Daniel Kalder: The Nervous Breakdown Self-Interview

So, I hear you’ve written another book.
That’s right. It’s called The Infernal Library and it’s a study of dictator literature, that is to say books written by dictators, that is to say the worst books in the history of the world. I trace the development of the dictatorial tradition over the course of a century, starting with Lenin, then exploring the prose of Lenin, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, et al before arriving in the modern era where I analyze the texts of Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and assorted post-Soviet dictators (among others). It’s a bit like Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon, only the books are terrible and many were written by mass murderers. It can also be read as an alternative cultural history of the 20th century, with implications for our own troubled times.
How did you manage to read so many execrable books without becoming a gibbering wreck?

Ask the Expert: Anti-Tourism


Q1: Which foreign land that you've visited so far was the most impenetrable in your travels -- the one that had the most barriers to entry e.g. physical distance, bureaucracy, cost, etc. ?

Lost Territories

I  Soul

It is well-known that when Lenin died in 1924 his brain was extracted from his skull and subsequently dissected by Soviet scientists who sought to reveal the source of his genius. Less well-known is that while his embalmers were excavating the rest of his innards they found his soul dispersed throughout his torso. This is a photograph of Lenin's soul.

On Russian Balconies

On a recent visit to Istanbul I stayed in an apartment looking out on the Bosphorus. Every morning I’d get up and see the sun sparkling on the surface of the water as birds circled languidly overhead. At night it was even better, as the thumping techno from the pleasure boats and the call of the Muezzin intermingled. It was very different from my usual mode of accommodation when I travel: cheap hotels, dirt, and the lingering possibility of sudden, violent death.
In many ways it was the culmination of a quest that began years ago in my hometown of Dunfermline in Scotland. Over there, you don’t see too many balconies. It’s too windy and wet. Yet I remember one house that had a huge balcony on the second floor. I used to walk past, wishing I lived there. I didn’t care that it was useless, that if I sat up there the wind would probably pick me up and drop me in the North Sea. I only saw the ideal of open living, close to the sky.

Kremlin Kids Gone Wild!

Life is not easy for the offspring of dictators. Look at Gaddafi’s kids, who are either dead, in prison or in exile. Bashar al-Assad would have been an ophthalmologist if his elder brother hadn’t died. But now he has to kill thousands or be killed himself. Even Kim Jong-un, allegedly the supreme overlord of 24 million North Koreans looks vaguely terrified by the awesome responsibility of carrying on the family tradition of EVIL.
It’s not always easier for children who don’t get near actual power. Consider the case of Russia in the 20th century. For seventy years the country was ruled by authoritarian strongmen; all of them bar Lenin had children, and many of those “Kremlin kids” led deeply unhappy lives.
Stalin’s eldest son Yakov was a

Movie Nights with Stalin

Stalin, like all murderous totalitarian tyrants, was big on secrecy. It’s therefore probably a safe bet to assume that he would not have been best pleased had he learned that one day his personal papers would be searchable from anywhere in the world on a machine called a “computer,” and that a bearded Scotsman working out of a garden shed in Texas would seize the opportunity to take a look at his old school report cards. But he’s dead, and I did, so that’s that.
How did this peculiar state of affairs come about? Well, a decade or so back, the Russian state declassified the vast bulk of Stalin’s papers. Yale University Press then used a lot of these documents in its fascinating Annals of Communism series. One thing led to another until one day somebody suggested “Hey, why not digitize all of Stalin’s papers and make the archive searchable?”  Several years and half a million scanned documents later and lo! The Stalin Digital Archive was ready for business.

Review: Limonov by Emmanuel Carrere

In 1974, poet and dandy Edward Limonov left the Soviet Union to live in the United States. The bisexual, bespectacled son of a secret policeman was fond of the Ramones, fascinated by revolutionary violence, and, in his own words, a Russian punk — the antithesis of the bearded sage Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who went into exile at the same time.
This punk wrote some scandalous memoirs and became a literary celebrity in France. Then Limonov’s life changed direction radically: After fighting for the Serb side in Bosnia in the early 1990s, he returned to Russia, where he formed the neofascist National Bolshevik party, acting as a creepy, silver-haired Pied Piper figure to gangs of alienated youths. Led by Limonov, these “Natsbols” marched through Russian cities chanting “Stalin, Beria, Gulag!” while waving a flag identical to that of the Nazis — only the swastika had been swapped for a black hammer and sickle.