирует ни одна из сил, – ни модерн, ни традиционализм масс, ни невротическая паранойя элит, ни психотическая шизофрения народа, – одно не сможет одолеть другое. Элиты и массы смотрят друг на друга из своих боксерских углов и не способны выиграть ни матч, ни, тем более, кубок. Сурков – это рефери в битве элит и масс, государства и народа, «либерало-чубайсов» и архаических силовиков-рейдеров. Государство у нас, как говорил Пушкин, «единственный европеец». Сурков – европеец, но европеец, который, тем не менее, не то что не может, но и не хочет до конца избавляться от своих неевропейских, евразийских, русско-чеченских корней. Однако не стремится и укреплять их.

Отложенный выбор: с Богом или с чертом?

В этих двух текстах содержится ключ к пониманию не только самого Суркова, но и всей нашей политической системы. В них о «суверенной демократии» сказано гораздо больше, чем во всей болтовне обслуживающих власть экспертов, которые готовы подгонять под высшую установку все, что угодно, и поэтому нерелевантны.

В современной России все время возникает дуализм, четко очерченный Сурковым, между «юрким дьяволом» и «неподвижным Богом».

Лозунги «прогресса», «модернизации», «либерализма», «Запада», «демократии», «эффективности», «процветания» – все это, безусловно, от дьявола. Сурков это прекрасно понимает – в одной и той же фразе он сначала говорит, что не в этом дело, но потом добавляет, спохватываясь, что без этого нельзя (то есть именно в этом дело). Угрюмо изображение статического божества; оно спокойно, никуда не торопится, а на «модернизацию» и «демократию» посматривает со своих высот гневным оком. Сувереном в России является только Бог, Ветхий Деньми. И его рабы – смиренные простые русские люди – ведут отчаянную, почти безнадежную битву с «сынами века сего». Русские аполоннийцы.

Я думаю, что Сурков сам не определил, с кем он, с Богом или с чертом. Более того, меркуриальная природа категорически не способна выдержать такой жесткой проблематики.

С Богом или с чертом? Для меркурия, для трикстера, для культурного героя, как в североамериканских индейских мифах, не стоит такого выбора. И с Богом, и с чертом, и против Бога, и против черта. Это и есть то, что называется археомодерном, когда блокируется любая решимость, приводящая к определенности, резкому действию, а значит, к ассиметрии, конфликтам, угрозам, жестким и насильственным выводам. Археомодерн любыми способами и любой ценой, до истомы, до истошности, до истерики стремится эту решимость обойти. Я думаю, что пока Сурков является тем, кем он является, то есть, важнейшей фигурой в российском государстве, археомодерн будет доминировать и дальше. А наше общество не сможет сделать ни одного серьезного шага, ни в сторону модерна, ни в сторону архаики, ни в сторону Бога, ни в сторону черта, ни в сторону либерализма, ни в сторону консерватизма. Дело, конечно, не в Суркове, дело в состоянии народа, в состоянии русской истории, русской государственности, русского общества.

[English Translation c/o Google Here.]

I find it interesting that he brings up the “God or the Devil” matter. For some reason, Surkov has always reminded me of the passage in Demons in which Stavrogin asks Tikhon if it is possible to fear the Devil but not believe in God. It seems that if Surkov had any guiding political philosophy whatsoever, aside from keeping himself close to the man in charge, it might be described that way. Here are our Slava’s musings on Miro and Polissky:

Владислав Сурков: “Война и мир Хоана Миро.”
Владислав Сурков: “Полисский въезжает”.

And no, Natan Dubovitsky has not given up on the wikinovel Машинка и Велик, so there is still time to contribute. You know, at first I thought, all experimentalism aside, perhaps he’d just mixed up the basic concepts of authorship and democracy. Some kind of conceptual dyslexia. But now I see he’s intent on throwing them overboard from the ship of modernization.

Along with mushroomified corpse of Vladimir Ilyich:

GoodbyeLenin.ru

So the kids at United Russia want Lenin in the ground. Someone has suggested that Slava was behind this, given the mischievous URL. My initial reaction was, “What do they have to gain by pissing off the Commies?” Then, “Frankly I’m surprised they don’t just charge an exorbitant entrance fee to tourists. They could make a buck and revel in delicious irony at the same time – without destroying one of the great, not to mention weirdest, wonders of the world.” Then, Goodbye Lenin! was a great movie…” Then, I was reminded that the only form of progress Russia seems to know involves taking bulldozers to their personal past. I hate that. Anyway, if correct, this puts a dent in Dugie’s “archeomodern” theory. Or at least the archeo part of it…

I voted NO. I also think there should be a law against letting anyone under 25 weigh in on the destruction of historical treasures.

II. Required Reading.

We’re a sick world… We are a spiteful world. I believe our prefrontal cortex is diseased.

Financial Times: “Where have all the thinkers gone?”

(HT: Russia Monitor)

Progress! We have moved beyond asking why Russia has no great minds to asking why the world has no great minds! FT compares Foreign Policy’s annual list of Top Thinkers (see above link for in depth discussion) to one that may have been drawn up 150 years ago:

The 1861 rankings could have started with Charles Darwin and John Stuart Mill – On the Origin of Species and On Liberty were both published in 1859. Then you could include Karl Marx and Charles Dickens. And that was just the people living in and around London. In Russia, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were both at work, although neither had yet published their greatest novels.

Even if, like Foreign Policy, you have a preference for politicians, the contrast between the giants of yesteryear and the relative pygmies of today is alarming. In 1861 the list would have included Lincoln, Gladstone, Bismarck and Garibaldi. Their modern equivalents would be Mr Obama, Nick Clegg, Angela Merkel and Silvio Berlusconi.

Still, perhaps 1861 was a freak? So let us repeat the exercise, and go back to the year when the second world war broke out. A list of significant intellectuals alive in 1939 would have included Einstein, Keynes, TS Eliot, Picasso, Freud, Gandhi, Orwell, Churchill, Hayek, Sartre.

So why does the current crop of thinkers seem so unimpressive? Here are a few possible explanations.

A phantom copyright notice is spooking me when I try to paste more, so I suggest reading the rest at FT, unless you lack the means to penetrate the registration firewall. Their explanations for no Dostoyevsky caliber brainiacs these days range from lack of historical perspective on our own peers to the democratization and/or hyperspecialization of knowledge, from globalization (the great thinkers are in India – we just haven’t heard of them yet … except why assume there were not great thinkers in India centuries ago?) to …drumroll… we’re just not that smart anymore.

I would add that there are 6 times as many people than there were in 1861, and a much higher percentage of them are literate. The bar is set higher for getting noticed for your big brains. Also, TV has been invented. And watched. And, dare we say it, Late Capitalism has spread like a cancer throughout the world, devouring our little grey cells until the only functions we have left are those that make us money and get us laid. Not that 19th Century Europe was a glowing meritocracy, but intellectual pursuit for knowledge/art’s sake still had some panache.

Mark Ames: “Dead Souls: How Russians React to Terror.”

In this Vanity Fair article, Mark, relying largely on the rants of one Eddie Limonov, argues that Russian badassery in the face of terrrrists should set an example for the rest of the world. (I think the qualifier about in the face of terrorism is unnecessary…)

As appalling as it might seem, let’s remember what America’s far more sentimental reaction to 9/11 got us: two disastrous wars, tens of thousands of deaths, and the sorts of police-state measures once thought unimaginable. The difference may be more in our sentimentality than in our brutality.

This is a bit disingenuous. Though I envy Russian pragmatism, I do recall a few skirmishes in Chechnya, and the argument could be made that the war there is not yet over. And while the police-state measures here have indeed been unimaginable, the fact points to a lack of American imagination, not to a Russian civil utopia. The argument is based on the false premise that Russians are brutal and Americans are sentimental. From my observations, both cultures possess almost supernatural capacities for both brutality and sentimentality, we just disagree on the scenarios in which they are appropriate. We’re like each other’s Bizzarro Worlds.

Mark Ames: “We, The Spiteful.”

A much better, if far more controversial piece from Ames. I suppose now is as good a time as any to confess I’ve had the same epiphany from time to time. The only difference is that I hoped I was wrong and didn’t dare discuss it.

In the summer of 2004, I published an article in the New York Press that answered Thomas Frank’s question “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” The Bush-Kerry campaign was heating up, and it was clear to me that the American left was going to make the same mistake it’s been making for 30 years, and will continue making until it faces some unpleasant truths about the rank, farcical psychology that drives American voting habits. Why don’t they vote in their own economic interests? Why don’t voters vote rationally, the way we were taught in grade school civics classes? In a rational world, with rational voters voting in their rational economic interests, Bush—who dragged America into two lost wars before destroying the entire financial system—would’ve been forced to resign before the first primary and exiled to Saudi Arabia; rationally, rational voters would have elected anyone or anything, John Kerry or a coconut crab, over that fuck-up of fuck-ups, George W. Bush.

The answer came to me just I was just finishing my book Going Postal. Researching and writing that book was a real mind-fuck: spending all those isolated months sloshing through Middle American malice. I realized something obvious when I pulled back from all that research and looked at the Kerry-Bush race: malice and spite are as American as baseball and apple pie. But it’s never admitted into our romantic, naïve, sentimental understanding of who Americans really are, and what their lives are really like.

If the left wants to understand American voters, it needs to once and for all stop sentimentalizing them as inherently decent, well-meaning people being duped by a tiny cabal of evil oligarchs—because the awful truth is that they’re mean, spiteful jerks being duped by a tiny cabal of evil oligarchs. The left’s naïve, sentimental, middle-class view of “the people” blinds them to all of the malice and spite that is a major premise of Middle American life. It’s the same middle-class sentimentality that allowed the left to be duped into projecting candidate Obama into the great progressive messiah, despite the fact that Obama’s record offered little evidence besides skin pigment to support that hope. (For the record, I called out the left’s gullible Obamaphilia during the primary campaigns in early 2008—here in Alternet, and here in The eXile.)

[…]

Like the Grumpy Old Man character, Americans are miserable and we like it! We love it! Hallelujah!

Just as in 2004, today, in 2011, the left can’t make sense of it all. So the only way they can frame this contemporary American insanity is either by blaming it all on the oligarchs who exploit this latent spite, as if taking the oligarch funding out of the equation would solve it all…or, when getting too close to facing the awful possibility that maybe a lot of Americans are just contemptible jerks in dead-ender lives, the left retreats into the safe, comforting irony of Jon Stewart, where it’s stored away as just another zinger that requires no serious thought, no painful analysis.

Here is my article that tries to get the left to finally face the truth about American voters as they really are—to consider the possibility that maybe a huge bloc of American voters are worse than merely “irrational.” What if there’s not much to like about them at all? Or more importantly, why the hell do we need to like them; why is “likable” even a factor?

So go read the rest. Dark side of democracy indeed…

III. Links.

For you slackers. You know who you are.

“Kremlin Clans: The Sequel. Return of the Grey Cardinal.” In 3D. Wait, why is this not in 3D, Tolya? I thought all sequels were these days. Anyway, Sublime Oblivion has Surkov in Putin’s clan, and I can’t see Vova putting Lenin in a grave. So perhaps there is hope yet.

Awesome photos from someone allowed to hang out alone in Slava’s Kremlin office with a camera. If you needed any proof the Cold War were over. But it’s still rather thrilling, isn’t it? Mucking about in Kremlin inner sanctums… Where you’ll find fotos of Tupac, Obama, Che and a library that looks rather like the Slavic backlog in my department. Also, is that a Miro on his desk?

Less Awesome photos from someone probably not allowed to hang out in Putin’s palace with a camera but who did anyway. Nice upgrade, Vova. Lemme know if you need someone to test out that bathtub out for you.

LA Times: “Who is Ignatiy Vishnevetsky?” A Russian-Chicagoan handpicked by Roger Ebert to carry on his film critic legacy, is who.

Well, that should keep you occupied for a while.

As always, thanks for reading, and have a lovely week!

December 13, 2010

My Christmas prayers have been answered:

Filed under: Culture: Russia — poemless @ 12:10 PM
Tags:

Swoon…

November 17, 2010

Return of VovaMania!

Filed under: Culture: Russia,Politics: Russia — poemless @ 7:01 PM
Tags:

It’s been a while since I’ve done a gratuitous Putin love fest post. Isn’t that strange? Nowadays people refer to my “nuanced and insightful” writing, but mostly I just started blogging so to post pictures of hot Russian men, Putin being King God Supreme Leader of that camp. What happened? Has our fair leader ceased to be the apple of poemless’s eye, fallen to the earth to slowly decay and be nibbled on by ravenous squirrels? Has our fickle blogger’s infatuation dimmed like a cold November afternoon? Er… no. No of course not. That would be madness. Maybe I’ve just matured – ever think about that? No, you’re right, that can’t be it. Maybe, what with the Reset and Obama and blah blah blah, wooing so-called dictators just doesn’t have the same subversive appeal. I always fantasized about totally scaring the hell out of John Ashcroft on the other end of whatever NSA feed was trolling my posts. I am both a neo-stalinist and a female with a libido … I am the AntiChrist, John! Eat it! Hahahaha. But now I am just one more person with a blog making cute comments about Vova’s latest wackadoodle photo-op. Sean says he’s jumped the shark. Now, I am not willing to rule out that VVP could, even will one day jump the shark. But when that day comes, it will involve an actual shark and the leader of Russia on water skis. A stunt that, had the Fonz not done so already, Putin probably would have invented. “Jumped the shark” my ass. He’s as popular as ever. Everyone and their mother has posted a picture of that puppy hug. Oh, except me! Here:

You know you just squealed with delight. I say, if Vova ever meets the man who could look at that and not get a little woozy with oxytocin, he will have met his match.

You wanna help name the dog? Knock yourself out. I think it was on NPR that I saw this referred to a “rare gesture toward democracy” or some nonsense… After last nights’ Dancing With The Stars, I am off democracy. What should we name this giant furball? How about “Maksim,” in honor of that hottie Palin’s Tea Party sabotaged. Or not. I’m inclined to follow the reasoning that if Putin’s pet were named after me, I could vicariously curl up in his lap for a kiss and tickle. Alas, he already has a dog named after me! He doesn’t seem too thrilled about it either, does he?

Ok, since we’re on the topic of Dr. Doolittle, someone’s gone and stolen the photos I have hanging my living room and posted them online:

The 24 Cutest Pictures Of Vladimir Putin With Animal.

Freaky. In more ways than one… I have always been partial to the horse kissy and the tiger present photos. But here’s one I had not seen before, a treat! (I know I said these were hanging in my apartment – it was for dramatic effect. I mean, you couldn’t possibly think… Oh.)

A small goat!

In some ways, he reminds me of my grandmother. She was nuts over animals. He had this gorgeous house, with a nice living and dining room, but she always sat in the kitchen, to watch the animals in the yard (whole entire extra tree-lined lot) outside. She bought us Ranger Rick subscriptions and would even cut out and mail us those little gratuitous animal pictures from the local paper (you know, that space reserved for no copy but a photo of a rabbit with the caption, “Spring arrives on Lincoln Avenue.”) Crazy. Especially since our family got the same newspaper. From whence this animalphilia? She was part Cherokee. She was also getting Alzheimer’s. Anyway, somehow I inherited this trait. God, I hope it is not a symptom of dementia. I have more faith and trust in people who are so comfortable with and able to navigate the animal kingdom. Those who have great “people skills” but are like idiots around anything not human scare the hell out of me. People who prefer the company of those species that have evolved differently from us, I really get. You can’t lie to animals. It doesn’t actually work. Oh, and can we address this notion of “people skills,” please? VVP gets a lot of heat for not having them so much, but if skills are what you use to get things done, then I think he has mad skillz. What’s up with this preference for fake nice that gives more points for not hurting anyone’s feelings than for reality checks? I’m not a fan.

Which brings me to the last point in today’s Putin love fest. Oh, sure, anyone can love a dog. I am pretty sure that is he baseline criteria for determining one’s classification as Homo sapiens. But, uhm, no one can love Vladimir Putin, right? What the hell is wrong with you, Poemless?! Moe Tkacik nails it in a divine piece:

Why The Media Hearts Oligarchs—So Much The Post Won’t Even Call Them “Oligarchs.”

Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl wonders in an op-ed today why Barack Obama isn’t rallying more enthusiastically behind Mikhail Khodorkovsky, otherwise known as Russia’s “latest moral champion.” Is it “because he is an entrepreneur and not a poet” and everyone knows how Obama loathes commerce? Or is it, he wonders, simply because Obama is scared of Vladimir Putin and his big scary black lab?[…]

But guys like Khodorkovsky were not dubbed “oligarchs” because of their “entrepreneurship”; they earned that designation because they reaped the preponderance of their billions in a three-year window of in ways that were flagrantly and epically criminal but since all the billionaires were doing it (and billionaires tend to make their own laws anyway) most of them got off with a sort of uneasy amnesty. Khodorkovsky was an exception for a variety of reasons, this is a pretty good summary, but at the end of the day Putin seems to draw his authority directly from his ability to make them pay taxes and, as last week’s wide-eyed Times magazine piece on New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov observed, keep them on their toes:

The oligarchs of Russia aren’t exactly paper tigers, but those who aren’t in jail or exile understand the precariousness of their position, the importance of keeping the favor of the Kremlin. Last February, Prokhorov was publicly criticized by Putin for neglecting to fulfill promised investments in an electricity-generating project in southern Russia. Prokhorov initially had the temerity to say the prime minister was misinformed, but then, on further review, conceded that yes, the prime minister, whom he first met in 1994 at a bank opening in St. Petersburg, where Putin was the deputy mayor, was correct. When Prokhorov was angling for the Nets, he got the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev to mention his plans to President Barack Obama, as if U.S. politicians perforce had some say in how billionaires deployed their capital.

LOL folks, imagine that: a leader with some modicum of authority over the way billionaires spend their money…when for going on thirteen years now no elected official in America has managed to figure out a way to control the way they spend ours?!

But what if Obama did something about that last part, against all the sloppy conventional wisdom its serially-discredited promulgators keep chucking into the Post op-ed section? It’s hard to think it would make it any harder to advance the cause of democracy before the likes of foes from Vladimir Putin to John Boehner all the way to all the tireless David Broder disciples across town at the Washington Post.
[Emph. mine.]

Oh, I know, Russia’s cup runneth over with Serious Problems, and I should not be so smug about Real People Suffering. I am not. I am just saying, assuming you are living in a giant megalomaniacal country with lots of nukes and a history of social experimentation, would you rather your leader adore animals and kick skeezy millionaire ass … or not? That’s all. If America really is all that much better, I invite all Russia’s journalists to move here to the land of the free, where we will let them live and they can enjoy whatever the hell is left of a society that has had its anima and animus systematically removed. The invitation remains open.

And thus ends the most recent installment of poemless’s VovaMania. For those of you who stubbornly refuse to come to your senses and join my cult, I present what has to be the finest piece of literature produced in the 21st century: Revelation 13: Is the Antichrist Russian President Putin? BRILLIANT! Seriously, I promise you will never have more fun reading anything. Ever.

Except for this blog, of course.

October 11, 2010

Odds & Ends: Like in a dream Edition

A bit of catching up.

Vova’s Girlz.

~ Kevin O’Flynn: “Wanted: Putin’s Girl.”

So, this is annoying:

A girl was needed, but no ordinary one. She had to be not too tall and not too short, not too young and not too old — which if you’re wondering, is apparently between 22 and 27 — and she had to have a Moscow propiska, or registration.

It sounds like many a Moscow or even St. Petersburg man’s dream. Her skin had to be pure — no mention of her heart — her brows not too heavy, her chins not too many. Slavic features, please, they asked. Good manners, a way with lifts, not too big on the hips.

A beautiful smile and kind, intelligence plus the ability to take a bullet to the chest if somebody takes a pot shot at the guy who looks almost tall — to you, possibly — by your side.

If asked to find an escort for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, it is unlikely that I would have stuck an ad up on a web site.

But that is what went buzzing around the Internet a week or so ago. The escort was needed for last Friday when Putin was set to visit the Arctic forum at the new Moscow State University building.

Her job was to escort him to the lift: Nails have to be short enough to be able to press the button; make some meaningless chitchat — “So when will Novaya Zemlya get its first Coffee House?” — and then fade away like a late morning dream.

She was not the only one, as the company in question was actually looking for three hostesses in total. Probably because there are always a lot of lifts at Arctic forums.

Your dress, the ad said, must be business-style: suit, skirt/trousers, blouse, high heels, “not vulgar but beautiful.”

The girls, who have already had their moment, were to be chosen in a “casting” close to the Universitet metro station.

Most specific was the height requirement: “Height, STRICTLY 160-165 (plus 2 to 3 centimeters is possible),” the ad said. “VVP has a height of 169 cm, not higher than him, that’s for sure.”

I didn’t even bother trying our for that one … you know, er, propiskaless and all. Maybe Kevin finds this kind of headhunting vulgar, but at least it is honest. In America, we invite all the highly qualified applicants, hire the pretty ones as intended all along, and send the rest consolation letters, if they are lucky.

Why isn’t Lyudmila helping with the elevators? If you want to send a pro-family, traditional-values demography-inspiring message to your people, why not have the wife at your side? Alas, perhaps she has joined a convent? There are not even elevators in convents, I don’t think. Not in the ones I’ve stayed at. Oh yes I did. Catholic school, baby. Anyway, here is the difference between me and Lyudia Putina: I can still entertain the idea that it’s just that he hasn’t met me.

~ … I don’t have much to add to the Great Calendar Debate, except to wonder if people even need wall calendars anymore. I buy them. Mine have themes like “365 Days in France” and “Warhol’s Shoes,” but only because Putin hasn’t out out his own beefcake calendar yet. However, between Outlook, Blackberry, Google and every other cyber organizing tool out there, why buy a wall calendar? Because it gives you something nice to look at when you realize your bills are due. Which, politics aside, is why depressing calendars don’t sell.

~ From Becky Cloonan, via Natalia Antonova:

Read This.

Elif Batuman is a name I’ve come across from time to time, thought I should remember, and always forgot. She is the author of The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. Which -based on nothing more than the title- has been immediately added to my reading list. But it’s her blog that has me reeling….

Kafka porn contest

Patient readers! I promised a Kafka contest, and here it is. In the course of researching my recent Kafka article, I was interested to learn about a 2008 Kafka pornography scandal, provoked by the publication of James Hawes’s Excavating Kafka (the US title of which, Why You Should Read Kafka before You Waste Your Life, makes me proud to be an American). As the Guardian put it:

At the focus of Hawes’ investigation are pictures he stumbled across in the British Library in London and the Bodleian in Oxford of the pornography to which Kafka subscribed while in his twenties. They include images of a hedgehog-style creature performing fellatio, golem-like male creatures grasping women’s breasts with their claw-like hands and a picture of a baby emerging from a sliced-open leg.

Myriad questions came to my mind. Whom or what was that hedgehog-style creature fellating? Was the Guardian being anti-Semitic when they called that breast-grasping creature a Golem? And who wants to see a baby coming out of someone’s leg? I consulted Google for answers and came across a terrifically helpful blog post which identifies and reproduces Aubrey Beardsley’s representation of a very angry-looking baby being removed from some guy’s leg (below), as per the description, in Lucian’s second-century proto-sci-fi hit True History, of how children are birthed on the Moon:\

Gratifying as this was, I was still really curious about that hedgehog and its unknown partner, which continued to elude my Googling skills for some time. One respected Kafka expert, to whom I broached the subject, basically counseled me to give up: “I think we can assume that the hedgehog was [performing these acts upon] another hedgehog, no? Isn’t that porn reportage protocol? You assume they’re of the same species, unless otherwise noted.” Well, Sir, that certainly isn’t my reportage protocol. And I’m glad it isn’t. Because, OK, don’t click on the link if you’re under 18 (believe me kiddo, it can wait), but I eventually found the picture, and, although I can’t tell you exactly what the soi-disant “hedgehog” is pleasuring, I can state with confidence that it is definitely not another soi-disant “hedgehog.”

As is often the case with Kafka, the more I learned, the more questions remained unanswered. What was that thing? Why was it behaving that way? Are such images “porn, pure and simple,” or are they, as Reiner Stach has suggested, mere “playful representations”?

Hoping to penetrate some of these mysteries, I addressed myself to valued reader and colleague Dimiter Kenarov, author of the Bulgarian bestselling poetry volume Апокрифни животни (Apocryphal Animals), the proceeds of which are diverted to the Sofia Zoo, where they have already financed a new swing for the monkeys. Kenarov suggested that the illustration represented some form of “apocryphal evolution,” but that, more significantly, one had perhaps stumbled upon “a whole new porn genre: Kafka Sex. There is money in here. For example, undressing a person only to find new and new layers of clothing underneath.”

I hereby decree this the first official entry in the My Life and Thoughts Kafka porn contest. Please send in your best ideas for this lucrative new genre, which may or may not eventually benefit in some way the monkeys in the Sofia Zoo.

Contest is over, and you’ve missed your chance to get some of her furniture. But a “first official entry” suggests there will be a second, official or otherwise. Anyway, this all somehow reminded me of that Edition 69 and the “The Devětsil ” literary movement. A bit after his time. But surrealist porn seems to be a theme with the Czechs…

~ Sheyngart recently showed up in the neighborhood. He did a great Q. and A., like he really wanted to be there, unlike Sasha Hemon. He’s quite funny. But not terribly serious. Which is too bad, because when he gets serious, great things come out. He was talking about how writers should take acting classes. I’d never thought about it, but it makes great sense. I’ve taken enough acting classes that I should now be prepared to write a novel. The crowd was a mix urban hipsters, Russian immigrants (a burly man rudely pushed past me to demand of the staff, “Vhat Time you Close?!”) and elderly Jews. Gary said he thought the Tea Party was better than Putin’s Russia. (Gary lives in NYC and doesn’t exactly have to worry about the Tea Party. I’ve not had any ancestors pogromed to death by Russians. We disagree.) He said he liked Pavel Pepperstein and Sorokin. He told a story about these old babushky who erected a giant toilet in central Moscow and were flushing Sorokin’s lurid books down it. You thought the story would end in grievance: so that’s the kind of thanks an artist gets in Putin’s oppressive Russia. He took a u-turn and remarked, “Russia’s the only country in the world that continues to care enough about novels to hold public protests against them.”

~ Adding to my blogroll: Lizok’s books.

~ I’ve about finished Rasskazy, and off the top of my head, the stories I liked most:

“THEY TALK” by Linor Goralik
“RUSSIAN HALLOWEEN” by Aleksander Bezzubtsev-Kondakov
“THE SEVENTH TOAST TO SNAILS” by Ekaterina Taratuta
“D.O.B.” by Aleksander Snegirev

Probably pure coincidence, but in this selection I’ve made, the women are writing experimental prose, and the men more traditional narratives. There is a lot of stuff in the book that, while very artistic and academic, does not seem to work very well. These did. I also wanted read twithout any political bias. One might argue that these are “Western” in their style, and condemnations of Russia in their content. They’re well written. And I am not sure I buy the idea that anything less than saccharine is an indictment, or the only good writers are Slavophiles.

And BG and Slava came to me in a dream…

~ c/o Oleg Kashin (who is spending WAY too much time on Twitter):

BG & Surkov! You know how in cheap beer commercials, there is always a set of hot twins the average Joe spies at a bar? (As if an average Joe drunk on Budweiser were more attractive to Scandanavian twins than the sober version of himself?) Anyway, If Budweiser were marketing to me, this would be the commercial. The third fellow is Andrei Makarevich. Meh. What was going on here? Political event at which musicians are kissing up? Or musical event at which poor Slava is kissing up? Anyway. So there is now some debate as to whether or not Boris has gone over to the dark side. Some people are like, hey, he’s just having a polite chat – who cares? They aren’t being helped by this, from Ekho Moskvy:

~ Борис Гребенщиков и Владимир Путин плавали по коммунальным квартирам России.

Известный музыкант Борис Гребенщиков в день рождения премьер-министра России Владимира Путина встретился с ним во сне. Об этом сам музыкант рассказал сегодня в эфире “Эха Петербурга”:

“Он мне снился сегодня. Мы с ним совершали вояж по России. По-моему, мы с ним плыли на катере сквозь квартиры коммунальные. Причём было дико красиво. Вероятно, вели разговоры. Я такого сна не помню просто в жизни своей! Я так ему благодарен! Какие силы работают на нашего президента… премьер-министра, что даже я вижу сны про него! Фантастика. Вот оккультизм настоящий”.

Alrighty then… Let’s keep in mind he smokes a lot of pot. But, is he being sarcastic, or sincere? Is it veiled criticism or harmless entertainment? It’s one thing to dream you’re sailing with Vova through communal apartments, another to issue a press release about it to your hippied-out followers. Hm. Fascinating indeed.

Bonus.

~ Finally, we have some pictures of the Soyuz capsule landing. For a while, I was not impressed. Looked like a piece of junk on a parachute. Then a piece of junk crashing to the dirt. Then an old piece of junk out in a field.

Then spacemen crawled out of it!!!! Wowee!

Soyuz TMA-18 Space Capsule Landing.

It’s really a metaphor for Russia, is it not? To the casual observer: junk. To the close observer: oudated junk. To the surveyor: junk surrounded by miles of nothing. But inside the junk are fascinating, adventurous, curious, educated and slightly insane people, doing astonishing things. And even the junk has stories to tell…

August 25, 2010

In Photos

Filed under: Culture: Russia — poemless @ 5:31 PM
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I. “Russia in color, a century ago.”

Perhaps you have all seen these by now, but they never get old. Seriously. It is creepy how not old at all they appear. Incredible. For those who have not seen them, they are from a Library of Congress’ collection of color photographs taken between 1909 and 1912 by Prokudin-Gorskii, who was doing a photographic survey of the Russian Empire for Tsar Nicholas II. Why does LC have these? They bought them up at some point. I am of the opinion that Russia should buy them back. And no – they are not photoshopped. Well, maybe he used the 1909 equivalent to photoshopping.

Self-portrait on the Karolitskhali River, ca. 1910.

(photo: Prokudin-Gorskii)

General view of the Nikolaevskii Cathedral from southwest in Mozhaisk in 1911.

(photo: Prokudin-Gorskii)

See more photos by Prokudin-Gorskii.

Learn more about the Library of Congress Prokudin-Gorskii collection.

II. “Six endangered sites in Russia that will soon disappear.”

For a variety of reasons (longterm neglect, lack of funds, general disinterest) there are lots of endangered places in Russia. Forbes points us to 6 worth checking out before they bite the dust. I should like to add that while post-Communist apathy and over-development are usually blamed, bulldozing or abandoning one’s past is hardly a new phenomenon, in Russia or elsewhere. But why does it seem more brutal when Russia does it? In America it feels unfair that these things happen, yes, but also part of life, the collateral damage of an ongoing, uninterrupted march into the future. And something always seems to organically spring up in place of the past, as if this cycle of architectural death and rebirth were completely natural. But Russia neither excels at smooth transition nor pretends replacements are functional improvements as much as they are ownership stamps (be the owner a person or idea or bank.) The effect is an exquisite corpse of architectural history rather than a linear narrative. The breaks are cleaner and so must have been made by someone more coldblooded.

Anyway, I’d like to say this one I have actually seen. But I can’t be sure. There are so many of these cathedrals, and they all look alike. And all the little old women will tell you that Ivan the terrible had them built and Andreu Rublev painted the icons inside.

The Andrei Rublev frescoes in Vladimir and Zvenigorod.

(photo: Itar TASS)

Wikipedia tells me the Vladimir church is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Isn’t that supposed to protect it? Is Forbes maybe being a bit hysterical?

And check out the building shaped like a hammer and sickle!

A kitchen factory in Samara.

See the other sites.

III. “Soviet photography of the 60s and 70s.”

The Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography in Moscow (I thought they were French…?) has been holding a very popular exhibition of Soviet photography from the 1960’s and 70’s. I love this kind of thing. Everyone associates Soviet visual arts with Socialist Realism and tends to forget that the Soviet Union persisted for almost 40 years after Stalin’s death. The exhibition celebrates the more personal, honest, whimsical and less formulaic aesthetics of the Thaw years and even after. It’s charming, if you ask me.

Well, these are not the types of scenes of Communist Russia that were pounded into my little American head while I was growing up. In the same fashion, you probably won’t see any normal, adjusted American families on RT anytime soon either. For two countries who have quite enough problems of our own, we certainly devote a lot of time to pointing out the other’s…

See other photos from the exhibition.

And more from their Moscow Metro exhibit. Art in the Subway again!

IV. “Moscow and Leningrad in 1990.”

I don’t remember where I first saw this, but whoever posted it reminded everyone that in 1990 Russia was still Soviet. I was reminded of waking up on the morning of January 1, 2000 and looking out the window. Everything was the same as it was when I’d woken up on the morning of December 31, 1999. No flying cars. Those buildings that had been built in 1872 and 1972 were still there, had still be in built in 1872 and 1972. How strange it felt. … I was never in the Soviet Union. But I was in what was the Soviet Union in 1995, and if you think Muscovites woke up on December 22, 1991 and looked out the window and found the world looked radically different than it did the previous day, when they’d been citizens of the USSR, well, … well actually I have no idea how it looked to them. You’d have to ask them.

But this is pretty much exactly what Russia looked like to me in 1995:

(photo: Ben Gustafson)


(photo: Ben Gustafson)

Kiosks, kiosks everything in kiosks. People wearing bad, ugly clothes. Tacky advertisements in public areas featuring naked ladies. Lines for crap. Grey skies. Everything falling apart and dirty. Everyone looking vaguely cold and depressed and exhausted and resigned. Poor lighting. (I recently installed those CFL lights in my apartment which prompted my stepfather to remark, “Oh great! Going for that depressing Soviet apartment look, are you?”)

Of course it was not all grime and kiosks and bad clothing and an air of disappointment. Petersburg got hip to shiny happy capitalistic optimism before Moscow -or the world outside its luxury hotel lobbies- caught on. (Likewise, in the provinces so much Soviet imagery persisted that one wondered if they’d heard the news yet, and realized they probably just did not have the money for new non-Commie signage.) But vasts swaths of it were. I miss it. I know. It’s a little evil of me.

See more photos of 1990 Moscow and Leningrad at Tema’s blog.

And the photographer’s Picasa page.

V. “The Unusual Metro Systems of the Soviet Union.”

Treehuger.com brings us a slideshow of the many subway systems throughout the (former) Soviet Union. Vova may want to wax poetic on what was responsible for the global warming that killed the mammoths, but one must admit that there is something remarkably environmentally responsible in the zeal for efficient public transit that accompanied the Soviet command economy. Granted, an ability to get people to work en masse on time at their filthy factory jobs and a potential use as bunkers to protect leaders from bombs, radiation, chemical warfare etc. were significant selling points. And more and more people are driving automobiles around this part of the world now. Nevertheless, it stings that Stalin, who almost single-handedly destroyed the Russian ecosystem, excelled where hippies with bikes and souls have failed. Maybe more Americans would take the train if the stations were built of marble, decorated with chandeliers and housed art exhibits? Well, maybe more Americans would take the train if there were any train to take at all…

Metro station in Moscow.

(photo: Nir Nussbaum, c.TreeHugger.com.)

Metro station in Tashkent.

(photo: Nir Nussbaum, c.TreeHugger.com.)

Tashkent. Tash-FREAKING-kent, people!

For comparison’s sake, here is a station in Chicago:

Again: Tashkent. Chicago.

Stupid idiot moron American design is not even brilliant enough to keep out the rain and snow (does it even rain or snow in Tashkent? Isn’t Tashkent in the desert?) let alone the fallout after nuclear holocaust. Is not even brilliant enough to be called design! Those terrible Soviet kiosks are more functional and attractive! Good thing Americans all have cars and will never be bombed, I tell ya. I need a cigarette. I’ll be right back.

See many more strange, beautiful (and functional) subways of the Soviet Union.

Bonus: “Putin takes care of bears, says they should be afraid of people.”

Ok, kids, it would not be a proper photo blog, at least not at this url, without a requisite pin-up of my favorite Premier. Whatever the hell a Premier is. Lucky for us, he’s just done another photo-op. Where does he find the time to rule a sizable chunk of the world and keep a shooting schedule that would make Gisele Bündchen dizzy? I do not know… I think he’s tapped into some science we yahoos are yet unaware of. Or has been cloned. Don’t tell me Dima’s doing all the work. Pshaw! Dima’s sipping tea with rock stars and changing names of things while our Premier is putting out fires and saving endangered species. Which begs the question: Who is actually … governing?

But why think about that when you can look at this!

That blurry dark spot in the back is ostensibly a bear. Raawwrr.

(photo: Alexei Druzhinin. c.RIA Novosti.)

Has he even done a brown bear photo op before? What took so long?! If Putin wanted to scare the pants of of everything west of Minsk, this should have been first on his agenda. The Russian bear is to the neocon’s imagination as clowns are to a child’s. Of course, there remains the possibility that he isn’t interested in scaring us. Just saving animals. He doesn’t look like he is trying to frighten us. He looks like a kid at the zoo. Where’s his ice cream? You know – it would all be rather embarrassing if everyone at the Economist, BBC and Washington Post were running about wetting themselves about Russia when Putin wasn’t even trying to freak them out in the first place. Not that they shy from embarrassing themselves…

Alright, fair readers, that’s all for today. Hope you enjoyed the show!

August 6, 2010

Odds & Ends: Civilization and its Discontents Edition

“To me, culture is, first and foremost, a matter of literature.” That’s what Dmitry “Collapse Gap” Orlov says. But what of those who are unable to read? Not because they are pathetic saps with the misfortune to be born in a country where the skill of literacy is only appreciated in as much as it gets Oprah to make you buy things, even if they are books. But because you are blind? Or something? For clear (or blurry, as it were) reasons, I have been contemplating the phenomenon of audio books. No. I couldn’t live like that. Celebrity culture has infiltrated every other aspect of entertainment. I don’t want to hear the voice of an Oscar winning actor when I am escaping into literature. But I do need to read. Otherwise I will be reduced to a person who only gets information from my circle of friends and family and neighbors and coworkers, the tv, or the radio. Like the rest of America. Next thing you know, I will be joining the Tea Party and having opinions about “American Idol.” I’d try to download podcasts (a word that already smacks of obsolescence) but would not know how to do that blind. I have no ear for music. What would I do to nourish my soul, inform my opinions, fill the space & time between crawling into bed and falling into slumber? I know what you are thinking. Uhm, get a mate?

It’s on my list of to-do’s. But right now I want to share with you some things I have been able to read, or read about, recently. Unfortunately, the gift of sight does not come without a price. Sometimes your eyes will fall upon words that make you truly wish you were blind. Then again, sometimes Dmitry Orlov is a genius.

I. (Oh, and I am preparing the ground for an imminent Russian invasion of America, btw.)

Moscow Diaries: “Hello, goodbye.”

True/Slant.com has finally died a proper death, but let it be known it held on to its quaint values of paying bloggers and discouraging comments until its last day, and did not give up the good fight before It Girl Julia Ioffe was able to present this bizarre and perplexing defense to her critics:

Because who really believes in the virgin peachiness of the Yeltsin era? Who really thinks Kasparov or his cohort are a realistic choice to lead Russia? And really — and this is a question for all the commenters who accuse me of subterfuge and of preparing the ground for an imminent American invasion of Russia — really who is rooting for Russia’s demise? Who? To be brutally honest: no one in the world give that much of a shit about Russia to actively want America to take over. Maybe you’ve heard about how insular and navel-gazing Americans are? And maybe apathy is a more apt definition of a “Russophobe,” but then it isn’t much of the toothy ogre you’re looking to beat your chest about and make you feel once again to be the fulcrum of world history, is it?

It’s no concern of mine whether she is raving mad foaming at the mouth with hatred for her native land (I go there sometimes too) or she is so cool and disinterested she can’t be bothered to form an opinion one way or another. But it is a concern of mine when people open the door and allow logic to escape while pontificating about US-Russia relations. In quick order, actual responses to her rhetorical questions:

1) A lot of those navel-gazing Americans, actually. 2) Kasparov or his cohort and anyone giving them money or a soapbox, one expects. 3) What’s stranger, that anyone could believe this young woman is preparing the ground for an American invasion of Russia, or that she could believe it necessary to use her last T/S post to defend against such an accusation? 4) “no one in the world give that much of a shit about Russia to actively want America to take over.” What does this sentence even mean? Giving a shit about a country => wanting America to take it over? I understand it to imply the opposite among people who are not Ahmed Chalabi. People want to take over places because they care about them? If you are accused of not liking Russia, you are probably being accused of not caring about Russia, not caring too much. No one in the world cares very much about Russia? As much as anyone in the world cares very much about any country, it seems to me that the risks involved in not caring about Russia make the alternative far more appealing. So at least a few of us do. Re: this “takeover,” are you talking military takeover or ideological or financial takeover? Are you referring to official takeover, or the use of money, power and public relations to achieve significant enough influence to ensure Russia acts in the interests of America before its own? … Clearly Julia Ioffe is no toothy ogre – she’s quite the beauty in fact, and probably harmless, given her naivety: apathy is not dangerous or cause for chest beating? Oh? Beneath Ioffe’s flippant remarks, it seems real concerns remain unaddressed.

What have we learned today, readers? You can fight fire with fire, and strawmen with strawmen, but I’d advise against fighting fire with straw…

… or fighting ideas with fire.

II. How hot is it in Moscow? What is 451°F in Celsius?

Some opposition activist took a lighter to Surkov’s book.

Coincidentally, the activist was arrested that very night for his involvement in a protest against the destruction of a local forest. Don’t tell him books come from trees.

Все произошло в пятницу вечером, когда Виталий Шушкевич отмечал свой день рождения в компании друзей и не только в районе станции метро «Китай-город». На праздник пришли также Мария Дрокова из кремлевского проекта «Наши» и Мария Сергеева — бывшая активистка «Молодой Гвардии», которая всем запомнилась призывом не ругать русские машины. Среди подарков имениннику была и зажигалка с книгой речей и статей господина Суркова. Несмотря на присутствие среди молодых людей комиссара «Наших», Виталий Шушкевич книгу сжег.


Image source: Live Journal user plucer.

So nice to see the young champions of democracy and civil rights holding a good old-fashioned book burning. That’s the spirit! Though I’m not sure we can really justify setting unnecessary fires in Russia’s current incendiary condition… Still, I’m sure that’s one less beach babe who will be turned into a Nashist zombie, carrying out Surkov’s wicked, wicked plan to modernize the country and replace conscription with an army of giant felt vegetables. Good work, Shushkevich.


Image source: Live Journal user brainw45h.


Image source: Idiot.fm.

Looks like Slava has taken his own advice, “Innovate, gentlemen!,” and is branching out into new methods for achieving creepiness.

Speaking of the Ministry of Ideology:

III. Art as Ammunition!

ARTicle: “Mightier than the Bayonet?”

One of my favorite topics is propaganda. It is often taken to mean the dissemination of misleading or biased or plainly untrue information, rather than the promotion of any agenda, be it noble or malicious. I think it is because we believe ourselves capable of real objectivity. Like the swing voters. Or Julia. As if taking no personal position on anything were more responsible than taking a firm but well-informed one. But of course no one is omniscient, and some things are worth fighting for. Some agendas are worth promoting. The AIC looks at the role of Soviet propaganda posters in the fight against the Nazis:

The word propaganda might initially sound pejorative. Propaganda has been historically perceived as a malevolent method of spreading false rumors. But might we also interpret propaganda as a means of providing a nation courage and willingness to fight in the face of immeasurable odds? Such was the task of the Soviet news agency (TASS) window-posters created in the Soviet Union during the Second World War—and such is the content of Windows on the War, a massive exhibition of these “propaganda” posters that will be mounted at the Art Institute next summer.

Propagandistic posters are usually focused on bolstering support on the home front and distanced from the reality of the battlefield. However, the makers of the TASS Windows had a different idea: to use their creative skills as ammunition in the fight against the Germans. Art became a weapon.

The poster above, number 1000, acts as a visual manifesto for the TASS studio. Above the picture is a quote by Vladimir Mayakovsky, the acclaimed Russian Futurist poet and founder of the ROSTA Windows—predecessors of TASS in the 1920s and the inspiration for the TASS Window project as a whole. The quote reads, in translation, “I want the pen to be equal to the bayonet”—a wish visually manifested in this image. We see Hitler being attacked by three bayonets, alongside a pencil and ink pen. In fact, if we follow Hitler’s gaze, he seems to be staring directly at the hands holding these two tools. The artists, writers, and poets of TASS, it would seem, have succeeded—they have “killed” the enemy’s spirit, while boosting the morale of Soviet citizens with this symbolic defeat. Finally, as Mayakovsky wished, the pen and pencil are on equal footing with the traditional weapons of war.

There was a bona fide sense that producing these TASS Windows was as important as being at the front. In the Soviet Union, the artists who created the posters became beloved cultural icons, as important as military generals. They received state medals and great renown for their work. To this day, surviving former Soviet citizens alive at the time of the TASS Windows can name the artists by heart—artists such as Sokolov-Skalya, Solov’ev, Shukhmin, and the Kukryniksy.

Surrounding the production of the TASS Windows are stories of passion, fervor, and intense labor. The artists would gather, regardless of abominable weather or the advancing enemy attack on Moscow, to create a new poster virtually every day of World War II. Not unlike the Red Army soldiers, the artists and writers labored in inhospitable conditions for the sake of the war effort. Because of the cultural importance of these posters and the iconic status of these artists and writers, heroic or wistful cultural myths came to surround the studio as time went on. According to some anecdotes, TASS posters were carried to the Front by the soldiers and were used to intimidate the enemy. Some TASS artists and writers were even driven to the Front itself so that they might absorb the details of war to imbue later drawings with veracity. The artists and writers of the TASS Windows truly felt their art to be one of the most powerful weapons against the Nazi invaders.

–Julia A., intern in the Department of Prints and Drawings

This post is from the “Countdown to TASS” series leading up to the exhibition of Soviet propaganda posters at the Art Institute of Chicago next year. I mention this because the exhibition will be part of the Soviet Experience arts festival, a “14-month-long showcase of works by artists who created under (and in response to) the Politburo of the Soviet Union” which will be held at numerous arts institutions throughout Chicago from 2010-2011. Hopefully if you are in town, you will have the opportunity to check it out.

IV. Russian Lit. 101.

A Good Treaty: “The Tale of How Aleksandr Pochkov Quarreled with Vladimir Vladimirovich”

I don’t know what it is about constituent services and Russia, but no combination of subjects makes a more ideal setting in which to employ the literary devices of the absurd and grotesque. Behold!

In which AGT translates an incredible display of pathos and mockery that is the following exchange between an angry blogger and the nation’s leader:

Do you know why we’re burning?

Because it’s all fucked. I’ll explain. I have a dacha in a village 153 km [95 miles] from Moscow, in the Tverskaia oblast’. This village is the sort of place where everyone lives nose-to-nose and shares common fences, or — like my neighbor and me — no fences at all. I’ve got nothing to hide from him and don’t need the fucking thing. And since he’s a local, he also looks after my house when I’m away, even mowing my lawn. After all, what’s good for his cows does no harm to my grass. The lawn grows back fast. But let’s get back to the fires.

In this village under those asshole communists, whom everyone shits on, there were three reservoirs for fighting fires [pozharnye prudy], an alarm bell hung (which was sounded in case of a fire), and miraculously there was even a fire truck. Now sure there was just one for three villages — but there was still a truck. And then came Mr. Democrat and his friends to fuck everything up. First they filled in the reservoirs and sold the land to developers. Next they divvied off the fire truck to God knows where (aliens probably snatched it), and they changed the alarm bell into a phone (fucking “modernization”). Only the piece of shit doesn’t work because they forgot to connect the line. There’s still a fireman, yes, but he’s got nothing left but a helmet and a coat (left over from those terrible communists). Here’s how he works: about fifteen years ago, a fire started in the neighboring village. They promptly sent us a messenger, and we ran back to help put it out. Our fireman got dressed in his uniform, grabbed two buckets, filled them with water and (this part is still a mystery to me) hopped on a bicycle, and came with us to put out the fire. It was laughter and sin together. Someone called [another] fire department, but they only arrived at the end of everything (five hours later) because they had to come from Tver’. Using everything within reach — sand, water, even spitting — we somehow managed to save all but one house.

Do I have any questions? [In response to the government soliciting citizens to write in.] Where are our tax dollars going? Why every year do we slip further and further toward a more primitive social order? Fuck the innovation center in Skolkovo if we don’t even have something as elementary as fire trucks! Why did there used to be people like the forest rangers, who warned people about fires and quickly conveyed the information to firefighters, so it wasn’t allowed to reach residences? I don’t want a telephone in the village — I want reservoirs for fighting fires and I want my alarm bell back. Give me back the fucking bell and dig me another reservoir, and I’ll fill it in and take care of it myself. If the regional authorities are game, just give me the space.

Understand me, Mr. Bureaucrat, Russia doesn’t need all your shitty genius ideas. Well before you, smart Russians — real men [muzhiki] — already figured this stuff out. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. It was invented a long time ago and it works just fine, as long as you keep your nose out of our business.* Stop charging me taxes, or just cut off my pension deductions. I’m not going to live to retirement age in this kind of life, anyway. With the [saved] money, I’ll buy a fire truck for three villages and sleep soundly, knowing nobody will take it away from my people, from my neighbors, because that bitch will be ours and we’d kill anyone who tried. If you deputies and distinguished officials piss on us because we actually give a shit about ourselves and our neighbors, then let us live the way we want, happily and in peace [schastlivo i khorosho].

[But] we don’t expect much from you. We all understand that your life principle is that everyone around you should need you. But you’re mistaken. It’s you who needs us — and in a big way. Believe me.

So give me back my alarm bell, you bitches, and shove your fucking phone up your asses.

I ask you to convey my letter to the Kalyazinskii Region authorities, in the Tverskaia oblast’.

Thank you in advance. ~top_lap

Dear honorable Internet user,

At the end of the workday today, inhaling (as did all of Moscow) the smoke of the forests burning outside the city, with great interest and pleasure did I learn of your assessment of the summer fires situation that’s befallen central Russia.

Fair’s fair, one ought to point out that Russia hasn’t had such high temperatures for over 140 years — not even under the communists, that is.

This at least partly vindicates the authorities, who — while certainly responsible for fighting natural disasters — are only for the first time encountering something of this size on such a scale.

However, in general, I agree with your comments.

You are, of course, a remarkably plainspoken and direct person. All the more power to you! [Prosto molodets]

And you are undoubtedly a man of letters. If you had made your living as a writer, you could be living — like Lenin’s favorite writer Gorky — in Capri.**

However, even there you wouldn’t feel yourself entirely safe, insomuch as both Europe and the U.S. face the same mass-scale natural disasters. Suffice it to recall how many forests burned in Europe last year or the year before.

Despite all our problems and troubles, I hope you and I both make it to retirement age.

All necessary funds for disaster management and other pressing issues have already been dispatched from the federal budget to reimburse victims.

If you provide your address, your governor will receive an alarm bell right away.

Sincerely,
Vladimir Putin

But what A Good Treaty, and shockingly, everyone who has written on the topic of this fantastic exchange, fails to mention, or even possibly be aware of, is that the entire correspondence was conducted not between the blogger and the Premier at all, but between their dogs!

A dreary world indeed, gentlemen…

V. Smackdown: Orlov and Jesus v. Hitler, Lenin, Calvin and yer teevees.

ClubOrlov: “Miserable Pursuits.”

This is one of the best little Orlov pieces I have read in a while. I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing. Here are some excerpts:

The Russian author Eduard Limonov wrote of his experiences with poverty in America. To his joy, he discovered that he could supplement his cash earnings with public assistance. But he also quickly discovered that he had to keep this joy well hidden when showing up to collect his free money. It is a curious fact that in America public assistance is only made available to the miserable and the downtrodden, not to those who are in need of some free money but are otherwise perfectly content. Although it is just as possible to be poor and happy in America as anywhere else, here one must make a choice: to avoid any number of unpleasant situations, one must be careful to hide either the fact that one is poor, or the fact that one is happy. If free public money is to be obtained, then only the latter choice remains.

It is another curious fact that vast numbers of Americans, both rich and poor, would regard Limonov’s behavior as nothing short of despicable: a foreign author living in America on public assistance while also earning cash! It seems reasonable that the rich should feel that way; if the poor can’t be made miserable, then what exactly is the point of being rich? But why should the poor particularly care? Another cultural peculiarity: what dismays them is not the misappropriation of public funds. Tell them about the billions wasted on useless military projects, and they will reply with a yawn that this is just business as usual. But tell them that somewhere some poor person is eating a free lunch, and they will instantly wax indignant. Amazingly, Americans are great believers in Lenin’s revolutionary dictum: “He who does not work, does not eat!” One of the rudest questions you might hear from an American is “What do you do for a living?” The only proper response is “Excuse me?” followed by a self-satisfied smirk and a stony silence. Then they assume that you are independently wealthy and grovel shamefully.

Most shockingly, there are many poor Americans who are too proud to accept public assistance in spite of their obvious need for it. Most Russians would regard such a stance as absurd: which part of “free money” don’t these poor idiots like—the fact that it’s money, or the fact that it’s free? Some Russians who are living in the US and, in trying to fit in to American society, have internalized a large dose of the local hypocrisy, might claim otherwise, but even they, in their less hypocritical moments, will concede that it is downright foolish to turn down free money. And rest assured, they will mop up every last penny of it. Mother Russia didn’t raise any dummies.

But let us not blame the victim. What causes these poor souls to leave money on the table is just this: they have been brainwashed. The mass media, most notably television and advertising, are managed by the well-to-do, and incessantly hammer home the message that hard work and self-sufficiency are virtuous while demonizing the idle and the poor. The same people who have been shipping American jobs to China and to India in order to enhance their profits want it to be generally understood that the resulting misery is entirely the fault of the miserable. And while the role of the pecuniary motive may be significant, let us not neglect to mention the important fact that producing mass misery is a high-priority objective in and of itself. […]

And so, a poor but happy and carefree future may yet await a great many of us, both idle rich and idle poor—one happy though rather impoverished family. But in order to achieve that we would have to change the culture. Let it be known that free lunch is a very good thing indeed, no mater who’s eating it or why, and never mind that Lenin said that “He who does not work, does not eat.” And while we are at it, let’s also dispense with the hackneyed adage that “Work will set you free” (Arbeit Macht Frei) which the Nazis liked to set in wrought iron atop the gates of their concentration camps. Let us consign the communists and the fascists and the capitalists to the proverbial scrapheap of history! Let us instead gratuitously quote Jesus: “Behold the lilies of the field, how they grow. They labor not, neither spin. And yet for all that I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his royalty, was not arrayed like unto one of these… Therefore take no thought saying: What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or Wherewith shall we be clothed? … Care not therefore for the day following. For the day following shall care for itself. Each day’s trouble is sufficient for the same self day.” Amen.

The Limonov book in question is, It’s me, Eddie, and I think it is the most memorable work I have read by him, probably because it hit a lot of my American nerves. It is also this novel that features his astonishment at the “It’s not my problem” refrain commonly heard in America, which I mentioned in my piece on the hoarders. It’s Limonov, so it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I imagine that if you are reading this blog, you can handle this book, and so I think all of you should read it if you haven’t yet.

Note to Dmitry: It appears some miserable pursuits pay off:

VI. The Power of Negative Thinking.

USA Today: “Russians are less depressed than Americans.”

No word on if it’s anything to do with Americans reading USA Today

Despite what many social observers have described as a generally dark and brooding take on life, a new report suggests that Russians are actually less likely than Americans to be depressed.
In fact, researchers have uncovered indications that the Russian cultural tendency to dwell on the negative may ultimately insulate them from feelings of distress when engaged in self-reflection.

“Among Westerners, focusing on one’s negative feelings tends to impair well-being, but among Russians, that is not the case,” study co-author Igor Grossmann, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of Michigan, said in a university news release.

“Russians focus more on their negative feelings than Americans do,” Grossmann explained, “but they spontaneously distance themselves from their emotions to a greater extent than Americans, who tend to immerse themselves in their recalled experiences.”[…]

The Russians appeared to experience less distress than the Americans after retelling the experience, and placed blame less often on the person involved in the incident. The Russians were also able to immediately distance themselves from their recollections, even while discussing them — a skill linked to less distress and feelings of blame, the study authors noted.

Culture, concluded the authors, has an impact on the emotional and cognitive consequences of bad experiences.

What? You mean our culture which practically criminalizes and literally pathologizes normal human emotions like unhappiness actually makes us more distressed and ashamed?

Get. Out.

Alright, dear readers. I am now going to go ruminate on my unhappiness and misfortune in the hopes it staves off depression. Thanks for stopping by.

June 9, 2010

Odds & Ends: Insomnia Edition.

A thought I had while riding the el, sleep-deprived:

It is conventional wisdom that the fall of the USSR was a glorious populist event that would have been something pleasant if it had not been set back by the greedy, corrupt, lawless and undemocratic actions that followed as a result of the chaos brought on by the fall of the USSR. In fact, the literal dissolution of the Soviet Union was a greedy, corrupt and undemocratic action that set the stage for those that followed. It was the first land grab of the 1990’s. Ha!

Well, it sounded more profound on the el. Probably the bearded tranny staring at me while I thought it gave it extra oomph. Honestly, just when I get comfortable with everyone’s unique sexuality, I’m commuting with a bearded transvestite. I want to scream, “Is this a game? Why can’t you just choose?!” But his or her (his and her?) sexuality is not mine to judge or make demands of. Still, I resent being made to guess what pronoun to use. Or how many.

~ Every moose is crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man.

I want to be this baby elk.

~ Gorbachev is not a dick.

This is a lovely interview. If you read it and return here and still think he is, you better keep it to yourself, or I’ll refuse to marry you, too.

~ “foreign video games accused of committing “ideological sabotage” by painting Russia as a country of spies, villains and bears riding unicycles.”

Maybe because dead poets, cold showers and cabbage soup are boring topics for video games… Don’t think they haven’t tried:

More recently came the release of “Eugene Onegin: Devil’s Mercy”, which sought to provide a lesson in literature by rendering the hero of Alexander Pushkin’s masterpiece as a zombie killer. But neither of these titles fared well with critics despite rave revues from Russian officials.

In fairness, the original Pushkin poem on which the game is based is pretty damn boring too. Wish it had zombies…

~ Some person with a blog wrote this:

It’s just, I don’t like attracting certain persons to my blog. Anyway, this is not about the author, it’s about McFaul.

Michael McFaul sent me a message on Facebook (I friended him because I thought he might have press releases on his profile or some comments on these meetings) and said he understood I was a critic of his commission with Surkov, said he wanted to understand my views better, and offered me a phone number.

I’m pretty sure the fact that Vladislav Surkov 1) does not have a facebook page, 2) does not care to know my opinion of his work and 3) has not given me his phone number is the clearest illustration yet of everything that is wrong with Russia. Especially that last part. I’m going to friend McFaul and see what the Civil Society Working Group can do to rectify this situation.

~ Единая Россия Fail.

Or maybe he won. I don’t know…

~ Genius.

Apologies to whomever I was calling a genius last week. I know I was ready to run away with Shklovsky. But this time it is for real, I swear. Forget what I said about having to read some 1920’s avant garde poetry. I have found true love! Daniel Kalder is the one for me!

Hole in my heart left by the eXile? Filled.

~ Music only dogs can hear.

“Vicious…” Meh, dogs are pretty indiscriminate. I can’t see them appreciating Lou Reed or Laurie Anderson. Most people who are not dogs can’t even do that. Probably it is a good thing only dogs can hear Anderson, actually. PETA might want to boycott this.

~ Hitch has an autobio… er, memoir out. It’s probably not as awesomely offensive as this interview.

Hitch: There are still people who want to criminalize homosexuality one way or another, and I thought it might be useful if more heterosexual men admitted that they are a little bit gay, as is everyone, and that homosexuality is a form of love and not just sex.

NYT: Not everyone is “a little bit gay,” as you say. Do you think your basic sexual confusion underlies your political confusions? […]

NYT: Your mother committed suicide, in a pact with a lover, in 1973. Did she suffer from lifelong depression?

Hitch: No. I think she was having a bad menopause, and she was losing her looks, which were pretty impressive.

~ “чисто по-мужски?”

If you think I write like a man, you should watch me install an air conditioner. Though, IIRC, most men cry and curse when doing that. Someone should compare me to a ninja. Because that’s how I install an air conditioner.

Ok, thanks for reading.

Stay tuned for my review of Lost Cosmonaut. Hint #1: One reviewer called it “A cult waiting to happen.” Hint #2: I’m joining.

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