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Forward Thinking [private]

Claire Schwartz: According to the poet Marie Howe, who studied with Joseph Brodsky at Columbia, Brodsky said: “You Americans are so naïve. You think evil is going to come into your houses wearing big black boots. It doesn’t come like that. Look at the language. It begins in the language.” You’ve written about the relationship between language and the social imagination—in particular, about the ways that totalitarian regimes in Russia and, more recently, the current government in the United States, have eroded public speech. Would you describe what you mean by that and how you see language functioning in public space right now?

Masha Gessen: For totalitarian regimes, language is an instrument of subjugation. It’s a way of controlling both behavior and thought. Attempting to ensure that words mean what the regime says they mean is a way of undermining people’s ability to inhabit a shared reality outside of what the regime says reality is. There are all sorts of tricks the regime performs along the way—such as using a word to mean its opposite, or almost its opposite. 


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Illustration by Melody Newcomb

Collusion

She had moved to Germany to be a writer but quickly found there wasn’t very much to write about. Germany was calm. The people were friendly and straightforward. If you managed a few words of German they would say, “Your German is very good.” When you gave them exact change they would smile.

No Republican Shall Inherit

Jared: “Now this was the mid seventies. I was on an airbase in Florida. We had to keep the fighter planes loaded because, you see, this was only twelve years after the missile crisis. We had to be ready. Who knew what the Russians were up to? We were geared up. We were ready to fight.”

Photography by Mathias Depardon

Boomtown on the Caspian

The nation of Azerbaijan, wedged into the Caucasus Mountains between Russia and Iran, is small, geopolitically vulnerable, and relatively new to the contrivance of nationhood. Most of its history has been spent on the fringes of someone else’s empire; millennia of successive imperial occupations ended with the crumbling of the Soviet Union, and, over the twenty-five years since, Azerbaijanis have been experimenting with novel forms of national pride. 

Victoria Semykina

My Midwestern Soviet Childhood

It may sound incomprehensible—senseless, Constance Garnett would have put it, as she did in her translation of The Brothers Karamazov—but while the rest of the world may dread the return of the prolonged hostile stare-down known in the last half of the last century as the Cold War, in some ways, I welcome the refreeze.

Alexander Griboyedov’s Woe from Wit, at the Crimean Academic Russian Drama Theater, three days before Crimeans voted to break away from Ukraine and join Russia.

The Theater Tsar

Gogol’s play sounds strangely familiar, as if art and life were indistinguishable from each other. Two performances seem to be taking place in parallel: one inside the theater and another one in the streets outside, where soldiers in green balaclavas and no recognizable insignia—incognito, so to speak—have just arrived.

Tanya, in her summer dress, plays with one of her  favorite stray dogs, June 2012.

The Colors of Tiksi

When it thrived—​if such can be said about a village in the Arctic Circle—​Tiksi was home to 12,000 people, many of whom worked at the seaport, the handful of scientific-​research stations, and military bases nearby.

More Letters of Dostoevsky

Translated from the Russian and Edited by S.S. Koteliansky

I

One of Dostoevsky's early letters has recently been published in Russia. It gives quite a clear picture of his state of mind during the first years of his literary activity.

With his "Poor Folk," completed by him in the spring of 1845 (when he was 24), and published in January, 1846, in Nekrasov's Peterburgsky Sbornik, Dostoevsky all at once became a literary celebrity. The manuscript of "Poor Folk" was taken by a friend of his to Belinsky, the leading critic, who was so enthusiastic over it that he declared that a new genius had arisen in Russian literature, and prophesied a brilliant future for Dostoevsky. Belinsky also published an article in the Otechestvennya Zapiski in 1845 praising Dostoevsky to the skies.

New Letters of Dostoevsky

Translated from the Russian and Edited by S.S. Koteliansky

The whole year of 1878 Dostoevsky spent in writing "The Brothers Karamasov." The serial publication of the novel and continuous work on it took him another two years, 1879 and 1880.

"The Brothers Karamasov" was published in the Russky Vestnik (NN. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of 1879; NN. 1, 4, 7, 9,10 and 11 of 1880). These hitherto unpublished letters were written during the years 1879-1881 to N. A. Lin-bimov, the associate editor of the Russky Vestnik.

Staraia Roussa, May 10, 1879.

 . . . This book, "Pro and Contra," is in my view the culminating point of the novel, and it must be finished with particular care. Its idea, as you will see from the text I have sent you, is the presentation of extreme blasphemy and of the seeds of the idea of destruction at present in Russia among the young generation that has torn itself away from reality. 

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