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Category: Anton Chekhov

A carton for a concubine

“In Berlin, the black-market exchange rate was based on Zigarettenwährung—‘cigarette currency’—so when American soldiers arrived with almost limitless cartons at their disposal, they did not need to rape. The definition of rape had become blurred into sexual coercion. A gun or physical violence became unnecessary when women faced starvation.” – Antony Beevor, The Fall of Berlin 1945

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Meet the old boss

“You look at life: the insolence and idleness of the strong, the ignorance and brutishness of the weak, incredible poverty all about us, overcrowding, degeneration, drunkenness, hypocrisy, lying. . . . Yet all is calm and stillness in the houses and in the streets; of the fifty thousand living in a town, there is not one who would cry out, who would give vent to his indignation aloud. We see the people going to market for provisions, eating by day, sleeping by night, talking their silly nonsense, getting married, growing old, serenely escorting their dead to the cemetery; but we do not see and we do not hear those who suffer, and what is terrible in life goes on somewhere behind the scenes. . . . Everything is quiet and peaceful, and nothing protests but mute statistics: so many people gone out of their minds, so many gallons of vodka drunk, so many children dead from malnutrition. . . . And this order of things is evidently necessary; evidently the happy man only feels at ease because the unhappy bear their burdens in silence, and without that silence happiness would be impossible. It’s a case of general hypnotism. There ought to be behind the door of every happy, contented man some one standing with a hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are unhappy people; that however happy he may be, life will show him her laws sooner or later, trouble will come for him — disease, poverty, losses, and no one will see or hear, just as now he neither sees nor hears others. But there is no man with a hammer; the happy man lives at his ease, and trivial daily cares faintly agitate him like the wind in the aspen-tree — and all goes well.” – Anton Chekhov, “The Gooseberries” (trans. Garnett; ellipses in original)

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Ourobos was a scribe

“Sometimes people get obsessive about things, ideas, like a man who spends all his time, let’s say, thinking about the moon, staring at the moon.  Well, I have a moon of my own.  All I think about day and night is having to write.  I have to write, I have to.  I finish one story, and then I have to write another one, and then a third, and after that a fourth.  I write without stopping, like an express train; it’s the only way I know how.  Now, I ask you, what’s so beautiful and bright about that?  It’s a stupid life!  Here I am talking to you, I’m all worked up, and still I can’t forget for a minute that I’ve got a story to finish.  I see a could, like that one, shaped like a piano.  And all I can think is: I have to use that, one of my characters has to see a cloud shaped like a piano.  I smell the heliotrope, I make a mental note: a sickly-sweet smell, a widow’s color, use it to describe a summer evening.  Every word you and I are saying right now, every sentence, I capture an lock up in the back of my brain.  Because someday I can use them!  When I finish working, I go out to the theater, or go fishing, to relax and get away from everything.  Do you think I can?  No, a great iron cannonball starts rolling around in my head, an idea for a new story, and I’m hooked, I can feel my desk reeling me in, and I have to go write and write.  All the time!  And I never get any rest.  I feel like I’m devouring my own life.” – Anton Chekhov, The Seagull (trans. Schmidt; emphasis in original)

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