#AtoZChallenge – I is for Intelligentsia

a-to-z-letters-iI had originally been going to write about Igor for this installment of the A-Z challenge, but since he ends up being such a pivotal character, it would be hard to do so without risking spoilers. (And that’s spoiler enough, right there…)


So I’m pulling back to the perspective of what Igor represents: The Russian Intelligentsia. This class of Russian society was known for its complex mental efforts to disseminate culture. The word came into popular use in the first half of the 19th century and initially had the kind of connotation one would hope for: leading “the revolution” thoughtfully and with the higher purpose of mankind at the forefront of the action.

By the 1890s, though, the word had taken on a more poisonous meaning; Tzar Alexander wanted the word scrubbed from the vocabulary, so the word became a pejorative term to identify those working against the ruling regime.

The Russian Communists remembered and took over this interpretation of the word, viewing educated people as a necessary evil, to be quarantined as much as possible–certainly never let run free with their imaginations. Their learning was to be dedicated to the working class, so scientists were segregated into secret communes so as to lessen the possibility that their thought experiments might infect the masses. And artists… well… if western authors thought getting a manuscript through the various mills to publication by the holy grail of the Big 6 were difficult… Soviet artists could only be published after the Central Committee’s stamp of approval, assuring that there was nothing distasteful, disrespectful, or otherwise dangerous to the regime that made it out into the wild.

The story of Solzhenitsyn in Dust to Blood regarding the writing of many of his books in his head (as opposed to on paper), is, insofar as I can lend credence to half-remembered stories, true. (And there was a young girl’s memoir-style story, whose title I have forgotten, about life in a Gulag that underlined the lack of any kind of paper, that would have enforced the care with which words might be committed anywhere.) Certainly, I remember the great distrust of written materials as being potentially the mark of a dissident from my time living behind the Iron Curtain. And, every so often, that early imprint makes me cringe at blogging anything potentially personal or controversial.

I’m working to get over myself.


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