New books about bad times – the weekend – Kommersant

New books about bad times – the weekend – Kommersant

Lenore Goralek “The name of such-and-such”

Publishing house UFO

Lenore Goralic’s new novel is based on true events. In October 1941, at the time of the German attack on Moscow, the evacuation of the Alekseev Psychiatric Hospital (also known as Kashchenko) began. About 100 doctors and nurses and about 500 patients – most of them the most serious (the rest were released before that) – went from Moscow, first to Ryazan (they were not accepted there), then to Gorky (where history repeated itself), from there to Kazan, where The trip is finally over. Guralik tells this story based on the testimonies of the participants, and the documentary layer in the book is well felt, but it is not very similar to the real-life novel The Name So-and-so. From the first pages, oddities permeate the narrative: doctors tell their fortunes through electric shock hallucinations, the barge being evacuated turns out to be a huge lizard, characters eat the remains of a gingerbread house, a two-headed werewolf that looks like a cat, and so on. The universe of Goralikov’s novel is reminiscent of the prose of Bieberstein and the late Sorokin, but there is no vulgar play of postmodernism here. The point of this fantasy is quite different: to find a language for a kind of double catastrophe. On the one hand, the nightmare of history: war, Nazism, Stalinism. On the other hand – insanity, everyone has their own, even those who look normal. In this system of broken mirrors, an image of the apocalypse appears, and it turns out that a brilliant, as if a little game, a compelling way to fix it.

Florian Elise Love in the Age of Hate. The facts of feeling. 1929-1939″

Publishing house Ad Marginem Press
Translation Vitaly Serov

German critic and writer Florian Elise’s latest book is modeled after his 1913 bestseller. The Summer of the Whole Century. At its core, “Love in the Age of Hate” is a sequel: many of the heroes of the hit Illies return a little older, but have not lost their enthusiasm, appearing to us again on the eve of the disaster. The story “Summer” was covered in the year before World War I, and it takes a decade to make a new book before the second. The great history, politics, economics and struggle once again remain in the shadows. Instead, love shines brightly. The love of almost all geniuses of the twentieth century. Albert Einstein, Marlene Dietrich, Cole Porter, Pablo Picasso, Vladimir Nabokov, Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Francis Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, dozens and dozens of characters. They all fall in love, suffer jealousy, rush from one lover to another, remain forever faithful, sing and curse the things of their passion, sometimes as if they are reluctantly distracted by other things and hardly noticing that the world is bursting at the seams. In a way more candid than in the summer, Illies turns 20th-century intellectual history into a soap opera montage. Reading is a bit awkward, but it’s definitely addictive.

Ray Monk Robert Oppenheimer. Life in the Center

Publishing house “Delo”
Translation Anna Vasilieva

Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb” is a figure who does not occupy the last place in the disastrous history of the twentieth century. Somewhat unexpectedly, his most detailed biography was created by the British historian of philosophy Ray Monk, author of the colossal biographies of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell (the first was published in Russian a few years ago). There were no biographies of Oppenheimer when Munk took up his book, but during his work there were four of them. The problem is that all of Monk’s colleagues focus on the political and personal career of the great physicist, and pay much less attention to science itself. On the other hand, the monk bravely plunges the non-specialist into the jungle of theoretical physics and makes it his mission to connect Oppenheimer’s character with his research. The title metaphor “Life in the Center” plays an important role here. Oppenheimer researched mesons, trying to find out the previously inaccessible center of the atom, and wrote about black holes, trying to understand what happens in the center of the star during its explosion. In exactly the same way he aspired to be at the heart of modern science, at the center of political life, and his very life was an explosion: a bundle of energy that forced him to do everything possible – from left-wing activism to action. For the army and from alchemy to Sanskrit, energy, admiration, but often the destruction of others.

Adam Roberts “That’s It”

Publishing house An individual
Translation Sergey Avonin and Violetta Boyer

Even those seemingly calm times are imbued with a sense of approaching disaster, perhaps distant, but inevitable. Knowing death, people always wait for the end not only of their lives, but the end of the whole world. Narratives about the last point of the story begin with the story itself. Modern Western culture, both mass and elitist, is no exception in this sense. Adam Roberts’ book is a compact guide to the most popular apocalypse today. Roberts is a science fiction writer who has himself written several apocalyptic novels. Here he moves from “practice” to theory, but science fiction in its various versions remains the main source of his analysis. The wrath of the gods, the rebellion of technology, the zombie invasion, climate disasters, the cosmic end of the universe, and of course, epidemics (the book was successfully published in the midst of the coronavirus). Roberts analyzes the constants of these basic myths and tries to find out what they give a person, how they bother him and how they calm him down. This is not to say that this is all a particularly deep study. Sometimes Roberts’ views on religion, politics, psychology, and science are disturbingly naive. But his book is written in a racy and cunning style, and there’s always healing potential in laughing on the edge.

Giorgio Agamben “Where did we come from? The epidemic is politics”

Publishing house noocracy
Translation Vyacheslav Danilov

At the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, Giorgio Agamben, one of the most important contemporary European philosophers, took a somewhat paradoxical position, vehemently opposing quarantine measures and declaring the epidemic an imaginary threat – a means of state manipulation to destroy civil liberties. In the next two years, Agamben would perhaps become the most prominent public thinker and debunker of security measures in the age of Corona. This creates a rift between the thinker and most of his colleagues, and Agamben himself unexpectedly turns into a kind of scandalous star (a strange nuance: the philosopher is under 80, and is in the so-called risk group, which makes his struggles even more heroic). In the group “Where did we come from?” He collected his articles and interviews about the pandemic. According to Agamben, the coronavirus is not a biological catastrophe, but a biopolitical one. The main source of danger is not the virus, but the force. The threat of disease replaces the terrorist threat and becomes a perfect pretext for the state to declare a permanent state of emergency, to impose complete control over the population, and to deprive the people – with their full consent – of all that is at the heart of their politics, intellectual and spiritual life and love – an opportunity to be together. Ultimately, the ideology of “social distancing” destroys the ability to see the other person as a neighbour. The other becomes a biological threat, and you become a trembling, stray body.


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