Some embraced his work as representing a quintessential break with the Stalinist past; others saw it as ugly and perverse.
Heated debates took place in student dormitories, editorial offices, even city squares, and the queues to get into the exhibition were huge. It was an act of imaginative re-creation involving subjective input on the part of the translator. It was their task to make the film comprehensible — emotionally as well as literally — to Soviet viewers, and sometimes heroic measures were called for. Soviet dubbing directors aimed to make their versions better than the originals — psychologically deeper and emotionally more transparent. While the number of Soviet tourists going to the West remained comparatively small, it was growing, and many Soviet writers were among the tourists.
They wrote of the great cities of Europe as intimately familiar, through their representation in literature and painting, but at the same time miraculously unknown.
The Soviet love affair with the West was bound to end in disappointment. Once Russians were free to travel, even to emigrate and live in Paris for good if they could afford it, Paris was no longer a dream. That is one of the paradoxes of the situation she describes.
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The love affair with Western culture did not, as might first have appeared, involve a repudiation of Sovietness. On the contrary, to love Western culture was a token of Soviet culturedness kulturnost , something to be expected of every educated and cultivated Soviet citizen. As any visiting foreigner who was ever quizzed about the novels of Walter Scott or Theodore Dreiser and found wanting will attest, Soviet citizens often thought they knew more than Western natives about Western culture or at least the canonical Soviet version , and loved it better — and they were right.
There were Russians who liked capitalism, but these were not the cultured Russians — the Soviet intelligentsia, broadly construed — that Gilburd is writing about. A disclaimer is in order here: in the s, Gilburd studied with me as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, where she now teaches Soviet history.
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The underlying nostalgia is for whatever it was in Soviet society that made culture including, but not only, Western culture so important and fostered such strong collective emotions about it. If only they had done a bit of reading in capitalist marketing theory and grasped the idea of the scarcity principle. What if, instead of making Western culture a scarce commodity — and therefore all the more desirable — they had done the same for Soviet socialism? How attractive socialism might have become if properly rationed and restricted, accessible only to the most worthy, an exotic intermittent presence in Soviet life whose hidden riches were only to be glimpsed.
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