restricted access 4. Terror in Search of a Face
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236 4 Terror in Search of a Face You are queer people, Messrs. Russian artists. Charlotte Corday! Don’t you have enough of your own? What do you have to do with Charlotte ?”1 In Vsevolod Garshin’s 1885 novella Nadezhda Nikolaevna, the writer Bezsonov uses this purely rhetorical question to vent his pique at his artist friend Lopatin. In fact, it was absolutely clear to Bezsonov, as it was to Garshin’s contemporary readers, what “Charlotte” had to do with it. In 1884, three years after members of the People’s Will hunted down Tsar Alexander II and were themselves publicly executed, Garshin sought to render terror’s most obscure aspect: its face. This obscurity was no accident, for both sides—the government and the revolutionaries— had a vested interest in keeping terror’s face veiled. The paradoxical hallmark of modern terrorism was its invisibility. Invisibility was terrorism ’s primary tactical advantage, as well as its affective mechanism for creating fear. Arm-in-arm with invisibility, anonymity likewise served tactical aims (concealment of identity protected comrades still at large). The government, by contrast, was keen to publicize the name, age, place of residence, and estate of all apprehended terrorism suspects, but otherwise assiduously repressed all information, personal effects, contact with, and images. A long tradition dating back at least to the Decembrists testifies to the tsarist government’s clear understanding Terror in Search of a Face 237 that one man’s portrait of a terrorist is another man’s icon of a freedom fighter.2 This being the case, revolutionary portraiture in Russia was strictly verboten. Unlike Charlotte Corday, the five condemned regicides of the People’s Will did not have the luxury of sitting for their portraits in the interval between their trial and execution.3 In fact, the haste and secrecy with which the trial was conducted and the strict sequester of the prisoners until their public execution served the government’s aim of invisibility, even while it spawned rumors that the prisoners spent their last days under torture.4 On the scaffold at Semyonovsky Square, the individual identities of the regicides were amalgamated in their collective branding as “regicides,” and the identical black cowls they were made to wear. After the debacle of their hanging, the bodies were placed in coffins and transported to the prisoners’ burial ground in Preobrazhensky Cemetery. Whether they were buried individually or in a collective grave remains unknown.5 Revolutionary publicists were therefore charged with countering this erasure, but Kravchinsky’s profiles were not published legally in Russia until 1905. Meanwhile, visual artists and writers had to proceed almost exclusively through the circumlocution of allegory. From fall 1883 to winter 1884, for example, the artist Ilya Repin worked on three paintings: Ivan the Terrible and his Son Ivan, November 16, 1581; They did Not Expect Him (Ne zhdali), and his second portrait of Vsevolod Gar­ shin.6 The first two presented difficulties throughout their execution and exhibition, while the portrait came easily, because its sitter’s face, with its “dove-like purity,” was so congenial to the artist. The experience of sitting for Repin and their conversations together served Garshin as the inspiration for his story long since underway, but stalled: a tragic love triangle.7 But the story would now add a layer about the painting of a historical portrait. The dilemma that sets the story in motion came directly from Repin’s artistic practice: he required a model who embodied his vision, or else he could not realize it. A key instance involved Garshin himself: Repin’s preliminary sketches of Ivan the Terrible emphasized violence and mayhem, but Garshin altered the picture in a fundamental way. His beatific face as the face of the murdered tsarevich made it possible for contemporary (re)viewers to interpret the painting as portraying “forgiveness and reconciliation.”8 In response to public outcry and critical attacks, Alexei Suvorin waxed rhapsodic over the picture’s expressiveness, praising its ability to 238 Part Four: The Beautiful Dead (Deed) “terrify and evoke pity—the murderer terrifies us, while the victim evokes pity, touching us to the point of pain.”9 Clearly, a face can and must change a picture, as an element of that picture, but is a face alone itself a picture, an image, with the intrinsic symbolic efficacy? More specifically, can a face launch, rather than a thousand ships, a terroristic revolution? The procurator of the Holy Synod, Konstantin Pobedo­ nostsev, apparently thought so, for...


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Subject Headings

  • Russian literature -- Political aspects.
  • Terrorism -- Russia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Terrorism in literature.
  • Alexander II, Emperor of Russia, 1818-1881 -- Assassination.
  • Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 1821-1881 -- Political and social views.
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