Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Vanishing Point

I’m reading the Dictionary of Imaginary Places, gathered from world literature and myth.
One entry is Ibansk, a town invented by the modern Russian writer Zinoviev. All its inhabitants are named Ivan. The great monument to the leader has keeled over and will soon fall into the river—the artist “has been dealt with appropriately.”
This passage describes the conundrums of the soviet state, in which figures disappeared from historical photographs, and towns and regions disappeared from state maps:
“The history of Ibansk is made up of events which almost failed to happen, which almost happened but at the last moment somehow did not, which were expected but never happened, which were not expected but did happen, which happened in the wrong way at the wrong time in the wrong place, which happened but are not acknowledged to have happened, which happened but are not accepted as having happened.”
I'm reminded of a haunting book, "The Commissar Vanishes," which shows how soviet archivists removed those Stalin executed or exiled as enemies. Sometimes historical photographs are published repeatedly, but with more and more figures removed each time, until Stalin stands alone with Lenin. Sometimes these overworked retouchers failed to remove the shadows of the dead, or a hand placed on another figure's shoulder.  Then in the next version, that person with the shoulder disappears, though the hand of the first condemned man may remain, suspended in empty air.
Here is a website with examples of the photos: