Literary Tradition

N read my book and is wondering why it is that Spain produced such massive and amazing literature on the economic crisis while the Russian literature produced nothing whatsoever on any of the country’s important events. The collapse of the USSR, the economic crisis of 1998, the current events – there’s no literature at all.

Russian literary tradition is, of course, extremely young compared to Spain’s. When Spain was experiencing its Golden Age of the arts, Russia didn’t have any literature at all yet. In all textbooks Russian literature begins in the 18th century, when the first clunky imitations of the Enlightenment artists appeared in Russian. The farther you are from the place where your civilization originated, the more belated and feeble will your intellectual output be.

In 1935, Russia’s young and tenuous literary tradition was forcibly interrupted for decades. And literature doesn’t exist without a tradition. Every writer is a reader first. Of course, Spanish-language authors are producing like crazy. There is a robust and long-lived tradition that is feeding them.

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7 thoughts on “Literary Tradition”

  1. That’s very interesting. But then how do you explain the lack of American literature on the economic crisis? It’s not like the American literary tradition is new, or was interrupted.

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  2. I just finished reading Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. Considering its messy publishing history, I guess it is the kind of exception that proves your rule. Reading it did remind me a bit of Don Quixote in playing this game of how much subversion can you sneak into a book without getting yourself killed.

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    1. What subversion? Bulgakov was Stalin’s favorite author and the whole novel is glorification of Stalin.

      There’s my review of the novel on the blog. I highly recommend. 🙂

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      1. Obviously, particularly with a novel like Master and Margarita, interpretation is going to be very open-ended. Here was my reaction. In a modern disenchanted world, we may not be able to believe in Jesus the Son of God, but we can still believe in the Devil; he is too obviously real and in charge. As a libertarian, I particularly liked how the Devil could manipulate government fiat paper currency. We are left wondering why anyone would want foreign currency. As with Milton, the Devil has a certain appeal, but he is the Devil. If you find yourself agreeing with him, it is time to recheck your values. (I see Cartman from South Park in similar terms.) Just like we should know not to side with the Devil, we should know better than to side with Pontius Pilate. He represents the hapless government official, who kills people and therefore is a vessel for real evil. We may not be able to believe in the Son of God, but can we still believe in the innocent man on the dock? I grant that Margarita is a passive throwaway whore with a heart of gold kind of character. By the standard of traditional passion narratives this one is pretty tame in terms of anti-Semitism.

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        1. At the time the novel was written, one would still go to jail for expressing anti-Semitic feelings. Fifteen years later, it would all change.

          I like your reading. It’s a lot better than most of the official literary criticism on the novel.

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          1. Thank you. Coming from you, someone who is a professional and disagrees with my general perspective, that means a lot. 🙂
            On the theme of books that can be read in very different ways, have you ever read Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (ignore the movie, which is an utter travesty)? The book can be read as a Cold War action jingoistic adventure or as a deconstruction of precisely such a book. What is really great here is how well the novel works either way. It should be noted that Heinlein would later go on to do some important work for the 1960s counter-culture.

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  3. “Russian literary tradition is, of course, extremely young ”

    That’s not entirely a bad thing, maybe Russian literature was so unique for a while because there was no tradition to guide (and stifle) talents.

    “Russian literature produced nothing whatsoever on any of the country’s important events”

    Literature is also preceded by thought and Russians are heavily discouraged (from a variety of sources) of thinking about things that involve openly questioning authority (or that could lead six steps down the line to questioning authority).

    “Every writer is a reader first. Of course, Spanish-language authors are producing like crazy”

    What are modern Spanish reading habits? Traditionally the Spanish speaking world is not marked by an abundance of readers (Catalonia being the main exception) once I came up with the neologism ‘bibliophobia’ to describe the disdain most Spanish speakers evince toward reading…. (then I found out it’s a real word).

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