Friday, April 25, 2008

Now reading

Colin Thubron's Among the Russians, a great book about the twilight years of the Soviet Union. The author talks a lot in the book about the strange, unintended effects of censorship. He repeats the concept several times that censorship is actually a kind of perverse honour for artists. In contrast to the West Thubron knew, with its vast armies of unread writers and uncelebrated artists, the Soviet regime had created in Russia a climate where every kind of expression became a hundred times more valuable than it would otherwise have been.

There is a lot in the book about samizdat, the Russian term for self-published materials. This was circulated underground, with tissue-thin pages made grimy by hundreds of eager hands. People would pay huge sums for a volume of Solzhenitsyn, or even of Turgenev. The message is clear; the government cannot kill an idea, no matter how repressive it is. That goes for bad ideas as much as it does for good ones.