BuckMorss (The Dialectics of Seeing, 1989) turns her Benjaminian eye on the often surprising convergence of the Western and Soviet utopian imaginaries, to dazzling effect.
Reading this book is like receiving a fascinating annotated scrapbook from your really smart friend in Moscow. From 1988 to 1993, BuckMorss was a visiting scholar there, at what was first called the Institute of Philosophy of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. The fact that, by the end of her tenure, it was known as the Russian Academy of Sciences attests to the ideological turbulence of those years and to the dynamism and relevance of her task. BuckMorss's previous book was a daring attempt to reverseengineer Walter Benjamin’s Paris Arcades Project out of the more than one thousand fragments left behind at his death. If Benjamin's project was, as he put it, ``concerned with awakening from the nineteenth century,'' BuckMorss's current undertaking is a nonetoogentle attempt to shake us out of the nightmare that has been our 20th. The scope of her research, often breathtaking, more than justifies a certain measure of methodological madness: with an irreverent collagist sensibility worthy of the high modernism at issue here, she nimbly leaps from a blackly hilarious and terrifying chronology of the policy decisions surrounding Lenin's embalming, to a minihistory of the figure of the square in avantgarde art on both sides of the Cold War, to a visual pun that compares the architectural sketch for a neverbuilt ``Palace of the Supreme Soviets,'' topped by a monumental Lenin statue, with a film still of King Kong atop the Empire State Building. There's even an early-1990s attempt at ``hypertext'': scholarly footnotes that threaten to overtake the page. This experiment, however, works less well than those parts of the book that devote themselves to a cleareyed reading of the visual detritus of mass culture.
An ambitious book with the courage to take on the images that complacent postcapitalism might prefer to forget, and the erudition to read them with rigor and wit.