Daily Archives: 11 April 2006

Amateur vs. Professional Revolutionaries, 1917

The final downfall of the Romanov dynasty came on 3 March [1917], with the renunciation of the throne by the Grand Duke Mikhail, who had been nominated to be the Tsar’s successor…. The sudden collapse of the aristocracy took professional revolutionaries, such as Lenin and Trotsky, completely by surprise. They were exasperated to find themselves so far from the centre of events. But as things turned out, they had not missed their opportunity. The leaders of the Provisional Government, acting out of high-minded liberal naïvety in the case of Prince Lvov, and theatrical vanity in the case of his successor, Aleksandr Kerensky, proved easy to outmanoeuvre. The neck of the new freedom was exposed to the unscrupulous Leninists.

Kerensky was a lawyer. He was small and his starting eyes and curved nose made him look like a very intelligent frog, yet with ringing rhetoric and bursts of emotional energy he could dominate huge crowds. (Olga Chekhova later observed that whenever she saw Dr Goebbels speak, she could not help thinking of Kerensky.) Kerensky managed to convince many highly educated people – Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko among them – that he was a political genius, the Napoleon who would bring revolutionary excesses back under control and produce human justice. But historical parallels, especially in times of revolution and war, are often dangerously misleading. The balancing act which he had to undertake between reassuring the bourgeoisie and Russia’s Western allies on one hand, while at the same time appeasing the impatience of workers and peasants to take over factories and farmland, would have undermined the credibility of even the greatest leader.

Stanislavsky’s family business, the Alekseiev factories, were seized by the workers, and his house, as he admitted to a friend, had been ‘done over’. Respect for private property had collapsed with the elastic notion of ‘revolutionary expropriation’. Stanislavsky now had nothing more than a salary from the Moscow Art Theatre. Yet his enthusiasm for this new world of freedom did not diminish. He was certain it would lead not only to a fairer world, but to a more beautiful one. On the other hand, he also admitted that he was politically illiterate.

SOURCE: The Mystery of Olga Chekhova: The true story of a family torn apart by revolution and war, by Antony Beevor (Penguin, 2005), pp. 43-44

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The Shinto Torii: A Reminder to Purify the Heart

[The torii (鳥居)] does not demarcate something external into which I can simply tap. To function properly, the mysterious power beyond the torii must be in an internal relation with the person passing through it. If your mind is befuddled and clouded, if your heart is defiled and disingenuous, passage through the gateway will only return you to that. A symbol sacred to Shinto is the mirror. In fact, in many shrines, large and small, major and minor, the altar contains nothing other than a mirror. Along with the sword and comma-shaped jewel [magatama], the mirror is part of the official regalia of the emperor as chief priest of the tradition. A mirror’s capacity to reflect depends on its cleanliness. Hence Shinto sites usually have a water trough for purification near the entrance. As people enter the heart of the shrine, they are expected to wash their hands and mouth, cleansing themselves of any pollution from physical or verbal misdeeds. Washing away dirt from the journey, they are ready to be a home in the kami-filled, tama-empowered shrine. Their hearts and minds are pure. Even the torii along the path on Mount Fuji serves a similar function. The torii reminds pilgrims to cleanse their inner self in preparation for approaching the peak.

SOURCE: Shinto: The Way Home, by Thomas P. Kasulis (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2004), p. 23

I’ve never climbed Mt. Fuji, but I can well imagine the female voice recording familiar to every train passenger in Japan telling the pilgrims as they approach the torii of their impending arrival at the summit, thanking them for having climbed up, and asking them to mind their magokoro ‘truehearts’ instead of their ashimoto ‘footsteps’ as they pass through the torii: 間もなく山頂に到着いたします。ご乗山真にありがとうございました。鳥居を通るとき真心にご注意願います。(Mamonaku sanchou ni touchaku itashimasu. Gojousan makoto ni arigatou gozaimashita. Torii o tooru toki, magokoro ni gochuui negaimasu.)

And then telling them where to find the toilets and vending machines.

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