When Did You Open Your Third Eye?

For this final blogpost we were given a wide range of topics to choose from, all of which tied into the changes and societal shifts brought about after Stalin’s death in 1953. I found the cultural artifact/expression from Boris I. Sharagin to be the most captivating, and quite frankly one of the few choices we had this week that I felt I could relate to as well as connect on a deeper level with.

Some background about Boris Shragin, He taught at the Surikov Art Institute in Moscow, as well as being a fellow of the Institute of of the History of the Arts in the USSR. He started his life as a Marxist and member of the Communist Party, until he was stripped of his membership and title in1968. Important to note, the 1960s were a time of great unrest and dissent within the Soviet Union, to the point that western analysts were taken aback at the rise of anti-establishment in the country.

Shragin is famous for his involvement with protests and dissent in solidarity with those political prisoners kept in psychiatric hospitals. As a mental health advocate, my first impression was thiswas some sort of early protest against the conditions within psychiatric hospitals. However, upon more research I discovered a much more sinister reality that I was clueless of until now. The Soviet Union would label dissenters as mentally ill in order to place them and restrict them within these hospitals. Shragin’s crusade against this is extremely noble in my opinion.

The work of Shragin’s I was able to connect with on a deep level was “When Did You Open Your Eyes?”(2000) with its powerful and transformational messages concerning political ideologies. The work was a retelling of an event that happened during the All-World Youth Festival in Moscow in 1957, describing an encounter he had with foreign art students. I am not quite sure, but I believe they were checking out examples of works of socialist realism. Maybe these works had not been taken care of properly, I couldn’t quite inference if that is what Shragin meant on page561 of the “Russia Reader”. But the message later on in the story became clear. He called a piece “merde” or “s**t” in English. “I was not fulfilling the role for which I had been recruited. By all patriotic standards, I was betraying the Motherland.” (562) Like an angry Hokie Ambassador telling perspective students the realties of campus life, he felt he had a higher purpose with these visiting students.

The question he never forgot was what the Japanese man asked him “Whendid you open your eyes?” This simple question frames the whole body of work, but it was such a perspective changer for this man. He had not thought the evolution of hisbeliefs, merely acted on them. In the context of a larger motif, Shragin’s work represents the beliefthat everyone can change their ways of thinking. I was drawn to his work because it reminded me of myself and my views on political ideologies, and the fact that upon reflection I can’t quite say when my views changed. I was exposed in my early life to my liberal Mother, but my conservative Father and Uncle helped instill their values/beliefs on me. In High School I was exposed to many viewpoints and cultures from friends all over the world, and then in college the classes I have taken have been so eye opening it is absurd. Entering college as a right leaning libertarian, and now essentially being a leftist, anarchsist, who is distrustful of all forms of governance and the unvierstiy apparatus at Virginia Tech, I was able to relate with Boris Shragin very heavily.

Works Citied:

Shragin, Boris I. “When Did You Open Your Eyes? (2000).” The Russia Reader, 2009, pp. 559–566., doi:10.1215/9780822392583-096.

“BrainWorld Magazine.” BrainWorld Magazine, 5 May 2018, brainworldmagazine.com/perceiving-your-minds-eye-the-pineal-gland/.

Rosenberg, Jennifer. “Body of Stalin Removed from Lenin’s Tomb.” ThoughtCo, 12 Apr. 2018, www.thoughtco.com/body-of-stalin-lenins-tomb-1779977.

More Resources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2800147/

https://www.lrb.co.uk/v32/n09/benjamin-nathans/when-did-your-eyes-open

 

 

 

I originally was thinking about writing on Xenophobia for this week’s blogpost, but upon seeing the topic of Ukraine after the war I knew this would be the topic I wrote on. I have always been very interested in the Ukrainian conflict that took place in the early to middle part of this current decade. On a larger scale the aspects of Ukrainian politics and culture have always been intriguing. In some ways because they share great similarities with their Russian neighbors, but still have many differences that have resulted in tension through the course of history.

On the note of nationalism, the Soviets and Ukrainians were as alike as were the differences, in the context of rallying citizens across all aspects of life for the war effort. Also, in the sense they felt they were fighting out of necessity to defend their homelands. But while the Soviet army pushed into Germany and foreign territory, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (UON) were fighting with guerrilla tactics and disrupting the Soviets primarily in western Ukraine.

The many posters showcased within the Seventeen Moments in History section for this topic help to visualize the strange and complex relationship between the UON and Nazi Germany. These posters are excellent pieces of propaganda in their ability to help sway Ukrainians against the Soviets. Some seem to be better crafted and believable than others. For example, one has an almost iconoclastic depiction of Hitler which I doubt would appeal to many Ukrainians, on the basis that a foreign leader in Germany would have little to no influence on Ukrainians thoughts on the war. A better image is the one with a Ukrainian and German solider, claiming “they are heading for peace together”. This particular poster represents the mentality of the alliance between these two groups, as literal of a representation of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” as it gets.

 

I found this topic to be so interesting because I actually had no idea this fighting / conflict even occurred. I had read about the Catholics being persecuted in Ukraine during the second world war, but nothing of this magnitude. The essay claimed at one point the UON had around 90,000 members.

In the spirit of the “Big Deal”, this fight against the closely cultural connected Ukrainians helped to propagate trust between the citizens of Russia and the leadership of the Soviet Union. For more information on this topic, “The Forgotten and Bloody History of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army” provides valuable insight into the topic.

Citations:

“The Forgotten (and Bloody) History of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.” MilitaryHistoryNow.com, 18 Apr. 2015, militaryhistorynow.com/2014/03/03/stuck-in-the-middle-the-forgotten-and-bloody-history-of-the-ukrainian-insurgent-army/.

“Ukrainian Insurgent Army.” Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine , www.encyclopediaofukraine.com/display.asp?linkpath=pages%5CU%5CK%5CUkrainianInsurgentArmy.htm.

From Russia with Love

Our guest speaker this past week in class was an extremely positive and informative insight directly into aspects of Russian culture. Even if received in the form of a relatively small sample, her anecdotes were valuable in bringing our coursework into real world scenarios within this realm of study. To bring this back into the topic of this week’s blogpost, she brought up how and why the Russian folk have such emotional and strong ties to the Second World War.

This post seeks to analyze this question, specifically through smaller facets of the overall cultural umbrella of the time.

One of these smaller facets is that of women and their relationship to the war. A captivating perspective of this comes in the form of the poem by Konstantin Simonov “Wait for Me” (1941). My initial thought was that this poem was from the perspective of a woman, but after reading it is obviously coming from that of a solider writing to his love waiting for him back home. The poem itself represents almost an allegory; an allegory that represents the primary questions asked for this blog prompt in regard to motivations for the war effort. These motivations for say the political/governmental machine were of course harsh, fight or flight purely defensive actions of for the government. But for the people? These motivations were their personal connections, for their family and friends, and their community at large. This is captivated in the “Russian Reader” quote “the necessity to defend the motherland was transmuted into a level of rage against the Germans that for many Russians justified any act of violence or atrocity committed against the enemy.” This manifestation of violence was a response to the corner these Russian citizens felt they were placed in to defend their culture. With a culture rooted in interpersonal relationships and family ties, the reasons to fight must have been clear to the Russians called to arms.

To me, the “how they won” question is obvious: they won as a result of sheer will, mostly manpower. The amount of Russians that volunteered, and ultimately died in the war effort can be considered a testament to the spirit and need to defend their land/families by the Russians.
The poem itself is littered with references to these family ties, speaking of not just their women waiting for them, but their mothers, sons, and daughters as well. The poem seemingly sheds light on the motivations for fighting without revealing directly these passions. But to the reader it is obvious, it is all rooted in family ties.

If Tomorrow Brings Realist Socialism & Nationalism

 

This week’s focus being on the shift from the positive roots of constructing socialism into the dark days of the second world war, I was immediately drawn into “If Tomorrow Brings War” by Vasily Lebedev and the Pokrass brothers (1938).  Before launching into its connection to the larger aspects of socialist realism, upon reflection I instantly thought of a quote from someone I am struggling to remember the name of the man who said it, but it is “War is delightful to those who have never experienced it.” Ironically I saw the quote in a Call of Duty xbox game. (Not sure if that is a good or bad thing in the context of us millennials) This quote in connection to the lyrics represents the blind, censored, state sponsored nationalism that was a characteristic of socialist realism.  The song  is taken from the 1938 film of the same name, which is essentially a call to arms for the citizens of the state to rally around whatever cause it may be to defend their homeland. From a purely artistic standpoint it does this well, distracting the readers from the horrors and atrocities of war.

In the context of the socialist realism essay by James Von Geldern,  he phrases three aspects of socialist realism as “best characterized by the watch words accessibility (dostupnost’), the spirit of the people (narodnost’), and the spirit of the party (partiinost’)”. The lyrics apply and play to the spirit of the people for obvious reasons, inspiring them to defend their country. “The country will rise, mighty and great, and cruelly crush the foe.” The more subtle undertones in these lyrics however, lie in the murkiness of the spirit of the party aspect of the song. The entire song is essentially a mask for defending the ideologies of the party and the Russian people, without truly coming outright and saying it,  as the party and the state were so interwoven at this point in history.  The simple language reinforces the socialist realism constructed by that of Joseph Stalin,  which is exemplified in quotes such from him such as “socialist in content, national in form.” The nationalism and party undertones of this song represent the sort of vaugeness that socialist realism came to be known for as it progressed.

The poem is absolutely well written and succeeds in its goal of rallying the people and defending their country. When principles of socialist realism are connected back to this play, its overall structure and purpose becomes more clarified.  I was unable to receive full acess, but an amazing resource for more information on this topic could be found in the Oxford Scholarship Online database:

http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199585557.001.0001/acprof-9780199585557-chapter-4

 

Famous for their rendition of the Soviet National Anthem, I was also able to discover their choral performance of “If Tomorrow Brings War” by the Red Army Choir.

 

Everyday Soviet Satire

“The Bathhouse” -Mikhail Zoshchenko (1924)

Zoshchenko’s satirical works within the context of defining what revolutionary culture exactly is provide a very interesting perspective, specifically from the other side so to speak. Revolutionary culture appears to be riddled with state sponsored dogma and a bombardment of reinforcing idealogical state views. Mikhail Zoshchenko sits on the other side, and like so many other satirists in other cultures, he provides the crucial “poke holes in system” hilarious take through his work to get underneath the new government’s skin.

“The Bathhouse” is a short piece done by Zoshchenko in 1924 about a man going to a bathhouse in the new state. The bathhouse provides the perfect setting for the author to address his qualms with the new administration through sarcasm, satire, and humor. It seems at every turn of the narrator’s experience he runs into some bureaucratic nightmare, expressed through trivial mishaps in the bathhouse. For example: “They gave me two tickets. One for my linen, and the other for my hat and coat. But where is a naked man going to put tickets?” Expressing well the frustration of everyday citizen’s grievances with the new system of governance.

I think the piece is done so well because it takes these grievances and puts them in an extremely relatable context with the bathhouse setting. This also aids in the ability for citizens to relate to the upheaval they experienced in such a short period of time.

 

Intersection of Change

This particular work of art struck me immediately with its ability to represent an intersection between the past, present, and future given the context of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Painted by the interesting figure Ku’zma Petrov-Vodkin, his life and influence on the painting helps explain the intersection represented in the work. Born into a family from the proletariat class (his father was a shoemaker) he was also a deeply religious man, with the view the new revolution was a temporary challenge to suffer on the ultimate path to salvation.

The Petrograd Madonna represents this religious influence in its style, the painting also being a reflection of Petrov-Vodkin’s earliest teacher, an icon painter. The stylistic iconography in the Petrograd Madonna is a dopplegänger to the same style popular throughout eastern Orthodoxy.  The background apart from the woman and her child seem to represent the growing changes in Russian society, with crowds and people forming on the streets. The woman’s back turned to this is perhaps the rejection of this movement and an adherence to tradition, all while shielding her child from these movements. The woman also gives a vey uncertain and vague gaze, representing the current attitude toward the future of the Russian people.