Wednesday, October 21, 2009


According to Wikipedia, Iteration means the act of repeating a process usually with the aim of approaching a desired goal or target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an "iteration", and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration.

Two and a half years ago I elected to stop reading randomly as I had been doing for many years. I thought it was time to show some seriousness of purpose in my reading habits. I wanted to choose depth over breadth. I decided to read only Russian history and literature. It was an absurd, arbitrary decision, although I had clearly avoided a narrow field of inquiry. Russia was a broad topic, as broad as any subject matter, but it limited my choices and helped me to focus on gaining greater levels of understanding of a particular subject.

And the 1917 Revolution retained a central place in all of my readings, as varied as they have been. I wanted to know as much as possible about the Revolution, but that Revolution’s meaning only revealed itself through a careful examination of a longer Russian cultural tradition, as well as an exploration of the Revolution’s lingering impact. In many ways, this blog is the expression of my attempt to get to know Russia. It’s haphazard and repetitive, but I believe that any search for meaning is tentative, exploratory, and iterative. One needs to make repeated passes at a subject before one gets it right, if one can ever get history right.
This is especially true of painful truth, and the history of Russia is one of unparalleled tragedy.

Exhibition 'Golodomor 1932-33 - genocide of Ukrainian people' opens in Kiev

Recent Russian history involves famine, revolution, slave labor, political terror, exile, two world wars, nuclear catastrophe, economic collapse, and ultimately the betrayal of Europe’s greatest hope for a better tomorrow: communism. Getting to know Russia mirrors the difficult task of self-examination in the wake of an agonizing mistake, sin, or crime: it’s nearly impossible to reconstruct the truth when our own instincts for self-preservation tempt us to shield ourselves from additional injury. The best we can do—to paraphrase the author of Strange Piece of Paradise, a brilliant book about the memory and loss surrounding an attack by an axe wielding madman upon the author in her youth —is to try to be a little more truthful each and every day. What happened in October 1917? What didn’t the world’s first experiment in scientific socialism help rather than hurt people? The best anybody can do is to try to uncover one piece of truth at a time.

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