During 2010 I am teaching four classes at the University of the Third Age (U3A) in Brisbane. The "third age" is the age of active retirement [after childhood, and work and family responsibilities] - nothing to do with "new age".
The classes are * Beginning Russian * Russian more advanced
* Russian history and culture, and
* Russian literature (in translation).
2010 will be the seventh year I've been teaching at U3A. I find it a real joy to have enthusiastic students who are there because they want to be there!
Me with some of my lovely students who came
with me on a Cultural Tour of Russia in 2006.
The course I give inRUSSIAN HISTORY AND CULTUREstretches over two years. The history and culture of a country as large as Russia and as complex, and with such a long history as a nation, certainly needs more than just a one-year course.
In2009, we began right back at the beginning : with the geography of the country; Russia before the Russians - the procession of nomad and barbarian invasions before the coming of the Slavs; the establishment of the first Russian state, its battles with its neighbours.
During 2009 we covered this material:
2The Birth of Rus':The Pagan Period to 988
3The Conversion of Rus’
4The Khazarian state AND The Glory of Kievan Rus’
5The Fall of Kievan Rus’ ANDForest, Steppe and River in Russian history
6The Mongols - a short history
7The Appanage Period, 1240 TO 1500:Novgorod, the Lithuanian-Russian state, and The North East
8The Rise of Muscovy, part 1:1147-1389plus Iliterary work Tale of Events beyond the Don [Zadonshchina]
9The Rise of Muscovy, part 2: Moscow gathers the Russian lands, 1389-1533; plus Timur of Samarkand
10 Ivan the Terrible, 1533-1584
DVD: Ivan the Terrible (Eisenstein), part 1
12The Coming of Serfdom; Instability after Ivan the Terrible: The Time of Troubles, 1598-1613
13The Early Romanovs, 1613-1682
14The Church Schism, 1653-56
15 Autobiography of Archpriest Avvakum (leader of the 'Old Believers' in the Church schism), c.1673-75
16The Conquest of Siberia
17 The Russian Icon
18Peter the Great
19Imperial Russia: six rulers from 1725-1762
20Catherine the Great, 1762-1796
21Alexander Radishchev:A Journey from Petersburg to Moscow (1790)
22Songs of Ancient Heroes - Byliny :Russian National Heroic Epics of the Ninth to Thirteenth Centuries
23Paul I and Alexander I, 1796-1825
24Nicholas I and the Start of Russia’s Culture War
25Nicholas I as the Gendarme Of Europe
26Introduction to Russian Literature, #1
27Alexander II, 1855-1881:Tsar Liberator
28The Russian Intelligentsia, 1812-1881
29Russian 19th century art, part 1;Chekhov:Peasants (longish story)
Slide presentation on Russian art to end of 19th century
Dostoyevsky: The Grand Inquisitorfrom The Brothers Karamazov - #1
Dostoyevsky:The Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov - #2
30 Konstantin Pobedonostsev:extracts from Reflections of a Russian statesman
31 The Twilight of Imperial Russia : Counter-Reforms and reaction under Alexander III and Nicholas I
32 The Russian Intelligentsia #2 – 1881 -1918
32A Some characteristics and beliefs of the Russian intelligentsia
32B Samuel Huntington on Russia as a “torn country”
DVD on St Petersburg
Bunin:Antonov Apples(short story)
Folk Tale:Prince Ivan, the Firebird and the Grey Wolf
The late 19th century and early 20th century in Russia saw a tremendous explosion of cultural creativity, and the permanent placement of Russia in the consciousness of the outside world.
In 2010 we will continue with the tail end of the 19th century – music, art, ballet, literature – and into the 20th century, through the “Silver Age”, Symbolism, Futurism and other intellectual movements, through the Revolution, the Civil War, early communism, socialist realism, the Stalin period, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and the twilight of the Soviet state, through the collapse of communism and up to the present day. We will also consider more generally the Russian 'national character'.
It amazes me that even professional art teachers and historians typically know next to nothing about Russian art, except the 20th century futurists like Malevich and avant-garde like Kandinsky. Russian art of 'the Itinerants' (from the 1860s to near the turn of the century) contains some astonishingly beautiful scenes of Russian nature, as well as realistic paintings of the life of the ordinary people - some of which are powerful social comment. Toward the end of the century some artists draw imaginatively on Russian history (especially Surikov), mythology (Victor Vasnetsov) and religion (Nesterov). 'The World of Art' movement in the early 1900s to the Revolution placed greatest emphasis on beauty and the artists of this group created some wonderful treasures.
I have three prints of paintings by 'Itinerant' artists in my living room. I bought two of the prints at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and had them framed here.
'Moscow Courtyard' by Vasily Polenov (1878); 'The rooks have come' by Aleksei Savrasov (1871); and 'Morning in the pine forest' by Ivan Shishkin (1889)
The Itinerants painted Russian nature and the Russian people, but their work later transitions into impressionism and symbolism.
Victor Vasnetsov's "Bogatyri" (Knights) evokes the heroes of 10th and 11th century Kievan Rus'.
Victor Vasnetsov: Bogatyri (1898)
The following picture was painted in 1916 by one of the leading lights of the "World of Art".
Kustodiev: Maslenitsa (Shrove Tuesday). 1916
Futurist and cubist art from around the time of the Revolution is also full of vitality and originality.
Arkhip Lentulov: St Basil's Cathedral. 1913
Some Russian handicrafts The RUSSIAN LITERATURE course was a new one in 2009 - by demand from my History and Culture students last year! It has proved not only quite popular, but also very rewarding for me. Russia has produced one of the world's greatest literatures, exploring not only national issues but "grand narratives" of universal relevance. During 2009 we covered:
* an overview of Russian literature, its key themes and social and political significance, and
* a selective look at the biographies and works of nine writers including
Pushkin (The Bronze Horseman, The Queen of Spades, some of Yevgeny Onegin),
Lermontov (A Hero of our Time),
Gogol (The Government Inspector, The Overcoat, The Nose, Dead Souls),
Turgenev ( The Diary of a Superfluous Man , Rudin, Fathers and Sons, On the Eve) ,
Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment then later, a discussion of the issues raised by the Grand inquisitor chapter of The Karamazov Brothers),
Tolstoy (The Cossacks, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Anna Karenina, then later, Resurrection),
Chekhov (The Lady with the Dog, some other short stories, The Seagull, his early novel The Shooting Party, the longish story Peasants, and Uncle Vanya),then
Gorky (Childhood, 26 men and a girl).
In 2010we will begin with Andrei Bely’s novel Petersburg and some poems by Aleksandr Blok, some stories and novellas by IvanBunin, and then through other 20th century writers including YevgenyZamyatin, Mikhail Bulgakov, Mikhail Sholokhov and AleksandrSolzhenitsyn.
This course also will take a good two years to go through a selection of the wealth of writers worth reading, through the 19th and 20th centuries. We could devote a whole year's course to the works of just a couple of individual great writers like Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy - and for that matter, Solzhenitsyn.
For RUSSIAN LANGUAGE, during 2009 I offered only a class for more advanced students. In 2010 I'll be taking a Beginning Russian class as well.
I'm a great enthusiast for the Russian language, as well as Russian history and culture and literature. Russian is a wonderfully expressive, flexible, nuanced, huge language (reputedly with the second largest vocabulary, after English). Turgenev (1818-1883) said it all in this immortal passage in one of his letters:
“In days of doubts, in days of depressing reflections on the fates of my homeland, you alone are my support and strength, o great, mighty, just and free Russian language! Were it not for you -- how could I not but fall into despair at the sight of all that is happening at home? But it is impossible not to believe that such a language was given to a great people. Take care of our language, our wonderful Russian language - it is a treasure, it is a property handed down to us by our forefathers! Treat this mighty tool with respect: in skilled hands it is capable of miracles."
Here it is in Russian:
"Во дни сомнений, во дни тягостных раздумий о судьбах моей Родины, - ты один мне поддержка и опора, о великий, могучий, правдивый и свободный русский язык!Не будь тебя - как не впасть в отчаяние при виде всего, что свершается дома?Но нельзя не верить, чтобы такой язык не был дан великому народу.Берегите наш язык, наш прекрасный русский язык - это клад, это достояние, переданное нам нашими предшественниками!Обращайтесь почтительно с этим могущественным орудием: в руках умелых оно в состоянии свершать чудеса."
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What makes me tick
I'm a Christian. I identify strongly with St Paul's words:
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)
There's far too much cynicism and nihilism about. What has postmodernist sneering at absolute values (religious, moral, cultural, educational, you name it) done to the human condition in the West, other than detract from it?
Here are some quotes I like:
“If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.” - Steve Bartkowski
“However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act upon them?” – Buddha, The Dhammapada
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” - Edmund Burke
“We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs.” – Kenneth Clark
"All the strength and force of man come from his faith in things unseen." - James Freeman Clarke
“The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell.” -Confucius, Aphorisms, VII
“Only one way of life is logically compatible with Christianity; any kind of life is logically compatible with atheism”. – Dr John Dickson, Director of the Centre for Public Christianity, Sydney
"No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” – John Donne
“It seems to me that the meaning of a person’s life consists in proving to himself every minute that he’s a person and not a piano key.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground
"YOU must be the change that you wish to see in the world." – Mahatma Gandhi
"Morality is not properly the doctrine of how we make ourselves happy, but how we make ourselves worthy of happiness." - Immanuel Kant
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” - Martin Luther King Jr.
"Tolerance becomes a crime when applied to evil.” – Thomas Mann
"You yourself create all your misery, hour after hour, day after day. You think the goal justifies the means, even the vile means. You are wrong: The goal is in the path on which you arrive at it. Every step of today is your life of tomorrow. No great goal can be reached by vile means. That you have proven in every social revolution. The vileness or inhumanity of the path to the goal makes you vile or inhuman, and the goal unattainable." - Wilhelm Reich
“The distinction between good and evil does not run between one nation and another, or one group and another. It runs straight through every human heart.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
“If once we admit it, be it for a single hour or in a single instance, that there can be anything more important than compassion for a fellow human being, then there is no crime against man that we cannot commit with an easy conscience. … Inanimate objects may be dealt with without love: we may fell trees, bake bricks, hammer iron without love. But human beings cannot be handled without love, any more than bees can be handled without care. That is the nature of bees. If you handle bees carelessly you will harm the bees and yourself as well. And so it is with people. And it cannot be otherwise, because mutual love is the fundamental law of human life.” – Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection, chapter 40