Pastel de iarnă

Batista uşoară ca un fulg coboară lent şi se aşează diafan peste ţambal.

Revoluţia din 1917

The centenary of the Russian revolution should be mourned, not celebrated By Max Hastings

Few 20th-century historians doubted that the 1917 Russian revolution was one of the most influential events of their time, indeed of all time. As the centenary commemoration approaches, however, it seems remarkable how far and how fast the ideology that inspired Lenin and millions of his worldwide followers has receded in significance. Many are the imperfections of capitalism, but almost nobody outside Jeremy Corbyn’s office any longer supposes that communism, least of all the old Soviet brand, offers a credible alternative. This would amaze our grandparents’ generation on both sides of the struggle.

The novels of C.P. Snow are indifferent fiction but intriguing middle-class social history. During the interwar era, many of the intelligent acquaintances of Lewis Eliot, Snow’s fictional alter ego, took it for granted that socialism, or perhaps communism, not only should but would prevail as the guiding doctrine of most democracies.

Lower down the social scale, Clyde shipworkers, indeed most of the world’s industrial classes, saw the Bolsheviks as harbingers of hope. The bayonets thrust into the bosoms of the imperial family in the cellar at Ekaterinburg roused a pleasurable frisson in some radical hearts. Ten Days that Shook the World, the American reporter John Reed’s eyewitness account of October 1917, conveys the thrill the revolution evoked among those who, like himself, considered capitalism doomed.


Low Definition in Higher Education By Lyell Asher

Every year for nearly a decade, I’ve assigned Anna Karenina to students enrolled in my course on the novel. At more than 800 pages, Tolstoy’s saga can invite hurried reading, so a lot of class time is spent applying the brakes: “Not so fast.” “How do you know that?” “What’s it look like from her point of view?” There’s a useful speed bump in that famous first line: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In its own way. Don’t assume you know who these people are, Tolstoy cautions, however familiar they may seem.

The book then proceeds to earn that caution, for what follows is a fantastic braid of self-deceptions, mistakes, and misunderstandings, all of which we see (as the characters themselves never can) from Tolstoy’s skybox of omniscience. The knowledge we’re exposed to can often seem too much—not just to take in, but to bear. Karenin’s solemn, impassive reaction to Anna’s tearful declaration of love for Vronsky, for example, seems initially to confirm Anna’s description of her husband as a mechanical functionary for whom time is a schedule and life a series of kept appointments. Only later do we learn that the dead look on Karenin’s face conceals a man so fully alive to his wife’s tears that he had to will himself inert so as not to fall apart. As happens so often in the book, just when we think we finally understand someone, Tolstoy drops a more powerful lens into the scope, or shifts its viewing angle, and we’re bewildered all over again.


The Phineas Gage effect By Kevin Tobia

What does it take to be the same person over time? This question has vexed philosophers for millennia. If an individual’s character changes enough, can this disrupt identity to such an extent that it no longer makes sense to say that we are dealing with the same person? That seems a reasonable conclusion to draw when the change is extreme. But I wanted to explore whether there might be more going on than this, and specifically whether the direction of change, not just the magnitude of change, might be a key factor.

In order to explore this question, I presented participants (Aeon readers who responded to a survey) with one of two different scenarios. The two scenarios expressed different versions of a classic thought experiment. They were based on the well-known story of Phineas Gage: a 19th-century railroad worker who had an unfortunate accident in which a tamping rod went right through his skull; he survived, but underwent a major character transformation as a result of brain damage – or so the story goes. Consider a vignette based on the myth of Gage:

Phineas is extremely kind; he really enjoys helping people. He is also employed as a railroad worker. One day at work, a railroad explosion causes a large iron spike to fly out and into his head, and he is immediately taken for emergency surgery. The doctors manage to remove the iron spike and their patient is fortunate to survive. However, in some ways this man after the accident is remarkably different from Phineas before the accident. Phineas before the accident was extremely kind and enjoyed helping people, but the man after the accident is now extremely cruel; he even enjoys harming people.