The impish return of Bruno Latour. “A writer who did as much as anyone to weaken the foundation of science” has now become science’s latest apologists.
Timothy Steele on the life and poetry of Helen Pinkerton: “She was wonderfully unusual—formidably thoughtful and direct, both in person and on the page. She also had a fascinating life.”
R. J. Stove reviews a book on the English Musical Renaissance.
Free speech in America, Allen C. Guelzo writes in City Journal, is “threatened by activists and authorities alike.”
The latest from Wales: “The Welsh government says it will consider a proposal to prop up a new £130m bridge across the Menai Strait with a mythical Welsh giant.”
Not into horror movies? Why not watch some British detective television during Halloween? The American Scholar recommends twelve shows. Skip the first recommendation to get to the interesting stuff.
Essay of the Day:
In the latest issue of the Standard, Gary Saul Morson writes about literary accounts of revolutionary violence in Russia:
“How many firsts we owe to Russians! Lenin invented the political system we call totalitarianism. The Soviet Union was the first state based on terror and the first “one-party state.” (Previously, a party, as its name implies, represented only a part of society.) The first dystopian novel was not Huxley’s Brave New World or Orwell’s 1984, but Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, well known by Huxley and Orwell. Czarist Russia inspired both the modern prison-camp novel, beginning with Dostoyevsky’s House of the Dead, and the ‘terrorist novel,’ starting with Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed. Prison camps, dystopia, terrorism: Whatever else it has been, Russian history has been a godsend for literature. And for political language as well: We get the word ‘intelligentsia’ from Russia, where it was coined about 1860; and before the American ‘populists’ of the 1890s there were the Russian narodniks (populists) of the 1870s. Political extremism and great fiction—these are Russia’s obsessions.
“Russia was also the first country where young men and women, asked to name their intended careers, might well say ‘terrorist.’ Beginning in the 1870s, terrorism became an honored, if dangerous, profession. It was often a family business employing brothers and sisters generation after generation. Historians sometimes trace modern terrorism to the Carbonari of early-19th-century Italy, but it was Russia that gave it unprecedented importance. You cannot relate the history of czarist Russia in its last half-century without the history of terrorism. As we now associate terrorism with radical Islam, Europeans then associated it with ‘Russian nihilism.’ By the early 20th century, no profession, except literature, enjoyed more prestige among well-educated Russians.
“Russian history, one of novelist Vasily Grossman’s characters observes, stands as an object lesson to the rest of the world, a lesson it has failed to learn. People still romanticize revolutionary violence, as we see in all those posters of an angelic-looking Che Guevara. In czarist Russia, the mentality Tom Wolfe was to dub ‘radical chic’ gripped educated society. The privileged cheered on those who would destroy them.
“Terrorism has arisen in many cultures, but Russian terrorism, so far as I know, is unique in one respect: its intimate connection with literature. Not only did great writers like Dostoyevsky and the symbolist Andrei Bely (author of Petersburg) write major novels about terrorism, the terrorists themselves composed riveting memoirs and fiction.”
Photo: Stahleck Castle
Poem: Bruce Bond, “Fable”
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