How Life Writes the Book: Real Socialism and Socialist Realism in Stalin's Russia

How Life Writes the Book: Real Socialism and Socialist Realism in Stalin's Russia

How Life Writes the Book: Real Socialism and Socialist Realism in Stalin's Russia

How Life Writes the Book: Real Socialism and Socialist Realism in Stalin's Russia


'A gripping, unsettling, and highly original book that turns the making of a Soviet socialist-realist classic--Azhaev's Far from Moscow--into a detective story, and sheds as strange and ambiguous a light on the Stalin era, from gulag to Writers? Union, as one could hope for. Lahusen is a disarmingly low-key scholarly virtuoso who performs simultaneously as an archive-based historian, an interpreter of texts (including Azhaev's own self-organized archive), and a gently relentless biographer whose stalking of his prey is reminiscent of Nabokov. The final chilling paragraph typically economical and understated, is a reminder that the author/investigator, too, is a collaborator in the multiple reworkings of Azhaev's text, and of his life, that How Life Writes the Book has so finely analyzed.'--Sheila Fitzpatrick, University of Chicago ?This is a wonderfully original work: a history of a book, a literary analysis of an age, a montage of a life. Lahusen writes with a postmodern sensibility but without the postmodernist jargon.'--Yuri Slezkine, University of California, Berkeley ?Thomas Lahusen has written an imaginative and archivally grounded book that presents the most fascinating picture to date of the literary process that produced canonical works of Socialist Realism and the people who wrote them. How Life Writes the Book is alternatingly chilling and funny as it demonstrates the interpenetration of literary institutions, massive construction projects and the Soviet system of prison camps and slave labor. With this study, as with his earlier Intimacy and Terror, Lahusen continues his own project of revolutionizing our understanding of the Soviet subject and Soviet subjectivity.'--Eric Naiman, University of California, Berkeley ?Lahusen's case study marks a new genre of inquiry into the very nature of socialist realism, a genre which became possible after archives and memory in Russia regained their voice. It shows how life is transformed into Soviet myth.'--Hans G'nther, editor of The Culture of the Stalin Period


The forest warden guarded his forest out of love for science, and at this hour he sat before some ancient books. He was searching the past for some likeness to Soviet times, so as to discover the further torturous fate of the Revolution and to find some way of saving his family.

His father, also a forest watchman, had left him a library of cheap books, all by the unread, the forgotten, the very least of authors. He used to tell his son that life's decisive truths exist secretly in abandoned books.

The forest warden's father compared bad books to stillborn children who had perished in their mother's womb from the lack of correspondence between their own excessively tender bodies and the coarseness of the world, which penetrated even a mother's womb.

"If only ten of those children could stay whole, they would make man a triumphant and exalted being," the father bequeathed to his son. "But instead the mind gives birth to all that is dull and the heart to that which is least feeling, to suffer in the sharp air of nature and the battle for raw food."

Now, the forest warden was reading a work by Nikolai Arsakov, printed in 1868. The work was called Second-Rate People, and the warden rummaged through the boredom of its dry words for that which he needed. The warden held that there are no senseless or boring books if only the reader will seek the meaning of life in them attentively. Boring books come from boring readers, for it is the reader's searching melancholy which works in books, and not the author's skill.

-- Andrei Platonov, Chevengur . . .

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