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Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

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

July 21, 2015 | by

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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

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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

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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.

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Dovlatov’s Way

September 4, 2014 | by

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

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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 »

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Beach Read

August 14, 2014 | by

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Image via Urban75.org

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.

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Soviet Ghosts

July 17, 2014 | by

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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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