Category Archives: Uncategorized

Berlin, city of archives

In a Berlin Wunderkammer:-

Helen Finch

Museum of Industrial Objects

Berlin archives everything

I travelled from the German Literary Archive in Marbach to the archives of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin two weeks ago, making it an August buried in carbon copies, contracts with amendments scrawled on them, occasionally angry letters, random bills and ominous pronouncements from the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit. Archival work is not what I feel trained to do; I started my life in books as a close reader of texts, and that’s still where I feel my skills lie. For Sebald’s Bachelors, I moved beyond text to theory, but for this next project, I am moving beyond text to paratexts and into the dark terrain of biography: trawling through reams of correspondence to try and discover the origins and careers of individual texts.
Every author’s archive is different; Sebald’s is notoriously neatly curated, others are completely exhaustive, others thin and reticent, others random, with…

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A beautiful Poem by Georg Heym

Entblättertem AbendrotGeorg Heym 1887-1912

Meine Seele ist eine Schlange,
Die ist schon lange tot,
Nur manchmal in Herbstesmorgen,
Entblättertem Abendrot
Wachse ich steil aus dem Fenster,
Wo fallende Sterne sind,
Über den Blumen und Kressen
Meine Stirne spiegelt
Im stöhnenden Nächte-Wind.

More at

Entblättertem Abendrot2

Russian Stories by Francesc Serés -A Review

imagesRP2This brilliant and varied collection of short stories is the product of a current academic interest in cross-cultural translation. Francisco Guillen Serés is a Catalan professor of Art History from Aragon. A Russophile, he has travelled widely to collect stories from those writing during the past hundred years of Russian history. These have been translated into Catalan and then into English. These unusual and delightful stories, some 21 of them written by 5 writers read fluently and engagingly. They form an informative tapestry of Soviet and post-Soviet life, moving back in time with the older, earlier writers like Bergchenko, who died in the siege of Stalingrad, at the end.  Ranging over mythic and symbolic tales to realistic portrayals of personal relationships; love Trysts in St Petersberg, ferocious bears in the deep heart of the Taiga to the perils of becoming lost in continuous orbit in space. All aspects are impressively recounted.


In the preface Russian translator, Anastasia Maximova, sets the changing scene in an industrial suburb where she grew up in the 1990s. The esplanade in front of steel blast furnaces is littered with defunct statues of Stalin and Lenin about to be reprocessed. Unforgettable, is her description of the trucked in lines of heads made from incredibly tough alloys. These are so durable that a special technique must be evolved such that the heads must be drilled with holes, and then buried below ground where inserted explosive charges are necessary to blow them apart. Throughout these stories, such descriptions also represent hazardous transitions in Russian society, the effects on individuals are sometimes stultifying, often painful but also meliorated and transformed by generosity, friendship and kindness.

The first two authors, both of whom are women, born in 1967 and 1949 respectively, deal with personal issues against the backdrop of economic failure and authoritarian misrule. In Low Cost Life, Low Cost Love, Ola Yevgueniyeva writes of the sad and drab lives of the ground staff hostesses on the Russian airline, SAS outside St Petersburg. There is a feeling of being unable to attain the attractive standards of the more fortunate western European crews. Even the bus transport to the airfield has hard wooden benches and the roads contain bumps and potholes. This disappointed sadness creeps into relationships with men; low self-esteem leading to lowered expectation of their dates. A sorrowful but somehow poetic realism penetrates this writer’s stories. She writes too of resurgent nobility in St Petersburg’s great houses by the Neva which have survived the revolution, war and famine. In “The Russian Doll’s House” the ardent but impoverished Juri must wait for years distanced from the aristocratic and beautiful Mia. She must marry an oafish industrialist in accordance with her family’s demands. The story is written in a spell bounding, elegant style that brings out the tragedy of restricted, almost unrequited love.51DKTx6AjlL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_

These stories have all been carefully chosen and reminiscent of the language and tradition in which Chekhov and Gorky once wrote. Indeed the book is dedicated to Mikhail Bulgakov. There are tragic-comic stories about the possibility that Elvis might have sung in Red Square, of the last lonely hours of an orbiting spaceman suffering the consequences of yet another system failure. Here then is a parable of a superpower in a state of freefall. The terrible ecological disasters of the Aral Sea and Chernobyl are treated. The latter portraying the return of an old, yet determined, couple to the dangers of an irradiated countryside and how their dutiful daughter is torn between fulfilling their wishes and what she thinks is their imminent demise.

downloadFrancesc SerésAs the tales pass backwards along the brutal path of Soviet history, misplaced idealism and naivety are revealed. “The Russian Road ”  long, hot and dusty finds the exhausted revolutionary Akaki returning the many versts to his home village. When he arrives he finds that among the peasants in the countryside little if anything has changed. His attempts to persuade folk there that in exchange for their potatoes they will receive a transforming new culture are met with astonished disbelief. Curious, thought-provoking and allegorical, Volkov’s “The War against the Voromians” tells of a peculiar area where there is a gravitational field anomaly. The inhabitants are subject to a corresponding increase in weight, have thicker necks and an affection for their homeland. They sadly become subject to state sponsored research and suspicion by the authorities. Population dispersal is forced upon these unfortunate Voromians, victims of external manipulation that seems to prevail in so many of  these accounts.

Kafka once wrote, “A book should become an axe for the frozen sea within us.” This collection, carefully selected, fulfils such a criterion. They have the transformative edge of original writing.

Further details at

Totally Gloomy

Been meaning to get around to reading this interesting book:-


  • Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain:

    The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956


                Anne Applebaum’s “Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956,” sheds much light on a dark period, when the brutal Nazi occupation ended in Eastern Europe, only to be replaced by slightly less brutal communist rule.  Although Applebaum  covers the whole of Eastern Europe – the so-called “Eastern block,” those countries outside the Soviet Union that became communist – she concentrates during this 12-year period on Poland, Hungary and East Germany, which she has chosen “not because they were similar but because they were so different” (p.xxxii).  There are also occasional references to Czechoslovakia, Tito’s Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria and Romania.  Despite differences between countries, Applebaum highlights striking similarities among them and thereby provides an incisive overview of the gloomy and oppressive totalitarianism that prevailed across Eastern Europe during the period she covers. 

                Writing for general readers and…

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Concrete, by Thomas Bernhard

Must get around to reading this:-

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

ConcreteThomas Bernhard (1931-1989) has no less than six entries in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006 edition), and now that I’ve read Concrete (1982) I am certainly going to read the others: Correction,  Extinction, Old Masters , Wittgenstein’s Nephew and Yes.   From what I read of his profile at Wikipedia the author is widely considered to be one of the most important German-speaking authors of the postwar era but was Austria’s Bad Boy, continually writing novels and plays that were hyper-critical of Austria and its sacred cows.  But the picture I have of this author from a guest post by Andrej Nicoladis at Winston’s Dad is entirely different:

Bernhard writes about society in collapse: society rotten with dishonesty, corruption and deep-rooted lies. … The narrator of the story is caught up in a fundamental battle with that society … [but eventually realises that] his conflict with society…

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Crying Over Spilt Rilke

If you like books that are written in a very foreign tongue;-

The Narratician

“You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

I recently came across a used copy of Letters to a Young Poet, which I’ve been meaning to read for a long time now. As I was leafing through it in the book store, I noticed that there was…

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Memories of St Ives

Trip outHere is a photograph from about 1956 or thereabouts. There are only a few local telephones and so Crimson Tours are St Ives 45. This is taken right opposite the slipway just beside what was Hart’s ice-cream parlour and Doble’s Wall. The ladies are clearly waiting to go out on a trip in a charabanc -no longer just a “carriage with wooden benches” but a small motor coach. They are probably a chapel group heading off maybe as far away as Truro. Everyone is clearly looking forward to the prospect including the gentleman side on to the camera. Television is evolving as a flickering bluish device to be seen on small screens in Hollow’s window and too expensive for most people. The coach will actually come down to downalong which is a thriving community about to excercise some folk with the challenge of providing “Bed and Breakfast.

A year or two later day-dreaming on Smeaton’s Pier I was rather suddenly surprised by the arrival from the Bay of troops, probably Marines in DUCKS .Duck Invasion 2

These were approaching the harbour and as the first vessel rounded the end of the pier I managed to get a closer photograph. Just what they were actually doing, I never discovered.

Duck Invasion 1

Commandos, however, were often to be seen in the district-they trained at Commando Ridge on the North Coast near St Just-  where they trained during the War. The next time that service personnel were in evidence was after the Torrey Canyon Disaster.

It is only in the last few years I learned more of the various occupations of the town and incursions into the Bay:- The Parliamentry Army,a Slave Ship, The Duke of Monmouth, The Hessians of to the American War of Indepence. Indeed, records from the St Ives Archive Centre furnish an encampment on the Island after a military parade. It was actually a recruiting rally for the DCLI, and they must have gone around the county. It was called Flag Day and took place on Whit Monday, 1899. The photograph is of the 2nd Battalion. Further information available from

St Ives Camp

Social Advertising in Stalinist Times

Jolly outdoor walks with the comrades!

Art of the Russias

Contrary to popular stereotype, the majority of advertising in Stalin’s USSR were associated not with party and ideological propaganda, but rather with what we might today call ‘social advertising’. If during Tsarist times, ‘education of the populace’ was a role of the church, in the Soviet Union, this role was taken by the state, and the extent of educational works were magnified manifold: it was necessary to create a consciousness in the ‘new man’, to form a new way of life, a new quotidian, and to eliminate illiteracy.

Many directions of social enlightenment were first begun in early Soviet period. For example, in 1930 already there were anti-smoking posters.

And the posters already look completely professional, not only in the artistic but also in the informational sphere. Below is another poster from 1930:

As far as I am concerned, we don’t have nearly enough of such posters as the wonderful…

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A few questions for… Danielle Spera

Interesting and positive developments in Vienna….


Danielle Spera was one of Austria’s most popular television personalities before becoming director of the Viennese Jewish Museum (JMW, Read here what Spera thinks about her very special farewell at national broadcaster ORF and if she misses working as anchorwoman.

What was your happiest moment being in charge at the Jewish Museum of Vienna – and what was the hardest?

Luckily there are so many happy moments and very few hard ones. I feel content whenever we are successfully opening a show, which always is a great teamwork. It is a wonderful experience to be able to work with a great group of curators, who support the new positioning of the museum now wholeheartedly. I also was very glad when we managed to get a budget to renovate the Jewish Museum’s main building, which was left to me in a devastating state – concerning the technical and logistical equipment…

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