November 23, 2005 by AK
An old fool or what?
By pure chance, I’ve came across a review of Elaine Feinstein’s biography of Akhmatova by Neal Ascherson, a former Observer observer. Speaking of Akhmatova’s only son, Ascherson notes parenthetically:
The embittered Lev Gumilev grew up to be the ultra-nationalist historian who reintroduced mystic racialism into post-Soviet education.
The remark is absurd, of course; better yet, in the words of Bulgakov’s fiend in feline shape, “what is the most remarkable about this story is not its being a lie but its being a lie from the first to the last word.” To begin with, there is no “mystic racialism” in post-Soviet education. More importantly:
— Gumilev studied not races but “ethnoses” (“ethnies”), super- and sub-ethnoses. He never cared about race, always about culture. He praised Russians for their aracial worldview.
— Gumilev’s theories were no more “mystical” than Toynbee’s. General theories are easy to dismiss as “mystical” or just crackpot.
— Gumilev was not an ultra-nationalist, nor even a blood-and-soil nationalist in a Western mold. He can be described, very loosely, as a “culture-and-soil” nationalist. He did not think in terms of nations anyway.
Gumilev is much disliked by a good deal of Russian intellectuals for a number of reasons. His scepticism about the West and sympathy with the Turkic world; his negative assessment of the Jews’ role throughout history coupled with alleged private anti-Semitism; his contrasting cultural Orthodoxy to cultural Catholicism; a general aversion to general theories, and so on. Gumilev’s forecast for the Russian (or Eurasian) “superethnos” was actually encouraging: the “superethnos” of Western Europe is old and declining while Russians are much younger, born in the 14th-15th centuries (Moscow is to old Kiev what the Rome of Popes was to the Rome of Caesars).
The rest of Ascherson’s review isn’t that weird. I’ve found his review of Deutscher’s Trotsky — it’s revolting.
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