James Fenton on Mandelstam’s Dante

“The poet’s widow describes how, at a point when Mandelstam refers to Dante’s need to lean on authority, she refused to write his words down, thinking that he meant the authority of rulers, and that he condoned Dante’s acceptance of their favours. ‘The word had no other meaning for us,’ she says, ‘and being heartily sick of such authorities, I wanted no others of any kind.’ ‘Haven’t you had enough of such authorities?’ I yelled at him, sitting in front of a blank, grey-coloured sheet of paper, my hands defiantly on my knees. ‘Do you still want more?'”

“Mandelstam was furious with her for getting above herself. She was angry back, and told him to find another wife. But in due course she did what the circumstances required during the Stalinist persecution: she learnt the essay by heart, in order to ensure its survival. It wasn’t printed until three decades later, in 1967, when an edition of 25,000 copies appeared in Moscow and quickly sold out – the first of Mandelstam’s works to appear after the thaw.

“The argument about authority warns us to read Mandelstam’s essay not only for what it tells us about Dante but also as a reflection on our own times, and Mandelstam’s. [. . .]”   –James Fenton, The Guardian, 2005

See full article here.

Censorship and Betrayal in Russia

Russian ArtistsRachel Donadio‘s article for The New York Times, “Russian Artists Face a Choice: Censor Themselves, or Else,” discusses the difference between legislation and enforcement of censorship in contemporary Russian theater.

“Russia has a thriving theater scene and a constitution that bans top-down, Soviet-style censorship. But in a time of economic turmoil and growing nationalism, with society polarized in unpredictable and emotional ways over the new laws and the war in Ukraine, cultural figures say the message from the government is clear: Fall in line with the emphasis on family and religious values, or lose funding, or worse.

“‘It’s about betrayal — those who betray are put in the Ninth Circle of Hell, like in Dante,’ Kirill Serebrennikov, a prominent theater and film director and the director of the Gogol Center, a cornerstone of Moscow’s theater scene, said in a recent interview here. The result, he said, was to put writers and directors ‘between Scylla and Charybdis — between censorship or self-censorship.'”    —The New York Times

Read the entire article here.

Ismail Kadare’s Twilight of the Eastern Gods

twilight-eastern-gods-ismail-kadare

“[…] “Twilight of the Eastern Gods was published in parts in Albania between 1962 and 1978, translated into French by Jusuf Vrioni in 1981, and only now appears in English, in David Bellos’s translation of Vrioni’s French. In his introduction Bellos assures us of the factuality of Kadare’s account of the Pasternak affair, and says that many of the faculty and students at the Gorky Institute are called by their real names, but reports that Kadare’s wife’s study of his early correspondence has shown that other elements of the book, such as the narrator’s romance with a young Moscovite called Lida Snegina, are entirely fictional.”

[…]

“Here’s the way the narrator describes the Gorky Institute dormitory to Lida: ‘First floor: that’s where the first-year students stay; they’ve not yet committed many literary sins. Second floor: critics, conformist playwrights, whitewashers. Third . . . circle: dogmatics . . . and Russian nationalists. Fourth circle: women, liberals and people disenchanted with socialism. Fifth circle: slanderers and snitches. Sixth circle: denaturalized writers who have abandoned their own language to write in Russian.’  I’m not sure if I’d rank him with Dante, but I intend to keep laying an annual £20 bet on Kadare for as long as he lives.”

–Christian Lorentzen, The New York Times, November 26, 2014

Vladimir Kobekin, “Hamlet of the Danes, Russian Comedy” (2009)

hamlet-of-the-danes-russian-comedy“…Mr. Kobekin’s Hamlet of the Danes, Russian Comedy, is hardly a comedy, except perhaps — as the composer observed — as the word was used by the likes of Dante. Nor, apart from language, is it notably Russian. It is a brash re-telling of Shakespeare’s play in contemporary words” [. . .]    –George Loomis, “Moscow’s Second Stage Revels in the Homegrown,” The New York Times, November 17, 2009