A Russian Roundup

A collection of links to Russian literature, and one on art.

Owen Hatherly examines the discomfort of the Russians with the Italian founders of the Futurist movement.

The Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky was a sympathetic critic of Russian Futurism. He corresponded with Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Communist, about the political significance of this new artistic movement.

In a 1922 letter to Trotsky, Gramsci suggests that the Italian left had missed a trick by not making overtures to the Futurist movement.

Gramsci stressed that the Futurists had a large working class audience that was attracted by their iconoclasm, and had defended them in street fights against attempts to break up their exhibitions.

For Gramsci, ignoring the Futurists left them prone to being taken up by fascism, which then had “revolutionary” pretensions and could monopolise the new, anti-traditional cultural forms.

Many Russian writers were discovered by the Russians themselves only after 1991. One such rediscovery is that of the absurd poets- the Oberitus, whom Olga Martynova considers to be among the liveliest classic writers.

Who were the Oberiuts? Born in the early years of the 20th century, they were practically children at the time of the 1917 October Revolution. That they, the last representatives of Russian modernity, transformed and completed the entire spectrum of that modernity – from the mystically disposed Symbolism to the avant-garde leftist futurism – borders on the miraculous. As Daniil Kharms wrote: “Life has been victorious over death in a way unbeknownst to me.” The idea of the miracle was a leitmotiv for Kharms and his friends, and they came back to it again and again. A further miracle: the whole group very nearly vanished without a trace, which would have had enormous consequences for the development of Russian literature. We would have seen their names in just a few memoirs, such as by dramatist Yevgeny Shvarts. As it turns out, the only reason we have access to their texts is because one of them, the philosopher Yakov Druskin, went over to where Daniil Kharms had been living in beseiged Leningrad before he was arrested, and slid his entire archive back home on a children’s sled.

Paris based Russian writer Viktor Erofeev examines the Putin ‘bird’ in the light of Putin’s recent visit to Ms Merkel’s Germany. His analysis is reminiscent of the debate between the Slavophiles and the Westernizers in post- Napoleonic Russia, a debate that formed the dialectic of many a Russian classic in the 19th century.

Putin’s oscillations correspond closely to the oscillations in Russian thinking, with its deep archaic roots that to some extent have nothing in common with Europe. Alexander III was no intellectual. He allowed Tolstoy and Chekhov to print their books, tolerated a number of other-minded people but never forgot tighten the handcuffs or to exercise his preferences for Russian nationalism. And everybody knows what happened to the Romanovs.

Of course the West must feed Russia’s western head. Otherwise, it will run off to the East. It’s in my interests that the eagle has a well- developed western head. It acts as a certain guarantee for the freedoms a writer needs, such as the air to breathe. But I understand that if you forget about the eastern head of the Russian statehood, as our reformers did in the 1990s, then you lose the connection with an important part of the “archaic” population. The West will have to learn to accept that the flight of the two-headed eagle has nothing to do with the rules of international air travel.

And finally here is a report from The Moscow Times whose headline itself is a giveaway: Reading Is Going the Way of the Soviet Union.

The online writeup is available only for paid subscribers. The Literary Review, however, offers a few excerpts.

Fiction no longer prepares young people to live in the very pragmatic modern Russia, so there is no popular demand for it.

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