The thirtieth of May 1867 marked the beginning of the end for the Negro spiritual. On that date, there appeared in the New York Nation a notice of “the first attempt to collect and understand” that species of hymns often thought of as endemic to Afro-American enslaved people.  Though slave songs had long been the subject of equal fascination and derision by whites of the North and South, “No one up to this time”, one of the prospective compilers admitted – almost shamefacedly – had “explored for preservation the wild, beautiful, and pathetic melodies of the Southern slaves.”  In this spectacular and conservatory gesture, however, unwittingly lay a function of power. Continue reading
Nina Gradov – young scion of the Russo-Georgian Gradov clan of Moscow intellectuals, heir to an endangered Soviet intelligentsia – is violently courted by the Soviet party-state in an episode early in Vassily Aksyonov’s historical novel Generations of Winter (Service 239). A sanctioned assault at the hands of a Communist Party leader, Nina’s bodily violation forges a poignant crucible between the personal and the political: that between the instruments of state-party coercion and the most private of spaces – those of the individual, the familial. Like a forgotten Helen, Nina yields to her suitor, “imagining herself, as always, as a victim of proletarian rape, a trophy brought back by the triumphant class” (Service 245; Aksyonov 81).
Though brief, Nina’s hailing – her rape-by-state, so to speak – is an auspice. Spanning decades of Soviet life under the thumb and jackboot of Joseph Stalin, Generations of Winter’s semi-fictional history lays bare a very real time and space, one defined by the coerced politicization of body, speech, and space. Through its deliberate promotion of a “prophylactic” orthodoxy, its targeting and purging of non-Soviet identity, and its prerogative of bio-power, the Soviet party-state apparat, under the authority of Stalin, sought to erase the very boundaries between private and public life, between the personal and the political (Service 215). Continue reading
Posted in history, literature, politics
Tagged beria, history, intelligentsia, literature, moscow, nkvd, ogpu, politics, russian, russian literature, soviet union, stalin, twentieth century
In the wake of his timely and characteristically anticlimactic death in 1982, Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev, otets-kormilets, left an uneasy procession. His ceremonial reign marked an era of socioeconomic stagnation and political regression that left the Union’s collective body – both Soviet and soviet – putrefied: politically apathetic and personally unfulfilled. The procession was both literal and metonymical, and, after Brezhnev, became funerary in both senses: as fulfillment of Lenin’s covenant eroded, the procession – the ordered line, the queue – had become a regular ritual of profound, if not transcendent, import. Continue reading
Posted in history, politics
Tagged 20th century, consumerism, eastern bloc, history, human rights, moscow, politics, religion, ritual, russia, secularism, soviet union, spirituality
Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani at a Donald Trump campaign event in Phoenix.
Among the figures in the running to be President-elect Donald Trump’s Secretary of State is former Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani and, if one were to believe recent media reports, it appears he is in the lead for the job. Though Giuliani has managed to sustain a public presence built on his legacy as America’s Mayor — a role that came to fore amid the aftermath of the September 11th attacks and one he has repeatedly squandered over the course of his post-mayoralty — his disqualifying legal and consulting career and his increasingly ill-tempered flagrancy is cause for consternation and reproach. He is an ill-suited candidate for Secretary of State. Continue reading
An x-ray of bound feet.
Photo from Peking, a social survey conducted under the auspices of the Princeton university center in China and the Peking Young men’s Christian association (1921)
In her oral and textual history Women in the Chinese Enlightenment, Wang Zheng posits a response to a fundamental “woman question”, that problem that had long cradled and shaped the emergence of China’s new turn-of-century nationalism. According to Wang, the May Fourth period’s (1915–1925) emergent feminism was itself predicated on the concurrent New Culture’s education in, and rejection of, dominant Confucian gender hierarchy: It was this “modernizing” impulse – one partly furnished by the new culture’s embrace of readily-available Western liberal concepts of human rights– that necessarily encouraged the development of a male-driven nationalist discourse, one with a female-oriented ethic, around which the goal of women’s emancipation became a logical and primary embodiment of national modernity . Continue reading
Photo from Souvenir of Nanking
A series of economic, political, and sociocultural shifts taking hold of late Qing China forced the lives of those like Liu Dapeng (1857-1942), and others in turn-of-century sub-urban Shanxi, to an inflection point. Educational and vocational reforms—the 1905 abolition of the imperial civil service examination, in particular—suddenly overturned centuries of dominant Confucian personal-political meaning, the formal Qing ideology, in favor of an emerging “modern” life, lifestyle, and ethic: limiting social mobility for many of the aspirant classes and engendering a widespread social-ontological uncertainty as a result. Continue reading