I moved relentlessly over the evening, back and forth, straining to remember exact words, telling inflections, any subtle insults or kindnesses I might’ve missed, and my mind – quite willingly – supplied various distortions

October 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Mattis: What did Lenin think of it?

Theremin: I brought my apparatus and set it up in his large office in the Kremlin. He was not yet there because he was in a meeting. I waited with Fotiva, his secretary, who was a good pianist, a graduate of the conservatory. She said that a little piano would be brought into the office, and that she would accompany me on the music that I would play. So we prepared, and about an hour and a half later Vladimir Il’yich Lenin came with those people with whom he had been in conference in the Kremlin. He was very gracious; I was very pleased to meet him, and then I showed him the signaling system of my instrument, which I played by moving my hands in the air, and which was called at that time the thereminvox. I played a piece [of music]. After I played the piece they applauded, including Vladimir Il’yich [Lenin], who had been watching very attentively during my playing. I played Glinka’s “Skylark”, which he loved very much, and Vladimir Il’yich said, after all this applause, that I should show him, and he would try himself to play it. He stood up, moved to the instrument, stretched his hands out, left and right: right to the pitch and left to the volume. I took his hands from behind and helped him.  read more

FILM: Nino Oxilia

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I will coach you in essential business skills such as decoupling all of your constituent atoms from reality and becoming the One

October 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

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For Stalin, editing was a passion that extended well beyond the realm of published texts. Traces of his blue pencil can be seen on memoranda and speeches of high-ranking party officials (“against whom is this thesis directed?”) and on comic caricatures sketched by members of his inner circle during their endless nocturnal meetings (“Correct!” or “Show all members of the Politburo”). During the German siege of Stalingrad (1942-43), he encircled the city from the west with his blue pencil on a large wall map in the Kremlin, and, in the summer of 1944, he redrew the borders of Poland in blue. At a meeting with Winston Churchill a few months later, the British prime minister watched as Stalin “took his blue pencil and made a large tick” indicating his approval of the “percentages agreement” for the division of Europe into Western and Soviet spheres of influence after the war.

The few who visited the Soviet leader in his Kremlin study mention the blue pencil in their memoirs. Georgy Zhukov, commander of the Soviet military during World War II, observed that “Stalin usually made notes in blue pencil and he wrote very fast, in a bold hand, and legibly.” The Yugoslav Communist Milovan Ðilas was surprised to find that Stalin was not the calm, self-assured man he knew from photographs and newsreels:

He was not quiet a moment. He toyed with his pipe … or drew circles with a blue pencil around words indicating the main subjects for discussion, which he then crossed out with slanting lines as each part of the discussion was nearing an end, and he kept turning his head this way and that while he fidgeted in his seat.

The Stanford historian Norman Naimark describes the marks left by Stalin’s pencil as “greasy” and “thick and pasty.” He notes that Stalin edited “virtually every internal document of importance,” and the scope of what he considered internal and important was very broad. Editing a biologist’s speech for an international conference in 1948, Stalin used an array of colored pencils—red, green, blue—to strip the talk of references to “Soviet” science and “bourgeois” philosophy. He also crossed out an entire page on how science is “class-oriented by its very nature” and wrote in the margin “Ha-ha-ha!!! And what about mathematics? And what about Darwinism?”

Even when not wielding his blue pencil, Stalin’s editorial zeal was all-consuming. He excised people—indeed whole peoples—out of the manuscript of worldly existence, had them vanished from photographs and lexicons, changed their words and the meanings of their words, edited conversations as they happened, backing his interlocutors into more desirable (to him) formulations. “The Poles have been visiting here,” he told the former Comintern chief Georgi Dimitrov in 1948. “I ask them: What do you think of Dimitrov’s statement? They say: A good thing. And I tell them that it isn’t a good thing. Then they reply that they, too, think it isn’t a good thing.”  read more

GRAB: Traci Lee

What’s Spanish for “I know you speak English”?

July 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

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In 1940, the famed Soviet film director Sergey Eisenstein was suddenly invited to stage a production of Wagner’s Die Walküre at the Bolshoi. Wagner was unlikely fare at this time – the Soviet Union was largely hostile to foreign art, especially that of its great political rival in Europe, Germany. Yet the signing of the Soviet-Nazi non-aggression pact in 1939 opened up a brief window for the oddest of reconciliations. The historian Philip Bullock considers Eisenstein’s involvement in the production, and explores Russian interest in Wagner more generally, asking what happens when works of art get caught up in politics, propaganda and international diplomacy.  listen

PHOTOGRAPH: Pascal Amoyel

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