Ruin porn: the art world’s awkward obsession with abandoned Soviet architecture

[From The New Statesman]

deserted_observArmenia, where one side of my family is from, was one of the first members of the USSR, annexed by Russia in 1922. A few years ago, when I visited this little country that perches precariously in the south of the Caucasus, I was struck most by its Soviet architecture.

Although its landscape is a hotchpotch of medieval Orthodox churches, a smattering of Persian-era domes, and brutalist concrete, it was the latter that particularly stuck out. From unfelled statues of Stalin to giant tower blocks spelling out the letters “CCCP” from a bird’s-eye view (well, half spelt-out – construction stopped partway through, with the fall of the Soviet Union), I’ve never forgotten it.

Perhaps it was so compelling because such stark physical symbols make recent history all the more tangible. A history still profoundly affecting the country of my ancestors (and all post-Soviet and communist states). But also, it just looked really cool.

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Review of Masha Gesson’s *Where the Jews Aren’t*

A Promised Land in the U.S.S.R. Masha Gessen’s book about a failed Soviet experiment asks searching questions about Jewish identity.

[From the New Republic]

The twentieth century did not bring an end to Jewish wandering. I’m a case in point: All four of my grandparents, originally from Poland, survived the Holocaust and made their way to Israel. There my parents were born. But the socialist ethos of Israel in its early years did not sit well with my paternal grandfather, and he did not feel safe there. He had seen the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the gas chambers of Majdanek. And having sent two of his sons to the Israeli army, he was not eager to send another two. His attachment to a Jewish state was strong, but his survival instinct was stronger. My grandfather continued to wander, looking for the safest place for his family to remain Jewish, moving to Los Angeles well into the middle of his life, where he started a factory in East L.A., and where I was born.

The idea of Israel as the glorious culmination of Jewish history has left these alternate endings in the shadows. But other notions of Jewish home and Jewish survival have always jostled against Zionism, both before there was a state and long after. At the end of the nineteenth century, as Jews and anti-Semites alike grew obsessed with the “Jewish problem,” debates and sub-debates proliferated about what a solution should look like. The Jews needed their own place? Fine. But did that place need to have its own political and military power? Did it need to be in Palestine? Was it reasonable or desirable to imagine a fantastical return to the glories of the temple period and the rebirth of an ancient language?
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