08.28.2017 | From Russia with Love

There is a moment in one of Vladimir Nabokov’s novels (“The Gift”) when the narrator sees a mirror being unloaded from a van on a street in Berlin. Suddenly the mirror, by a tilt of grace, becomes “a white parallelogram of sky.” Nabokov notes the sun's flash to be consciousness that is sometimes reflected in the Everyday.

Let us be open to such a tilt of grace in Member Monday (8/28)/From Russia With Love as we probe the so-called "Russian Soul" through the eyes of three extraordinary native Russian women (native defined here more in terms of cultural identity than political boundary).  Maria, Lina, and Alice will share their lives, their values, their perspectives. Their "gift" is the authenticity of their formative experience and their openness to share it.

The fact that each has had extensive exposure to America takes nothing away. Character is a visceral implant, indelibly etched. Lesson one: to label this as the search for the "Russian Soul" may, in fact, be a bit of a simplistic indulgence -- we are just as open to regard Russia as a rich tapestry of collectives as we are to see it as some looming monolithic presence.

No question will be off-limits so long as it is motivated by a pure heart and genuine curiosity. This is not the forum in which to score rhetorical or political points. These women are articulate, accomplished, well-informed, and quite self-aware. Each exhibits a sparkling intelligence. We are so honored to welcome them in this examination of the Russian "character."

The tougher part comes when things are turned around and we are the specimen under the glass. How is the "American Soul" regarded from the outside? From his dark perch in Prague, Kafka imagined an Amerika where everyone there always, invariably, was smiling.  Stereotypes may reflect a fundamental truth (possible icebreaker: what is your favorite joke about Americans) or an unfair distortion that dissolves upon greater familiarity. The lessons learned here may become source material for some future Member Monday discussion centered around reimagining America.

Above all, there will be a call in our exchange for directness, perhaps itself a cultural test of the comfort level on the part of our guest participants to speak it as well as others to hear it. Let us accept this offering with the humility that all perspectives are valid, just incomplete. Securus Locus.     

The session will break the normal format. There is neither a lead focus article nor an introductory presentation that might otherwise serve to bound the free flow of thoughts. The session length will be extended by half an hour (i.e. from noon to 2:00) to accommodate the expected wide bandwidth of our discussion. The format will, however, retain the one-speaker-at-a-time policy. 

May we be open to the prospect of Nabokov's white parallelogram of sky.

Steve SmithComment