Arc of Utopia
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Arc of Utopia : The Beautiful Story of the Russian Revolution

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The French Revolution of 1789 had grand humanitarian aims that would one day inspire the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Russians took the French revolutionary agenda and reinforced it with sturdy German philosophy to form a beautiful vision in which remnants of theology combined with the power of art as a force for change. The Arc of Utopia offers a fresh look at the German philosophical origins of the Russian Revolution. Lesley Chamberlain relates how the influential German philosophers Kant, Schiller and Hegel were dazzled by contemporary events in Paris, and how art and philosophy exploded on the streets of Russia, with a long-repressed people uniquely reinventing the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. Some of the greatest names of nineteenth-century Russia, from Alexander Herzen to Mikhail Bakunin, Ivan Turgenev to Fyodor Dostoevsky, defined their visions for Russia in relation to the German enthusiasm for revolutionary France. Published to tie in with the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, The Arc of Utopia provides an original view of the Revolution that links the final upheaval of October 1917 with an astonishing period in art, street drama and poetry.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 256 pages
  • 156 x 234 x 25.4mm | 498.95g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 1780238525
  • 9781780238524
  • 928,733

Review quote

"As we mark the hundredth anniversary of Lenin's triumph, Chamberlain's book broadens our understanding of the roots of the Bolshevik Revolution, describing how German Idealism, which first emerged from Immanuel Kant's reaction to the French Revolution, came to inspire philosophers and cultural figures throughout nineteenth-century Europe and Russia."--Joshua Rubenstein "New York Times Book Review " "This book is, in the author's words, about 'the Russian revolution as rooted in a vision of moral beauty.' It is this dichotomy that attracts us and repels us in Russian history: on the one hand, the uncompromising search for beauty and the extraordinary art in which it resulted; on the other, the police state which was the outcome of the political realisation of an idea that aspired to cover all aspects of life. No one is more qualified to discuss these questions than Lesley Chamberlain. The result is an ingenious, eye-opening, superbly told story."--Bengt Jangfeldt, author of "Mayakovsky: A Biography" "Chamberlain covers the German antecedents of the Russian revolution in such an engaging and interesting way. This is a very well written and much needed book that analyzes the Romantic input so well. She brings the complexity of that input very much to the fore. This is a real contribution to the history of ideas, like her book on Nietzsche in Turin."--Roger Scruton, author of "Art and Imagination: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind" "Chamberlain's articulation of the crucial role played by German philosophers in inspiring Russian minds with the ideals of the French Revolution is both imaginative and original. She succeeds brilliantly in her goal of restoring beauty and morality to Russia's revolutionary dreams."--Rosamund Bartlett, author of "Tolstoy: A Russian Life" "Chamberlain charts the 127-year-long intellectual and philosophical history of the Russian revolution in this brief, heady volume. She situates the revolution's origins in the moral imagination born of the French Revolution, which influenced German philosophers Kant, Hegel, and Schiller. They in turn inspired major Russian thinkers such as Alexander Herzen and Mikhail Bakunin. Chamberlain argues that Russian revolutionaries, in addition to planning to abolish inequality, also sought to capture what Bakunin referred to as 'our beautiful Russian life'--an ambitious vision that fused politics and aesthetics. Chamberlain impresses with her innovative approach to this much-covered topic."--Publishers Weekly "Chamberlain's latest book provides a series of fascinating reflections on how German Idealism influenced a range of Russian writers and artists from the 1830s to the early twentieth century. . . . An important theme in Russian cultural discourse that echoed German Idealism was the transformative power of art. Since art encouraged people to see the world differently, it was central to the pursuit of progress, an idea that, for instance, underpinned the Wanderers movement in painting and influenced much of the creativity of the Silver Age. This was not simply a matter of advocating a particular cause. German Idealism offered 'a more subtly negotiated relationship between the human mind and the external world' and 'invited speculation as to a truly perfectible human existence.'. This meant that Western empirical science, on its own, was an insufficient tool for progress. A new theory of knowledge was required, and Chamberlain suggests that: 'The great revolutionary art of 1895-1922, the work of Malevich and Tatlin, and the Symbolist poetry of Blok, and of Velemir Khlebnikov's reinvention . . . of language and landscape, was great because it hungered after this radical regeneration of knowledge.' In the hands of Marxism-Leninism, art was conceived as a political instrument, but, as Chamberlain shows, the blending of art and politics in Russian thinking had deeper and complex intellectual roots. . . . Chamberlain provides a great deal of food for thought about how the ideologies and cultural projects that burst forth in the revolution were shaped by longer-term philosophical concerns."--Journal of European Studies
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About Lesley Chamberlain

Lesley Chamberlain, a novelist and historian of ideas, lived and worked in Communist Russia and has been writing about Russian history and culture for forty years. Her books include Motherland: A Philosophical History of Russia (2004) and The Philosophy Steamer (2006). She lives in London.
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