In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do.
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In the Soviet Union, an empire of holocaust survivors and the children of survivors, this gnawing uncertainty was the usual condition of life. I am not sure we met anyone who did not have a grandparent, a parent, a sibling, a friend, someone who still wandered through his dreams, still ghostly because there was no way to fix the dead one’s end in time and place.
It’s as if the regime were guilty of two crimes on a massive scale: murder and the unending assault against memory. In making a secret of history, the Kremlin made its subjects just a little more insane, a little more desperate.
Awake, the people lived in the ruins of their nightmares. In their daily lives they lived in apartment buildings that had been built by prisoners, sailed through canals dug by slaves on the state. One afternoon in Karaganda—an industrial city in central Kazakhstan that, seen from the air, looked like an ashtray stuffed with cigarette butts—I wandered into the woods and discovered an abandoned school. The coal miners showing me around pointed to the bars in the windows. “It was a good school, but it was a wonderful prison camp,” one miner said bitterly.
Editorial Intern Isabella Ciambotti
Excerpt from Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, by David Remnick
I manage to be pretty focused in doing philosophy, but some of the most focused and attentive I’ve ever been in my life is on a hard climb—mind zeroed in on tiny ripples in the rock for my feet, exactly the angle of my ankle, whether I’m holding the most grippy part of the rock with my hand, the exact level of force I need to push with on my foot as I slide over to the next hold. One might be tempted to say here, if one were caught in a traditional aesthetic paradigm, that the climbing is just a technique, a trick to focus the mind on the really beautiful things—the rock itself, and nature. But I think this ignores what climbers are actually doing, feeling, and appreciating. They’re paying attention to themselves, to their own movements and appreciating how those movements solve the problem of the rock. The aesthetics of climbing is an aesthetics of the climber’s own motion, and an aesthetics of how that motion functions as a solution to a problem. There is, for the climber, a very special experience of harmony available—a harmony between one’s abilities and the challenges they meet.
Associate Editor Alex Brock
Excerpt from “The Aesthetics of Rock Climbing” in The Philosopher’s Magazine