SAMIZDAT - DEFINITION, PART 2
Does the suggestion that samizdat texts are “socially significant” because they circulated beyond the author’s control mean that texts which circulated most widely are most significant?
This question needs to be answered in a nuanced way. The most widely circulated periodical edition of classic Soviet samizdat was surely A Chronicle of Current Events (Khronika tekushchikh sobytii, no. 1-65, 1968-1982). One might argue convincingly that the Moscow Chronicle was also the most significant edition. However, in other cases it has taken time for us to learn about an edition. The Leningrad journals 37 (no. 1-21, 1976-81) and Chasy (The Watch, no. 1-80, 1976-90), are the most important journals of poetry in Leningrad in the late 1970s. Yet even most specialist Western readers had hardly heard of them until the encyclopedia of Leningrad samizdat (SAML) appeared.
In my opinion, dissidence characteristically exemplifies an ambivalently radical chronotope, or time-space complex, as realized through samizdat texts. Samizdat could be urgent, aiming to minimize the time, and maximize the geographical reach in its distribution. Examples include the human rights bulletins the goal of which was to disseminate information quickly to as wide an international public as possible, in order to get action on cases of people in dire circumstances because of official persecution. Samizdat could also be eccentric in its attempt to forge new forms of expression not accommodated by official or mainstream press. Such editions tended to be much more modest in their initial reach to audiences, with an eye toward the long life span of culture. Such eccentric samizdat often took in broad or dispersed influences, but concentrated them into a new idiom for a local context and a relatively small group of interested people. This occurred in many cases of poetry, philosophy, religion, art and music editions in samizdat. Such editions often reflected to desire to recover values or types of expression from long ago or from far away, outside the cultural mainstream. Those editions were valuable and intelligible to groups of fans or poetic circles, who oriented themselves to the long historical time of culture, rather than to quick and broad distribution and recognition. Obviously, not all news that spreads widely and quickly is true. Think of reports on 21 August 2011, by Libyan rebels that they had captured Quaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, discussed by Brooke Gladstone and David Kirkpatrick in On the Media as an example of opportunistic propaganda, http://www.onthemedia.org/2011/aug/26/unique-opporunity-propaganda/transcript/ (sic, accessed 29 Aug. 2011). Likewise, not all eccentric expression proves in the long term to be of more general interest. Dissident texts demand some kind of redress of their radical imbalance if they are to have lasting impact – the texts that spread immediately need to have some other kind of interest over time, embodying a truth or valuable innovation as seen from the longer historical perspective. The aspirations of a localized and idiosyncratic form of expression also must be validated by a broader audience that validates the enduring worth of the cultural innovation, if it is to make an appreciable mark in the historical record. In both cases the terms according to which dissident texts are read and judged over time will surely change relative to their initial function and audience.