the dictatorship of art


When Vitale asked him why young Russians considered him “a writer, so to speak, of the establishment,” the blood left Shklovsky’s face. He shook his cane and, yelling, kicked her out into the cold. It’s not hard to imagine how badly Vitale’s question must have wounded Shklovsky in his dotage. This was, after all, the same Shklovsky who had waged an artistic revolution—one that paralleled but did not always coincide with the Bolsheviks’—with no less at stake than the liberation of human consciousness; the same Shklovsky who had seen at least two brothers and most of his friends (an illustrious literary crew including Vladimir Mayakovsky, Osip Mandelstam and Yevgeny Zamyatin) disappeared, executed, or driven to suicide or exile by the Soviet establishment; the same Shklovsky who had twice been injured in battle fighting for a revolution that had already begun to hunt and humiliate him; who endured cold and hunger and exile and squirmed through years of silence under the censor’s heavy thumb; the same Shklovsky who spent most of his intellectual life championing the emancipatory power of the novel and fighting to blast it—and all of literature and even, yikes, reality—out of subservience to a host of dumb and arbitrary masters.

more from Ben Ehrenreich at The Nation here.