David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Month: December 2009 (page 1 of 3)

Russian Revolution Quotes

Some great quotes from Orlando Figes’ history of the Russian Revolution (endorsed by Communist Eric Hobsbawm, no less!).

Oh, how [the Soviet leaders of the February 1917 revolution] feared the masses! As I watched our ‘socialists’ speaking to the crowds … I could feel their nauseating fear… I felt the inner trembling, and the effort of will it took not to lower their gaze before the trusting, wide-open eyes of the workers and soldiers crowded around them. As recently as yesterday it had been relatively easy to be ‘representatives and leaders’ of these working masses; peaceable parliamentary socialists could still utter the most bloodcurdling words ‘in the name of the proletariat’ without even blinking. It became a different story, however, when this theoretical proletariat suddenly appeared here, in the full power of exhausted flesh and mutinous blood. And when the truly elemental nature of this force, so capable of either creation or destruction, became tangible to even the most insensitive observer — then, almost involuntarily, the pale lips of the leaders’ began to utter words of peace and compromise in place of yesterday’s harangues. They were scared — and who could blame them?

Mstislavsky, Five Days

‘The countryside is falling into chaos, with robberies and arson every day, while you sit doing nothing in your comfortable Petersburg office,’ one Tambov squire wrote to him in April. ‘Your local committees are powerless to do anything, and even encourage the theft of property. The police are asleep while the peasants rob and burn. The old government knew better how to deal with this peasant scum which you call “the people”.

Tambov Squire to Prince Lvov, April 1917

The terrible thing in Lenin was that combination in one person of self-castigation, which is the essence of all real asceticism, with the castigation of other people as expressed in abstract social hatred and cold political cruelty.

Peter Struve, “My Contacts and Conflicts with Lenin”

Sweet Father and Mother,
It was already clear to me about a week ago that there was no way out. Without a doubt the country is heading for a general slaughter, famine, the collapse of the front, where half the soldiers will perish, and the ruin of the urban population. The cultural inheritance of the nation, its people and civilization, will be destroyed. Armies of migrants, then small groups, and then maybe no more than individual people, will roam around the country fighting each other with rifles and then no more than clubs. I will not live to see it, and, I hope, neither will you.

Prince Lvov on the eve of his resignation, July 1917

Lenin and Trotsky do not have the slightest idea of the meaning of freedom or the Rights of Man. They have already become poisoned with the filthy venom of power, and this is shown by their shameful attitude towards freedom of speech, the individual, and all those other civil liberties for which the democracy struggled.

Gorky, Untimely Thoughts, 7 November 1917

Psychologically, the Whites conducted themselves as if nothing had happened, whereas in reality the whole world around them had collapsed, and in order to vanquish the enemy they themselves had to undergo, in a certain sense, a rebirth . . . Nothing so harmed the ‘White’ movement as this very condition of psychologically staying put in previous circumstances, circumstances which had ceased to exist. . . Men with this ‘old regime’ psychology were immersed in the raging sea of revolutionary anarchy, and psychologically could not find their bearings in it… In the revolutionary storm that struck Russia in 1917, even out-and-out restorationists had to turn revolutionaries in the psychological sense: because in a revolution only revolutionaries can find their way.

Peter Struve, 1921

Nonsense, how can you make a revolution without firing squads? Do you expect to dispose of your enemies by disarming yourself? What other means of repression are there? Prisons? Who attaches significance to that during a civil war?

Lenin, October 1917

What is man? He is by no means a finished or harmonious being. No, he is still a highly awkward creature. Man, as an animal, has not evolved by plan but spontaneously, and has accumulated many contradictions. The question of how to educate and regulate, of how to improve and complete the physical and spiritual construction of man, is a colossal problem which can only be conceived on the basis of Socialism. We can construct a railway across the Sahara, we can build the Eiffel Tower and talk directly with New York, but we surely cannot improve man. No, we can! To produce a new, ‘improved version’ of man — that is the future task of Communism. And for that we first have to find out everything about man, his anatomy, his physiology and that part of his physiology which is called his psychology. Man must look at himself and see himself as a raw material, or at best as a semi-manufactured product, and say: ‘At last, my dear homo sapiens, I will work on you.’


Zukofsky on Joyce

But not those two. The recent hubbub about Paul Zukofsky’s rather stringent views of copyright and distaste for studying his people’s work must be awfully inconvenient for those unlucky enough to be studying him, because Zukofsky’s “almost purely economic” interest looks like a case of getting blood from a stone. (Though it’s peculiar that Paul clearly has a more than superficial acquaintance with and affection for his father’s work. Except “Washstand”. He hates “Washstand.”)

That said, Paul Z. has managed to get all his own old albums of him playing and conducting Cage, Babbitt, Schnabel, etc., up on Amazon for purchase and download (all better than “Einstein on the Beach,” where he played the titular role), while leaving much of his dad’s stuff out of print, so he’s not quite milking his father’s cow for all its worth. And as many have already pointed out, while the recent foofaraw was hardly surprising to some, Paul Z.’s notice immediately caused the upload and distribution of an “A” torrent by anti-copyright activists who I’m sure couldn’t possibly be bothered to read the thing, making Louis Zukofsky’s work suddenly far more accessible (and cheap) than that of countless better-known poets.

But what amused me was stumbling on “The Injustice Collector”, about Joyce heir Stephen James Joyce and his own notoriously strict control of his ancestor’s estate:

Once, the death of a major literary figure marked the moment when scholars could interpret his work with genuine freedom. After Proust died, for example, academics began excavating the connections between his homosexuality and his art. Yet when Stephen Joyce succeeded in muffling a whole field of study with a combination of litigation and bravado, others took notice. Paul Zukofsky, the son of the poet Louis Zukofsky, said of Stephen’s efforts, “What I’ve heard sounds very, very good. He is a staunch defender of rights.”

Rights or money, which is it?

Christmas Cheer from Carl Barks and Donald Duck

A few happy memories from childhood, courtesy of the most fatalistic comic books ever written for children. First a bit from a censored story, “Silent Night,” written in 1945 but never published until 1981:

The story culminates in Donald being forced to sing carols at the top of his lungs while being electrocuted by a cattle prod.

Next, a Christmas tale of dueling steam shovels, “A Letter to Santa.” I love Scrooge’s quip to the judge.

RIP Arnold Stang

Arnold Stang, Milquetoast Actor, Dies at 91

Spiritual forebear?

(Thanks to the anonymous person who sent me this ages ago.)

Blumenberg on Running Away

I saw Heiner Goebbel’s odd Stifters Dinge this weekend (made odder with the persistent head cold I’ve had), and though I think it’s senseless to try to give a concrete analysis of it, one part jumped out at me, an interview with Claude Levi-Strauss where he says that there is nowhere left unexplored in the world, no remaining frontiers. I don’t think he’s right, but humanity is definitely at a place where we finally think of the whole planet as our home rather than any one part of it. And so…

If we have to seek man’s origin in the category of animals that ‘flee,’ then we can comprehend that before the change of biotope [from jungle to savanna] all signals that set off flight reactions would indeed have the power of fear but would not have to reach the level of a dominating condition of anxiety, as long as mere movement was available as a means of clarifying the situation. But if one imagines that this solution was no longer, or no longer constantly, successful, then from that point onward the situations that enforced flight either had to be dealt with by standing one’s ground or had to be avoided by means of anticipation.

Hans Blumenberg, Work on Myth 1.1

So while Hegel thinks the primary will of humanity is desire, for Blumenberg the primary motive of primitive humanity is getting the hell out of Dodge. And when we settled down and no longer ran from place to place, an underlying anxiety originated of the anticipation of having to pick up sticks and run. (Blumenberg is more prosaic than Heidegger; he thinks life is tough enough on its own without the problems of Dasein.) And as long as we could imagine that flight, could imagine packing up and rebuilding elsewhere, the anxiety could be kept in check.

But I wonder: when you’ve filled up the planet and you know you’re stuck on it and you start to see assorted disaster scenarios that offer no refuge to start over (be they nuclear, environmental, or otherwise), what does that do to the anxiety? There’s no flight left (except to other planets, the fantasy of some optimists).

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