The great Russian writers between “apocalypse and nihilism.”
Category Archives: fiction
In his Don Quixote, “Cervantes detailed a life in praise of futilely resisting a corrupt world. Quixote fought giants because he could not, in good conscience, not fight them. We can similarly transform ourselves into quixotic pessimists — the kind who are called dreamers, idealists or lunatics — by reading more, rejecting common sense and reinterpreting what constitutes a waste of time. If we happen to succeed by worldly standards, we will be surprised and perhaps pleasantly so; if we fail, we will have expected it. Praise be to uncertain successes and to certain failures alike.”
“What is the role of an artist in the face of political repression? What is the place of culture in the midst of injustice and terror? Haitian writer Marie Vieux-Chauvet (1916–1973), author of powerful novels representing the experience of living under the Duvalier dictatorship, confronted such questions throughout her life. One of Vieux-Chauvet’s earliest novels, Dance on the Volcano (1957), just published in a new English translation, does so by journeying back to the world of plantation slavery and of the Haitian Revolution. The novel is woven around the life of a real historical figure, Minette, a free woman of African descent who overcame the racial barriers of the time to become a star singer on the colonial stage. It focuses on Minette’s struggle to find both an artistic and a political voice, using her story as a crossroads through which to explore broader questions about art, sexuality, politics, and revolutionary change.”
“When Flaubert came to write Sentimental Education, he was looking back on at the failed revolution of 1848. … In 1870-1871, soon after Sentimental Education saw print, Paris was gripped by another revolution, leading to another radical experiment in self-government (the ill-fated Paris Commune), which yet again provoked a brutal crackdown from reactionary forces.”
Literature shaped Russian political culture: “The classicism that was so deeply rooted in Lenin acted as a bulwark to seal him from the exciting new developments in art and literature that had both preceded and accompanied the revolution. Lenin found it difficult to make any accommodations to modernism in Russia or elsewhere. The work of the artistic avant garde – Mayakovsky and the constructivists – was not to his taste. In vain did the poets and artists tell him that they, too, loved Pushkin and Lermontov, but that they were also revolutionaries, challenging old art forms and producing something very different and new that was more in keeping with Bolshevism and the age of revolution. He simply would not budge.”
Writing for the reader-citizen: “From Ali Smith’s Brexit book to Howard Jacobson’s Trump satire, writers are responding to the political moment. But can art bring real change?”
Terence Renaud: “Going underground: Subterranean metaphors as a powerful tool of political resistance.”
Is there a renewed underground today for antifascist resistance to survive? “In our own time, the idea of resistance has a renewed urgency and appeal. But we won’t be able to fight a fresh wave of authoritarianism without appreciating the symbols that animated the antifascist imagination of the past – in particular, the underground. That symbol has very deep roots in European and US culture, but over the course of the 20th century it was transformed from a threatening zone of subversion into a liberating space of political resistance.”
Coghlan’s book Sensational Internationalism: The Paris Commune and the Remapping of American Memory in the Long Nineteenth Century (2016) recovers the now largely forgotten story of the Paris Commune’s spectacular afterlife as specter and spectacle in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century American culture.
Women’s writing about war: “The Age of Revolutions, in which women like Abigail Adams and Mary Wollstonecraft were famously writing to demand a revolution in their experiences of oppression, was not an age that could yet imagine a world without violence against women. At best, or more accurately at worst, women could be co-participants, using military revolution to seize an opportunity to be equal to men as perpetrators of violence—even as women’s writing also made visible the intensification of women’s victimization at the hands of male soldiers, lovers, and rebels. And at the hands of women, too.”
“JRC: How can art battle politics in this era of fake news and open hostility and fascist rhetoric?
PW: Art tells the truth. It’s that simple. Fiction, in particular, reveals the truth through fabrication.”