Archive for September, 2015
One of the best things about falling down a Tolstoy wormhole is discovering new strange Russian “cults”/religious groups. I thought the Molokhans were good, but the Dukhobors, which means “Spirit Wrestlers,” blow them out of the water. Take it away, A. N. Wilson!
“The Dukhobors were a rum lot, even by the rum standards of Russian religious eccentrics. Their origins, some time in the eighteenth century, are obscure and it is hard to pin down many details of their beliefs or customs since most of them have been illiterate. Indeed, since they object to written records or formulated dogmas, illiteracy is rather cherished by them. Even the New Testament is rejected in favor of The Living Book––that is, the guidance of the spirit in individual Dukhobor guidance of the spirit individual Dukhobor leaders. Mutatis mutandis, there is much in the Dukhobor position which will be familiar to the post-Barthes schools of criticism in Paris or Yale.
Some English and American Quakers who visited a Dukhobor community in 1819 were scandalized by their complete absence of interest in the historical Christ whom they considered less important than their own leader of the moment. The great thing seemed to be prophecy: the prophetic utterance of the living spirit.
The movement had its ups and down and (inevitably) its schisms. Alexander I was tolerant towards them. (The Dukhobors were, and perhaps are, among those who believed that the liberal Tsar did not die in 1825 but, rather like King Arthur, continued a mysterious existence which would one day be known to the faithful; in this case, they believed, not that Alexander was sleeping in Avalon, but alive on the shores of the Baltic, and practicing the religion of the Dukhobors.) Gradually, as the century wore on, the Dukhobor renunciation of property was compromised. By the close of the century there were many Dukhobor peasants who were, by peasant standards, rich; there were even Dukhobors who had compromised their pacifist principles by doing national service in the army. Then there was a revival of the old values, and squabbles broke out within the movement. The larger group of Dukhobors, and the more reactionary, called themselves the Large Party. They chose, “in the spirit of Christ,” a leader called Pyotr Vasilyevich Verigin, who took the title of Peter the Lordly.
Verigin pretty soon fell foul of the intolerant spirit of the times. His insistence that property and warfare were sinful got him thrown into prison in 1887, and then exiled to Shenkursk in the Arctic Circle. It was there that he read Tolstoy’s religious writings and absorbed many of his teachings…
Peter the Lordly, who claimed for himself a divine infallibility as absolute as the Apostolic successors of Peter the Fisherman in Rome, was naturally unwilling to admit that many of his ideas were derived from [Tolstoy’s books.] He had no sooner read Tolstoy than he imagined that Tolstoyan ideas had been fed directly into his brain by God; and during the years 1893 and 1894 Peter the Lordly, having now been released from prison, issued a series of directives which were to have dire consequences upon the lives of his followers in the Caucasus. Their only weapons were those of civil disobedience as prescribed by Tolstoy… ”
So Peter the Lordly outlaws meats and mandates pacifism, and of course the Tsar loses his shit, and Tolstoy takes up the cause. His devotee Chertkov gets a British captain friend to go check on them and scout out a location for a “kind of pied-a-terre” where the Dukhobors could live. “Perhaps in a military career, he had witnessed odder scenes than those presented by these pathetic encampments of fanatics, some of whom practiced nudism… There was a great amount of bowing, for the Dukhobors believe that the Deity resides in His fullness in every human being, and reverence their fellow man as Orthodox would an altar or a wonder-working icon. There was weeping and sighing.”
I kind of like this whole bowing-to-everyone thing. If it weren’t totally heretical for me––and also bound to lead to some awkward social encounters––I’d take it up!
I don’t know that this stuff all falls under this topic heading, exactly, but I’m going with it.
1. When I was walking through the streets of New York before we moved, I noticed ads for Club Monaco’s new line (or maybe it wasn’t Club Monaco, but some similarly business casual outlet that would advertise on the sides of bus terminals) that featured something they were calling REPORTER PANTS. And I thought, “Gee, I should just stop working and get those pants, and maybe things will be about the same!” I couldn’t find them––so probably they were called “journalist pants,” and made by Gap, or something like that––but here are a pair of “reporter pants,” from ModCloth, which, as we all know, is the best (said in Jessica Simpson slur) at product labeling (there’s a marketing term for that, no?)
2. A few years ago, I read an article in Departures about this place in London called The School of Life. Founded by Alain de Botton and other sweet pop-philosophers, it offered classes in things like, “How to Get Things Done.” I thought it sounded amazing; now that I’m older and (in some ways) more cynical, I wonder if perhaps the teachers of a class like “How to Get Things Done” ought to tell his/her students to take that hour to do said things instead of listen to a self-professed expert blather on. Lest you think I’m being too harsh on the School of Life, I present for you: the Philosopher’s Jumper, A TWO HUNDRED DOLLAR BLACK SWEATER guaranteed to make you as influential a thinker as Heidegger.
And to put the cherry on this pretentious sundae, check out the insufferable copy:
“It has taken pride of place in the wardrobes of philosophical figures as diverse as Herbert Marcuse, Iris Murdoch, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. The Philosopher’s Jumper, designed in collaboration with Bella Freud, invites us to share in the philosophical life: one of soul-searching, interesting relationships, impassioned argument and bold speculation.”
I have… no words.
3. Speaking of London, a truck from a company called Future Comforts has been parked across the street from my house for the past two weeks. Here’s their logo:
Yep, that’s a geisha. Is this offensive? I’m going to vote yes, and I almost never vote yes.
4. Is it just me, or is the Times Magazine basically all celebrity profiles these days? It’s like a more long-winded version of People.
(1) To study the whole course of law necessary for my final examination at the University. (2) To study practical medicine, and some theoretical medicine. (3) To study languages: French, Russian, German, English, Italian and Latin. (4) To study agriculture, both theoretical and practical. (5) To study history and geography. (6) To study mathematics, the grammar-school course. (7) To write a dissertation. (8) to attain a degree of perfection in music and painting. (9) To write down rules. (10) To acquire some knowledge of the natural sciences. (11) To write essays on all the subjects that I shall study.
When I was a wee seventeen, I interned at Sex and the City, which was then the coolest thing––not just show––in the world. And as I was a minor, technically it was illegal for me to work there, which made the whole thing even cooler. Ergo, everything I had to do, which included dropping off mail and throwing away the leftover quarter-bagels in the morning, was––you guessed it––awesomely, fantastically cool. But among these very glamorous tasks of mine, one stood out above all: when the product placement lady left on a week-long vacation, I was assigned to watch recent episodes of the show and count the number of times I spotted a item with a Louis Vuitton logo on it. Thus I spent a full five days drinking free cans of perfectly chilled Diet Coke, listening to the Mr. Softee song on repeat (seriously, that truck never moved from the corner, despite the fact that no one lived there) and watching the four ladies quip over coffee and occasionally reach into their purses and marking down that yes, indeed, Samantha did have a Vuitton wallet that day! What they did with this information, I never asked.
So flash forward to now, and I’m moving crap (a lot of crap) around in my new apartment with the TV on in the background, and marveling at how weird it is that they are obsessed with Friends over here––seriously, it’s on all day, every day––and I see this commercial where they collage together the theme song from various bits of dialogue and I realize that there’s probably some little intern sitting in a dark room at Comedy Central UK watching endless episodes of Friends and picking out “so” “no” “one” “told” “you” “life” “was” “going” “to” “be” “this” “way,” and so on, in order to make said commercial. I can’t decide if that sounds like the most fun ever or the most horrible. Certainly not the coolest thing, though.
I know I just posted a Gchat but this one was too good to let go: