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Bengt Jangfeldts: A Russian History

Ole Robert Sunde follows folk artist Bengt Jangfeldt's futuristic journey along the Soviet 1970 century.

I start personally, not privately: Many weeks ago I visited the new Tronsmo in Universitetsgata, and Eva Thorsen (who runs the shuttle with her husband Terje Thorsen) gave me a book she thought I had to read, as she was very excited about it Swedish slavist Bengt Jangfeldts A Russian story (Wahlström & Widstrand 2015). Jangfeldt is a true Russian philosopher with Russian futurism as his great love, including the authors Mayakovsky and Mandelstam, who are the school's top names.
But there is more; much more, since this book (on almost 500 pages) is a kind of versed biography, for Jangfeldt is of the old school; he is what was once called one folk educators in Swedish (and like Francis Sejersted in the book Age of Social Democracy claims not come from "public enlightenment" but has roots in romance), and then I think not only of being schooled, but also learned and eager for science. In this book we get his personal story and his idiosyncratic choices to fall for the big neighbor in the East, as it is called, and to make contacts at the beginning of the 70 century.

And they he seeks out and becomes acquainted with, was then also connected with Russian futurism; as Mayakovsky's wife, Lili Brik: "I do not remember when I first came across Lili Brik's name, but I can not have avoided doing so while reading Vladimir Mayakovsky's poetry, which is largely dedicated to her," for ikke to forget the famous linguist Roman Jakobsen, who had "his penetrating analyzes of Mayakovsky's authorship […] despite the fact that he left Russia as early as 1920" – and what makes our Swedish slave almost begin to step on many sore toes, is that he also gets to know Osip Mandelstam's wife Nadezjda Mandelstam, because these two ladies could not stand each other.
This is the Soviet Union in the 70s, and all those who Jangfeldt comes into contact with – who are not few – during his pursuit of Russian futurism, suffer from a KGB syndrome, as they have become paranoid and convinced that they are being monitored, which was not improbable, so that the Swedish slavophile folk educator also has to go quietly in the doors; he marries a Russian Jewess; all while antisemitism was commonplace in the Soviet Union, and the whole jangfeldt marriage story of moving from Soviet to Sweden with wedding gifts is a story that really puts all patience to the test, and what rumors might have exaggerated about Soviet bureaucracy, is regularly put in place.
Nikolaj Chardzhiev, an expert on the Russian avant-garde and whom Jangfeldt also contacted (his contact surface is impressive and he must have a great social talent), hated the two widows after Majakovsky and Mandelstam. When he learned that he was appearing in an anthology about Majakovsky (published by the University of Stockholm) with the widows, he promptly responded in a letter to our sweet brother: “I shall express myself brutally and straightforwardly because I consider you a close friend. The memoirs of both celebrities are a shame. They cast Chanel perfume on their mill but it doesn't spin, it just grunts. ”
The book is also full of photographs; often with Jangfeldt (his wife and children, as well as his parents-in-law), and this grip (many times at home of well-known Russian dissidents) gives the book a touch of something private, without becoming too private, all the while it is always another cause, and what matters is the Russian authors (and their widows, and always the dream that someone has a secret archive; it's the sweet dream of sweet brother – a separate and pristine archive that can be smuggled out through the embassy), not only those who are archived, but also those who are constantly living in exile; both in the Soviet and abroad, as they tell, according to Jangfeldt, where David bought the beer.

And we know wherewhether it is Sinjevsky or Brodsky, no, it will be too simple, there is more, and it is continuous about Russia, more than it is about the Soviet; it is where the shoe presses; there is always Russia, and during the Cold War our sweet brother is good at finding those who are passionate about Slavic, or those who are furious that the Soviet is not Slavic and Russian, but something else, Urussian, even without it Russian Church, no, it is not – it is included; there is something else and more – like Russia, or Moscow, is the new Jerusalem.
And so it goes with the temperamental and hypersensitive Joseph Brodsky, one of the candidates for the literary Nobel Prize in the 80s, and as the slavophile Jangfeldt met in New York with Olof Palme, it became more Brodsky: "Now, winter 1986, however, for a year and a half I had devoted myself to deep reading of Brodsky's authorship and convinced that Russian literature in him was an obvious heir to the great poets of the Silver Age – Mandelstam, Pasternak, Achmatova, Tsvetajeva, Blok and others. Because of the complexity of its theme and the virtuosity of its language processing and engineering, Brodsky raised Russian poetry to a level that no other poet raised in the Soviet Union had been close to. He simply set the point for the Soviet era in Russian poetry. "
There will be a lot more Brodsky and more family portraits with Russian dissidents, and if I try to be careful and fair criticism, then the part about Brodsky (which is on several pages) is private and not the most exciting of the slavophilic memoirs, and it is too much panegyric, or too much nasal admiration for a "great writer", or maybe I'm the one who becomes too Norwegian, since we here on the mountain do not appreciate our writers, artists and intellectuals as much as our athletes and women, all the while we are more of a shin, a turn and an engineering nation than we are a spirit nation, to put it a bit frayed.

But one thing must have sweet brother: He has social intelligence, and there everyone can feel relentlessly stupid, but this is also, in my eyes, a very Swedish virtue; there we are more barbarians: While we are rude shouting "trail!" with skis on our feet, we are in the mountains without skis polite and greet our fellow walkers, and if I continue to be skinned: to the woods we also greet, and we wave at sea – there we have the Norwegian courtesy virtue. While our neighbors in the east, sweet brother, have had courtesy knocked from another edge with the Swedish royal nobility hammer, we do not have it, we have another hammer – a mountain, forest and sea hammer.
After Brodsky comes a chapter about the legendary Swedish doctor Axel Munthe, who lived on Capri and became famous for The Book of San Michele; In this chapter, Jangfeldt talks about being a trained cinema, as he commissioned his publisher to write a biography of Munthe: “I also read everything written about him. It wasn't much, and it wasn't good either. Some were uncritically positive, others negative or even malevolent. He was said to have been a charlatan, and he was said to have been the Queen's lover. He would have been unhygienic and generally shabby. His political and moral attitude was also put into question. Wasn't he even the Nazi girl? "
In this chapter, Jangfeldt shows up as an archive-searching researcher, and we are included in his work, and all that case reveals to anyone who is looking for a life lived; and Munthe's life was full of myths, and in his quest to confirm or deny that Munthe had an affair with Swedish Queen Victoria (she was married to Gustav V), he hunts via archives in Italy, England, Switzerland and in Sweden – both with Carl Bildt (since his grandfather had been Sweden's messenger in Rome), and then at the palace of the current ruler because of archived letters from Munthe to the Queen.

One thing sweet brother should have: He has social intelligence, and there everyone can feel relentlessly stupid, but this is also, in my eyes, a very Swedish virtue; there we are more barbarians: While we are rude shouting "trail!" with skis on our feet, we are in the mountains without skis polite and greet our fellow walkers.

I keep my tongue out for what Bengt Jangfeldt found out; I leave that to the readers to discover. Exactly this part of the book, along with what he writes about Russian futurism, all before and after Brodsky, is OK; not quite, but ok all the while these are memoirs. Then it is possible to ask if even memoirs can become too private, or, as it says in a kind of italicized preface: «This is a book of autobiographical nature, but it is not a regular autobiography. In such a case, the brushstrokes had been wider, the color scale more varied and the person gallery richer. Friends, acquaintances, colleagues, reading fruits, travel, etc. are only included to the extent that they are included in the book's title: A Russian History.» 

The book ends with Majakovsky and his widow Lili Briks, then there is another unnamed Swedish: Raoul Wallenberg. Our slavophile is asked by an employee of the Swedish Foreign Ministry, since Wallenberg would be 100 years old in 2012, to write his biography, which he says yes, even though he was initially negative since he himself had not initiated it, but his Curiosity lured him out onto the gloom: "My intuition told me that there was a fate of life hidden here that was more interesting than what the newspaper headlines had imagined. Wallenberg was not just a Swedish who saved Jews in Budapest and then disappeared in the Soviet Union. He had lived a life before he left for Hungary, he had family, parents and siblings, he had a profession. And he was a Wallenberger. "
By reading up on what was in the literature about his object, he reads a book by Jenó Lévai, one of the Hungarian Jews who Wallenberg helped, and there, sweet brother read something that pursues him throughout his archive study: that the car that Wallenberg began – to travel to the Soviet Army Staff in Debrecen "to inform Marshal Malinovsky of the situation in Budapest and then travel on to Sweden" – could have been a scapegoat for a wrongdoing, as it says: "We packed up food packages and in the gas tank we hid a larger quantity of gold and jewels, which Wallenberg wanted to bring, stated a named eyewitness. "
And that must be the reason, Jangfeldt believes, that he disappeared, by car and driver, in the Soviet Union – but he cannot free himself from pondering if Wallenberg could have been so simple that he intended to rob this of the Jews who he was supposed to help – he does not believe that, but rather that Wallenberg himself was subjected to a plot, as "he was a decent person, with good upbringing and education. He was intelligent. He had a strong sense of duty. But there is no evidence that he paid much attention to the Jewish issue or humanitarian issues in general before being given the Budapest mission. "

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