Sister Wendy is right. If you’re going to appreciate Western art and culture at anything more than a superficial, unsatisfying level, you need at least a passing understanding of Greece, Rome, and Christianity, not to mention a comfortable appreciation of the Renaissance.
Some art can stand apart from context, but context makes it so much better.
The same goes for literature, by the way. And film.
on Russia, then and now.
The line dividing memory from history is a thin one. The latter hinges on reportage, reconstruction, and, inevitably, speculation; the former is personal, immediate and in some cases dramatic. It is twenty years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but my memories of it are sharp. Waking up in Moscow to the news of the August 1991 military coup against the reforming Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev; driving down Gorky Street as columns of tanks descended on the Kremlin, sent by the disgruntled hardline communists who claimed to have seized power; talking to the tank crews and hearing from nervous conscripts that they had live ammunition in their weapons and were prepared to use it. For three anxious days the fate of Europe and the world was fought over on the streets of Moscow.
After nearly a decade of reporting from the Soviet Union, I had known for some time that Gorbachev’s perestroika was in trouble. His liberalizing reforms hadn’t delivered the goods, either politically or in the nation’s food stores. Earlier in the year Kremlin hardliners had surreptitiously fomented unrest in the Baltic republics; now they were going for broke.