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The irresistibility of book penning for the dictator
In the early years of this 20thury, Daniel Kalder lived in Moscow when he saw a brobdingnagic script when he turned on his TV. The front lid had the gold imprinted portrait of a diktator. When Kalder traveled to Turkmenistan in 2006, the self-proclaimed Turkmenbashi (father of all Turkmens) was no more.
But the mechanics of the giant ledger, which opened every single evening to show a different two-page page of his thoughts, had collapsed, but the ledger still appeared, illuminated, above the capitol, "ominous and immeasurable and extremely kitschy". Symbolic of the vainness of man's hypocrisy to Ozymandias' tribal limbs, it has prompted Kalder to investigate the strange fact that tyrants from Lenin to Kim Jong-il, who are not satisfied with total control over the life of their nation, have sought, as Stalin put it, to be "engineers of souls" too, and - in search of this subject - have been writing some very long and very boring textbooks.
Kalder has his own lively and antique-funbook. "dizzy ", "boring", "completely bland", "aggressively stupid", "obscure", "repetitive and violent", "dizzyingly incompetent", "red pap", "sub-fascist waffle", "virulently terrible", "the most terrible textbooks of all time". He writes that the deserters and serial killers he writes about are "enemies of laughter".
The dictator literature is the result of many hard-slog researches. Kalder's looks - at Borges, Jertullian, Huxley - point to a demanding read. Like to think that literacy makes us better human beings. In 1989, when Václav Havel came to Czechoslovakia, I remember how much was said that this was a good thing, not only because of Havel's brave resistance to repression, but also because he was a novelist, and therefore - certainly - sapient.
I have since been writing about Gabriele d'Annunzio, the writer of many wonderful poems and some wonderful fiction, who was a bloody nationalistic war-monger, and I am no longer so sure that alphabetization makes the whole wide globe a better place. Calder is aware of that. It'?s not safe. In 1889, he wrote, the mystery of whether or not a man who could have foreseen the present was to have killed Hitler's baby in his stroller.
Suffice it to say that a dictator makes a book: a book makes a dictator. Lenin was profoundly moved by one of his own works, many of which had the same name. It was Lenin who transformed the way the world was, but he had been in a chair for years before.
When he ruled a huge realm, he still found a lot of writing to do. Calder sees him as a drugs trafficker of the spirit. He was addicted early on, but before he found Lenin's work, he was already in great demand on Ninety-Three, Victor Hugo's novel about the French revolutionary terror of 1793.
Another of his favorites, as a young man, was a famous Georgian novel about a fine outlaw, Alexander Kazbegi's The Patricide, described by Kalder as "a powerful romantical thread of bloody feud, self-judgment and the forced usurpation of other people's possessions". It had been made out of textbooks, and it made it part of his life's work to make the Soviet Union by the same means.
And of course Stalin would write or write for him a bookcase full of his own. To think that someone in charge of as much carnage as Stalin cannot possibly be a skilled author would be comforting for sensible writers, but Kalder must commend his "ordered, structured" work.
Calder takes a brief note as he reads Mussolini's My Diary at his dinner and reads a paragraph again asking himself: "Wait, was that.... good? An avid self-taught, Mussolini did what all future authors should do - he dived into classical text writing as a lone teenager. 2.
Calder compares Hitler's novel with David Copperfield (both are "much too long"). He wrote that the writer is "never one to make a point without killing him and then drag the body through the muds for several strenuous miles". Every topic of Kalder represents a different methodical issue. What do you say about a diktator who is too infamous or too arcane, too crazy to behave extremely or too mathful?
Mao's case is difficult because his entire lifetime was far too long and turbulent to blend into a short biographical-literary-critical essays. Kalder reasonably uses list. It gives us a time line from Mao's carreer to the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. It tells the next stage of the history by assessing Mao's script.
" Nance wasn't Mao's strong suit. Another, from 1930, is titled "Oppose Book Worship! Until 1956, read groups for the research of Mao's literature grew throughout China. The Red Garden Banner with the inscription "I dear Chairman Mao's Books Best of All" waved ten years later, and the best of the best was the Little Red Book.
It'?s rare for Mao to have been out of China. Calder points out that Mao's special kind of despotism and his literature originated from China. This Little Red Book followed a tradition named the yula, whose predecessors date back to Confucius and his analects. First of the Ming Emperor had made a similar collection of mottos and taglines and decrees that every Ming Emperor must have a copy in China.
Under Mao's China, as in the Ming period, a spelled term was not only the physical equivalence of a linguistic entity. Mao's mass print and publication of words arrived at humans, who then turned them back into artifacts. Placards of Maos thickly clad partitions. The idea of literacy was an incentive for inventive and varied thinking.
Calder conjures up a nightmarish image of an whole populace obsessed with the presidential triloquist whose thought "grabbed his tongues and tore his limbs", while the humans talked to each other only in the words of Mao. After dealing with his five big donkeys, Kalder goes back to "little demons", smaller bullies from Mongolia to Haiti, from Libya to Cuba, from North Korea back to Russia.
One of the other essay feels superficial - one damn diktator after another. A decline in the storytelling impulse, which is not so much a failure of Kalder's energies - his prop remain outrageously vituperatively until the end - as a mirror image of the way in which the 1917 revolutionist zeal was dispelled in a hundred years of unsuccessful experimentation.
All the eagerness that is going on in our modern life is outside of Kalder's plan. About people whose novels have reached the state of a sacred letter, he writes: the zealots now threaten to make it peaceful in the name of God's own writings, which he silences.