Tony Wood on Laurence Kelly, Diplomacy and Murder in Tehran. The strange career of Alexander Griboyedov, Russia’s satirist playwright and predator envoy to Persia.
WOE TO THE VICTOR
In the confused interregnum following the death of Tsar Alexander I in December 1825, a group of conspirators dedicated to the introduction of a liberal constitution decided their moment had come. Members of the ‘Northern Society’—largely officers from the Imperial Army’s elite regiments—persuaded the men under their command to refuse to take the oath of allegiance to the future Nicholas I, and a crowd of 3,000 soldiers assembled on Senate Square in St Petersburg. There followed the tragic debacle of what came to be known as the Decembrist rebellion which, after several of its leaders lost their nerve or fled the scene, was rapidly and forcefully crushed by the new tsar; two weeks later a rising orchestrated by the ‘Southern Society’ in the Ukraine, in belated and ill-informed support of the revolt in the capital, was similarly despatched. Five of the ringleaders were executed; over a hundred of the conspirators were sentenced to hard labour or exile in Siberia; still others, who knew one or more Decembrists from the officers’ clubs, literary salons and theatres of St Petersburg, Moscow or Kiev, were dragged in for interrogation in the dank cells of the Peter and Paul Fortress on the Neva.
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Fine-grained reading of the films of Andrei Zvyagintsev, from the abstract allegories of his earlier work to the unsparing portrayals of contemporary Russia in Elena and Leviathan, exemplary of a new social turn in post-Soviet cinema. Reflections of class polarization and fables of power, with Orthodoxy as its prop.
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.