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Posts Tagged ‘Moscow’

Summer on the Stones

August 1, 2016 | by

Chekhov, Thomas Mann, and the longueurs of vacationing.

After a proposal from a rich but ridiculous suitor, Tony Buddenbrook, the high-society heroine of Thomas Mann’s first novel, leaves the German city of Lübeck for Travemünde, a resort town where the Trave River meets the Baltic Sea. “I won’t pay any attention to the social whirl at the spa,” she tells her brother Tom. “I know all that quite well enough already.” Tony stays instead in the modest home of her father’s friend the harbor pilot, whose son, a medical student named Morten Schwarzkopf, is also on vacation. On her first day, he accompanies Tony to the spa, and she invites him to meet the friends she had pledged to avoid. “I don’t think I’d fit in very well,” Morten says. “I’ll just go sit back there on those stones.”

By the end of the summer, Tony and Morten have fallen in love, and “on the stones” is a “fixed phrase” in their relationship, Mann writes, meaning “to be lonely and bored.” I visited Travemünde recently and after a few hours felt rather on the stones myself. The Baltic Sea was impotent at raising waves, and an incontinent gray sky drizzled on the city. The riverside homes along the Front Row, where the harbor pilot lived, are now tourist shops and restaurants filled with old German couples not talking to each other. The other nineteenth-century landmarks of Tony and Morten’s romance haven’t aged much better. The Sea Temple, a waterfront gazebo where they sit so close their hands nearly touch, fell into the Baltic in 1872, drowning with it the records of young lovers who scratched their initials on the walls. Read More »

Attack of the De-Constructivists, and Other News

June 15, 2016 | by

Rusakov Workers’ Club in Moscow by Konstantin Melnikov, 1927–28.

  • In Moscow, meanwhile, constructivist landmarks are suddenly slated for demolition as Russians struggle to decide which parts of their past are worth preserving: “ ‘They operate by ticking boxes, but you cannot judge a building in this way,’ says Marina Khrustaleva, an expert on constructivism … ‘By the 1930s, [constructivist buildings] were already rejected for being insufficiently decorative and too western,’ says Khrustaleva. During perestroika, she adds, the architecture was associated with the worst of the Soviet past … Russians’ bad memories of the 1920s, [Alexandra] Selivanova suggests, keep them from appreciating early Soviet architecture. ‘People associate this period with hunger and social experiments,’ she says. Stalinist architecture is more popular: ‘It’s festive and reminds people of the propaganda films of the 1930s and 1950s, which still make an impact today.’ ”
  • And while we’re on comedy: “Punching up and punching down are relatively new pop-political terms … So it should come as no surprise that they have become entangled with our current national panic over political correctness, which, apparently, not only has created a ‘humor crisis,’ but also is why we can’t properly fight terrorism, control immigration, or make unruly college students read Alison Bechdel and eat faux bánh mì. Western democracy itself hangs in the balance, depending on who happens to be lecturing you at the moment … The question it raises—Who has the moral authority to punch down?—is a messy one, and one rarely asked of those who appear to punch up.”

Plimpton Worldwide, and Other News

April 28, 2016 | by

George Plimpton (left) with cat (right).

  • Jenny Diski has died at sixty-eight. Blake Morrison told the Guardian: “What I liked was her abrasiveness—she was tough, not least on herself. Whatever subject she took on—rape, depression, the sixties, Antarctica—she had something new and surprising to say … Some of the diaries and reviews she published in the London Review of Books were small masterpieces.” You can read those diaries here. “It’s as simple as pushing a button, and I’m lost in no man’s land,” she wrote in the last entry. “The insoluble grief. Not that there’s anything to be done about any of it.”
  • Prince’s early webmaster remembers helping him with the NPG Music Club, a crucial forerunner for social media, digital music, and artist-run distribution: “If he built his own online record label, his own online radio station, and his own online music store, he had just as much access to his audience as the traditional channels did. He finally had a way to skip all the barriers and go direct … This direct connection between the fans and an artist on Prince’s level didn’t exist before the NPG Music Club. There was no Twitter, Facebook, or even YouTube. At the time, he saw direct Internet distribution as a model for all artists. He would tell me, if you could build your own music club, why would you need to pay anyone else a share and give away all your fans’ information? Why not do it all yourself—downloads, concert tickets, streaming concert events, and even a hub for emerging artists? He was leading the way to a new artist-owned music business … For a moment in time, we had something special no one had ever seen before—and something prescient, that predicted some of the questions about online distribution and artist agency that would come later.”
  • Today in reality: Is it real? Do our sense perceptions offer anything more than impotent glimpses of the world outside our heads? “We’ve been shaped to have perceptions that keep us alive, so we have to take them seriously. If I see something that I think of as a snake, I don’t pick it up. If I see a train, I don’t step in front of it. I’ve evolved these symbols to keep me alive, so I have to take them seriously. But it’s a logical flaw to think that if we have to take it seriously, we also have to take it literally … I call it conscious realism: Objective reality is just conscious agents, just points of view. Interestingly, I can take two conscious agents and have them interact, and the mathematical structure of that interaction also satisfies the definition of a conscious agent. This mathematics is telling me something. I can take two minds, and they can generate a new, unified single mind.”
  • When George Plimpton wasn’t editing The Paris Review, he was doing … almost literally everything else. “Plimpton was an omnipresence for much of American cultural life—both high and low—in the last third of the twentieth century. He appeared in commercials for Oldsmobile and Intellivision, and appeared in the movies The Bonfire of the Vanities and Good Will Hunting and on TV’s Married with Children. He was present when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, helping to tackle Sirhan Sirhan. He turned up as a character on The Simpsons. In a New Yorker cartoon from 1967, a man about to undergo surgery looks up at the doctor wearing a mask and asks, ‘Wait a minute! How do I know you’re not George Plimpton?’ That Zelig-like identity rested largely on a series of seven books in which the New York–born, Harvard-educated Plimpton threw himself both physically and intellectually into the professional sporting life. Decades before the onset of reality TV and the Twittersphere, Plimpton starred in his own Everyman story.”
  • As I write this, Moscow is teeming with horrendous art. So what, you may say—so’s New York. At least in Moscow’s case there’s a festival to blame: the Moscow Spring Festival, with a three-million-dollar price tag. “By Friday, the entire center of the city was covered with sculptures and installations, most of them far larger than life size. These included a plastic reproduction of the classic Russian painting Bogatyrs (featuring three Russian-superhero horsemen), the size of a two-story house; the head of a woman—also roughly the size of a house—in faux topiary, with a twisted hand growing out of the ground next to it; and a cartoon Soviet policeman, which was the height of a small apartment building. It was as if the city had been invaded by a horde of aliens with flamboyantly bad taste. The Moscow intelligentsia recoiled in horror.”

A Century of Censorship, and Other News

November 18, 2015 | by

Audrey Munson, in a still from Inspiration.

  • Our new anthology, The Unprofessionals, is out now. What does it mean to be unprofessional, you ask? In many cases, it’s as easy as spitting in someone’s food or showing up to work in bondage gear. But if you’re a writer, escaping the rising tide of professionalism proves more difficult. Fortunately, our editor, Lorin Stein, has some advice: “The stories that excite me most tend to have three qualities. First there’s a voice, a narrator who urgently needs to speak. Even if they never say ‘I.’ Second, the narrator tries to persuade you that he or she is telling the truth. The third thing is, for lack of a better word, wisdom. A kind of moral authority, or at least the effort to settle a troubled conscience … There’s a kind of realism—not just in stories, but in poems and essays—that assumes we live in dishonesty, that we lie to others and ourselves as a matter of survival, but that part of us knows the truth when we see it. That’s what interests me: the truths we can’t tell except when we put on the mantle of this authority.” 
  • Karl Ove Knausgaard hears this voice, too: “The novel is an oddly intimate genre: at root, it is always a matter between two individuals, writer and reader, whose first encounter occurs when the writer writes—for in writing, the very act of it, there is always an appeal to a you, redeemed only by the insertion of a reader. This you may be inserted at any time, even hundreds of years after the event of writing, the way, for instance, we might read a novel written in seventeenth-century Spain, or eighteenth-century Russia, or early-twentieth-century Germany, and yet still induce the voice of the self to rise anew within us, remoteness dissolving. And that self may also reveal itself to us in the reading of novels from places geographically remote to us, such as China, Kenya, Colombia.”
  • A century ago today, on November 18, 1915, cinema saw its first nude woman, and people have been in a tizzy over sex and censorship on-screen ever since: “The bare breasts and buttocks of Audrey Munson, the actress in Inspiration, seemed to enter the public consciousness only obliquely. One contemporary critic wrote that the film was ‘both inspiring and intellectual,’ with Munson giving a performance of ‘innocence, modesty, and simplicity’; others noted that it was ‘daring’ and a ‘triumph of Film Art.’ One, the Daily Capital Journal, scoffed at the idea of anyone being offended by it. After all, it pointed out, this is a work of ‘extreme artistic and educational value,’ not a titillating striptease.”
  • Today in nests and nesting: in Zvenigorod, forty miles west of Moscow, there stands a cathedral with a wealth of rare printed matter hidden inside: letters, newspaper clippings, candy wrappers, banknotes, some as old as the early nineteenth century. For this horn of archival plenty, we can thank the birds: “flocks of swifts and jackdaws had built nests in the attic out of various bits of papers, dirt, branches, and trash that over the centuries came to form a considerably thick layer of preserved history … Other documents record the town’s civic, religious, and educational affairs; among the lot: bus tickets, delivery contracts, a county court slip, students’ notebooks and diplomas, parish registers, and even church confessional statements.”
  • The photographer Andrew Moore’s new book, Dirt Meridian, features ten years of his pictures of homestead sites, taken along the hundredth meridian line that runs through Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, where once pioneers were attracted by the Homestead Act. What’s there now? “Almost World Famous Dixie’s Café,” crumbling houses, Simon’s Schoolhouse Museum, and a lot of property that looks more or less the same.

The Book Cover That Judges You Back, and Other News

February 3, 2015 | by

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Anyone who regards this cover with an iota of judgment on his face will be forbidden to access it. Photo via the Guardian

  • Two “virile” bronze figures—a pair of totally ripped guys riding ferocious panthers—may be the work of Michelangelo, experts say. If their research is accurate, these would be Michelangelo’s only surviving bronzes. “In addition to welcoming new input from outside researchers between now and summer, those currently involved in the project will undertake further research of their own. Mr. Abrahams, for example, plans to meet with a bodybuilder to compare his physiognomy to that of the sinuous statues.”
  • Today in power reclamation: a book that judges you by your cover, thus standing up for books everywhere. “Thijs Biersteker of digital entrepreneurs Moore has created a book jacket that will open only when a reader shows no judgment. An integrated camera and facial recognition system scans the reader’s face, only unlocking the book ... when their expression is neutral.”
  • This weekend in Moscow, one of the Russia’s largest libraries, the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences, caught fire—but firefighters were able to save a quasi-miraculous 85 percent of the books. “The books did not suffer,” the director told the press.
  • A new biography on T. S. Eliot’s earlier years reassesses his marriage to Vivien Haigh-Wood “as a union between two profoundly damaged people, each of whom believed they could be a healer for the other: a dire recipe for a happy marriage. Eliot wrote a good deal later that ‘all I really wanted of Vivienne [both of them sometimes used this spelling] was a flirtation or a mild affair.’ ”
  • Living in the Future is a magazine that “calls for rapprochement between the art world and the subculture of the science fiction magazine … The magazine embraces the strange and deranged aspects of science fiction which stand apart from the reasoned, cognitive tradition associated with the writers Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke, with their engineer stories and defiantly flat characterization.”

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A Week in Culture: Sophie Pinkham, Moscow and Kiev

August 7, 2013 | by

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Slavicist Sophie Pinkham documented her week in NYC-based Russian culture for the Daily in April. When she returned to Russia, we asked her to diary her cultural experiences there, as well.

DAY ONE

In Moscow, I attend the opening of Lily Idov’s new exhibit, “Relics.” Idov took a series of photos at the Russian museums that tourists rarely visit: the Museum of Culinary Arts, the Museum of Darwinism, the Museum of Moscow Railways, the Museum of Cosmonautics. The photos are surreal, and often funny. A dummy astronaut gazes heavenward, starry-eyed; a dummy chef poses in front of a lacquered swordfish, looking perplexed. Idov’s photos remind us that the attendants are often the most interesting artifacts in these empty museums. A dummy youth in a train plays a guitar, one chord for eternity, as his live guard stands nearby, sphinx-like. A young woman gazes skeptically at a wax man wreathed in bagels. One elderly attendant looks as taxidermied as the crocodile he’s been assigned to watch. In fact, with his long white beard and weary expression, he looks rather like a taxidermied Tolstoy.

L.N.Tolstoy_Prokudin-GorskyDAY TWO

With two friends from New York, I take a day trip to Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy’s estate. The signs are in Russian, English, and Korean, and our fellow tourists wear large bundles of leaves on their heads. The effect is festive, but also warlike. And what does it have to do, exactly, with Lev Nikolaevich? Tourism is its own civilization, with customs that can be understood only through intensive ethnographic research.

“Who are you, and where do you come from?” asks a surly attendant. We return to the entrance, pay for a mandatory tour, and put plastic baggies over our shoes, as if prepping for surgery. Our guide is an older woman with tinted glasses, bright red lipstick, and what is, one senses, a certain weariness with Lev Nikolaevich. There is a marked contrast between her fast, flat delivery and Tolstoy’s tortured moral ideas.

Lev Nikolaevich had sharp eyes that saw into a person’s soul the question that tortured him throughout his life was what is the meaning of human life what is truly in the human soul surely it contains great goodness

We examine the leather sofa where Lev Nikolaevich and his children were born. There was once a leather pillow, but it was lost in the war. Read More »

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