The Slow Spread of our Fragmented Songs of Self

Over the last few days, I’ve been talking a lot to musicians from Pakistan. (Such is the nature of my work.) And it’s fascinating to hear about the way they are approaching their art. In a society where more collective identities (family, class, etc) have profound, determining impact on people’s lives, musicians and lyricists are…

May the circle be broken: Women’s lives and history

“There are no women geniuses,” a male friend announced to me one evening. I began to list a few women I considered geniuses–Hildegard von Bingen, for example, and Claira Schumann and Virginia Woolf came to mind instantly–and he replied that he didn’t know any of them (this was in a non-English speaking context) and so…

First Night’s Dream

Somewhere, an image of me hangs in the bedroom of a certain computer software company exec’s home. He–I assume it’s he–doesn’t know it’s me. I heard he is head of encryption for this company. It’s a painting by two talented artist friends, who did a long series of works inspired by dreams. The painting was…

Here be dragons: the past as fantasy

It’s really quite simple. What makes a story fall into one genre (Fantasy) versus another (Sci-Fi) is a continuum of imagined time, usually as defined by technology and faith systems. In the former, belief is limited to supernatural concepts, allowing space for the banished world of magic, spirits, and the like, the ghosts that still…

The most heavy metal description of Siberia’s Lake Baikal ever

Courtesy, but of course, of the incomparable Gavriil Batenkov: This is the initial sight Baikal presents the viewer in summer: grey battleships girded in dense fog float in the deep blue distance; the water’s mirror-smooth surface in still times and its frightening black waves in storms, which deafen with their roar and seem poised to…

Freedom and enslavement in the age of eccentrics, or Haunted by Continuity

This article makes a great argument: The notoriously annoying, time-consuming registration process that looms over so many aspects of life in Russia is merely an extension of serfdom. It is, in fact, desperately difficult to escape the striking continuities between the old Russian Imperial system, especially under Nikolai I, and what is currently afoot in Russia….

The Idiot: My Russian TV Fail

It was a huge mistake to agree to be on Russian TV. I had many invitations extended to me when I worked as an editor of the opinion page at The Moscow Times, and most of them I accepted out of curiosity. But I should have politely declined when a producer for a certain talk…

From Mikhail Lunin’s diary (1837)

“Death is the strongest evidence of love. Death is also the strongest evidence of truth. It’s a dissonance in the general harmony of things, which prepares and leads to perfect accord.” —Mikhail Lunin

Russian Ark: A beautiful view of Russian history

Alexander Sokurov is one of the most striking, most underrated Russian film directors (as well as a Siberian by birth). This film is shot in a single shot in the Hermitage, a whirlwind meditation on Russia’s past.