Archive for Stalin

another book on J.B.S. Haldane [review of a book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2020 by xi'an

As I noticed a NYT book review of a most recent book on J.B.S. Haldane, I realised several other books had already been written about him. From an early 1985 biography, “Haldane: the life and work of J.B.S. Haldane with special references to India” followed by a “2016 biographyPopularizing Science” along an  2009 edited book on some Haldane’s essays, “What I require from life“, all by Krishna R. Dronamraju to a 1969 biography with the cryptic title “J.B.S.“, by Richard Clarke, along with a sensational 2018 “Comrade Haldane Is Too Busy to Go on Holiday: The Genius Who Spied for Stalin” by Gavan Tredoux, depicting him as a spy for the Soviet Union during WW II. (The last author is working on a biography of Francis Galton, hopefully exonerating him of spying for the French! But a short text of him comparing Haldane and Darlington appears to support the later’s belief in racial differences in intelligence…) I also discovered that J.B.S. had written a children book, “Mr Friend Mr. Leaky“, illustrated by Quentin Blake, Roald Dahl’s illustrator. (Charlotte Franken Haldane, J.B.S.’s first wife, also wrote a considerable number of books.)

The NYT review is more a summary of Haldane’s life than an analysis of the book itself, hard as it is not to get mesmerised by the larger-than-life stature of J.B.S. It does not dwell very long on the time it took Haldane to break from the Communist Party for its adherence to the pseudo-science Lysenko (while his wife Charlotte had realised the repressive nature of the Soviet regime much earlier, which may have led to their divorce). While the review makes no mention at all of Haldane’s ideological move to the ISI in Kolkata, it concludes with “for all his failings, he was “deeply attractive during a time of shifting, murky moralities.”” [The double quotes being the review quoting the book!]

feu rouge

Posted in pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 8, 2020 by xi'an


Рабо́чий и колхо́зница

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , on May 26, 2011 by xi'an

My daughter’s art project for the finals of her secondary school last week was this statue The Worker and the Kolkhoz Woman by Vera Mukhina, Вера Игнатьевна Мухина. (The title in English sounds awkward and unbalanced against the woman, contrary to the Russian or the French versions, it somehow rightly reflects the secondary role allocated the woman in the sculpture composition… I also like the fact that in Russian Рабо́чий [Rabochiy] has the same Slavic root as robot!) While being a quite massive outcome of the official socialist realism school, hence a good illustration of the propaganda run by Stalin’s regime, and while its location at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair right in front of Albert Speer’s equally propagandist Nazi pavilion, made for an interesting prefiguration of the coming war, I find the choice completely inappropriate for an art project! Most of the comments my daughter made about this piece of work were either historical (the rise of Stalinist terror in USSR, the Moscow trials, the repression of the avant-garde schools like constructivism and suprematism from the 30’s, the parallel with Germany, and the opposition with the Spanish pavilion housing Picasso’s Guernica that was painted a few days prior to the fair, &tc.) or technical (this is the first welded sculpture using stainless steel of that size, the statue was raised in 11 days in Paris, the Nazis waited for the Soviet pavilion to be completed before raising theirs higher, &tc.), and not artistic, because in fine there is little beauty and much brutality in Mukhina’s work. Apart from obvious links with La Marseillaise and The Victory of Samothrace, The Worker and the Kolkhoz Woman does not stand within a genuine school of sculpture and whatever appeal one could find in the statue is quickly polluted by the political aftertaste of the work. It was an interesting exercise on how dictatures can repress artistic schools, but this choice of artwork is inappropriate for a national exam.