Sunday, August 15, 2021

New English collection of work by Aguéli

A new book gives English translations of a selection of the writings on Islam of Ivan Aguéli. It is Ivan Aguéli: Sensation of Eternity: Selected Writings, edited by Oliver Fotros. ISBN 978-9151985091, $13.99 on Amazon.

The writings translated are

  • Notes on Islam (from L'Initiation, 1902)
  • Feminism (from Il Convito, 1904)
  • From La Gnose (1911):
    • Pages dedicated to Mercury (incl. Pure Art) 
    • Pages dedicated to the Sun 
    • Universality in Islam
    • Islam and Anthropomorphic Religions
    • Al Malamatiyyah
  • From L'Encyclopédie contemporaine illustrée:
    • On the principles of Architecture and Sculpturing (1912)
    • The 29th Exhibition of Le Salon des Independantes (1913)
    • La Section d’Or – the Exhibition at Gallery La Boétie (1913)
  • Others
    • On Western Art
    • On Europeans and Muslims
The writings from La Gnose were reprinted in French in the collection published by Archè in 1988, and Universality in Islam has now been translated twice into English, and Pure Art once, but all the other articles have never been reprinted, let alone translated. A major achievement for the study and understanding of Aguéli.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

The National Bolsheviks as counter-cultural art

The Russian Traditionalist Alexander Dugin first came to prominence in the 1990s as one of the leaders of the National Bolshevik Party (NBP; Национал-большевистская партия). A new book covers these years remarkably well. It is Fabrizio Fenghi's It Will Be Fun and Terrifying: Nationalism and Protest in Post-Soviet Russia (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press: 2020). The title cites an early NBP slogan sometimes cited by an artist who is now a member of Dugin's Eurasian Movement.

The book makes clear that the NBP should not be taken entirely seriously as a political party. Dugin was its ideologue, and its leading figure was the novelist Eduard Limonov (1943-2020). Fenghi's point of departure is Limonov's earlier fiction, especially his most famous novel, It's Me, Eddie (Это я — Эдичка), written in 1976 and published in 1979. This extremely counter-cultural novel was itself influenced by the New York punk scene, as Fenghi argues, and the NBP was in some ways the continuation of the novel. He uses interviews as well as textual sources to show that there was politics, but there was also music, art--especially performance art--and a lot of counter-culture. The NBP owed much of its success to its newspaper Limonka (Лимонка), which can be read as an alternative art and music magazine almost as easily as it can be read as a political newspaper. There was a specific NBP style of dress, and many NBP actions were close to performance art (which is one reason they were so effective). They were, suggests Fenghi, one of the inspirations of the actions of the later (and ideologically very different) group Pussy Riot.

Dugin, as is known, left the NBP in 1998. Fenghi suggests that this was because his and Limonov's political styles were so different. At one point he says that "Dugin and his followers were mostly interested in pursuing cultural and quasi-academic activities" while "Limonov wanted the party to become a ‘real political force,’ with activists who were directly involved in various forms of propaganda and mass mobilization” (p. 116). Later, however, he says that “Eurasianism aims at producing actual political change through mass manipulation” (p. 168), which I think is closer to the truth. Certainly there were different styles, and it might be argued that in the end Dugin was too serious about the content of his politics to keep company forever with Limonov. The Eurasian Movement was very different from the NBP. Fenghi does analyse the aesthetics of the Eurasian Movement  and there doubtless is an aesthetic, and some artists are indeed inspired by Eurasianism, but no-one could argue that the Eurasian Movement is primarily aesthetic or artistic, though it is still in some ways counter-cultural. Fenghi understands its importance in terms of the impact of Dugin's Foundations of Geopolitics (Основы Геополитики) and of the Eurasian Movement's massive internet presence.

The counter-cultural aesthetics of the NBP continued after Dugin left it, and to some extent still continue in the NBP's successor, Drugaya Rossiya (Другая Россия). It still includes artists and poets as well as fighters, despite its close engagement in the conflict in the Eastern Ukraine. 

Fenghi explains why he decides to avoid the discussions of what Fascism is and whether the NBP was fascist, and in this connection notes that in answering such questions it is important to pay attention to a group's relationship with power and with institutions, not just its published ideology. This is a good point.