So after a fortnight of planning, getting the equipment, interviewing, and editing, the project’s first salvo went online yesterday with an interview with J. Arch Getty on his book Ezhov: The Rise of Stalin’s Iron Fist.
I think readers of SRB will enjoy it and the interviews I have planned for the future.
Subscribe via Itunes.
You Might also like
- By Sean — 4 years ago
German Chancellor Angela Merkel famously said that President Vladimir Putin lives ‘in another world.’ Putin was delusional, out of touch with reality, and perhaps even crazy. Some observers have since argued that Putin believes his own propaganda. But to think that Putin is delusional or even crazy is more a projection of our assumptions, our fears and our world onto Putin. In fact, argue Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy in their newly-expanded portrait Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, Putin sees the world fundamentally different than his American and European counterparts. Putin’s world is a combination of the lineages of Russian history and culture, and his personal experiences, and the contexts that have shaped them. These provide the circumstances for Putin’s motivations and actions. Figuring out what drives Putin to act the way he does is essential, Hill and Gaddy insist, because to not do so will lead to gross miscalculations on how to confront him.
Who is Vladimir Putin? It is a question often posed, perhaps too often, in numerous books and articles. Uncovering the Putin mystery has become more acute since the crisis in Ukraine, when to many, Putin has become erratic, unpredictable, and dangerous. There are enough Putin books to form their own academic niche, Putinology. In most of these texts, Putin always plays the villain, a vile, corrupt, and power-hungry figure who seeks to expand and maintain his singular grip on power, to restore the Russian empire and even the Soviet Union. In these renditions, Putin appears as a caricature of a super villain, an image, one suspects, Putin secretly enjoys.
Mr. Putin fits uneasily within this canon. Putin is the singular focus, and his life, world view, and actions epitomise the system as a whole. What is refreshing about the narrative is that it lacks the gory details of the ‘Putin regime.’ Moral pontifications and condemnations are absent. Also missing are retellings of already well-worn information about the various conspiracies involving Putin and other drumbeats of authoritarianism. Other Putin biographers have done this service. In addition, many of these episodes in the Putin narrative speak more to our concerns than uncovering Putin’s motivations. When Hill and Gaddy address scandals involving Putin, like the infamous food scandal in St Petersburg in 1992, they try to figure out what Putin learned from these events, and how they influenced his future perceptions and actions. It’s an invitation into Putin’s world.
Still, Putin is a hard nut to crack hence all the speculation about his biography. The information we have about his early life, time in the KGB, as an agent in Dresden, Germany, his days in St Petersburg in the 1990s, and his improbable, yet quick, rise to power, has been tightly packaged. As are his personal habits, public appearances, and publicity stunts. Putin and his team are masters of the image successfully turning the brand Vladimir Putin into a construct where the spectator fills the content. Putin can be anyone and no one: a KGB agent, a free marketeer, a populist, a nationalist, a muzhik [regular guy], and never really be any of these. To pin Putin with one identity only evokes a slew of contradictory identities. Hill and Gaddy liken him to the British cartoon favourite Mr Benn who dons one character after another or as Masha Gessen titled her anti-Putin screed, he’s the man without a face.
Yet these are the texts biographers have to work with, replete with their many narratives and meta-narratives. To make matters even more difficult, much of the Putinist texts are not constructed to represent the truth or reality. They are packaged to illicit a response with which Putin analyses and judges. The key to understanding Putin is to recognise how he uses information to tell him who we think he is and how that communicates who we are, what we want, and what our interests are. For Putin, the goal is to not to represent himself, but to be represented. Putin is the ‘ultimate international political performance artist.’ I would call him the ultimate postmodernist.
Read the whole review here.
- By Sean — 13 years ago
W. Shedd at Accidental Russophile has “tagged” me. So let me indulge him and whoever else is interested.
Four jobs I’ve had:
- University Instructor
- Forklift Driver
- Record Store clerk
Four movies I can watch over and over:
- The Matrix
- Pulp Fiction
- Empire Strikes Back
Four places I’ve lived:
- Foster City, California
- La Verne, California
- Los Angeles, California
- Moscow, Russia
Four TV shows I like (ugh, I hate most TV):
- The Sopranos
- Six Feet Under
- Twin Peaks
Four places I’ve vacationed:
- Nurnberg, Germany
- San Juan, Puerto Rico
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Vegas Baby!
Four of my favorite dishes:
- In n’ Out Burger
Four sites I visit daily:
Four Books I’ve Read This Year:
- Igal Halfin, Terror in My Soul.
- Peter Holquist, Making War, Forging Revolution.
- David Hoffmann, Stalinist Values.
- Shelia Fitzpatrick, Tear Off the Masks.
What can I say? I’m writing a fucking dissertation.
Four bloggers I’m tagging:
- By Sean — 13 years ago
On the right side of this page you will find a “Currently Reading” section. The only reason why I mention this is because of the current book that is displayed, Georgi Derluguian’s Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus: A World Systems Biography. I’m sixty pages into it and I find it absolutely fascinating. I became aware of it a few weeks ago when Derluguian spoke at the colloquium “Russia: Failed Transition?” put on by UCLA’s Center for Social Theory and Comparative History. I was skeptical at first because of the propensity for any talk that has the words “Russia” and “transition” tend to simply suck. But the Center tends not to feature any dimwits. A glance at their colloquium themes over the last several years shows that they bring in some of the best intellectuals on the planet. Yet you never know and I walked into Derluguian’s talk with my standard skepticism. Was I wrong.
Derluguian’s talk was lively, informative, funny, and the guy did it without any notes. It was one of those rare academic talks where you don’t sit there hoping the speaker will shut up and do it quick. I could have listened to him forever.
Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus touches on too many issues to mention here. When I am done with it I hope to write a review for this blog. Essentially, the study aims “to provide a plausible explanation as to why in some regions, mainly in the Caucasus, the catastrophic end of Soviet rule resulted in ethnic conflicts and the emergence of weak states that are thoroughly corrupt, not to say criminalized. The argument can then be extended to explain why in some places, predominantly but not exclusively in Chechnya, state structures withered away almost completely to be replaced by phenomena variously described as mafia, religious fundamentalism, warlord armies, and international terrorism” (8). He does this through the life of one Musa Shanib (russified name Yuri Muhammedovich Shabinov), who was a 1968 “New Left rebel” in Kabardino-Balkaria, professor, nationalist leader, and admirer of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. Deluguian discovered the last fact in a rather amusing way:
We were already five hours and two dozen toasts into the feast when, trying to ask another question, I blurted out the words “cultural field.” Shanibov’s reaction was astonishing. He reached across the table to hug me: “Our dear guest! My Armenian brother! Now I see that you are not a spy—forgive our confusion, but you seemed to know too much about local affairs, and my security [his bodyguard was a big bearded Wahhabi–Sean] could not figure out whether you worked for the CIA because you came from America, or for the Russian FSB because you and your companion are from Russia. But now I clearly recognize in you a genuine sociologist, for you are knowledgeable about Pierre Bourdieu!” (So the long drinking session was a charade intended to sound me out for possible hidden intentions.)
I fell into my seat: “And YOU?”
“Me!?” exclaimed Shanibov. “But of course! Bourdieu’s Nachala [the 1994 Russian translation of Choses Dites] became the second most important book in my life after the Holy Quran. I studied it in my hospital bed when I was recovering from a wound received in Abkhazia.”
Brilliant. To get a taste of Derlugian’s work, I recommend reading this interview. If you have access to the New Left Review, you can read a review of Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus in the March-April 2006 issue.