Tony Wood on T. J. Binyon, Pushkin: A Biography. Scouring the crust of patriotic myths from the image of Russia’s greatest poet.
THE POET OF DECEMBRISM?
Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin became a literary figure of national importance at the age of 15, when Gavriil Derzhavin, the grand old man of Russian letters, listened in rapt attention as Pushkin read his composition for the junior examinations at the Tsarskoe Selo Lycée. Derzhavin proclaimed that the young man would assume his mantle, and St Petersburg’s leading littérateurs immediately recognized his talent: ‘The rascal will crush us all!’ wrote Prince Petr Viazemskii, later a close friend of Pushkin. Throughout the rest of Pushkin’s brief, turbulent life, both acclaim and criticism were freighted with a sense of national expectation; he was perceived by many to be not only Russia’s most gifted writer, but also an embodiment of its literary destiny. The process of mythologization had begun even in his lifetime: in 1834 Nikolai Gogol described him as a ‘unique manifestation of the Russian spirit’, claiming that ‘the countryside, soul, language and character of Russia are reflected in him with the purity and the spotless perfection with which a landscape is reflected through the convex surface of a lens.’
’My institution subscribes to NLR, why can't I access this article?’
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.