May 22, 2011

Unfinished articles 1

Much as it may look like it- I have not gone away. The last month or so has been a rather tiresome time at work because I have been travelling a lot and that's reduced the time I've had to spend with my computer and I just haven't felt inspiration recently. One of the things I find about blogging is that I need an idea to animate a piece- it happens every so often that you read a book or see a film which sparks in you an idea- sometimes though you can feel you are stretching your material or are unsure of what you want to say. M.R. James in his ghost stories once wrote an article about unfinished stories- unfinished ideas that he had had- I'd like to borrow his concept- these are posts which are lurking in my subconscious as I write this piece. They may appear one day- they may never appear- but they are things I have started writing since April and haven't finished.

Religion and Realism: I am currently in the midst of the Brothers Karamazov. In the book at one point the narrator notes that Alyosha the religious one of the three brothers is the supreme realist. It is an interesting idea I think, particularly given that since Dosteovsky wrote the world has become more and more convinced that religion is separate from the natural world we live in. I think what he was trying to get at was that for Alyosha and for most premodern religious people, religion permeated their everyday perception of events and was not separate from it. This is true probably of many modern religious people and I think it marks out the fallacy of implying that religion is about faith or dreams or the supernatural, it is something that one perceives.

Burnt by the Sun: this film I was shown by a friend of mine over Easter- actually on the Royal Wedding weekend (which I avoided by going to Normandy). Its a very sad examination of Stalinism and I found it incredibly tragic- the kind of film that you cry over. I think its so powerful because it shows you ordinary lives effected by Stalin: the most pathetic character is a little girl who is sweet and curious and naive but over whom hangs a threat that she does not understand. It also perfectly gets who faced danger in Stalin's Russia- the Revolution really did eat its Children.

Hamlet: over Easter I went to the National Theatre's production of Hamlet. Its not a play I know well- I did Othello and Twelfth Night at School- but it was an amazing performance and really made me think both positively and negatively about life itself. I couldn't think of how to say anything new or interesting about Hamlet but I found it a very powerful experience- I'm not sure that this was an idea for an article or simply a platitude in search of a home!

Bloodlands: Tim Snyder's book is one I've been trying to review for ages but have never quite found the key to unlock it. Its about one of the most terrifying periods and places in history- Poland, Belorrussia and Ukraine from 1932 to 1945. Uncountable numbers of people were killed by the Stalinist and Nazi regimes in that period. What Snyder gives you is both a new reference point for the killings- more from starvation and 'low tech' murder than from gassing- and a new grasp of their horror for individual Jews, Poles and Ukrainians- but also a sense of how these two barbaric tyrannies squared off against each other for being the land based rival to the sea based atlantic imperiums to their west. Its a gruesome story and Snyder brings out elements that I had never understood. It is all the more powerful because for Snyder the individaul deaths are deaths of individuals- fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers. I find this one hard to write because reading it was difficult and writing about it would be worse: that Snyder and others can is something I admire. Thinking about Stalin or Hitler reduces me to depression!

These are just some of the thoughts which haven't quite made it out there over the last month- I apologise for the rambling nature of this post but I wanted to get something down on them all. Thoughts will flee and be replaced by others- what I hope is that some day all of these turn into articles: if not then I hope they can grow in the minds of others!


Anonymous said...

All very promising, but you know which one I'm really waiting for.

Your fav RC

Ian Appleby said...

Intrigued to see the Russian slant in your recent interests. It so happened that I was in Russia when Burnt By the Sun was released, and it made a big noise at the time. I was very affected by it at first viewing, but many Russians felt Mikhalkov was deliberately playing to Western tastes in his treatment. Ironic, really, given that he has very much become embroiled in Russian nationalist tropes since then. He's recently released a, by all accounts extremely ill-advised, sequel.

Ian Appleby said...

Oh, and thanks for the tip about Bloodlands. I shall have to pursue it. I'm currently fascinated by the notion that an English missionary was practicing in Ukraine at that very time period. How could that be at all possible?

He made it out, and wrote the popular version of the hymn "How Great Thou Art" on the basis of a translation of something he heard a Ukrainian peasant say.