For the sake of making Russia legible to foreign eyes, one might be lulled into lazily attributing the country’s systemic idiosyncrasies, abuses, and dysfunction to the tremors of a universal, mystical “Russian Soul.” But does such a thing really exist? Did it ever? Is it the only explanation for what makes Russians Russian? For this crop of authors, the answer is nyet.
For Dmitry Kiselyov, the director of Russia’s massive new state media corporation—created in December to swallow up state media entities that show any hint of autonomy—laws are not enough. He’s concerned about organ donors, the possibility of a queer heart beating in a straight body.
When homosexuals die, he says, ‘their hearts should be burned.’
There are three faces of homophobia in Russia: that of the state, that of the Orthodox Church, that of the fringe. And yet they’re one—a kind of Trinity. The state passes laws; the church blesses them; the fringe puts them into action. The state is the mind of hate, the church, now, its heart; the fringe is made up of its many hands. Some use the courts; some use fists.
When terrible things happen in a Chekhov story, it isn’t because one of the characters is a bad seed. It is often because of the characters’ inability to extend to each other the kind of compassion that would force them outside of their own concerns.
With a little help from Chekhov, perhaps 2014 can be the year that we all show a little generosity.
"My understanding of Russian literature and its history was shaken up by Muireann Maguire’s Stalin’s Ghosts: Gothic Themes in Early Soviet Literature; I had never given a thought to that side of Soviet literature, and I doubt many people have, but she convinced me that (as she puts it) ‘The centrality of the Gothic-fantastic to Russian fiction is almost impossible to exaggerate.’” Stephen Dodson kicks off A Year in Reading.