Thursday, June 30, 2011

Shklovsky's Revolution

Viktor Shklovsky's memoirs, A Sentimental Journey, cover the author's energetic participation in World War I, the February Revolution, the October Revolution, the Russian campaign in Persia, and the Civil War. Shklovsky's unorthodox approach to autobiography is ironic, poetic, and elliptical. His observations seem to reveal the essence of this revolutionary epoch on both the microscopic and macroscopic levels. The current of clever but understated cynicism that runs through A Sentimental Journey seems to perfectly portray the madness and horror of that extraordinarily fluid period in Russian history. Although Shklovsky, a Social Revolutionary in these years, ostensibly sympathized the Bolsheviks in their contest with the counter-revolutionary forces, his detached, sometimes indirect critique of Bolshevism is ultimately more damning than even Ivan Bunin's memoir of the period, Cursed Days. If this is how a young Leftist intellectual saw Lenin's Party, how much worse must they have been?

Shlovsky on the Nature of Revolution

"You'll see. Our Revolution will save the world."

"Everything was fine. We were all being swept along by a river and the whole of wisdom consisted in yielding to its current."

"I was happy with these crowds. It was like Easter--a joyous, naive, disorderly carnival paradise."

"In general, and Easter mood prevailed; everything was going well and it was believed that this was only the beginning of everything good."

"The streets seethed with impromptu meetings. Private life seemed pallid."

"One soldier said, "I don't want to die." With desperate energy, I spoke about the right of the Revolution to our lives. I didn't despise words then, as I do now."

"The Revolution had engraved its norms on his soul. He was like an Orthodox Christian."

"They hastened to inform me that they were for the commune. What they meant by that I don't know. Perhaps only communal pastures."

"The regiments knew nothing about freedom of speech; they regarded themselves as a single voting entity. Those who opposed the majority were beaten up."

"Why didn't we understand that we can't fight with such crap at the front?"

"Comrades, what are you doing! Is this really the way to fight capitalism? Capitalism has to be fought efficiently."

"If you don't believe that there was a revolution, go and put your hand in the wound. It's wide."

"The laws had been repealed and everything was being revised."

Shklovsky on Suffering

"When I arrived in Moscow on the nineteenth of this month and brought some bread (ten pounds) to a close friend, he began to weep--He wasn't used to bread."

"Hunched over, with mechanical gesture of a tired animal, they picked through the garbage looking for something edible."

"...the others died as quietly and slowly as only the infinitely steadfast human being can died."

"There's a Cossack. In front of him lies a naked baby, abandoned by the Kurds. The Cossack wants to kill it. He hits it once and stopds to think, hits it again and stops to think.
They tell him: "Finish him off."
And he: "I can't. I feel sorry for it."

"The commander, Ivanov by name, defended himself for a long time with a saver before they cut off his head and gave it to the children to play with." (Referring to the Kurdish campaign).

"One morning when I got up and opened the street door, something soft fell to the side. I stooped down and looked...Something had left a dead baby at my door. I think it was a complaint."

"...the way the city had grown quiet. Like after an explosion, when it's all over, when everything's blown up. Like a man whose insides have been torn out by an explosion, but he keeps on talking."

"In general, it was a time of local power and local terror. People were killed on the spot."

"There was cholera in St. Pete, but people were't being eaten yet."

"I saw a beggar pull a piece of bread out of his sack and offer it to a cabby's horse. The horse turned it down."

"Once beef was issued. What a fantastic taste it had! It was like the first time you slept with a woman. Something entirely new."

"Our hardships kept piling on; we wore them like clothing."

Shklovsky on the Bolsheviks

"A man should worry less about history and more about his own biography."

"Who are you for--Kaledin, Kornilov or the Bolsheviks?" Task and I would have chosen the Bolsheviks. However in a certain comedy, the harlequin was asked, "Do you prefer to be hanged or quartered?" He answered, "I prefer soup."

"The show "Russia" was over; everyone was hurrying to get his hat and coat."

"The Bolsheviks were very weak, too, but the ship was listing on their side."

"When the Boksheviks left the front wide open without signing the peace treaty, they were hoping for a miracle, but the man consumed in fire didn't rise from the dead. And the Germans walked through the front door."

"And so some cracked safes, some headed east to joint Wrangel and Denikin, others were shot and still others hated the Bolsheviks with a hatred so salty that it kept them from spoiling."

"And on the horizon, promising to crush us all, loomed the hungry Bolsheviks."

"Bolshevism thrives in foreign climes"

"It was said that the French had a violet ray with which they could blind all the Bolsheviks..It was said that the English had landed in Baku aa heard of apes trained in all the rules of warfare...People held their hands about two feet off the ground to indicate the size of the apes. They said that when Baku was taken, one of these apes was killed and it was buried with a band playing Scottish military music and the Scots cried. That's because the instructors of the ape legions were Scottish."

"His father had died after the October coup. His uncle had shot himself. He left a note: "The damn Bolsheviks."

"It's fantastic how much more stupid a state is than an individual."

"The Bolsheviks entered a Russia that was already sick, but they weren't neutral--no, they were a special kind of organizing bacillus, but of another world and dimension."

"The Bolsheviks held out, are holding out, and will hold out, thanks to the imperfections of the mechanism which they control. However, I am unjust to them. Just as unjust as the deaf man who looks at people dancing and thinks they're insane. The Bolsheviks had their own music."

"And at this moment, with my life in fragments, I stand before the ordered consciousness of the Communists."

"It was like two voids attacking one another. There were no Red and White armies. That's no joke. I saw the war."

"A nation, however, can be organized. The Bolsheviks believed that it's the design that matters, not the building material. They were willing to lose today, to lose biographies, in order to win the stake of history."

"They wanted to organize everything so that the sun would rise on schedule and the weather would be made in their chancellery. It's easy to see how the Bolsheviks made the mistake of mapping out a plan for the whole world on paper.

Shklovsky on Russia

"It was Russian imperialism--what's more, Russian imperialism, which is to say, stupid imperialism."

"Russia was beginning to break down into its primary factors."

"People will ask, how did Russia permit such things to happen?"

Shklovsky's Guide for Living

"It's good to live and sniff the road of life with your snout."

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