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.

Pages 104-123

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.

For the Realists

During the nineteenth century, coal and its no longer latent powers began mattering to art and literature. Having been perceived and depicted, they now demanded equal but different rank with the divine. To realize Anna Karenina’s feelings during her night passage on the Moscow-St. Petersburg express was the same problem for Tolstoy that it would have been for Homer, but it was only Homer’s routes that traversed a universe conceivable as a surface hiding no secrets and revealing all there was to reveal. Against that, the moment at the end of Anna’s emptied book when a disconnected fuel tender came rolling by itself down its track (VIII.5) was a revelation of movement without a discoverable origin in intent or terminus in meaning. It may have been that that extorted the last tears from Vronsky. His voyage of discovery had ended without conclusion, in smoky midair.

See how you yourself now perceive this silhouette of eleven womanless men and a danger sign. Inside their collective image, smoke from a waiting parovoz ascends to darken the cloudscape, and that seems to be all the meaning there is. Certainly no one within the artwork’s dark margins is reading the sign’s words.

“Track elevating at road crossing, Joliet, Ill.,” between 1900 and 1905. Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/det/item/2016795685/. Post-processed for contrast and detail. Replaces a 2014 restoration, which has now been deleted from the blog.

Signed at under such circumstances, lesser realists such as William Dean Howells and Jacob Riis reacted by filling their non-fictions and their fictions alike with brand names and street addresses, recorded with due accuracy. The intent seemed to have been to force signifiers like the railroadmen’s unread X to give up a meaning. In time, James Joyce came to understand that a record’s significance lies in its words, only. The data of its ostensible content are a pre-text, and that is enough. But the image you have just seen in parallel with Tolstoy’s words is a wordlessness. Its primary signifier is not a history like Tolstoy’s or Joyce’s but a chemistry and a meteorology, and its record is only one of the smudges that coal in the nineteenth century left in the air.

News from the twentieth century: topless is fine as long as you aren’t Allen Ginsberg

It also helps not to be unwhite.

The_Indianapolis_Star_Wed__Mar_2__1966_1A

For several days after this story broke, the reading was front-page news in the Star. The Star’s analysis two days later (March 4, pages 1 and 4) explained:

The_Indianapolis_Star_Fri__Mar_4__1966_4 clip

In all that time, the poet’s name never sullied the whiteness of the Star’s newsprint. On March 11, page 21, a reader complained:

The_Indianapolis_Star_Fri__Mar_11__1966_ clip

Ginsberg’s own record of the event is the poem “Auto Poesy: On the Lam from Bloomington,” collected in his 1972 City Lights volume The Fall of America: Poems of These States 1965-1971. It mentions the “tower walls” of the Eli Lilly & Co. plant in Greenfield where I read the Star’s coverage in a break room,

and figured out the poet’s name,

and came with a sinking feeling to the realization that I was the only person in the complex who would know or care. About that, a line from Hart Crane’s The Bridge may have the grammatical distinction of being the only factually incorrect imperative ever written:

Come back to Indiana — not too late!

It is not possible to set foot too late in Indiana.

 

 

In the fine print, a high grade ha

The Freeman’s Journal (Dublin), December 24, 1890:

The_Freeman_s_Journal_Wed__Dec_24__1890_page 1 full

The print doesn’t welcome your presence. But notice that Mr. Joyce himself persisted with the aid of a magnifying glass.

 

James Joyce, 1939
Gisèle Freund, 1939

Persist, therefore. Think of yourself as Gabriel at the Christmas feast and afterward, paying attention right to the end.

The_Freeman_s_Journal_Wed__Dec_24__1890C

Clio and Apollo will rest you merry.

 

It will be interesting to teach Emerson again after two years away

In 2016, all I had to say to get the discussion started about “Self-Reliance” —

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think–

was “Ayn Rand.” This coming spring, in the Trumpera, the discussion seems all too likely to self-start out of an indignant and rejecting silence.

Still, yes:

Nature is the opposite of the soul, answering to it part for part. One is seal, and one is print. Its beauty is the beauty of his own mind. Its laws are the laws of his own mind. Nature then becomes to him the measure of his attainments. So much of nature as he is ignorant of, so much of his own mind does he not yet possess. And, in fine, the ancient precept, “Know thyself,” and the modern precept, “Study nature,” become at last one maxim.

It’s true, as you see. Nature doesn’t contemplate the possibility of an Ayn or a Donald. In her domain there is only law, reproducing its works by contemplating itself.

DSC_6078aiG

Sources: Emerson, “Self-Reliance” and “The American Scholar”