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Tuesday, November 04, 2014

the wall fell: so what?

So, the end of history, most thumbsuckers think, is itself at an end. What's the damages, bartender? Well, this summing up of what happened to the Communist countries after the fall of the wall is a pretty stunning piece of work. I'm not convinced that all information can be given by GDP growth, but still: only ten percent of the countries in the post-Communist sector have actually converged with the developed world.
Ukraine, according to Milanovic's figures, will take fifty more years to achieve the standard of living of the Communist era. Hmm. I especially like it that Milanovic, perhaps because he's a rusty remnant of the old Soviet system, actually values culture.
"Let me just focus on one often overlooked fact. It is most strikingly illustrated with respect to Russia. Russia, probably for the first time since the early 1800s, has gone through a quarter of a century without leaving any trace on the international world of arts, literature, philosophy or science. One does not need to mention Russia’s “Silver Age” of the early 1900s, nor a number of writers who, often in the opposition to the regime, produced some of the best literature of the 20th century (Akhmatova, Pasternak, Grossman, Sholokhov, Solzhenitsyn, Zinoviev); one does not need even to dwell on scientific progress, indeed limited to the military or military-used production, in the USSR, to realize that nothing similar happened in the past 25 years, which is indeed a sufficiently long period to draw conclusions. Capitalism was not kind to Russia’s arts and sciences."
I was discussing contemporary Russian lit with a Russian professor a couple of weeks ago, and he seconds this conclusion. Myself, I'd put Mikhail Shishkin up among the great writers Milanovic cites. Who else? There has been a Limonovization of Russian literature, that's true. In a round table on Russian literature in the Global context published in the estimable Russian Studies in Literature last year, the contributors were all, unanimously, glum about the fate of Russian writers in the said global context - no Nobel prize for you all! A prof from the University of Colorado I think summed up the scene in the States very well: the last Russian writer to make a stir among the readership was Vassily Grossman.Not exactly current. In one field where the Soviets ruled, linguistics, or the part of linguistics having to do with semiotics, most stuff that I read is very derivative of what went before - the University of Tartu's Sign Systems Studies, for instance, hasn't advanced beyond Lotman as far as I can see, and Russian Studies in Literature is exemplary in digging through Bakhtin, and bringing to light the literature, some of it fallen through the cracks, but new theory, or work?

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I haven't followed it recently but I very much doubt that Russia has produced no great art or literature in the last 25 years: it has simply fallen into the same weightless vacuum as American art and literature: with all the air sucked into commercial enterprises and with no gravity to provide orientation, artists have to learn to move and propel themselves in new ways and communicate without sound.

As I say, I can't speak to Russia, but in the Czech Republic, where I've lived off and on since 1990, I can say that it's quite true that my generation of artists has had a very hard time making the transition. To go from a system where everyone had both work enough to live and free time enough to create to a system which both compels and seduces into constant mindless, soulless activity has been very disorienting. The loss of an audience, too, has been disheartening. The constant scrutiny from the authorities had the paradoxical effect of conveying a deeper meaning and purpose to even the most trivial and light-hearted endeavors. The danger compelled reflection and required a commitment and courage that many would otherwise not have found in themselves.

The younger generation, however, is much more sophisticated. They have taken the best tools and tactics of their dissident predecessors in dealing with the Communist regime and turned them against the padded straight-jacket of capitalism. The official vacuum that surrounds them, instead of incapacitating them actually enables their activities, as time and time again the establishment is caught flat footed, having had no idea of what was going on until it bursts forth into the streets and squares.

Not seeing exciting art now- art that will probably at some future time be recognized as great- is like being among the outraged Parisian critics who trashed the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. What's happening now is as different from the 'mainstream' art which is now the primarily the provence of hedge fund investors as their 'Intransigent' art was then.