Thursday, March 8, 2007

Roger Sandall

Roger Sandall is an anthropologist whose essays have appeared in a number of international journals.

Michael Crichton once chose Sandall's 2001 book The Culture Cult as one of the “five best books” in the past twenty years about the social effects of romantic primitivism.

I overcame my envy about his living at Bondi Beach and asked him what he's been reading. His reply:

(1) A new biography of Descartes that tries to explain the Thirty Years’ War first…. Hey, not even that — the CAUSES of the Thirty Year’s War! He’s 22, and on page 52 it’s still the Defenestration of Prague.

(2) Uncle Vanya. Big fuss downunder about the MALY Theatre’s production. They’re Russian aren’t they from St Petersburg so it’s gotta be good. But there’s something wrong when reading Chekhov brings tears to your eyes and the play itself is a yawn. Vanya’s too drunk and drunks are boring. Drunks CANNOT be tragic or seriously comic either. That of course is Russia’s problem too. Anyone know some really good writing on Chekhov?

(3) Four sentences and here they are: “The peasants tried to revolt. The revolt might have brought the Soviet Union down. But it collapsed on the iron will of Stalin. The peasants killed their animals, then they killed themselves.”

Cool. That’s what famous journalist John Gunther wrote in 1936 about the manmade famine in the Ukraine that killed around 7 million. You see it was okay and all in the cause of progress because they really killed themselves. Now you don’t believe me do you? You think I’m making it up. But that’s what he says on page 470 of the 1938 edition of Inside Europe. He got it from his good friend Walter Duranty.

Gunther says the peasants resisted Stalin; Stalin struck back; ergo, the peasants ‘killed themselves.’ It’s a warning to us all. (Inside Europe sold over half a million copies and went through lots of versions from 1936 on and you might have to hunt around a bit in Chapter XXXV, just before the section ‘Stalin the human being.’ But there those sentences are.)

Visit Roger Sandall's website, The Culture Cult.

--Marshal Zeringue