Monday, November 2, 2009


Remember how I can regulate when my posts go live; although it may not seem it, I’m writing this just after seeing Cirque du Soleil's Varekai, the first of its productions to come to Russia. Take that statement as a promise that eventually I’ll get back to talking about this evening.

First a sonata of stories.

Movement I – Adagio

Once upon a time in St. Petersburg, my literature class takes a walking tour of Crime and Punishment. Essentially, we follow the walk that Raskolnikov took on the day he decided to kill the old woman.

Outside the dvor [courtyard] of the house Dostoevsky describes as the woman’s place, we find a locked gate. Our teacher frowns. “It didn’t use to be locked, although I can imagine it gets annoying, having all sorts of students and tourists and foreigners knocking around your personal space.” She leans in close. “You need to always be very attentive to detail.”

We then stand there for twenty minutes as she tries to break in to the locked dvor.

Time moves very slowly when you almost become an accessory to a crime.

She couldn’t open it.

Movement II - Allegro

When Madame de Pompadour, Briullov, and I all had dinner together the other night, I sprang the question: “What do you consider to be your greatest flaw?” (This being in the grand tradition at BNG to ask personal questions to ponder over the course of the shift.) I told the two, as those readers more familiar to this blog likely already know, that what I consider my greatest flaw to be is a highly imaginary mind coupled with a sense of entitlement. Most humans call this desire.

The unfortunate thing with this ambitious imagination-entitlement-desire, as can sometimes happen with me, is that I’ll think of Something™. [That s- must be capitalized.] Something. Doesn’t matter what that Something is – a material good, an experience, a dream. Once I start thinking about that experience, the imagination kicks in and I ponder what it would be like to have that Something.

And then one of two things happens. Either I get what I want, and I have to repeat to myself that I’ve wanted it for so long, that I’ve even gone to the extent of daydreaming about it, to snap myself out of a state of “meh,” or I don’t get that Something. And then I am depressed and not happy with myself, and I say: “Why did you spend so much time dreaming and thinking about this when you could have been doing something productive? Get your head out of the clouds.” Usually my mental diatribe has a lot more choice words but I paraphrase.

Psychotic-neurotic desire.

Movement III – Minuet

As soon as I had my ticket to Varekai I started thinking, “How cool would it be to have a photograph of the Frozen Icarus and the Broken-Legs Icarus-carnie together! I could post it on the blog!” Haha, funny joke, mind.

And then it stuck. And then I started really thinking about it – how I could sneak a camera into the tent, how I could get backstage, how I could phrase my request so I didn’t sound like a crazy person or like a little girl.

I googled “how to get backstage at cirque” without much result. I trolled through cirque fanatics’ blogs (no luck there, but a greater understanding that what I have does not qualify as a neurosis or fanaticism.)

I told tons of people about it. First in the joke haha way, then more tenaciously. The more I thought about it and spoke about it, the more serious it became.

And then I stopped by the dorm on my way to Luzhniki [the venue] to get my camera.

Movement IV - Waltz

Wally Benjamin thinks of history as the Angelus Novus, this picture by Klee that you can google quickly if you feel the need. A lot of people use that quote, though, so it’s already become a cliché among people who read historical texts. …No one reading this blog, that means…

So I could quote Benjamin and you might think ‘Oh that’s interesting’ or you might just think it’s me being typical [which would be totally legit and an honest assessment of the situation], but this would not make me a happy duckling. Because I have read those historical texts.

Instead, I want to think of history/memory in a different light. Picture this: Cinderella’s sprinting away from the ball, and one of her glass slippers falls from her foot. Everyone knows this, and everyone knows the ending of the story, how the gallant Prince searched all the town over for the lovely and lucky maiden whose foot would find its perfect fit in the glass slipper, how Cinderella produced the match when the first had shattered.

What no one remembers is that a pearl necklace Cinderella was wearing also slipped off as she sprinted away, as the clock struck the hour, as the faeries cavorted in the darkness. The necklace slipped off her neck, and shattered upon the ground, and its pearls scattered every which way.

Looking upon a memory is like finding one of the pearls from Cinderella’s necklace. It’s beautiful, in its own way, and we can appreciate it for what it is. But we can only guess at the way it looked on Cinderella, as part of the ensemble the Fairy Godmother made for her that night. And because the memory can’t be purely contextualized, and because it’s not even perfect as a text – maybe part of the surface chipped, or maybe we aren’t holding it precisely the right way - we can’t recreate even that one pearl/memory. The kind of nostalgia and meditative mourning that arises is, in my mind, beautiful and healthy. Not so for the ugly nostalgia Svetlana Boym describes.

Take today’s ROD’s as a recap of what you’ll need for tomorrow, when the story continues. :D


vnimatel’nost’ - paying attention
zhelanie - wish, desire
Ia soshol s uma. - I went crazy.
pamiat’ - memory


Justin said...


ummm... that's not a song or anything... none that I know anyway... it's not stuck in my head now, that's for damn sure.

Stacey said...

No one who reads this blog reads historical texts?!??!

Fine, I'll just go be no one in the corner now. ;)

Sasha said...

I really like this use of Cinderella. And not just because when i was a little boy i used to dress up as her (with a skirt, a big pearl necklace, no shirt, no shoes). Wow, too much information.

Anyways, I like it because it suggests that there are alternate ways of remembering a hiSTORY, different from the canonized versions everyone knows.

Would a real-life example of your cinderella-pearl be for you to tell me the "story" of the Moscow's history not through its epic battles and political leaders but through the buildings that have been destroyed and the figures that have been forgotten? Knowing that behind these forgotten things there is not only "beautiful meditative mourning" but a secret, waiting to be illuminated?

word verification: ancom

Andrew said...

Justin: It's ok, we all know TATU. You can admit to it.

Stacey & Sasha: My apologies for ignoring your presence. Of course you know those texts. I just don't like qualifying my radical statements and arguments. :)

Sasha: As you surely know, that is precisely one of the questions tackled in the hi(story) departments of the world in this day and age. WHOSE story is worth being told? How can everyone's/anyone's story be told fairly, and how can everything/anything be included without diluting historical texts until they're nothing but a text of poorly connected anecdotes and annexes? Can only members of a subgroup represent that group's agenda or historical representation?

If I had my little girl journal I'd whip out a quote I love, but it's at home. Stacey could probably find it - it's from the Megill text in her personal library - but in not so many words, the quote goes like this: "The good historian is the one who never thinks she knows The Answer, but is always questioning. Even if it's in regard to a topic she has already studied in earnest."

Stacey said...

I will do my best to find it, good sir. :)

Andrew said...

I found it from my little girl journal:
From Megill:

“A true historian,- one who is faithful to the tradition of history- is happy to leave her mind suspended between conflicting attitudes or claims. It is not the historian’s task to articulate a single unequivocal position, let alone a single consistent theory, concerning the world as it is.”
-Allan Megill