String quartets all over the place

Between 1925 and 1958 it went through 36 editions (Veselá 105). Every time the party line changed, the author changed his story, and he kept changing it until death claimed him. Long before then, it had became a canonical paradigm of the Socialist-Realist novel.

 

Translated by Liv Tadge, 1981. Moscow: Raduga, 1985. Thanks to Imported Publications (floruit ca. 1970-1989), the Socialist Camp also contributed to the aesthetics of my home with some of Ivan Bilibin’s illustrations of Russian fairy tales, an English-language book from East Germany about Soviet photography, and, from North Korea, a North Korean handbook containing useable information about the opera The Fate of a Self-Defence Corps Man and the ballet The Leader’s Noble Idea Flowers Out.

And in after years the revisions underwrote rereadings, like this sample snapshot in time.

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But passim, when their changeable language tried to change itself from dead to living through metaphors like “stormy blood,” it tended to mean words like “blood” as unchangingly as could be, in words that were themselves always stably dead. Liv Tadge’s translation (the 1981 edition quoted above) omits the word, but in the biology of Cement, cement is always to be mixed with blood. That’s one of the constants of this novel, no matter what the edition. When bodies are imagined as if outside the blood-red band of the spectrum, they are to be tinted a mere livor mortis.

The contrast between red and unred happens to be a little hard to see in Raduga’s Cement typography, because the only color in its presses for that run was extratextual: the green of the page numbers. Everything else about the prose was a uniform gray.

In Gladkov’s time, movies too were generally monochrome. But the cement in this 1933 movie poster is not a single shade of Gladkov gray. It is radiantly spectral.

https://www.moma.org/collection/works/218645

That’s because Mikhail Dlugach, the designer of the poster, did his work of envisioning under the lights of a different spectrum: one meant to illuminate a studio, not a library. Because they were created under that regime, the stairs that lead the eye upward from words to a smiling unspeaking face are Constructivist, and the shadow of the human that has been left behind by the ascent is Expressionist. The unspeaking face’s cosmetics too come from a silent repository: the cabinet of Dr. Caligari. But the dentistry that constructs its smile is the artifact of an aesthetic dating from long after the time of Tatlin’s tower and Wiene’s asylum. In fact, the poster suggests that the smile isn’t even attributable to dentistry. For that humble domestic science its scale is too vast. On the poster’s lavishly laid down slabs of color it erects itself like a heroic architecture, and as an architecture its relation in scale to the human is not 1920s Expressionist but 1960s Brutalist.

So think now, in the aftermath of the Brutalist era, of how the sound of your stormy pulse might have reechoed from the walls of a Brutalist bedroom where you and Comrade Dasha had shared the concrete mattress. One of the purposes of modern architecture since at least the days of Le Corbusier has been social control, explicitly stated as theory (in, for instance, Le Corbusier’s Vers une architecture), and Socialist Realist fiction provided a way to translate the theory’s language of instruction from body to text. Raise your eyelids and grin, the translated schema instructs the body waiting on its postcoital cinderblock. Then look out the window, sight down the barrel of your rifle at that string quartet in the distance, and aim.

Record, encarmined

You may be able to see that the state of this image in the Library of Congress is a photographic print mounted on a paper backing, with the library’s acquisition stamp overlapping both sheets.

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Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/99401043/

But you also do see that the composite photograph has lost definition and contrast. On the record, it has been going lost. With the aid of a computer, sight can begin bringing it home again to history and making the record’s words as readable again as they were when they flowed from the pen of A. P. Yates in 1893. Over the image, however, a gray new computerized disfigurement has settled in and begun blemishing what you see of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad’s engine no. 999, claimed to be the first vehicle in history to have reached a speed of 100 miles an hour.

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In the library, a history of photography can help you understand what happened. In the 1890s, when negatives were large, photographers often retouched them with carmine paste. Painted over dark areas of the negative, this lightened the corresponding area of the print. Perhaps because May 10, 1893 was a cloudy day in Syracuse, or perhaps because the smoke from no. 999 was billowing too abundantly into the air, A. P. Yates encarmined a zone in front of and above no. 999’s boiler. On the print, that would have whitened the sky. But Mr. Yates didn’t want to risk whiting out any of no. 999’s beautiful metal, and so some of the original crud of 1893 remains in his artwork as a dark, angular halo.

With a computer under my hands, however, I can become Mr. Yates’s 21st-century continuator. Using a process that Photoshop calls cloning, I paint more carmine over the dark original of May 10, 1893.

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And see: I have replaced the last trace of history in the image with the truth of art.

Think of me as a Venetian barber in a time of cholera, doing a little cosmetic work on Gustav von Aschenbach to make him attractive to the teenage punk who happens to be the god of history.

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Dirk Bogarde in Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice (1971)

The night he finishes editing “Freaks,”

Tod Browning sleeps an undisturbed sleep. This night, however, hour by hour, his bed in the dark is becoming shared with another body. The body hasn’t yet awakened from the sleep in which it was created, but after it opens its eyes it will see Tod, the man whose camera penetrated the dark and forced it to dream body into being. In their bed in that first awakening, Tod and the body will open their mouths and say to each other:

“We accept you. One of us.”

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