Tony Wood on G. S. Smith, D. S. Mirsky. A Russian–English Life. White Guard officer, Eurasian exile, and repatriated Marxist—the prince who rewrote Russian literary history.
METAMORPHOSES OF PRINCE M
In 1931 Roman Jakobson published an essay entitled ‘On a Generation That Squandered Its Poets’. It was both a tribute to Vladimir Mayakovsky, who had committed suicide the previous year, and a wider diagnosis of the talented levy of writers born in Russia between 1880 and 1895, several of whom—Nikolai Gumilev, Aleksandr Blok, Velimir Khlebnikov, Sergei Esenin—had also met untimely ends. Common to all of them, Jakobson argued, was an agonizing contradiction between transcendental hopes for the future and the stubborn resistance of material life. Mayakovsky’s exit was not, of course, the only option available: many writers of the same generation, including Jakobson himself, chose exile; others, such as Anna Akhmatova, opted for stoical silence or, like Boris Pasternak, found some form of accommodation with the increasingly bleak realities of Stalin’s Russia. Others still—Isaak Babel, Osip Mandelshtam—were later consumed by the Gulag. But they were united by an inescapable, comfortless condition: ‘the paroxysm of an irreplaceable generation turned out to be no private fate,’ wrote Jakobson, ‘but in fact the face of our time, the very breath of history.’
’My institution subscribes to NLR, why can't I access this article?’
Also available in:
By the same author:
Lives of Jughashvili
Tony Wood on Stephen Kotkin, Stalin, Volume I and Oleg Khlevniuk, Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator. Contrasting portrayals of the ‘man of steel’.
Reserve Armies of the Imagination
Tony Wood on Hito Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen. Dilemmas of representation—aesthetic and political—in the age of the super-abundant image.
Collapse as Crucible
While Russia’s anti-Putin demonstrations have prompted talk of a civic awakening—led by a flat-pack middle class—the country’s overall social landscape remains largely unmapped. Tony Wood surveys its shifting structures since the Soviet collapse, and the consequences of marketization’s advance through the USSR’s ruins.
Silver and Lead
Tony Wood on Anabel Hernández, Los señores del narco. The structures of political complicity and corruption that have fuelled Mexico’s drug wars.
Good Riddance to New Labour
As the British general election approaches, a balance-sheet of New Labour’s thirteen years in office. The record of Blair and Brown—imperial wars abroad, subservience to the City at home—as so many reasons to cheer their downfall.
Latin America Tamed?
Tony Wood on Michael Reid, Forgotten Continent: The Battle for Latin America’s Soul. A revised neoliberal gospel for the region, courtesy of the Economist.
Contours of the Putin Era
Responding to Vladimir Popov, Tony Wood examines the geographical and social distribution of Russia’s recent economic growth. What are the priorities and outlook of the emerging business-state elite—and whom will Putin’s ‘stabilization’ benefit?
Celluloid and Plasma
Tony Wood on Laura Mulvey, Death 24x a Second. How has the digital era changed the cinematic viewing experience—and the spectator? Freeze-frame fetishism and narrative disruption from Lumière to Kiarostami, via Hitchcock and Rossellini.
Annals of Utopia
Tony Wood on Andrey Platonov, Happy Moscow and Soul. Recently discovered works by the neglected giant of twentieth-century Russian letters. The singular language and multiple ambiguities of Platonov’s style, and heroic impasses of his life and times.
The Case for Chechnya
Eager to embrace Putin, Western rulers and pundits continue to connive at the Russian occupation of Chechnya, as Moscow’s second murderous war in the Caucasus enters its sixth year. Traditions of resistance, popular demands for sovereignty and Russia’s brutal military response, in Europe’s forgotten colony.
Tony Wood on Corinne Diserens, ed., Gordon Matta-Clark. Dissections of architectural space in the 60s and 70s, and their meaning in contemporary criticism. Did Matta-Clark’s disappearing art works leave behind a radical grin?