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 Shraginvery 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.

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7 Replies to “When Did You Open Your Third Eye?”

  1. Interesting post! It is interesting how when we are little we follow what our parents do, and sometimes people struggle to figure out what their own views on things are.

    1. Agree! I think evolution / education / enlightenment are generally good — if we aren’t going to grow and change in our thinking, what’s the point? So, props to you, Ethan and to Shragin. And thanks for writing about this really compelling selection in the Russian reader. As an FYI, the paintings Shragin talks to the Japanese tourist about are by Aleksandr Gerasimov (http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1939-2/aleksandr-gerasimov/ ). We’ve discussed his work in previous sessions, so it’s interesting to note that just because his work was celebrated by the state did not mean it was adored by the people.

  2. After reading his entry, it seems that Shagrin emphasizes individualism as a cause of the “thaw”. Breaking the Stalinist tendencies was a process that each individual had to go through to “open their eyes” to the new realities of the USSR

  3. Great post, i like the part where you talked about Shagrin’s protesting in the mental hospital, and the fact that the government put people they didn’t want in public in there as “mentally ill” and Shagrin was protesting that.

  4. Something really interesting to think about is also as information about Stalin’s reign came out to consider the way in which his death was viewed from a cultural perspective. It’s very expressive to see the change.

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