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Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Soviet Ghosts

July 17, 2014 | by

Soviet decay

A military base in East Germany, constructed in 1937 and used by the Germans as an elite riding and driving school. Photo: Rebecca Litchfield, via the Guardian

The Guardian, Beautiful/Decay, and others have featured unnerving photos from Rebecca Litchfield’s Soviet Ghosts: The Soviet Union Abandoned: A Communist Empire in Decay, which documents the photographer’s travels to the ruins of the Soviet Union. The series examines how and why communities are abandoned, but this isn’t mere ruin porn; there’s an aspect of political subversion here, as Litchfield faced radiation exposure, arrest, and interrogation to secure these pictures, which include decommissioned locomotives, dilapidated military bases, and an abandoned sanatorium, many of them now deemed secret by the state. A more sensationalistic publisher might’ve subtitled the book, THE UNBELIEVABLE PHOTOGRAPHS THE FORMER USSR DOESN’T WANT YOU TO SEE! As Litchfield explains,

We maximized our stealthiness, ducking and diving into bushes and sneaking past sleeping security. But on day three, our good fortune ran out as we visited a top-secret radar installation. After walking through the forest, mosquitoes attacking us from all directions, we saw the radar and made our way toward it, but just meters away suddenly we were joined by military, and they weren’t happy …

See more photos here.

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Elizabethan Warts and All, and Other News

July 2, 2014 | by

L0023521EB Arzneibuch. Western Manuscript 990, page 84, detail

Detail from “Treatment for lachrimal fistula performed on a nun,” an illustration from a seventeenth-century surgical guide. Via Wellcome Library.

  • A report by British dermatologists makes the audacious claim that Shakespeare is responsible for Western society’s obsession with clear skin. “Shakespeare’s works have survived the intervening centuries; has his success led to the perpetuation of Elizabethan negativity toward skin disease?” Apparently, too many of his plays feature insults about skin disease—poxes, boils, carbuncles, moles, blots, blemishes, plagues—an excess of abscesses, a sebaceous surfeit.
  • “One of the most intriguing questions I get from readers of my movie reviews is: ‘But did you like the film?’ … The binary scale of good and bad, like and dislike, is essentially pointless. Movies are complex experiences—even those that are simplistic or clumsily made are rich in substance—and sometimes criticism is like the science of medicine, with advances coming from diagnoses of some dread disease that you wouldn’t want to have.”
  • A linguist’s cri de coeur: death to Whorfianism! “What Whorfianism claims, in its strongest form, is that our thoughts are limited and shaped by the specific words and grammar we use”—but linguists have found only “fairly negligible differences … between language speakers.”
  • These hand-painted posters from Russian cinemas make movies like Shrek 2 and 50 First Dates look like surrealist masterworks.
  • You can live in the house from Twin Peaks. (Leland Palmer not included. Or is he?)

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Nastia Denisova, St. Petersburg, Russia

February 14, 2014 | by

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I’ve been living here for four months. The center of the city. Fifth floor. I usually look out the window at night, but it’s not exactly a window—it’s the door of a balcony. I can see all the windows of the building opposite mine.

I see how, from a window on the right, they regularly throw out plastic bags of trash onto the roof of the one-story building in the courtyard. But I don’t know from which window, exactly—I follow the bags, and when I shift my gaze to the windows they’re all closed, identical, except for the one that has a piece of green plywood instead of glass.

From a window on the left side of the building, people throw garbage without bags. Brown plastic beer bottles and, for some reason, heaps of metal tops from jars of homemade preserves. I see the man who throws all this from the window of his kitchen, leaning out the window and looking down. He looks down and spits. His cigarette butt has set some dead grass on fire. He spits for a very long time. He goes out and comes back with a bottle of water. He pours down the water. He throws the bottle out.

In the windows of the second floor are the kitchen and the back rooms of a restaurant. They’re always throwing cardboard boxes out the windows. When the boxes start to block the little back courtyard, someone piles them up and they disappear. In the winter, covered in snow, the boxes become monolithic, angular snow architecture. And if you didn’t already know, you wouldn’t be able to say what they are.

From the window opposite me, cheerful teenagers fling DVDs. Maybe it’s a dorm room. Are they using them like throwing stars, or just tossing DVDs out the window? Have they noticed me? Two discs land on the balcony, through the door that I’ve been watching. Someone has drawn large, colorful butterflies on their surface. —Nastia Denisova

Translated from the Russian by Sophie Pinkham.

 

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The Tragic Diary of a Lunar Rover, and Other News

January 30, 2014 | by

Artist_concept_painting_of_lunar_module_approaching_the_moon

From a NASA presentation slide, 1963. Image via Wikimedia Commons

  • “My masters discovered something abnormal with my mechanical control system … I might not survive this lunar night … I am not fearful … Goodnight, Earth … Goodnight, humanity.” In the heartrending tradition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” a Chinese lunar rover has live-blogged its own death.
  • Meanwhile, in Russia, a man was stabbed to death for having declared, to a very fervid admirer of verse, that “the only real literature is prose.”
  • There now exists a digital version of the Gough map, “one of the earliest maps to show Britain in a geographically recognizable form.” It dates between 1355 and 1366, when roads were a novelty. (Not that they aren’t today.)
  • If you’d planned on watching the Super Bowl “just for the ads,” you might be able to skip the game entirely: you can watch many of the ads ahead of time, because Capitalism Cares™. Now get out there and shop!
  • Under the cobblestones, the beach. Under Versailles, some magnificent subterranean reservoirs.

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The Known Unknown: On Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

November 15, 2013 | by

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky on holiday in Italy in 1912.

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky on holiday in Italy in 1912.

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky was born in Kiev to a Polish-speaking family on February 11, 1887. At university, he studied law. In 1912, age twenty-five, he traveled through Europe, visiting Paris, Heidelberg, and Milan—for the young Krzhizhanovsky was the pure apprentice intellectual. After the First World War, and the 1917 Russian Revolution, he returned to Kiev, where he taught at the Musical Institute and the Theatrical Conservatory. In 1922, age thirty-five, he left Kiev for Moscow, where he lived for the rest of his life. In Moscow, Krzhizhanovsky wrote articles and gave lectures, in particular at Alexander Tairov’s Drama Studio. He also worked as a consultant to Tairov’s Chamber Theater. Meanwhile, he wrote novellas and stories, which were never published—either due to economic problems (bankrupt publishers) or political problems (Soviet censors). Twenty years passed in this way until, in 1941, with Krzhizhanovsky now fifty-four, a collection of stories was finally scheduled for publication—but then the Second World War intervened, preventing even that collection from appearing. In May 1950 he suffered a stroke and lost the use of speech. He died at the end of the year. (His works—almost all of them unpublished—were stored by his lifelong companion, Anna Bovshek, in her apartment: in her clothes chest, under some brocade.)

Almost no one knew that Krzhizhanovsky was writing fiction, since the state never allowed its publication. They knew him in other guises—as a lecturer on theater, or essayist, or occasional playwright. In 1939, Krzhizhanovsky, despite his restricted publication history, was nevertheless elected to the Writers’ Union—which meant that posthumously he was eligible for the process of “immortalization.” In 1953, Stalin died, and three years later Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech” to the Twentieth Party Congress instituted a revisionist anti-Stalinist thaw. In 1957—the same year as Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago—a commission was set up to examine Krzhizhanovsky’s literary legacy. It lasted two years and was then disbanded, having drafted a publishing plan that was never implemented. Then, in 1976, Vadim Perelmuter, a poet, literary historian, and essayist, discovered Krzhizhanovsky’s archive. He had to wait until 1989 and the full thaw of perestroika before he could publish one of Krzhizhanovsky’s stories. Between 2001 and 2008, Perelmuter finally edited a handsome five-volume edition of Krzhizhanovsky’s works. Read More »

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The Dude Abides

September 20, 2013 | by

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When the world heard about the shooting prompted by a dispute over Immanuel Kant, we simultaneously recoiled at the violence and wondered that a work of philosophy should prompt such passions. Could it happen in America, we asked? Perhaps we have our answer.

 

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