Poets appeared in Russia in the eighteenth century. They wore officers’ uniforms and mostly wrote odes for the accession of German empresses onto the Russian throne. In a country where life was lived according to the wartime principle of unity of command, everyone including poets served the government, which was personified by the autocracy. But everything changed with Pushkin. Born in a country where serfdom was only the formal expression of a deep internal psychological slavery, he achieved the most important Russian coup, the greatest Russian revolution: in opposition to the pyramid of power, at the head of which the Czar administers the fates of individuals and nations, he created an alternative pyramid, at the head of which stood the poet. The juxtaposition of the czar and the holy fool—the old divided paradigm of authority—was exchanged for the juxtaposition of the czar and the poet.— Poets and Czars — From Pushkin to Putin: the sad tale of democracy in Russia by Russian novelist Mikhail Shishkin, who caused a stir earlier this year when he withdrew from participation in literary events sponsored by the Russian state with a strongly-worded letter. His action was equally strongly criticized by the state and several Russian writers. Shishkin spoke to The American Reader about recent events. He currently lives in Switzerland and recently wrote an essay about being separated from his native language community.
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