James Bradburne is one of the world’s leading museum directors. He is currently in charge of Milan’s famous Pinacoteca di Brera – founded by Napoleon to serve as the ‘Louvre of Italy’. James was brought in as one of the few non-Italians to help modernise Italy’s state-owned museums. Previously, he was head of the Strozzi Gallery in Florence where he produced the highly acclaimed Bronzino, Money and Beauty exhibition.
James has chosen a wonderful array of academic articles from our stacks: you’ll read about the need for samizdat literature in a new era of digital censorship, how ghost stories were a means of reaffirming Japanese values threatened by Westernization, Aldo Leopold’s relevance to today’s ecological debates, as well as a fresh take on John Steinbeck.
~ Evgeny Morozov
Como is an extraordinary historian, and is concerned with moments of social turbulence, rapid change, and the effects of censorship particularly on ephemeral literature. His books are not many, and his articles often published in specialist journals that are easy to miss if one is not a historian of the same period.
Very powerful argument for the value of historical memory, especially in a time of potential excesses committed in the name of damnatio memoria. The courage to remember even black moments in our past, and NOT erase them, seems particularly relevant today.
In a world where it is no longer clear which of the two dystopian futures – Orwell’s of Huxley’s – will prevail, ephemeral literature in general and Soviet Samizdat and Tamizdat in particular are worth wrestling with. This author is one of the key scholars in the English language on Samizdat, and maps the role of dissident literature, a clearly Orwellian construction, which can be counterpoised with the world of social media and Postman’s ‘Amusing Ourselves To Death’ wherein a tsunami of information makes political dissent not only impossible, but not worth the effort.
A profoundly personal reading of the experience of the Soviet Union and of reading banned or dissident literature. One of the most difficult tasks of any historian is to recover the reception of the works in the time they were first read – which does not always mean when they were written – and first integrated into a broader discourse about the limits to political and civil activity.
Another moment of rapid and turbulent social and political change was the transition from the Shogunate after the Meiji Restoration, and the ensuing decades saw a new flourishing of ghost stories and supernatural literature of the earlier Tokugawa era as a means to reaffirm Japanese values and traditions menaced by the enthusiastic Westernisation of Post-Meiji Japan. This article looks at the ghost story as a source of information about the Tokugawa legal system.
One of the ambitions of the contemporary museum is to create the condition to transform the museum visitor in a meaningful way. This article looks at transformative moments.
As a collector of Samizdat editions of Bulgakov’s classic, this case study is a treasure – a micro-history that looks at the publication of a Russian literary masterpiece, and the way in which samizdat created its own civil sphere within the Soviet Union long after Stalin’s death. Based in part on Komaromi’s work (referred to above) it opens many doors to future research.
A ‘fellow traveller’ for much of his early life, John Steinbeck had a troubled relationship with both the Left and the Right over his position on Communism. The Left felt he was subversively revealing organizing tactics in books such as In Dubious Battle, while the Right felt he was far too sympathetic with the cause of the underdog in novels such as The Grapes of Wrath. Paradoxically the same ambiguity dogged him in the Soviet sphere, who tended to ignore his visionary works on ecology written with and sometimes by Ed Ricketts, and consigned even his important ‘left-wing’ works to obscurity as their militant populism fell out of favour. In the end Steinbeck remains a very American individual, who cannot be contained within a single political definition, and whose stated positions were considerably more plastic than his critics argued.
Another pioneer of ecology, Aldo Leopold, is often dismissed as a champion of Manifest Destiny and rather conservative views. This article brings in two other dimensions of his ecological thinking, from the fields of economics, but more importantly from healthcare, whereby he looks at the land’s capacity to heal, thereby providing an optimistic note to current debates about the impending environmental Apocalypse.
Another article indebted to Anna Komaromi, it addresses the issue of who, exactly, was reading samizdat editions, and how they were constituted in ways that went beyond individual literary enjoyment. It raises the question of whether samizdat literature still exists, or needs to exist, in a digital world being increasingly menaced by all pervasive state censorship.
More by James Bradburne – from our Stacks
Our archive of high-quality content across text, video and audio – our “Living Syllabus” – has already reached over 25,000 items and grows larger every week.
Here are some recent pieces by or featuring Justin from those archives:
- ‘Now is the time to be smart’ – the Pinacoteca di Brera in a time of lockdown (journalism)
- “Ripensare i nostri musei” (journalism)
- Down with blockbusters! James Bradburne on the art of running a museum (journalism)
- Les cartels au musée : la voix des œuvres (video)
- Museo come modello di civiltà (video)
- Talking about museums (video)
We’ve featured many fantastic individuals in this series: artists, musicians, academics, writers, journalists, politicians, and more. For the full list and to browse their selections.
A handful of our contributors so far:
- Brian Eno – Musician, Record Producer, Visual Artist
- Hito Steyerl – Artist, Filmmaker, Writer
- Adam Tooze – Professor of History at Columbia University
- Shehla Rashid – Activist & Academic
- Holly Herndon & Mat Dryhurst – Musicians, Artists, Technologists
- Raquel Rolnik – Architect & Urban Planner
- Kaiser Kuo – Writer, Musician, Podcaster
- Li Andersson – Finland’s Minister of Education and the Chairperson of the Left Alliance party
- Ivan Krastev – Chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Fellow at the Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna
- Fabrizio Barca – Italian Politician, founder of Forum on Inequality and Diversity
More About our Cyberflâneur Series
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