Archive for February 27, 2023

Page Seventeen Goes Mad in Russia

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2023 by dcairns

Upon a paper attached to the narrative which follows, Doctor Hesselius has written a rather elaborate note, which he accompanies with a reference to his Essay on the strange subject which the Manuscript illuminates.

The reasons behind such strange and sinister invitations to Kaluga were becoming obvious. The intention was to set up a psychiatric examination not for the son but for the father – which is why they were not interested in seeing my wife. It was by now a notorious practice that persons who aroused the displeasure of the authorities without actually breaking the law could suddenly be made to undergo psychiatric examinations. It was usually done on the pretext of a routine check of fitness for military service and the victims were summoned to their local draft office for this purpose. This had recently happened to a friend of mine in Moscow. For a long time he had been feuding with the post office about the disappearance of registered letters he had sent abroad. After he had tried to serve a writ on them through the courts he was summoned by his draft board for a medical examination which turned out to be in fact psychiatric. There was also a certain case in which a person known for his dissident views was taken from the draft board straight to a mental hospital. General Petr Grigorenko and Ivan Yakhimovich, whose writings had been published abroad, are being held in mental hospitals. I also know of attempts to dismiss works by victims of Stalin’s terror about the forced labour camps as ‘psychopathological’. At several meetings to discuss ideological questions, it had been stated that a number of authors, because of the suffering they had experienced, had developed ‘obsessions’ with such themes.

Ivan turned out to be a character of this kind. And when I read Bogomolov’s story these things took hold of my imagination. However, that was as far as I could go with the author. The emotional texture of the story was alien to me. Events were related in a deliberately restrained style, almost in the tone of a report. I could not have transferred such a style to the screen, it would have been against my principles.

We crouched in our slit trench under the pink, fluttering leaves of the olives, and watched the fires come closer, and the night slowly passed. Then at four o’clock we learned that the Headquarters was going to be evacuated after all, and that we were not to be sacrificed. We started up our motor bikes, kept as close as we could to the armoured car that had brought the news, and by God’s mercy avoiding the panic-stricken directed from cover at anything that moved, reached the field with its rabble of shocked and demoralised soldiery — officers separated from their men, and men from their officers.

When the clatter, and then the shouts, came from the courtyard, the loom stopped abruptly, and with it the soft chatter from the women. Moravik came awake with a snort and a stare. My mother was sitting very straight, head lifted, listening. She had dropped her shuttle. I saw her eyes meet Moravik’s.

Some few years earlier Rex’s foolhardiness had landed him in a Soviet prison, and the elderly French exile had put aside his peaceful existence as art connoisseur and dilettante to search for him in Russia. Together they had learned the dangerous secret of ‘The Forbidden Territory’ and travelled many thousand versts pursued by the merciless agents of the OGPU.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to witness a materialization. That means you will see something appear in space that was not previously there. At first it will appear as a vaporous form, but finally it will be a solid body, which anyone present may feel and handle–and, for example, shake hands with. For this body will be in human shape. It will be a real man or woman–which, I can’t say–but a man or woman without known antecedents. If, however, you demand from me an explanation of this materialized form–where it comes from, whence the atoms and molecules composing its tissues are derived–I am unable to satisfy you. I am about to produce the phenomenon; if anyone can explain it to me afterward, I shall be very grateful. . . . That is all I have to say.”

Seven paragraphs from seven page seventeens from seven books purchased from Edinburgh’s secondhand bookshops. Images sourced from a Google search for “Russian outsider art.”

Carmilla by Sheridan LeFanu, from The Dracula Book of Great Vampire Stories edited by Leslie Shepard; A Question of Madness, by Zhores and Ray Medvedev; Sculpting in Time by Andrei Tarkovsky; Naples ’44 An Intelligence Officer in the Italian Labyrinth by Norman Lewis; The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart; The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley; A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay.