Rights sold: Russia - ARSIS BOOKS

The volume shows us the author as a philosopher of Russian geopolitics. Its nine essays develop a unified rationale for Russia’s fate from the Time of Troubles to the death of Stalin, driven largely by an internal, eschatological dynamic. Exemplary is an essay from 2000, “Capital and Province”, on the capital (the seat of Power) versus the provinces (home of the people) as two conceptual modes. Power identifies with heaven and ravages the earth even while constantly expanding over it, while the provinces align with the soil, hover over it, nurture it—and neither is much interested in the other except instrumentally, each side fearing the other with “areciprocal terror, persecution mania and mutual flight”.

Other entries range from hardcore history to opinion pieces: on Ivan IV’s oprichnina; on Saint George the Dragon-Slayer; a history of absolute power in Russia titled; several pages of political insights under the title “Grandfather’s Jottings”; a savage meditation “On the Past of thePresent and Future” that addresses our self-serving need for a cleansed history; a discussion of the “Conflict of Civilizations” (Christian and Islam) and the refugee crisis; and two brilliant essays that peak on Andrei Platonov but cover far more philosophical territory.

The “Temptation” of the book’s title is an attitude toward time. For a people of the End, revolution means the wait is over. Time’s slow, incremental passing can at last be short-circuited, permitting a leap out, or up. Clarity and simplicity reign in moments of revolutionary ardor. But paradoxically, as time speeds up and our surroundings stay the same (or degenerate), human agents slow down or stop altogether, leaving us with the dreamy ineffectual subjects of Chevengur, whose revolutionary slogans lack all real-world referents. Sharov notes in his preface to this collection: “with salvific regularity, whenever my major task [novel-writing] hit adead end, history would suddenly come to my aid”.

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