What We’re Reading: Week of 28th August

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.

 

Derek

Josephine Livingstone, “The British Museum Was Built on Coral, Butterflies, and Slavery” (The New Republic)

Jeannie Riess, “Removal” (Oxford American)

Stephen Pimpare, “Where do we learn that poverty is shameful and dangerous? At the movies” (Washington Post)

Ron Rosenbaum, “Deeper than Deep: David Reich’s genetics lab reveals our prehistoric past“ (Lapham’s Quarterly)

Meg Schoerke, “More than Just”: A Partial View of Robert Lowell” (The Hudson Review)

 

Cynthia

Gabrielle Schwartz, “Hélio Oiticica’s playful approach to protest” (Apollo)

Brian Droitcour, “Critical Eye: Venice: Off Beat” (Art in America)

Andrea Scott, “Etore Sottsass” (4Columns)

Louise Steinman, “Slight Exaggeration: An Interview with Adam Zagajewski” (LARB)

 

Spencer

Jeffrey Kastner and Sina Najafi, “Historical Amnesias: An Interview with Paul Connerton” (Cabinet)

Blake Smith, “The Alt-Right Apocalypse” (Marginalia Review of Books)

Margaret Drabble, “Strawberry Hill forever” (TLS)

Josephine Livingstone, “The British Museum Was Built on Coral, Butterflies, and Slavery” (New Republic)

 

Eric

Susanna Berger, “The Art of Philosophy” (PDR).

Sophie Guérard de Latour, “Changer la sociologie, refaire de la politique” (Vie des idées).

Tim Lacy, “History Conferences: What Are They Good For?” (USIH).

Brink Lindsey, “The End of the Working Class” (American Interest).

Cups with Memories: Ainu Lacquer and Skeuomorphs

By guest contributor Christopher B. Lowman

If you have a smart phone handy, take a look at your phone application icon: when was the last time you saw a receiver shaped like that? Even the language associated with phones reflects physical actions no longer required: there is no dial to “dial,” and no hook on which to “hang up.” Think about this too: when taking a photograph on a phone, the sound effect is still that of a “kachunking” camera shutter, despite its absence. These are all symbols that have outlasted their original functional counterparts.

Visual or auditory symbols that retain aspects of older, defunct design are called skeuomorphs. In the last decade, the heavy use of visual metaphors in Apple’s iOS led to discussions of skeuomorphism’s definition, and its pros and cons. Listicles of skeuomorphs and other visual metaphors have been popular reading on Mental Floss and other design blogs. Skeuomorphism is not just digital: it also describes physical objects retaining material characteristics no longer functionally necessary. Horsepower describes the capabilities of vehicles long since stripped of accompanying horses. Patterns of circular holes in concrete structures, formerly imprints from the pouring process, continue to be made even when not all processes require them. Skeuomorphs can be “found in nature as well”: the orchid Ophrys apifera produces flowers shaped to attract Eucera bees, even though the bees have disappeared from much of the plant’s modern range, as illustrated by xkcd. This illustrates how skeuomorphs can occur without intention, yet still indicate an object’s origins through no longer functional physical phenomena.

Despite the popularity of the term to describe digital design, its origins have more to do with artifacts than phone applications. Dr. Dan O’Hara at London’s New College of the Humanities described skeuomorphism as “unintentional side-effects of technological evolution.” It is in this evolutionary sense that skeuomorphs become useful to anyone interested in the history of material culture: as O’Hara put it, “skeuomorphs, as a kind of ‘memory’ capacity of artifacts, can show us the processes that guide the evolution of the forms of technology.” A look at the Google Ngram Viewer, which gauges the popularity of a word over time based on publications in Google Books, reveals that “skeuomorph” was in use at the turn of the twentieth century. Henry Balfour in The Evolution of Decorative Art (1893) and Alfred Cort Haddon in Evolution in Art: As Illustrated by the Life-histories of Designs (1907), among others, used skeuomorphs as crucial evidence for studying object designs over time. For example, Balfour, the first curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, described how indigenous people in the Andaman Islands had traditionally used large shells as plates, and continued to make wooden plates with decoration recalling shells (1893, 114).

Academic interest in skeuomorphs was rooted in some of the hierarchical assumptions that defined much of nineteenth century anthropology. Skeuomorphs offered evidence of change in the types and materials of objects over time; this played into what many anthropologists believed to be a universal and linear evolution of human culture. Haddon specifically uses skeuomorphs to describe supposedly universal material transitions, such as tapa giving rise to matting, and basketry giving rise to pottery (1907, 116). Both archaeology and ethnography developed as disciplines guided by the assumption of cultural evolution, that studying “primitive” people would reveal linear developments toward “civilization,” defined as Western European cultures. Balfour describes his work as the “study of the Art of the more primitive of the living races of mankind, with a view to explaining, by a process of reasoning from the known to the unknown, the first efforts of Primaeval Man to produce objects which should be pleasing to the eye” (1893, v). This conflation of past and contemporary cultures drove ethnographic interest in the collection of objects for museums, particularly from cultures believed to be on the verge of disappearing.

Are skeuomorphs still useful for the study of material culture? Doing away with the assumption that material changes imply progression toward any particular cultural zenith, the study of skeuomorphs continues to reveal chronologies of connections between objects and people. Archaeologists use them to discuss invention, innovation, and replication (Knappet 2002, Blitz 2015), especially across cultures (Howey 2011). An example of this is a type of lacquer cup called a tuki, used in religious ceremonies by the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Kurile Islands north of Japan. Comparisons of different tuki over time indicate origins and meanings invisible when any one example is considered by itself.

In traditional Ainu religion, any physical being or thing that can perform in ways that humans cannot is considered a god, or kamuy. Kamuy could only be contacted through the use of specific instruments, including carved wooden prayer sticks called ikupasuy, and cups, called tuki, which held offerings of sake. Ikupasuy would be dipped into tuki and drops of sake scattered to please kamuy.

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Two Ainu men using prayer sticks (ikupasuy) and lacquer cups (tuki) in prayer. Photography by Burton Holmes from Ewing Galloway, 1917.

Nineteenth century visitors to the Ainu mistakenly called ikupasuy “moustache sticks” because the Ainu prayer ceremony involved lifting both cup and stick together toward the mouth, leading observers to assume the purpose of the stick was to lift the moustache when drinking. The uniqueness of ikupasuy led to them becoming prized by collectors. When Romyn Hitchcock conducted his collecting trip for the Smithsonian Institution in 1888, his pursuit of ikupasuy earned him the name “Mr. Moustache Stick” while in Hokkadio (Houchins 1999, 149-150). Anthropologist Frederick Starr, who helped to organize the Ainu exhibit at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, also stated that ikupasuy “had a great attraction for us and we secured scores of them” (Starr 1904, 65). While museum collections contain dozens of ikupasuy, tuki were rarely collected: fewer than a dozen were collected for United States museums prior to 1920.

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Romyn Hitchcock’s illustration of ikupasuy and tuki, from “The Ainos of Yezo” in Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, 1890, 459.

The reason for the cups’ absence from collections is connected to the same theories that drew nineteenth century anthropologists to study skeuomorphs. Anthropologists lacked interest in tuki because they were trade goods rather than Ainu-made. Ainu lacquerware, including tuki, was acquired through trade with the Japanese, particularly the Matsumae clan. Exchange ceremonies appear in Japanese paintings, such as this one by Hirasawa Byōzan from 1876. However, anthropologists seeking only “pure” Ainu culture systematically ignored trade items. Anthropologist Stewart Culin dismissed lacquer and swords among the Ainu, believing that “not one of them have any artistic or pecuniary value” (75). Why was this? Recall that according to cultural evolution theory, so-called “primitive” cultures were understood as keys to the collective human past. Trade items like the tuki were corruptions: they clouded the anthropologists’ ability to observe supposedly preserved past practices. Ikupasuy were fascinating because they seemed to stem from Ainu material culture alone. Since trade items did not fit within a pure progression, but seemed wholly introduced from another culture, items like tuki were believed to lack research value.

 

AMNH Anthropology catalog # 70/4223

Tuki made of brass and ornamented with the mon of the Matsumae clan. Catalog No. 70/4223, Courtesy of the Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History.

However, tuki do possess skeuomorphic properties that are clues to their changing significance as they passed from a Japanese to an Ainu context. Japanese crests, called mon, adorned possessions belonging to noble houses (for example, the diamond motifs on the banner in this 1867 image of an Ainu ritual welcoming Matsumae merchants). While some tuki have none, or only single mon, others are decorated with multiple mon from different noble houses. Why would this be? One explanation is that Ainu interest in acquiring highly decorated lacquer may have outweighed the Japanese social meaning of the mon. Linguistic evidence of the importance of shining things and metallic surfaces is preserved in Ainu words such as “treasure,” ikor, literally “shining things,” or “metal,” kane, a word used as a synonym for “magnificent,” and used to describe tuki specifically in Ainu epic poetry (Phillipi [1979] 2015). The shining decorations, that in a Japanese context represented noble ownership, were appreciated for aesthetic reasons once in Ainu hands, which in turn changed the way Japanese artisans applied the mon during production.

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Wooden tuki and ikupasuy on display in the Ainu Cultural Center, Sapporo. Photograph by the author, August 2016.

In addition to decoration, the shape of tuki influenced Ainu woodcarvers, who produced their own skeuomorphic versions out of new materials. In one example, a carver created a tuki and stand from wood, which were subsequently lacquered by a Japanese artist. Others, like the one pictured above from the Ainu Cultural Center in Sapporo, are decorated wood without any lacquer but still retain the same vessel form. While the Ainu possessed other styles of cups, tuki specifically were made in the shape of Japanese lacquer cups and stands.

Tuki are an example of an object transformed through cultural context—a decorative cup that became integral to religious practice once in Ainu possession. Viewed over time, the transformation is a physical one as well, as they accumulated decorations that transformed in meaning because of an Ainu, rather than a Japanese, aesthetic. The shape of the lacquer vessels was preserved even as the Ainu produced tuki out of new materials. Tuki as skeuomorphs show how objects simultaneously influence and are influenced by their cultural context, and how their form and material act, as Dan O’Hara said, with a capacity for memory.

Christopher B. Lowman is a graduate student in the Anthropology Department at the University of California, Berkeley. His research focuses on intersections between historical archaeology and museum anthropology, with a focus on immigration, colonialism, and the history of museums.

What We’re Reading: Week of 21st August

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.

Sarah:

Neal Ascherson, “A Swap for Zanzibar,” (LRB)

Michael P. Jeffries, “How Chester B. Himes Became the Rage in Harlem, and Beyond,” (NYT)

Roundtable, parts 1 & 2 from the USIH, edited by Michael Landis:

Frank Towers, “Roundtable: Reflections on David Potter’s The Impending Crisis, part 1,” (USIH)

Kerry Leigh Merritt, “Roundtable: Reflections on David Potter’s The Impending Crisis, part 2,” (USIH)

 

Cynthia:

Nancy Princenthal, “David Wojnarowicz” (Art in America)

Arthur Lubow, The Renaissance of Marisa Merz, Carol Rama, and Carla Accardi: Three Italian Women Artists Having a Moment” (W Magazine)

Kara Nandin, “Review: ‘Carol Rama: Antibodies’ at the New Museum” (The Bottom Line: The Drawing Center’s blog)

Richard Martin, “Painting for Pleasure: An Interview with Carolee Schneeman” (Apollo)

Joachim Kalka, “Madame Bovary’s Wedding Cake” (The Paris Review)

 

Spencer

Dimitra Fimi, “Alan Garner’s The Owl Service at fifty” (TLS)

Giovanni Vimercate, “Soviet Pseudoscience” (LARB)

Philip Hoare, “Peter Adey’s wonderfully digressive book explores the science and history of levitation” (New Statesman)

David Dabydeen, “David Olusoga’s look at a forgotten history shows there’s always been black in the Union Jack” (New Statesman)

 

Eric:

Merve Emre, “Two Paths for the Personal Essay” (Boston Review)

Nathan Heller, “Is There Any Point to Protesting?” (New Yorker)

Hilary Mantel, “2017 Reith Lectures.” (BBC audio).

 

Yitzchak

Ian Frazier, “The Pleasures of New York by Car” (New Yorker)

Kelefa Sanneh, “Mayweather versus McGregor: Who’s worse?” (New Yorker)

John Banville, “Ending at the Beginning(NYRB)

April Bernard, “Eloise: The Feral Star(NYRB)

The state, and revolution, Part II: View from a Public Square Closed to the Public

By guest contributor Dr. Dina Gusejnova

This is the third and final installment of “The state, and revolution,” following the introduction and “Part I: The Revolution Reshuffled.”

The new age needed only the hide of the revolution—and this was being flayed off people who were still alive. Those who then slipped into it spoke the language of the Revolution and mimicked its gestures, but their brains, lungs, livers and eyes were utterly different.

—Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate (1960), trans. Robert Chandler (2006)

Scholarly interpretations of modern revolutions used to revolve around the idea of the state as the main structure for understanding them—mostly in national, sometimes in comparative, perspective. Since the last decade of the Cold War, however, many of the revolutions, which used to be known as English, French, American, Chinese, Irish, Russian, or Cuban, have been gradually placed in a different kind of order: like Grossman’s words, they began to enter into dialogue with other post-revolutionary legacies, aligned on an imperial meridian, put on a global scale, or, on the contrary, shrunk to the space of a single house. While some of the national labels have disappeared behind inverted commas, the very idea of ‘revolution’ has recently been replaced by a new interest in civil wars and the ‘roads not taken’. Peace itself is increasingly seen as a postwar pretext for new disputes over sovereignty, and the hybrid realities of paramilitary violence are being examined in terms of their effects on mass migration. This kind of revisionism is no longer just a reaction to the supposed end of history, but arguably, the beginning of a new response to the issues we are all facing in the present.

In contrast to this academic trend, most public responses to the latest centenaries are still wrapped in national flags, or at least, in national kinds of silences. In March 2016, I was briefly in Dublin, just before the centenary of the Easter Rising. A minimal common narrative of events appeared to have emerged, as the city was preparing for a large crowd, many of them from abroad.

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A stack of books on 1916, Dublin Airport (photo by Dina Gusejnova)

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Poster announcing the parade (photo by Dina Gusejnova)

Some public history projects even revived the language of revolution to establish a connection between the events of Easter 1916, modern Irish sovereignty, and other world events. In Parnell Square, a uniformed “Patrick Pearse” read aloud the 1916 Proclamation every day at midday.

In 1916, one of the buildings in Parnell Square, the Ambassador Theatre, had served as the backdrop to a famous photo marking the defeat of the Rising by the British, who posed with an inverted Irish flag, which they had captured from the Citizen Army. In 2016, an exhibition by Sinn Féin used the building to show some original objects from the revolution, and a reconstruction of Kilmainham Gaol,  where the sixteen men of the Rising had been executed.

3 Parnell Square

The Ambassador Theatre at Parnell Square (photo by Dina Gusejnova)

Visitors were encouraged to take selfies and portraits while listening to recordings of their last words, and it was particularly striking to see a mother doing a photo-shoot of her children in front of the sandbags.

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Photo by Dina Gusejnova

What a contrast to Russia where, in April 2017, nobody was reading the April Theses aloud, neither in St. Petersburg nor in Moscow. Granted, Moscow’s Red Square was certainly not as central to the revolution as Petrograd’s Palace Square had been, but it was, still, an important site of revolutionary action in November and December of 1917. Since the Bolsheviks had transferred the capital here, channeling the older, Muscovite center of Russian power, it remained the symbol of Soviet and now post-Soviet claims to global influence. Yet the one set of events that epitomizes this universal aspiration does not suit current plans. Instead, as always at the end of April, preparations were in full swing for the celebrations of an anniversary that the government felt more comfortable with: the Victory of 1945. In April 2017, the public square was therefore routinely closed to the public.

One of the visitors to the Square that month was Richard Bourke, professor of the history of political thought and co-director of the Centre for the Study of the History of Political Thought at Queen Mary University of London. He had travelled to Moscow to attend a conference at the Higher School of Economics. Bourke’s recent intellectual biography of Edmund Burke places Burke’s responses to the revolutions of his age in an imperial, transatlantic, and party political context, disentangling Burke from his later image as a rhetorician of reaction. With Ian McBride, Bourke has recently also co-edited the Princeton History of Modern Ireland, and, with Quentin Skinner, Popular Sovereignty in Historical Perspective. I could not miss this occasion, therefore, to ask a few questions about the contrasting revolutionary legacies in Ireland and Russia, as they engage with the burden of anniversaries of 1916 and 1917.

Standing by the walls of the Kremlin, near a plaque marking the place where the eighteenth-century author Alexander Radishchev had been held prisoner before being deported to Siberia, offered a compelling setting for the discussion. The view of one-way traffic beneath the Kremlin towers, and a reference to W.B. Yeats, concludes these reflections on the politics and ethics of commemorations.

Video by Kseniya Babushkina

 

“Well, that is disappointing. This is my first visit, but when I arrive, it transpires that the Square is closed to the public.

Revolution as a foundation for political legitimacy—prudentially, that has to be discarded in Russia, surely; I can’t imagine the current government wanting to embrace it. Secondly, and equally challenging, there is the communist legacy itself: the attitude to capitalism and private property. Since attitudes to the original ideology have been so utterly transformed, what is there for the establishment today to take ownership of? 

For its part, Ireland is full of commemorations. So, in this case, historians tend to greet such festivities as an irresistible opportunity to publicize their views, and to generate putatively deep, manifestly more penetrating analyses than politicians can muster… whereas I think that risks ending up with a confusion of roles.

Before the Good Friday Agreement—before, that is, the current settlement of the Irish problem—commemoration had the power to rock the state. It was, in other words, a very serious thing. So, the peaceable passing of 2016 in Ireland is, from a political point of view, entirely gratifying.

The political utility of 1917—one can’t see that quite so readily at all. Hence, presumably, the reluctance to celebrate.

I see commemorations as essentially pieces of political theatre. I don’t regard directing them as the business of the historian. Presumably, in the Russian case now, a shared narrative is far more difficult to achieve by comparison with Ireland. There is a will to disavow the revolutionary legacy without that having ever been overtly articulated. On the other hand, in the recent Irish case, the Southern Irish state’s commitment to abjuring certain versions of the 1916 legacy during the thirty years of the Troubles [1968–1998] had already passed, and consequently the need for revolutionary disavowal had (as it were) already been “worked through” the polity by 2016.

With Ireland, you have to remember, in 1966—and that was just two years before the ‘reinauguration’ of the Troubles in 1968—and then over the next thirty years, the Southern state had to disown much of the legacy of 1916 for the next three decades. So, with the end of the Troubles, as a result, a certain distance between the Southern Irish state and the history of its own militancy was possible. Also, generally speaking, a mood of collaboration around a possible shared narrative emerged. There was a commitment all round to manufacturing—because these are essentially manufactured stories—to manufacturing a liberal, cosmopolitan vision: excavating the diverse roles of peoples in 1916; children in 1916; women in 1916—so a diversified picture, by comparison with the original “16 Dead Men” narrative. It was a sort of attempt to bring all parties on board: the British state could have a role, because they’d accepted all that now; Irish republicans could have a role; we could pretend that Northern Irish Protestants might have a role; we could pretend that we can fully acknowledge that the First World War at the time was a far bigger event in Irish history than 1916 had been—certainly, considerably larger numbers died. In effect, there was a mood of opening up to these diverse possibilities. Actually, it was quite a constrained vision, to be honest. But nonetheless, the self-congratulatory story was that tremendous “openness” was prospering, then and now. Having said that—having just put it critically—I was there in Ireland at the time for the centenary celebrations, and in truth I don’t think it was at all badly done. There was no inappropriate pomp: I went with my children, and it was perfectly inoffensive to be there. I am no purist: states habitually resort to such rites of passage, and it’s just a matter of coming up with productive versions of the fanfare—a conducive version of it.

There is one poem, just a single poem, which has had as large an influence on the interpretation of the events of 1916 on subsequent historiography as any other document or text—and that is, of course, W. B. Yeats’ poem of that title: ‘Easter 1916’. Many, many historical studies of the period invoke its version of what transpired. The final stanza poses a rhetorical question: Was it needless death after all? So, the poem has a provocative question at its very heart. And, in a way, that has the effect of casting doubt on the whole enterprise: it seems it was needless death, a vain exercise! That’s another way of asking: Was this whole undertaking without any positive justification? But then there’s a gear change in the poem, which amounts to proclaiming that, given the fact that a ‘terrible beauty’ has indeed been born, the national poet has no choice but to lay claim to the legacy of this martyrdom, and that’s what the author proceeds to do in the poem.

I am currently working on a book, which is on the relationship between the philosophy of history, on the one hand—that is to say, fundamental views about what drives the historical process, and its direction of travel—and, on the other hand, the effect of one’s philosophical commitment to a given vision of the kind upon one’s investment in particular historical narratives. So, basically, I am concerned with conceptions of progress, specifically the notion that history is progressing—a perspective that emerged in the eighteenth century as a basic, almost a priori assumption about historical development. I am interested in the connection between that assumption and the impulse to read events themselves as progressive or retrogressive. That amounts, in turn, to an interest in the very idea of being “on the right side of history” in the familiar sense—of deeming oneself to be making the right moral choices because these choices coincide with the overarching directionality of history. It is fascinating to reflect on how this mode of thinking about our world first emerged, and now frames our approach to the past and the future.

Despite the long shadow cast by the philosophy of history, practicing historians ought to think more multi-perspectivally about the past, and therefore in less partisan and party-driven ways. I think that’s an honorable vocation for historians, though it’s not always the one they choose.”

Dina Gusejnova is Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Sheffield. She is the author of European Elites and Ideas of Empire, 1917-57 (Cambridge University Press, 2016) and the editor of Cosmopolitanism in Conflict: Imperial Encounters from the Seven Years’ War to the Cold War (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming later in 2017).

What We’re Reading: Week of 14th August

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.

Sarah:

Steve Kolowich, “What is a black professor in America allowed to say?” (Guardian)

Elaine Showalter, “The Austenista,” (New Republic)

Marina Warner, “Back from the Underworld,” (LRB)

Aaron Winter & Aurelien Mondon, “Normalized Hate,” (Jacobin)

Robert Wood, “On Australian poetry now: a response to David Campbell,” (overland)

 

Derek:

Adrienne Lafrance  and Vann R. Newkirk II, “The Lost History of an American Coup d’Etat” (The Atlantic)

Gerald Shea, “Teaching Them to Speak: On Juan Pablo Bonet and the History of Oralism” (The Paris Review)

Jack Christian and Warren Christian “The Monuments Must Go: An open letter from the great-great-grandsons of Stonewall Jackson” (Slate)

 

Eric:

Beverly Gage, “An Intellectual Historian Argues His Case Against Identity Politics” (New York Times) – on Mark Lilla, from whom see “The Liberal Crackup” (Wall Street Journal).

John Lanchester, “You Are the Product” (LRB).

Ellen J. Stockstill, “Rescuing England: The Rhetoric of Imperialism and the Salvation Army” (PDR).

 

Basma:

Omnia El Shakry, “Psychoanalysis and Islam” (Princeton University Press).

Gil Anidjar, “Everything Burns: Derrida’s Holocaust” (LARB).

Lara Deeb and Jessica Winegar, “Middle East Politics in US Academia: The Case of Anthropology” (CSSAAME)

 

Spencer

Larry Wolff, “Wagner on Trial” (NYRB)

James M. McPherson, “Southern Comfort” (NYRB)

Alev Scott, “Getting Close to Judgement Day” (TLS)

On Tzvetan Todorov: A Personal Recollection

By guest contributor Richard J. Golsan

Tzvetan_Todorov-Strasbourg_2011_(1)Early one morning last February, I received a text from a friend in Paris telling me that Tzvetan Todorov had died. The text concluded with the word “Désolée,” which captures so well feelings of regret and sorrow, and also empathy. My friend knew that I had known Tzvetan for twenty-five years, that I admired him tremendously, and that from an intellectual mentor Tzvetan had become a close friend, whom I looked forward to seeing every time I went to Paris. Although I had known that Tzvetan suffered from Parkinson’s disease, and I had been shocked by his condition when I last visited him last September, I never really imagined that he would die, and so soon.

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Devoirs et délices (photo credit: Seuil)

I first met Tzvetan when he came to Texas and stayed in my house for three days while he lectured and gave a seminar for the Interdisciplinary Group for Literary Historical Study at Texas A&M University. Unlike so many other visiting scholars of his stature who fly in, give their lecture, dine with faculty, stay at a nice hotel, and fly out the next morning, Tzvetan wanted to get to know the people he visited, and not just the academics. At my house, where he wished to stay even though we only knew each other through correspondence, he spent as much time talking to my wife and two sons as he did to me. Later, in his autobiography, Devoir et délices he would speak about how the birth of his first child changed his life as well as the trajectory of his intellectual interests, and it became clear to me then why he wished to spend time with my entire little family. For many years Tzvetan was married to the novelist Nancy Huston, with whom he had two children. In conversations he would refer to “my Nancy” and “your Nancy” when talk to turned to family and daily life at home. As so many of his works confirm, for Tzvetan, “life in common” with family and friends was the cornerstone of a rich and happy life as a public intellectual who was respected and admired around the world. In the first years I knew him I visited Tzvetan in his study in his apartment near the Bastille. His daughter Léa and especially his son Sacha were very frequently around, and his tenderness for them and attentiveness to their needs was always evident. Later when he had moved over to the Left Bank and we would take long walks in the Jardin des Plantes or chat in a café near his apartment, he would speak fondly and proudly of his children, now grown. His daughter Léa had become a documentary film maker, and at our memorial conference for him at Reid Hall in Paris this past July, she showed parts of a documentary she was making on Tzvetan during his last visit to his native Bulgaria. Unfortunately he died before the film could be completed.

In our many conversations we ran the gamut of family, politics, books we had read and admired, travels, and many other subjects. He was generous with me in every way—he offered advice on my life and career, told me of important events or debates in Paris, often before they happened. For example, involved early on as an advisor in the Livre noir du Communisme project—which was very close to his heart, given his youth in Communist Bulgaria—Tzvetan told me months before it appeared about the controversy it would generate, and what his own views were.

Tzvetan frequently expressed admiration for friends and intellectuals he admired, and was always circumspect about those whose ideas or views he disliked or found dangerous (in Devoirs et delices, he is open about his dislike of Jacques Lacan and André Glucksmann). Always seeking to live the role of the “responsible intellectual” rather than the “engaged intellectual” of which he was suspicious, he was cautious about the positions he took in the public arena. He wanted to make sure that they measured up to his high standards of being truly thoughtful and reasonable. He was, he told me, discouraged by the often shrill intellectual polemics in the French media. After he published Le nouveau désordre mondial, which obliged him to become involved in these polemics, he said he was done with plunging directly into heated controversies of the moment. He would later, of course, change his mind in the face of new situations and what he perceived as new dangers.

One of Tzvetan’s many qualities was his ability to sum things up with just the right phrase or observation, which he pronounced with a kind of sympathetic detachment. Once when I was overly dramatic in my estimation of the meaning and impact of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s first-round victory in the presidential elections in 2002, Tzvetan stated simply: “Joe, the world is not getting to be a better place.” The phrase, bracing in its simplicity, punctured my apocalyptic pronouncements on the spot. Near the end of his life, he told me that he did not despair of disturbing or even devastating global events and developments, because he did not believe in grand or overarching historical narratives that supposedly gave meaning to these developments while placing them in an imaginary and fictitious “grand scheme” of things. He believed that these crises or disasters had to be dealt with one at a time and on their own merits.

Tzvetan’s ability to capture things in their essence and their profundity was also apparent in more personal things he said to me. In summer 2012, he invited to me to lunch, a break with our habit of walks in the park or café stops. After a long and pleasant lunch in an Indian restaurant near Jussieu, he confided in me that he was worried that he had Alzeimer’s disease. As we left, for the first time he hugged me and said: “You have to promise to come see me next time you are in Paris, even if I don’t remember who you are.”

Javier_Cercas,_Göteborg_Book_Fair_2014_2

Javier Cercas (photo credit: Albin Olsson)

Looking back on our encounters in the last years of Tzvetan’s life, it was clear to me that his life was becoming increasingly difficult, and painful. His marriage of many years ended abruptly, and what he feared was Alzheimer’s disease turned out to Parkinson’s disease. From the wiry, fit man I had known he became thinner and moved with increasing difficulty. But there were things that he very much enjoyed. He had received an award in Spain, and as a result spent a few days with the tennis champion Rafael Nadal, who had also received an award and whom he found delightful. He began watching Nadal’s matches on TV when he could. He also told me of his meeting with the Spanish novelist Javier Cercas, author of Soldiers of Salamis, many of whose ideas he shared and whose company he enjoyed. His admiration for figures like his friend the ethnologist, Resistance fighter, and Nazi camp survivor Germaine Tillion, never waned, and he wrote a lovely essay about her in May 2015, when her remains were placed in the Panthéon, alongside other luminaries of France’s Republican past. Tzvetan also still found pleasure and comfort in his work, writing and completing his final book, Le triomphe de l’artiste, shortly before he lost the ability to type.

I last saw Tzvetan in September 2016, when we spent two evenings together recording an interview that covered his entire life and work. There were so many things I did not know about him, despite years of friendship, and this made the visit all the more moving. When he had come back to Paris the month before, after spending the summer with friends in the country while completing his last book, his condition had worsened dramatically. He could no longer leave his apartment, and had difficulty walking about. While the interview went on, friends called repeatedly to ask after him. His daughter Léa hovered discreetly about, and this appeared to please him a great deal.

At the end of the interview we said goodbye at the door. As I left the building I was frightened for Tzvetan, and yet it did not occur to me that I would not see him again. Now that Tzvetan is gone, however, in looking at his books on my shelves, and thinking back to Léa Todorov’s brief film of him in Bulgaria, I remember the man and his ideas. Despite the sadness of his demise, he lived the life that he wished for, and lived it better than most. His legacy, and the memory of his friendship remain, and that is some comfort.

Richard J. Golsan is Distinguished Professor of French and University Distinguished Professor at Texas A&M University. His most recent monograph is The Vichy Past in France Today: Corruptions of Memory (Lexington/Rowman & Littlefield, 2017). He also recently edited a collection of essays with Sarah M. Misemer, The Trial that Never Ends: Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem” in Retrospect (University of Toronto, 2017). Last summer, he went under the FHN spotlight. The interviews with Tzvetan Todorov mentioned above are forthcoming in South Central Review.

The state, and revolution: A site-specific view of centenaries. Part I: The revolution reshuffled: Statelessness and civil war in the museum

By guest contributor Dr. Dina Gusejnova

The introduction to “The state, and revolution” can be found here.

Museums and libraries are the kinds of places that promise to transport you to any other time or place. But some people experience their structure as a constraint on their imagination. One reaction to their static and state-centered character might be to give up on the structure of museums altogether and resort to watching films instead. It is not surprising that this medium was most successful in marking the first decade after the October Revolution—celebrating it as a leaderless movement, without an obvious protagonist and certainly no national teleology. In fact, most of today’s museums have embedded films in their displays. Yet if you want to resist path-dependent constraints in interpreting revolutions, films are hardly a solution: they are the products of fixed scripts, of a specially built set, narrative music, and so on. (October was first performed to the sound of the Marseillaise, before new tunes could be composed).

Is a museum of the revolution necessarily an oxymoron? As a type of space, most museums have the advantage of being physical sites. In such places, visitors can recognize what they thought of as ownership of the present as a mere tenancy, which places them not only in a subordinate relationship to the landlord, but also in an imaginary relationship to the previous tenants, who may even have left things behind. From then on, it is up to them how many degrees of separation they establish between themselves and this past.

The Russian Revolution exhibition at the British Library—its interior designed in the style of a grand opera set — is one example of this kind of possibility. The Communist Manifesto is placed at the entrance as a relic of one of the Library’s most famous users, yet it is as feeble a guide to the Russian Revolution as Rousseau had been to the French. If anything, the curators emphasise, the Manifesto discouraged the Communists of its time from transporting ideas of revolution to unsuitable locations like Russia. Like the gimmicky poster of a Bolshevik, it functions merely as a hook, because what you find instead of a party line is an aspect of the revolution as the product of a social process of intellectual contagion. Connoisseurs of magical realism will appreciate this opportunity to trace how the revolution as an idea “became” an event in and through the library itself. What sorts of studies in the library collections led Lenin, who, between 1902 and 1911 identified himself to the library as Jacob Richter, supposedly a German subject of the Russian empire, to call for a revolution in Russia six years later under the more ubiquitous pseudonym of Lenin? For Marx, contemplation itself had been a kind of action, since he preferred a Victorian library to the barricades of Paris. But where did Marx’s theories of how to “change the world” connect to the Bolshevik practices of terror and violence? The exhibition hints at the unlikely friendship between the Victorian library curator Richard Garnett, Dostoyevsky’s first English translator, Constance Garnett (his daughter-in-law), and the exiled Popular Will activist Sergei Stepnyak. Without connections like this, would Lenin have found sufficient reading material on “the land question”?

Finally, how did readers decide where to change the world? Ideas did not just migrate from book to book in a Republic of Letters, nor were they confined to their author’s “home” states. In a postwar world governed by new frontiers, visas, and immigration detention centres, it was the librarians who mattered. In the twentieth century, you are more likely to find a folio edition of counter-revolutionary thoughts than a revolutionary manifesto, but the exiled socialists made sure that ephemeral pamphlets also got collected. Lenin’s wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, had been a librarian in St Petersburg before the 1905 revolution, working together with Nikolai Roubakine, who is introduced in this exhibition only as a social statistician of the late Russian empire. As an exiled revolutionary of 1905, Roubakine had started a new library in Switzerland, which also supplied Lenin with reading material during this time of his exile.

Instead of a state withering away, the visitor is confronted with the notion of a civil war that is only “Russian”  in inverted commas. The protracted statelessness of the “white émigré” exiles in the West coexisted alongside a Bolshevik-run Soviet apparatus in the East, which was eventually signed out of existence in a Byelorussian forest with the Belavezha agreement of 1991, as Katie McElvaney reminds us in her timeline. At the end of the magic, there is also the reality of censorship. Apparently, in 1922, a British library consultant concluded that some materials calling for revolution beyond Russia were not “desirable to be released to readers.” We may not know if the Library caused this or any other revolution, but we can certainly see that it had tried not to cause it.

To get away from issues of representation to the memory of revolutionary action, however, I had to travel further, to Finland, where, in March 2017, Tampere University had organized a conference called “Reform and Revolution in Europe, 1917-1919.” Like many attendees, I was struck by the range of new insights into the Revolution that Russia’s former periphery offers, through the transnational perspective of the First World War in the work of Richard Bessel, and the concept of civil war as contextualized by Bill Kissane. Formerly an underdeveloped outpost of the Russian Empire, Finland had risen to the status of an autonomous Grand Duchy by the time of the Revolution. As such, it was the first post-imperial polity to gain sovereignty from the Russian empire, by Lenin’s decree—and to keep it, for the most part.

In the summer of 1917, Lenin was in Tampere as he worked on The State and Revolution. Eleven years before that, he had his first fateful encounter with Stalin here. The site of their encounter, a former Workers Hall, is the space for a newly redesigned Lenin Museum, which first opened here in 1946, under the close watch of Soviet authorities—one of the more visible effects of what is now called “Finlandization.” Its new curators have resorted to a combination between history and humor to tell the story:

Reproduced with kind permission from the Lenin Museum, https://museot.fi/en.php

The rest of the Lenin Museum has little to do with Lenin, and more to do with the history of Finnish democracy and the vicissitudes of European integration, after decades of civil war, partial Soviet occupation, and collaboration with National Socialism, before the gradual emergence of a Finnish brand of Social Democracy.

Seeing the city itself, surrounded by its stunning landscape, also offers other opportunities to reflect on how ideas might relate to the places in which they are formulated. How could this ethereally calming landscape inspire someone to work on a book called The State and Revolution? Could Lenin have instead become a twentieth-century Lake Poet?

9 Tampere Lake 1

Photo by Dina Gusejnova

10 Tampere Lake 2

Photo by Dina Gusejnova

11 Tampere Lake 3

Photo by Dina Gusejnova

As I walked through a working-class neighborhood of today’s Tampere, I noticed that its outer lake was still frozen, so I borrowed some skates to have a final look at the skyline: two days, two seasons. Lenin, of course, had missed the Finnish ice-skating season, with the revolution gaining speed in Petrograd just as the ice had begun to thicken. I thought about the remarkable contrast between the long-term outcomes of the revolution for Finland and for Ukraine—another imperial province, but with a much shorter history of post-imperial sovereignty, and an incomparably higher death toll in the twentieth century. This is a complex issue for historians, and one which, perhaps, will always call for the assistance of a writer like Vassily Grossman.

In the Labor Museum, a three-year long exhibition (2014–17) marks the cultural memory of the revolution of 1917 from the perspective of the Finnish Civil War of 1918, which the exhibition laconically identifies to its visitors as “a short, but traumatic and sorrowful period.” This exhibition is a unique, if slightly quixotic, place. The visitor will look in vain for any kind of partisanship here, with the Reds or the Whites, the Russians or the Finns, workers, peasants, or bystanders. What they see is a memorial to civil violence, a focus on human experience. It is challenging to try to capture a war inside the walls of a museum, but Tampere has clearly learned from commemorative practice in France and other countries, with their focus on reconciliation. The site of the museum belongs to one of the largest cotton weaving halls in the Nordic countries, Finlayson & Compagnie, a focus of socialist mobilization in 1917. The last Finnish factories were closed in 1995, but the company continues selling its products in Europe. Founded by the Scottish industrialist James Finlayson, it is also a reminder that a civil war always has not just local and imperial, but also trans-imperial dimensions. At the museum, I met social historian Richard Bessel, a first-time visitor to the city, and social theorist Rebecca Boden, who has recently moved there.

Rebecca Boden is a professor of critical management. She is interested in the effects of regimes of accounting and management on sites of knowledge creation, and the relationship between individuals and the state. She recently joined the University of Tampere as the Director of Research of the New Social Research Centre. Professor Boden also attended the conference “Reform and Revolution in Europe, 1917-1919,” held at the University of Tampere in March 2017.

I’ve never lived in this part of the world, and as a British person, I know very little about it. So what strikes me is how little people brought up and educated in Britain know about Central and Eastern Europe. I’ve felt ashamed about some of the questions I’ve had to ask about the Finnish Civil War, in terms of understanding this part of the world. And I suspect, during my upbringing, it was during the Cold War and the Iron Curtain, so Central and Eastern Europe as very much an unknown quantity to people in the West.

What’s interesting to me is, in Britain, you’ve got a reversal of trends in history. There is greater and greater interest in British history, especially British imperial history, and that becomes dangerously xenophobic, and insular, and parochial. And I think the thing for Finland is—and I can say this as an outsider, they never would, because they are quite humble, quiet, understated sort of people generally—Finland has so many interesting things about it, it is such an interesting geopolitical space, it achieved so much so well, that I am urging people to get to know the Finnish story quite urgently.

A lot of the quiet places—very far from anywhere, on the periphery, small population, very thinly spread—they have to move themselves to make themselves heard.  All the isomorphic tendencies, policies and practices and cultures tend to move in the other direction. And it would be quite good to have the quiet places listened to. But part of it is, the quiet places have to find their voice. And that’s partly what I am doing, helping Finland to find their voice and engage with the outside world in a really proactive kind of way.

Richard Bessel is professor of twentieth-century history at the University of York. He works on the social and political history of modern Germany, the aftermath of the two World Wars, and the history of policing, and is currently co-editing, with Dorothee Wierling, Inside World War One? The First World War and its Witnesses (Oxford University Press, 2018). In March 2017, he travelled to Finland to attend the conference on “Reform and Revolution in Europe, 1917-1919,” at which he delivered a keynote lecture.

I’ve never been to Finland, and it’s just a really interesting place to come to. And I thought it would be an interesting intellectual challenge to try to think about revolution and its relationship to the First World War, if not globally, certainly focusing more on Eastern Europe rather than on Western Europe.

I am finding Tampere very interesting, and … this is my first time in Finland! To be in a city which, as we see here, had such a fundamentally different history, with violence right in the middle of it. The differences, I just hadn’t thought about the differences to that extent. What in many ways looks and feels similar to Sweden, but then you scratch the surface, and you realize it’s not. And that surprised me, I hadn’t really quite expected that.

As I get older, it becomes more important both to me and also to colleagues: we talk about our families a lot. When I was younger, I wouldn’t do that professionally. When I was younger, we wrote history in the third person, and now we use the first person.

I’ve just been working through a book, an edited collection on ego-documents of the First World War, with a colleague of mine, which is also very much about the East and the South.

There is one question that I always wanted to get it on an exam, but nobody would allow me to do it. And the question is: when did the twentieth century begin?

Dina Gusejnova is Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Sheffield. She is the author of European Elites and Ideas of Empire, 1917-57 (Cambridge University Press, 2016) and the editor of Cosmopolitanism in Conflict: Imperial Encounters from the Seven Years’ War to the Cold War (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming later in 2017).

What We’re Reading: Week of 7th August

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.

 

Disha:

Rudrapriya Rathore, “India’s Imagined Worlds” (Hazlitt)

Natalie Diaz, “A Native American Poet Excavates the Language of Occupation” (The New York Times)

Lauren Michele Jackson, “We Need To Talk About Digital Blackface in Reaction GIFs” (Teen Vogue)

Cyrus Schayegh, “Switch Cities, Decolonization, and Globalization: Singapore, Beirut, Dakar” (Medium)

 

Eric:

Cord Aschenbrenner, “Albert Speer – Hitlers Architekt” (Neue Züricher Zeitung)

Elizabeth Bruenig, “Notes on Locke (against this critic)” (ESB).  

Anthony Madrid, “H.D. Notebook, Part 2” (The Paris Review).

Matthew J. Smith, “Overpowered: Control and Contingence in Haiti” (LARR).

 

Derek:

“How The Kellogg Brothers Revolutionized Breakfast“ (Fresh Air, podcast)

Daniel Dreisbach, “Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers” (New Books Network, Podcast)

Dan Chiasson, “Susan Howe’s Patchwork Poems” (The New Yorker)

 

Cynthia

Larissa Pham, “Agnes Martin Finds the Light that Gets Lost” (The Paris Review)

On passion, professionalization, and the disciplinary and economic structures that scaffold the production of art and knowledge: Molly Nesbit with Jarrett Earnest, “Close Encounters: A Conversation” (The Brooklyn Rail)

Susan Sidlauskas, “On Graduate Education: A Primer (with Memoir) For the Art History Graduate Student” (Rutgers Art Review)

Sharon Louden, “3 Examples of Proactive Artists Creating New Opportunities” (Creative Capital Blog)

Miya Tokumitsu, “Completely Unprofessional” (Frieze)

In Memoriam, Judith Jones: Julia Moskin, “An Editing Life, A Book of Her Own” (The New York Times)

 

Basma

Steven Salaita, “A Few Thoughts on Leaving Academe” (Jadaliyya)

Alex Mayassi, “Of Money and Morals” (Aeon)

Gayatri Spivak, “On Teaching Reading” (ICLS Columbia, lecture abstract)

Suzy Hansen, “James Baldwin’s Istanbul” (Public Books)

John Hutnyk, “Marx in Algeria 1882” (Trinketization)

 

Spencer

Marina Warner, “Back from the Underworld” (LRB)

Ian Sansom, “Jane Austen, on the money” (TLS)

Ariel Sophia Bardi, “The Soft Nationalism of Amma, India’s Hugging Saint” (LARB)

Lewis Lapham, “Petrified Forest” (Lapham’s Quarterly)

Ron Charles, “Stop dissing romance novels already” (Washington Post)

JHI 78:3 available

The latest issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas, volume 78 number 3, is now available in print, and online at Project Muse. The table of contents is as follows:

George Y. Kohler, “‘Scholasticism Is a Daughter of Judaism’: The Discovery of Jewish Influence on Medieval Christian Thought,” 319–40

Richard Serjeantson, “Francis Bacon’s Valerius Terminus and the Voyage to the ‘Great Instauration’,” 341–68

Melissa Lo, “The Picture Multiple: Figuring, Thinking, and Knowing in Descartes’s Essais (1637),” 369–99

Sasha Handley, “Deformities of Nature: Sleepwalking and Non-Conscious States of Mind in Late Eighteenth-Century Britain” 401–25

Timothy Alborn, “The Greatest Metaphor Ever Mixed: Gold in the British Bible, 1750–1850,” 427–47

Lawrence Cahoone, “The Metaphysics of Morris R. Cohen: From Realism to Objective Relativism,” 449–71

Guido M. Vanheeswijck, “The Philosophical Genealogy of Taylor’s Social Imaginaries: A Complex History of Ideas and Predecessors,” 473–96

Journal authors are always encouraged to submit a blog post about their article to JHIBlog—Timothy Alborn has already written “Gold Tried 500 Times in the Fire.” And if you’re a reader of JHIBlog, why not consider subscribing to the Journal? Subscription information is available at the Penn Press website, including information about special rates for students.

The state, and revolution: A site-specific view of centenaries (Introduction)

By guest contributor Dr. Dina Gusejnova

Editors’ Note: We are pleased to present a series of multi-media reflections on centenaries of the Russian Revolution by Dina Gusejnova, which will run for three weeks. The editors would welcome proposals for future audiovisual pieces.

 

2 GG queue Revolution

Entrance to the Revolution exhibition at the British Library (photograph by Georgios Giannakopoulos)

Since August 2014, centenaries have been hard to avoid. And there is no end in sight until at least 2019. London easily beats other European cities as the capital of European centenary-mania. A few years after the monumental poppies of World War I have left us, London has been truly taken over by the year 1917. Just as one ‘Revolution’ closed at the Royal Academy, another one opened at the British Library, and this is to name just two of the biggest public institutions. Revolutionary posters pursue you through the dark tunnels of the tube. Reproduced and sold on fridge magnets, notebooks, cushions and silk shawls, 1917 has become a family of brands.

 

 

Time itself has become a commodity—but not everywhere. You might think, with John Reed, that “no matter what one thinks of Bolshevism, it is undeniable that the Russian Revolution is one of the great events of human history, and the rise of the Bolsheviki a phenomenon of world-wide importance.” Not so in Russia, however, which shows no evidence of a five-year centenary plan, even though anticipated celebrations of the centenary and other anniversaries of the revolution had been an integral part of Bolshevik propaganda since the 1920s. Gingerly is not an adverb one would associate with any Russian government, yet this is the only way to describe the official approach to the centenary of the Revolution. How easy it is for the Royal Academy to tell the story of the revolution in and through Russian art from its futurist cradle to the GULAG, inviting the consumer to float out towards Piccadilly, supposedly breathing a sigh of relief!

In Russia, no major public institution has been in a rush to commemorate—despite the fact that a historian is now the country’s Minister of Culture, one who had participated in anticipatory discussions of the centenary only five years ago. To be on the safe side, Moscow’s New Tretyakov Gallery has put on a major art show devoted to the Thaw era, the age of post-Stalinist reconstruction and socialist consumer design. Access to the building is through the nearby park of discarded monuments, a tourist attraction dating back to the 1990s, replete with discarded Soviet leaders and Chekists, notably Stalin and Dzerzhinsky. But this is certainly not part of the concept behind the exhibition: Lenin remains unburied, and on the streets and in the Kremlin, the Chekists are alive.

4 Visitor at Revolution exhibit

Visitor looking at the exhibit “The February Revolution through children’s eyes,” April 2017 (Photo by Dina Gusejnova)

As for the Moscow State Historical Museum, located at 1 Red Square, the only revolution-themed hall it has so far opened is a special exhibition about the February Revolution, as seen by the children of one of imperial Russia’s last gymnasia, with most of the other programming done through discussion evenings and film screenings.

Its sister museum, the Museum of Contemporary History (formerly the Museum of the Revolution), did update its exhibition with a modern design, but the narrative leads nowhere: a few flags and caricatures here and there, some quotes from Lenin, more still from his conservative and Orthodox critics and—perhaps most jarringly—from Winston Churchill:

Version 2

Exhibition “1917-2017” at the Moscow Museum of Contemporary History, April 2017 (Photo by Dina Gusejnova)

To no state in the world has fate been crueler than to Russia. Her ship began to sink with the port already in sight. She has already experienced a storm, when all collapsed. All the sacrifices had already been made, all the work had been completed. […] Perseverance was called for; this is all that stood between Russia and the fruits of a common victory (trans. Dina Gusejnova).

Commentators have already discussed the reasons for the awkwardness about the revolution in Russia, and the way it reflects Russia’s current political situation. I have put it critically, but it is actually understandable: the British public appears in the role of a confident purveyor of another society’s crisis, whereas for the Russians, the crisis has never really ended. Marking a revolution can be nearly as dangerous a notion as making one. And how should a state mark an event which was supposed to lead to its withering away?

6 The state and revolution 1918

Title page to the first edition of Lenin’s The State and Revolution (Petrograd, 1918), published under the pseudonym V. Ilyin

By contrast to state-sponsored institutions, some of the most thoughtful reactions to the centenary have included translations of poetry and prose, reflecting a wide range of views in the revolutionary era, in Britain; and privately funded digital public platforms inviting visitors to identify their own position on the political spectrum of 1917, in Russia. In a poem composed in September 1914, the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam had written: “Imperial Europe! Ever since Bonaparte / was in the bullseye of Prince Metternich’s quill / For the first time in a century, we will / Witness your wondrous map taken apart!” (trans. Dina Gusejnova). Looking back towards 1814, Mandelstam did not see much of the twentieth century. Exactly two hundred years later, the map of Europe started to change once again, with Russia’s annexation (or re-annexation, as some might say) of Crimea. Tragically, instead of an exhibition to the memory of the First World War, in 2014 Russia had opened a new actual western front, and the conflict is still with us.

In 1922, Mandelstam had, once again, presciently exclaimed: “Beastly aeon, who will dare / Look you in the eye / Glue your back with their own blood/ Two centuries, bone for bone” (trans. Dina Gusejnova). And this was only in 1922! In that year, the fashionable English Club in Moscow, once frequented by Leo Tolstoy and other anglophile dandies, had just been requisitioned and turned into a Museum of the Revolution. It attracted foreign enthusiasts and revolutionary bien pensants such as George Bernard Shaw and Sidney and Beatrice Webb. By 1938, Mandelstam had perished in a camp, a fate which the translator Robert Chandler contextualizes in his evocative introductions to two hundred years of Russian poetry.

Among the most emblematic documents of later Soviet “horizons of expectations,” a term which Reinhart Koselleck made popular to describe past ideas of the future, is a children’s slideshow produced in 1960, which has recently gone viral online. In it, we can see how the state-sponsored media of the post-Stalin era had become increasingly optimistic about the prospects for the future. In 2017, they showed, the Soviet capital would embark on its preparations to celebrate the centenary, just as the world’s “last imperialists” self-imploded on a remote island, falling victims to their own weapon of mass destruction.

7b end of imperialism

“‘They have just reported,’ a meteorologist said, ‘that the last imperialists, who had been hiding on a remote island, have been testing the meson bomb [a type of nuclear weapon that Soviet intelligence believed was being developed by the Americans]. During the test, an explosion of an unprecedented scale occurred, destroying the whole island and causing turbulences in the entire atmosphere.’”

7c 2017 diafilm

“The meteorological station for remote weather control quietly floated above the city. The rejoicing capital was preparing for the 100th anniversary of Great October. These festivities coincided with the victory of Soviet science over nature.”

7d televidefon

“In the evening, Evgeny Sergeevich turned on his televideophone and called the steamer Kakhetia. His wife smiled from the screen, and Nina stood next to her and shouted: ‘Daddy, we’ve been having some nice, warm rain here!’”

As we know, things turned out differently: the “televideophone” belongs to the realm of the “imperialists”—and so does Russia itself; but the Georgian region of Kakhetia, once part of the Soviet Union, does not belong to the Russian Federation.

All too often, when we think about anniversaries, we naturally think about time. And yet thinking about space opens new prospects on our relationship to the past. After all, our political “horizons of expectations” and “spaces of experience” are rooted in a spatial imagination.

The more we see centenaries in geographical perspective, the more we recognize the diversity of views on this issue. The idea of a common commemorative mentality is a fiction: we remain divided in our attitudes to centenaries by place, generation, and so many other circumstances. The private, Proustian mémoires involontaires, the exposure to certain sounds, sights, sensations, or ideas, can overpower any official attempts to mold a common attitude to the event.

I have begun speaking about this to colleagues who had themselves travelled to different locations to engage with thoughts on revolutions and centenaries. I chose to concentrate my conversations around two contrasting spaces, the museum and the public square. Site-specific thinking about centenaries should not just be about cities or states, but also about spaces within cities and even houses. How do our thoughts change when we are placed in a museum, in a public space, in a private living room? How do we reconfigure our ideas of the past and its links to our present?

Dina Gusejnova is Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Sheffield. She is the author of European Elites and Ideas of Empire, 1917-57 (Cambridge University Press, 2016) and the editor of Cosmopolitanism in Conflict: Imperial Encounters from the Seven Years’ War to the Cold War (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming later in 2017).