Book Notes: Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons (1862)

The way that censorship worked in the USSR – and many people don’t know this – wasn’t that there was a list of books you weren’t allowed to read.

No, not at all.

What existed, instead, was a list of books you were allowed to read. Everything that didn’t make it on the list, you weren’t supposed to know it even existed. It didn’t get published, mentioned or alluded to.

In order for a book to get on the “good” list, somebody needed to create an argument for why it advanced Communist goals. If nobody bothered to create such an argument for a work of art from 100, 200, 800, whatever, years ago, it was erased from textbooks, archives, everywhere. A bunch of desperate literary critics broke their brains throughout the 1930s, inventing Communist readings for Cervantes, Rabelais, Goethe, Bocaccio, just so that they wouldn’t be erased from collective memory. It’s a crazy thing to do but it’s also quite heroic because these few terrified literary critics were the reason that we knew who Cervantes was in the USSR.

And if you think you are immune to this kind of totalitarian madness, I’m sorry you’ve been in a coma and only woke up two minutes ago. I’m sitting here, hoping I won’t have to do what those Stalinist literary critics did and try to save Cervantes by arguing he was ideologically sound.

Turgenev is a 19th-century Russian writer, and he was not only allowed in the USSR but he was obligatory reading that all Soviet children were tortured with. It was easy to sell him as proto-Communist because his famous novel Fathers and Sons* was published a year after slavery (known as ‘serfdom’) was abolished in the Russian Empire and set on the eve of the abolition. In reality, it’s clear from the novel that Turgenev wasn’t into the abolition because he despised the serfs and considered them barely human. But we were forced to look for some sort of a revolutionary conscience in the novel, so we twisted ourselves into knots trying to find it.

In reality, the novel is exactly what the title says. It’s about parents and children and the kind of suffocating, smothering, all-consuming parental love that squeezes life from the children without wanting to. As I read it today, I didn’t see a shade of anything political in the novel. Instead, Fathers and Sons gives a very good blueprint of the differences between a loving parent who lets the child develop into a separate human being and recreate life and a loving parent who doesn’t leave any space for that and pushes the child to embrace death.

It’s a very good novel by an utterly apolitical author and I can’t wait to discuss it in my book club.

* It’s a really bad translation, actually. The title should be translated as “Parents and Children.”

Not Exceptional

Here’s an example of gas-lighting.

I was at the gym and was forced to see news coverage on a mainstream news channel. They were airing a report about an extremely obese individual who clearly had diabetic gangrene. The report, however, blamed the symptoms of the gangrene on COVID and made no reference to the extremely obvious morbid obesity of the person in question. We are supposed to disregard the evidence in front of us and pretend that this “otherwise healthy person” who weighs 400lbs is really suffering because of COVID.

And we’ve all seen these cases before. This is not in any way exceptional.

Global Gaslighting

And this gaslighting, by the way, is identical in

  • Evanston, Illinois
  • Montreal, Quebec
  • Lviv, Ukraine
  • Almería, Spain
  • Haifa, Israel
  • and so on.

It’s a global phenomenon, my friends, and it has to do with the transformation of the world economy. SARS-COV-2 is a pretext. SARS-COV-1 didn’t provoke this reaction because there wasn’t any need for it then.

We are being scared out of our wits to make sure we don’t resist this set of changes to the economy and to the mode of governance it requires.

It’s not a conspiracy. It’s the logic of events.

Gas-lighting

I was hoping that if things get reopened, no major outbreak will follow, and people will realize that lockdowns aren’t necessary.

Things got reopened.

We are at zero deaths in my county.

We have three people on ventilators county-wide.

But it isn’t convincing anybody of anything.

People are acting like we are at the peak of a major outbreak of Bubonic plague. We have new restrictions kicking in on Monday. They will affect everybody down to 2-year-old kids.

It really messes with your mind. The reality you observe is completely different from the narrative about it.

By far, the psychological aspect of COVID has been the hardest for me. I have started to disassociate whenever people talk about it. I go to a different place in my mind and tune out their voices because I can’t be around people who are so massively terrified of… I have no idea what.

More Administration

After spending two months working with people in the administration and the support staff of every imaginable service on campus, going back to working with professors is downright painful.

I said many unfair things about college administrators and support staff over the years. I was an ignorant dick, and I’m sorry.

I’m starting to think that more and more administrators are needed because professors do less and less. I was in a really tough situation in the past week and it didn’t even occur to me to ask another professor for help. A million people helped me but they were all admin and support staff.

Here’s one example of what I find frustrating. We urgently need to change a course name at our department so that students can know what they are taking. The course is in Yoruba but the word appears nowhere in the course title or description. We made a collective decision to change that in 2016. This process is department initiated. Until we request the change, the administration can do nothing.

2016. Yoruba teachers keep complaining. Students keep getting confused. Nothing is getting done.

#ProfessorEffectiveness

More on Navalny

Navalny is a far-right Russian nationalist. And not in a good, heart-warming “I oppose globalism and love my culture” way but in a “throwing sieg heils and calling swarthy ladies black-ass monkeys” way. Really disgusting stuff, OK?

Navalny is also a fearless dissident who is hated by Putin.

Navalny is hated by Putin because Putin is a globalist. Putin has been killing Russian nationalists dead for 20 years. I don’t like Russian nationalists because they are into Hitler. I don’t like Putin either.

But assuming that two groups you don’t like have to be on the same side is pure projection. So is assuming that two groups you do like must be on the same side. Russian nationalists and Putin have no idea who you are. Their relationship isn’t contingent on your emotions.

I’ll let everybody to figure out from all this why standing up for Navalny and trying to punish Putin for poisoning him would be a… bizarre thing to do for the Trump administration. I absolutely want the guy to survive. I want everybody to survive. But he’s been sieg-heiling it through life, and you’ve got to be dotty to want to go to war with Russia over this.

But yes, Putin absolutely poisoned Navalny. Not the first, not the last.