Thursday, December 7, 2017

Damn It

The holidays are crushing me, so I have limited time and even less inspiration. About all I can do is get mad at Colberg, sorry. I have a couple of photographic projects in the queue to go look at and think about carefully, but for now it's just more grumpiness about some other blogger.

In Colberg's latest set of reviews he includes a book called Fruit Garden which looks like the usual set of wilfully ugly pictures clumsily pasted up into a thudding, uninteresting, narrative. He reads it as some sort of indictment of the Soviet System (and, gosh, thank god we're finally seeing some serious critique of THAT, eh?).

The way I understand his, um, somewhat disjointed discussion of the book, the phrase "Fruit Garden" is apparently a reference to Ivan Michurin, who was some crazy biologist or something in the USSR with some crazy ideas. Looking around a little you find that Michurin did indeed have a "Fruit Garden" in which he bred all kinds of fruit, and so on. So one naturally assumes that the book title is either a reference to this particular fruit garden, or perhaps even a documentation of it.

The fruit garden, the literal thing, we are led to understand, is one of those instances of the Soviet idea that if you just believe really hard you can make something work (but then, we are given to understand, it doesn't work, so there are coverups and lies, and glowing reports of success from the ruins, and so on). This book apparently starts from there and jumps off to some allegory or whatever about the USSR.

That's a very pretty story, it just happens to be totally wrong.

Michurin and his fruit garden predate the revolution by quite a while, and were roaring successes, even after the revolution. Michurin was a serious, dedicated, and fairly successful scientist. He believed some things about genetics which would, in the fullness of time, be proven wrong but which were by no means peculiar at the time. Michurin's name was essentially besmirched by the Soviet Science Complex, which used Michurin's name and accomplishments to promote what would ultimately be shown to be a completely wrong and crazy view of inheritance and evolution. The relevant name here is Lysenko.

Why does this matter?

Well, it is literally Colberg's job to place this book into context, to explain, to describe. He could have skipped the title entirely. But, having decided to explain the title to us, he is obliged to get it right. What he has done, in fact, is to plunge the title into further mystery. If the (successful) fruit garden is supposed to stand in for the (failed) Soviet philosophy, someone has left out some steps.

Was it Colberg, who apparently skimmed and misread the admittedly poorly written Britannica entry, and then declared himself done? If so, well, fuck him for a lazy asshole and he should get out of academia. While there is in fact a large and cozy place for this sort of shit in the academy, there ought not to be.

Was it the SPUTNIK guys who screwed it up? If so, Colberg should either ignore the title, or explain that they botched it. Since he did not, see above.

Is Michurin's garden even the actual referent here? The book talks about Stalin's personal garden, in the bits we're allowed to look at in the store. Where did Colberg come up with Michurin? One assumes that Ivan appears in the book, because otherwise Colberg (who has clearly never heard of the guy) wouldn't know to refer to him, right?

What the hell is even going on here?

We'll never know, because Colberg is sloppy and lazy. My parents, who were actual scholars, would not have recommended this man for tenure.


  1. Have you seen TOP? Take a deep breath. Count to ten. Reflect. Then, do what you gotta do...


    1. I did! And Mike ain't wrong! Colberg's been getting under my skin lately, and has terrible taste in artists (probably because he hangs around an MFA program -- that would ruin a saint).

      But, I did leave a comment with some mild disagreement on Jörg's book, which I have read and Mike has not ;)

    2. Well, that was weirdly incomplete. Mike's not wrong: while Colberg has been getting under my skin lately, his record is clear as one of the better writers about photography out there.

    3. Just for the record, you mean Mike Johnston is not wrong, I assume?

      [other] Mike

    4. Correct! You are also, from time to time, not wrong as well. But you are not the Mike in Question!