Posts

Gulag Archipelago: Chapter 3 Interrogation

Image
New use for my favourite hair clip: holding open the pages of my tattered paperback so I can type quotations:




If the reader has found the previous two chapters full of disturbing examples of human behaviour, she need not fancy that Chapter 3 will offer a break:

"If the intellectuals in the plays of Chekhov who spent all their time guessing what would happen in twenty, thirty, or forty years had been told that in forty years interrogation by torture would be practiced in Russia; that prisoners would have their skulls squeezed with iron rings; that a human being would be lowered into an acid bath; that they would be trussed up naked to be bitten by ants and bedbugs; that ramrod heated over a primus stove would be thrust up their anal canal (the "secret brand"); that a man's genitals would be slowly crushed beneath the toe of a jackboot; and that, in the luckiest possible circumstances, a prisoner would be tortured by being kept from sleeping for a week, by thirst, an…

Gulag Archipelago Chapter 2 : The History of Our Sewage Disposal System

Chapter 2 continues to describe the bureaucracy that channeled citizens off to the Gulag. The tone is much the same as Chapter 1: a seemingly endless list of people and groups marked for disposal, following fast one on the other, interspersed with attempts to make sense of it all. The theme of parallel reality continues with the metaphor "sewage disposal system:" think a network of underground tunnels beneath the surface of ordinary life, mostly hidden and yet always present. Any minute, based on an often trivial activity in the present, or far in the past, or even for no reason at all, one might be designated "sewage" and disappear into the underground.

Solzhenitsyn begins the chapter by noting that the years 1937 and 1938 are noted for mass arrests, but that is mainly because the people arrested previously were mostly illiterate and therefore did not leave much evidence of themselves.

"Through the pipes the flow pulsed. Sometimes the pressure was higher than…

Gulag Archipelago: Chapter 1 Arrest

The first theme of chapter one is the shock and outrage of arrest. The moment of arrest is a life crisis where it appears that everything you once believed is wrong.
“The Universe has many different centres as there are living beings in it. Each of us is a centre of the Universe, and that Universe is shattered when they hiss at you: ‘You are under arrest!’
“If you are arrested, can anything else remain unshattered by this cataclysm?
But the darkened mind is incapable of embracing these displacements in our universe, and both the most sophisticated and the veriest simpleton among us, drawing on all life’s experiences, can gasp out only: ‘Me? What for?’
And this is a question which,though repeated millions and millions of times before, has yet to receive an answer.
Arrest is an instantaneous, shattering thrust, expulsion, somersault from one state to another.” (Pages 3-4)
I suspect one reason I did not make progress with GA when I was younger was because I did not have personal experience of …

Gulag Archipelago: the beginning

Image
I have tried a few times to read Gulag Archipelago. I remember it being present in my childhood home as it was one of my dad’s favourite books. He lived through WWII / Nazi occupation in Greece as a very young child  (b. 1938, d. 2016). He was permanently affected by early traumatic experiences (witnessing mass executions and fleeing bombing raids, for example).  Over the years of my childhood and youth, the shelves of our home accumulated more and more fiction and non fiction books about the wars of the 20th century: everything from pulp fiction to serious historical material.

We did not have a TV till I was 11, but used to have periodic family movie weekends where we would rent a projector and a pile of movie reels from the library, hang blankets over the windows and watch one film after another. There was no specific criteria for how these films were selected, but among them were documentaries with footage of the Nazi death camps. I remember seeing the gas chambers and ovens in th…