Sunday, February 27, 2011

Revolutionary Adjectives

How does one describe a revolution? What are the best adjectives to capture the essence of one? Let's examine the words of the brilliant dissident author used in his Soviet Civilization: A Cultural History. Sinyavsky intermittently uses the following adjectives, among others, to explain the Bolshevik Revolution to his readers: elemental, volcanic, revitalizing, organic, wild, irrational, creative, explosive, bursting, nonsensical, senseless, chaotic, murderous, spontaneous, emotional, primitive, powerful, metaphysical, sensuous, sublime, inspiring, popular, passionate, spontaneous, anarchic, visceral, atavistic, cataclysmic, seductive, miraculous, expansive, and rapturous.

What's interesting about listing revolutionary adjectives in general is that they fall into three categories: some are positive, some are negative, and some are value-neutral. To his credit, Sinyavasky, a severe critic of the Revolution and its historical legacy, uses a large number of neutral descriptors to capture the essence of Revolution. The Revolution may have hurt Russia, but it was akin to a natural disaster as much as it was the work of a malevolent conspiracy of amoral or immoral men. Moreover, it had a life or dynamic of its own that is not reducible to the intentions of any or even all of its component parts, the revolutionary and anti-revolutionary actors.

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