The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

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.

Don’t Like the Cover? Sew Your Own, and Other News

July 21, 2015 | by


Elizabeth Sandwich’s 1759 hand-stitched Bible cover. Image: Provenance Online Project

  • If you like asking big questions about, say, the presence of sentient life-forms elsewhere in the universe, then look to science fiction, which at its best functions philosophically: “What, then, does it really mean to be alone or not alone? If you are alone, are you by definition lonely—with the yearning that implies? What does yearning do to warp the results of an inquiry? … A circle looks at a square and sees a badly made circle. If we’re going to ask a question like ‘Are we alone?’, an awareness of our own inconsistent history, our own limitations, is important—and so too is a wider understanding of what exists all around us.”
  • Samuel Delany’s novel Hogg is chock full of rape, incest, and abjection; to read its reviews is to understand “the difficulty of ascribing value to literature that is purposely unpleasant to read.” What are we to make of it—or, more important, how are we to discuss what we mean by enjoyment and disgust? “What happens when readers feel, for instance, aroused while reading Hogg, or when they experience conflicting affective responses? … The body’s responses are nuanced and manifold, and critics require more nuanced and legible terms for understanding them, especially those that are unsettling or unrecognizable.”
  • If that’s too heavy for you, look at this eighteenth-century embroidered worsted-wool Bible cover, a handmade, one-of-a-kind object that functions to individuate in the same way that an iPhone cover does now: “This is a book that was owned by someone with something to show the world … This embroidery work, taken up by a woman in a quiet moment at home 256 years ago, serves as a reminder to us of all we put our names to, all we add of our own selves to the world, and all the ways what we read, view, and watch is wrapped in the colors of our own individual experience.”
  • Joe Gould’s The Oral History of Our Time might just be the longest book ever written—portions of it were secreted away in closets and attics, and its manuscript, all told, was more than seven feet high. In the forties, speculation about the book was rampant, but no one could find it, and its author, an old drunk, wasn’t much help. But we’re in 2015 now. We can find anything. Cue the new search for Gould’s opus, and with it a new set of frustrations.
  • In Russia, censorship takes a host of forms: in recent months, rap groups, blockbuster movies, YouTube sensations, performance artists, opera productions, metal bands, and theater festivals have all fallen afoul of the government. What do they all have in common, according to Russia? They “deny human morality”; they “contradict moral norms.”

Sold a Bill of 3-D Goods, and Other News

June 3, 2015 | by


A still from Bwana Devil (1952), the first color film to appear in 3-D.

  • Jason Segel, who took on the role of David Foster Wallace in the new movie The End of the Tour, discusses how he studied for the role: he watched the Charlie Rose interview, read the collected nonfiction, and, yes, reckoned with Infinite Jest. And yet his grasp of Wallace’s themes feels superficial: “I felt like I was reading a man who was sending out sort of a distress beacon saying, ‘Does anyone else feel dissatisfied?’ ” Try reading Oblivion, Jason. Then we’ll talk.
  • While we’re talking biopics: the old Tinsel Town rumor mill has it that James Ponsoldt may direct West of Sunset, an F. Scott Fitzgerald biopic based on Stewart O’Nan’s novel. “Replete with cameo appearances from such idols as Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, and Humphrey Bogart, the source novel juxtaposed Fitzgerald’s last gasps in Hollywood with his golden years as a literary celebrity.”
  • Douglas Coupland on Duane Hanson’s sculptures and their unlikely connection to drag-queen culture: “It was only later in life that I realized Hanson was going for realness, a term used by drag queens in competitions when portraying archetypes: rich white women dressed for lunch; high-school football-players getting their photos taken for the yearbook … Hanson’s pieces are right there, equal with you. In some ways, they even feel more authentic than you: they come from an era where authenticity was the default mode of being, an era when reality reigned, and where a word like realness was still only something in an artist’s or a drag queen’s magic bag of tricks.”
  • Meet the newest, sharpest, shiniest tool in the State Propaganda Toolkit™: Internet trolling. A Russian organization called the Internet Research Agency—dig that ambiguity!—hired dozens of young people to disseminate pro-Kremlin remarks around the Web, sometimes even in English. One commenter called himself “I Am Ass”: “Ass had a puerile sense of humor and only a rudimentary grasp of the English language. He also really hated Barack Obama. Ass denounced Obama in posts strewn with all-caps rants and scatological puns. One characteristic post linked to a news article about an ISIS massacre in Iraq, which Ass shared on Facebook with the comment: ‘I’m scared and farting! ISIS is a monster awakened by Obama when he unleashed this disastrous Iraq war!’ ”
  • The new era of 3-D movies has supposedly revitalized a once scorned format—but is anyone really doing anything interesting with 3-D? Even Godard’s feted Goodbye to Language treats it as a kind of meta-gimmick. “I’ve been looking forward to the moment when 3-D emerges as a mode unto itself—not a gimmick or a money-making adjunct to the standard fare but an art form of its very own … With some notable exceptions, the new breed of uppity 3-D seems less like an exploration of the format than an exercise in camp appropriation—a way of punching up at corporate greed and spoofing Hollywood excess.”

Crepuscoli (Twilights)

January 15, 2015 | by


Errata Corrige #2234, 2013, vintage book, inks, nails on wood panel.

In a new show at Rome’s Sara Zarin Gallery, the Russian-born artist Ekaterina Panikanova presents work composed of old books, which she arranges into a kind of jigsaw puzzle of palimpsests. (We’ve featured her on the Daily before.) “Paper, cards, and books have a fundamental value in my work,” she says. “I see them as a body of rules, dogmas, traditions, religious beliefs, and scientific discoveries, which, right or wrong for their time, human beings had put in cages.”

Crepuscoli (Twilight)” is on display through February 7. When Panikanova looks at “the rules of the home [and] education,” she’s said, she sees only “eventual imprisonment.” Accordingly, in this new show she hangs her spreads in a spare room furnished with a spartan table, an uninviting couch, and pairs of shoes, among other housewifely touches. The ersatz domestic setting makes her work seem freighted with fatalism, and imagery that could be twee—cakes, rabbits, antlers—instead appears deeply troubled. I say that, of course, as a compliment. 

You can see more of Panikanova’s work at Colossal.

Read More »


Dovlatov’s Way

September 4, 2014 | by

This weekend, an intersection in Queens will be renamed Sergei Dovlatov Way.


Sergei Dovlatov

Sergei Dovlatov gave me a pistol when I was a child. It was just an air gun, it turned out, but my mother couldn’t tell the difference, and she was justifiably horrified to see me running around with a semiautomatic. It did not have a red plastic tip and it was nicely chromed, from somewhere in Eastern Europe. With enough pressure pumped into it, its little steel pellets could really hurt someone. Dovlatov found this very funny. Now we New Yorkers are naming a street after him.

And I’m thrilled. That street in Forest Hills, Queens, is the same one where his widow lives; it’s where his daughter, who recently translated Dovlatov’s great novel Pushkin Hills, grew up; and it’s where I grew up, too. At least eighteen thousand people share in my enthusiasm—that’s the number of petitioners it took to make this happen. That it’s such a formidable number should come as no surprise. Even if Joseph Brodsky was the greatest member of the so-called Third Wave of Russian immigrants—he won the Nobel and married an Italian woman—it’s Dovlatov whom readers love viscerally, unconditionally. How can we help it? When Matt Taibbi showed up to inaugurate Katherine Dovlatov’s translation a few months ago, I asked why he came: it was because Dovlatov was the one Russian author who made him laugh out loud. And suddenly we understood one another. Dovlatov made me laugh out loud, too, first in person, and then when I grew up, through his literature.

During the height of his fame, Dovlatov’s works were read universally. Solzhenitsyn, a dour man in his Vermont stronghold who wished to have nothing to do with the Third Wave “sausage immigrants,” read his entire three-volume collected works. The pieces translate easily because of their inherent humanity, and their humor, remarkably, translates as well. In Russia, where his work was retyped at night for samizdat, his secret readership grew, making many a fan. Half of Russia sat in jail, the other half stuck around to be with the first, and Dovlatov had been in both positions—and wrote about it, and still made it funny. The KGB, of course, was not a fan; they even destroyed typeset plates that had been prepared for publication. Dovlatov took the dissident-lite approach of simply not taking the Soviet Union seriously, and for this he was beloved. Read More »


Beach Read

August 14, 2014 | by


Image via

Over at the LRB blog, Peter Pomerantsev has an affecting story about love, lies, and hair in Brighton Beach—you know,

the Russian ghetto where Brooklyn meets the ocean, a last stop on the subway from Manhattan. In the evening the boardwalk would be full of Russian immigrants with gaudy haircuts and fur-wrap finery, and as the light faded you could forget you were in America.

He tells of a time in 1982—and this is a true story—when an unemployed electrician named Lev found himself spinning a web of lies in pursuit of a beautiful young woman. What captivated him was her alluring, progressive hairdo: “shaved at the back with a Siouxsie Sioux spiked mop on top. He couldn’t stop staring at it.” Lev told the woman he was an intellectual, a Soviet dissident—he wasn’t. He said he was single—he was married, with kids. He said he’d been arrested by the KGB—he hadn’t been.

The story takes a tragicomic turn in the end that I won’t spoil here, except to say that it involves the woman’s haircut and has a singularly arresting image of a stroll on the Brighton Beach boardwalk. Read it here.

Those with no tolerance for shameless plugs can stop reading now, because I’m only about to mention our subscription deal with the LRB, which is, like this story, a kind of summer romance, and is, unlike this story, not sad in the slightest. Subscribe now and you’ll save on both magazines.