Back From St. Petersburg

Indeed I am back, back to the land of boiled cabbage and queues. In the White Night of St. Petersburg’s summer, blogging, surfing and generally keeping up with the world receded in importance. The hangovers did not help for that is a land where beer is considered a soft drink and seeing some dude taking delicious little sips of ‘Russian Standard’ vodka at … well at, breakfast. But for the first time I was living in an idea, a conceit that killed millions, a city built by the will of a single man. Russia, and particularly St. Petersburg, I found, is a place that has been cut, ploughed, planted and whipped by a ruling class that has been determined to turn national life into an expression of philosophical ideas. It has, as M. Epstein says, been treated as a tabula rosa on which foreign ideas can be writ with all the necessary violence. Being in St. Petersburg, taking in my favourite building, Kazansky Cathedral, I knew that its beauty – and indeed greatness – reflected the relentless succession of projects that has blighted the lives of millions and destroyed lives past count. Projects, national projects kill. When the determination of Peter the Great to Europeanise Russia is considered, then the soviet period is soon understood to have merely been a version of this project. Russia, for we of 5-year development plans and nationalist aspirations, serves as a warning beacon. I will come back to this in the coming weeks, once I have gotten my feet under me.

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About bulletsandhoney
I read my first book when I was three, then my second one a few weeks later. It has carried on this way for decades with only temporary distractions of eating, fighting, loving, heartbreak and other such irrelevant biographical details.

3 Responses to Back From St. Petersburg

  1. WM says:

    Interesting thought, here. But, aren’t all “planned” or even unplanned cities built to a philosophy, to an idea? Washington D.C., with its white buildings and its wide avenues, expresses a certain hope or way of thought; Bulawayo, which is now being torn down or even our dear own Mathare is the materialisation of a)thwarted dreams and hopes…buildings are like space–they are history makers and history participants. I agree that there aren’t so many built on the vision of ONE person, but I think that is a different order of argument. Which is to say there is the primary question of embodying, literally giving shape and form and substance to physical space and THEN there is the related question of what idea (or wohse) is being expressed. The idea that one or many are responsible is a fascinating one, but it isn’t quite the same. I think I’m still thinking about your I.M. Pei post.

  2. WM says:

    Ahem. I have it good authority demands that you respond to the vast multitudes of your admiring readers;…i.e. ME.

  3. MMK says:

    WM. Thanks for your comments. St Petersburg was not planned like any other city in the world. There was absolutely no reason to locate it where it is today. It was built on a malarial swampland, far from any major trade route and was not previously a settlement of any significant size. It was the closest point to Europe, period. And 700,000 died to construct it; to drive Russians into Europe whether they were interested or not. Of course those victims were only the tip of the ice-berg for the idea that the individual belonged to the state or the collective was again reflected in Lenin and Stalin.

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