A masterpiece of anachronism. Valery Panyushkin on the banned books list [Spektr.press]

25 February 2024

by Valery Panyushkin

Source: Spektr.press 

Had anyone told Netochka Nezvanova that she was a lesbian or Plato that he was gay, they would each have been very surprised. The list of books promoting same-sex relations and therefore banned, which has been published by Aleksandr Plyushchev, is a masterpiece of anachronism. Not only do its compilers not know how to read, they also have no concept of cultural epochs changing in the 19th century and still less that in Antiquity people saw the world completely differently to how we see it today. 

In Dostoevsky’s novel, Netochka Nezvanova really does exchange kisses with Katya and confidences night after night. The girls even call their feelings love but it would scarcely occur to either of them to touch her friend’s clitoris, much less to marry her. Nor does it occur to Netochka or Katya that their love could in anyway serve as an impediment to marriage. Of course, there were LGBT+ people in the 19th century but they were not conscious of themselves as such. People were not generally conscious of their sexuality. That was thought up a hundred years later by Sigmund Freud. 

Plato, of course, loved boys and possibly engaged in sexual relations with them – more or less as that’s understood today. But the point is that for a man to love women in Plato’s day was a nonsense. You could marry a woman, you could make children with her and by means of marriage you could unite properties or conclude a political alliance. But love between a man and a woman didn’t enter people’s heads until the late Middle Ages. Love between a man and a woman was thought up by goliards or even by Dante Alighieri and Francesco Petrarch. While the sort of love between a man and a woman that would be a reason to marry, that was basically thought up by Shakespeare. 

Accusing Plato of promoting homosexuality is tantamount to accusing Homer of offending the sentiments of the devout on the grounds that pagan gods are at work at the walls of Troy rather than Jesus Christ or Allah. 

Accusing Dostoevsky of promoting lesbian love is tantamount to accusing Ptolemy of disseminating knowingly false information about the structure of the Solar System. 

The complete absence of any concept of a change of cultural epoch is, incidentally, typical not only of propagandists of Putin’s bloody regime but of anti-Putin propagandists too. For example, the destruction of monuments to Putin in Ukraine and other republics of the former Soviet Union on the grounds that Pushkin is an imperial poet is the same kind of anachronistic drivel as would be a ban on Margaret Mitchell or William Faulkner on the grounds of using the N-word rather than “Afro-American”. Of course, Pushkin was an imperial poet. In his day there were no poets apart from imperial ones but the point is that national identity at the time in no way contradicted imperialism. The contradiction between national identity and imperialism was thought up a hundred years later after World War II. In Pushkin’s time, however, empires were a progressive form of social structure by contrast with satrapy. In precisely the same way as the steam engine was a progressive means of transport by contrast with horse power. According to this anachronistic logic, it would now be appropriate to pronounce anathema on both Watt and Polzunov for inventing the steam engine, that is, for being behind all future ecological disasters. 

A hundred years ago, José Ortega y Gasset predicted that the spread of newspapers would have horrific consequences since the ignorant and uneducated would be able to obtain information easily. Not even in his worst nightmare could the poor man have foreseen that the ignorant and uneducated would start to generate information and create lists of books that didn’t fit their primitive and anachronistic view of the world. 

Translated by Melanie Moore

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