Tony Wood on Susan Buck-Morss, Dreamworld and Catastrophe: the Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West. USSR and USA as alternative models of mechanized happiness in the inter-war world—and their outcome at the end of the Cold War.
MELLON IN MAGNITOGORSK
Behind the ideological differences that for so long seemed to divide them, did Sovietcommunism and Americancapitalism share some fundamental dream of modernity? Susan Buck-Morss’s large and splendidly illustrated book argues that each in their own fashion was possessed of an idea of massutopia. Author of two distinguished works on the Frankfurt School and Walter Benjamin, The Origin of Negative Dialectics (1977) and Dialectics of Seeing (1989), Buck-Morss breaks quite new ground here, with an ambitious comparison of state legitimations, industrial technologies and popular culture in the USSR and USA, focused mainly—though not exclusively—on the 1920s and 1930s. She brings to this project a set of concerns and methods inspired by a deep immersion in Benjamin, whose Arcades Project was the subject of her second book, and whose traces are visible everywhere in this one. In the age of Ford and Stakhanov, dreams of another and happier world had unpredictable impulses and longings in common, best sounded with the instruments Benjamin used to plumb the oneiric layers and recesses of nineteenth-century Paris. These visions, she insists, are not to be condescended to. Flying in the face of globalizing triumphalism—and its despairing opposite, sectarian nationalisms—Buck-Morss seeks to reincorporate the experience of ‘socialism in one country’ into a wider historical narrative, which sees the end of the Cold War as a process of mutual defeat, the collapse of twinned, inseparable projects. Her book is a provocative elegy to what may have been lost in this outcome.
’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.